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Jewish Ceremony for Newborn Girls

The Torah's Covenant Affirmed

Sharon R. Siegel

Publication Year: 2014

This engaging book offers the first in-depth analysis of the history, philosophy, and social trends that underpin modern welcoming ceremonies for newborn girls in the Jewish community. Sharon R. Siegel traces the arc of these ceremonies from their emergence in the 1970s until today. She also delves into the history of how Jewish girls have been named over the centuries and explores how this history can shape contemporary welcoming practices.

Siegel builds on the notion that modern ceremonies should focus on a newborn girl's entry into the covenant between God and Israel and examines classic Jewish texts that speak to the critical question of women's inclusion in the covenant. A bold new perspective on the relation between the covenant and male circumcision reveals why the covenantal status of Jewish women stands independent of this male rite.

Siegel formulates a vision for the next phase in the development of Jewish rituals for newborn girls by placing these new rituals within the context of Jewish law (halacha) and synthesizing a vast array of pertinent customs, imagery, and texts. Bridging traditional Jewish beliefs and modern feminist ideals, Siegel's powerful insights draw on her experiences and personal feminist philosophy. A Jewish Ceremony for Newborn Girls is an erudite and thought-provoking narrative that will inspire wide-ranging discussions about how and why to commemorate the birth of Jewish girls.

Published by: Brandeis University Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Nine years ago, I was pregnant for the first time, and my husband, Dan, and I chose not to find out the baby’s sex. I knew that Judaism provided a circumcision ceremony for newborn boys, but was uncertain what ceremony, if any, was available for newborn girls. Always fascinated with the...

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pp. xiii-xiv

My first thanks go to Phyllis Deutsch, editor-in- chief of the University Press of New England. She saw the potential in the sample chapter that I sent to her and in my vision for this book. She has given me astute advice at key moments and has skillfully guided the development of this book from beginning...

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pp. xv-xxvi

I introduce this book — and each of its three parts — with a legal motion recently filed in federal court and the responsive judicial order. I was quite surprised that one set of documents could combine my knowledge of American legal procedure and my interest in Jewish ceremonies for newborns. I...

Part 1 | Naming and Welcoming

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1 | Traditional Ashkenazic Naming Practices for Girls

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pp. 3-36

Naming is today a colloquial term for welcoming newborn Jewish girls. This terminology has become so pervasive that Hallmark, the leading American greeting card company, sells cards to be given to parents on the occasion of a daughter’s naming. I was surprised the first time I saw such a card. Since...

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2 | A First and Only Naming

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pp. 37-49

By exploring the history of how newborn girls received their names in Ashkenazic regions over the centuries, we now understand that the contemporary synagogue naming for girls, which consists of an aliyah and a Mi Shebairach prayer, is the only surviving component of a larger complement of medieval Ashkenazic practices. We have also learned that the vestigial synagogue...

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3 | New Modern Practices for Baby Girls

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pp. 50-90

My four-year- old son Yakir was once speaking proudly about his baby sister and remarked, “People have parties for their babies because the babies are new.” He also explained to me that God, parents, and a nurse all work together to make a new baby, and this is why God “comes to the party and...

Part 2 | Covenant

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4 | Women and Covenant

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pp. 93-118

I went for a checkup a few weeks after the birth of my fourth child, Tamar. In the course of making conversation, a medical technician asked me about my occupation. I responded that I am writing a book about rituals for newborn Jewish girls. He looked at me incredulously and said, “I didn’t think...

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5 | The Conflation of Covenant and Circumcision

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pp. 119-149

We have learned that women are members of the covenant, according to Biblical and rabbinic sources. Why, then, particularly among traditional Jews, is there a pervasive discomfort in connecting women with the covenant? I have observed reactions such as nervous laughter and an obvious...

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6 | A Central Covenantal Ritual for Girls

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pp. 150-173

We saw in the previous two chapters that covenantal entry is a key life-cycle milestone for girls. As such, it demands a central covenantal ritual that signifies the moment at which a girl is initiated into the covenant of God and Israel. While many meaningful covenantal rituals have been proposed in...

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7 | Conveying the Covenantal Theme

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pp. 174-202

We have seen how a ritual that actively initiates a newborn girl into the covenant can be the focal point of a covenantal welcoming ceremony. However, the symbolism of covenantal entry becomes apparent and seamless, requiring no explanation, only when it suffuses the ceremony and is manifested in...

Part 3 | A Tradition of Customs

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8 | Ceremonies for Newborn Girls as Developing Customs

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pp. 205-228

The importance of tradition is a central theme of this book. Previous chapters have demonstrated how traditional Ashkenazic customs can inform contemporary naming practices for girls (chapters 1–2), how classic Jewish texts view women as members of the covenant (chapters 4–5), and how...

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A Jewish Ceremony for Newborn Girls

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pp. 229-234

I have set out below my thoughts for a Brit Bat (“Covenant of a Daughter”) ceremony. This ceremony ties together all of the themes in this book, from a first and only naming to a central covenantal theme animated by tallit swaddling, aspects of the circumcision liturgy, and eighth-day timing. My hope is that this basic text could serve as a starting point for a...

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pp. 235-238

It is the eighth day following the birth of my youngest child. I sit upstairs in my home nursing my baby in anticipation of her Brit Bat. A few minutes later, I gently hand the baby to my father and join my mother and my husband, Dan, at the back of the living room downstairs. The baby emerges in my father’s arms to...


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pp. 239-272


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pp. 273-284

E-ISBN-13: 9781611684056
E-ISBN-10: 1611684056
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611684735

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2014