Welcoming Jewish Daughters

Long before the creation of contemporary welcoming ceremonies for girls, Jewish communities around the world have had special ways of welcoming their new baby daughters.

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In Turkey it was customary at the Las Fadas for the mother and daughter to have an embroidered silk veil placed over their heads. It was lifted after the naming and the mother would continue to wear it until she gave it to her daughter to wear at her wedding ceremony. In more recent years, some Sephardic Jews in Italy, Holland, the Balkans, Turkey, and parts of Morocco would invite family and friends for a similar ceremony on the 30th day of the girl’s life.

Traditional Yemenite Jews officially welcome the new babies into the congregation on the first Simchat Torah after their birth, on the autumn holiday that celebrates the conclusion of the year-long cycle of reading the entire Torah and beginning it anew. The father or grandfather usually “buys” (with a donation to the synagogue) a hakafah, one of seven processions with the Torah, in the baby’s honor, and with the infant in his arms leads the procession around the block or the neighborhood.

One woman--an American who moved to Israel and married into a traditional Yemenite family in Israel--relates this story of the way her childrens’ births were celebrated by their father’s parents. His mother cracked a raw egg on the doorstep of their house the first time either of her new grandchildren, first a boy and then a girl, were brought in. An aunt of her husband’s put salt in the baby carriage--to keep away the evil eye--the first time they took the baby to synagogue. Her daughter and son were both honored with dances celebrating the Torah on the first Simchat Torah after their births. And while the arrival of a baby of either gender is celebrated, this mother says, “I am pretty certain that my father-in-law paid more for my son’s honor!” 

The Jews of India have what may be one of the simplest and loveliest customs: They welcome their daughters by decorating their homes with flower blossoms floating in water.

Ashkenazi Practices

Until the Holocaust decimated the Jewish populations there, a cradle ceremony greeted the births of girls and boys in Southern Germany, Bavaria, the Rhineland, and Alsace. Children would surround the baby’s specially-decorated cradle and raise it three times while shouting “Hollekreisch, Hollekreisch! What shall be this child’s name?” (Hollekreisch is a word of uncertain origin.) Several passages would be read from the Torah and the baby’s name would be announced, and then the ritual concluded with cakes and drinks. By the 1650s, urban Jews had ceased the cradle ceremony and it was practiced only in small towns and rural areas, but the custom spread to Alsace and the Rhineland, to southern Holland and to the Jewish communities in what is now Switzerland, and continued until modern times for the naming of girls.

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Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Debra Nussbaum Cohen is a staff writer for The Jewish Week.