New Rituals for Welcoming Daughters

Some ways to symbolize a baby girl's entry into the covenant of Judaism.

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Rituals that Parallel the Wedding Ceremony

Some parents circle their baby daughter seven times to symbolically bring her into the covenant. This mimics the traditional practice at a wedding ceremony, when the bride circles the groom seven times as they join together in covenant with God.

Anita Diamant, author of The New Jewish Baby Book, and a pioneer in innovative Jewish ritual, explains that elements of the Jewish wedding ceremony can be resonant at a welcoming ritual for a daughter, since both life events are about creating a covenant, and both mark a new beginning for a family. She outlines a number of ways to incorporate wedding liturgy and imagery into welcoming ceremonies for daughters, and more ideas can also be found at ritualwell.org and Itim.

For example, families may recite seven blessings to welcome their daughter, parallel to the seven blessings (sheva berakhot) which sanctify a Jewish wedding. These birth ritual blessings often include the blessing over wine and the sheheheyanu blessing, and sometimes more innovative blessings created by the family for the moment. For example, some parents modify the wedding blessing over "the One who causes bride and groom to rejoice together," changing the language to bless "the One who causes parents and children to rejoice together."  Since six of the seven blessings in the Jewish wedding ceremony focus on creation, they are relevant when welcoming a child--a time that the power and importance of creation are particularly apparent.

Also, in keeping with the wedding theme, some parents hold their daughter's welcoming ceremony under the huppah (marriage canopy) that they used at their own wedding.

Other Rituals

Parents have developed many other rituals that speak to their own personal connection with Judaism. This includes wrapping the baby in a family tallit or touching a klaf (sacred scroll, often a mezuzah scroll) to the baby's lips. Some families use the various senses to welcome their daughters,--touching wine to the baby's lips, and having her smell spices or herbs.

Other families anoint their daughter with gentle oil, which evokes the biblical practice of anointing kings and priests (Samuel I, 15:13). Anointing a baby can represent a blessing for plenty, in keeping with the verse from Ecclesiastes, "Let your clothes always be freshly washed and your head never lacking ointment" (9:8), and the famous Psalm 23, "You anoint my head with oil, my drink is abundant" (23:5). Anointing is also associated with love in Song of Songs, "Your ointments yield a sweet fragrance, your name is like finest oil, therefore do maidens love you" (1:3).

Some ceremonies are not for the faint of heart. In one recently-developed ceremony on ritualwell (link), a mother dabs her newborn daughter with lochial blood on the fifteenth day after birth. According to the Torah, on the fifteenth day after the birth of a baby girl the mother's post-partum bleeding ceases to be ritually impure (Leviticus 12:5). After the birth of a son, the mother's blood becomes pure on the eighth day, in time for a brit milah (Leviticus 12:2). Lochial blood from the fifteenth day after the birth, therefore, symbolizes a daughter's entry into the covenant, like a circumcision would for a son.

All of these rituals can include the baby's older siblings, extended family members, and friends, who can--help wrap the baby in a tallit, help wash the baby; circle the baby, or recite a blessing, poem, or reading.
 

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Rachel Lerner

Rachel Lerner is a doctoral student in Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She lives in NYC with her husband, Aaron, and their daughter, Lily.