If you are interested in Jewish birth customs, it might be because you are awaiting the birth of your child or grandchild or you have just been blessed by the birth or adoption of a child. If you are awaiting a birth or upcoming adoption, let us wish you “B’sha’ah tovah,” a traditional greeting which means “May the baby come at a propitious time for all.” If your child has already been born or adopted, let us say “Mazel Tov” on such a wonderful event!
Whether you are still awaiting the birth of your child or you are already holding him/her in your arms, you now are presented with the opportunity to bestow a Hebrew name on your child and bring them into the covenant of the Jewish people. On this page therefore, we will speak about both the importance of Jewish names and the birth customs in which we bestow those names on our children, the Simchat Bat or Baby Naming for girls and the Brit Milah (bris) or ritual circumcision for boys.
Here are a few informative videos on Jewish births:
Click here to watch a video on the custom of Brit Milah.
Click here to watch a video on Jewish traditions for welcoming baby girls.
Click here to watch a video on Jewish adoption and surrogacy.
Names & Judaism
There is an ancient Jewish saying that “With each child, the world begins anew.” Judaism places great importance on the naming of each new child. It is customary for Ashkenazi Jews to name their children after deceased relatives and for Sephardic Jews to name after relatives. The name given to a child allows the parents to make a statement about their hopes and aspirations for their child. In many ways a Hebrew name brings to the child a sense of Jewish identity.
Hebrew names started to compete with names from other languages early on in Jewish history. As far back as the Talmudic period (200 B.C.E. to 500 C.E.) many Jews gave their children Aramaic, Greek and Roman names.
Later, during the Middle Ages in Eastern Europe, it became customary for Jewish parents to give their children two names: a secular name for use in the day-to-day world, and a Hebrew name for religious ritual. Hebrew names are used for calling men and women to the Torah. Certain prayers, such as the memorial prayer or the prayer for the sick, also use Hebrew names. Legal documents, such as the ketubah or marriage contract, also use Hebrew names.
Today, many American Jews give their children both English and Hebrew names. Often the two names start with the same letter. For instance, Blake’s Hebrew name might be Boaz and Lindsey’s might be Leah. Sometimes the English name is the English version of the Hebrew name, like Jonah and Yonah or Eva and Chava. The two main sources for Hebrew names for today’s Jewish babies are Biblical names and modern Israeli names. There are many new and creative Modern Hebrew names used in Israel today. Shir means song; Gal means wave; Gil means joy; Aviv means spring; Noam means pleasant; Shai means gift.
Finding the Right Name for Your Child
So what is the right name for your child? An old name or new name? A popular name or unique name? An English name, a Hebrew name, or both? Only you can answer this question!
Talk to those around you, but by no means allow others to name your child. Be clear that you are merely asking for advice or suggestions. Listen to the names of other children in your circles, but think about the popularity of the names you are hearing. Do you want your son to be the third or fourth Jacob in his class?
To help you with this choice, please feel free to check out one of the following books from our Temple Beth-El library:
Best Baby Names for Jewish Children, by Alfred J. Kolatch
What to Name Your Jewish Baby, by Anita Diamant
While finding the name you want before the birth is a good idea, do not fear! If you have not narrowed your choices down to a single name as the due date approaches, be patient. Looking into your baby’s eyes and getting to know their personality can help you to pick the most fitting name for your child.
Brit Milah – Welcoming Jewish Boys into the World
Rabbi Elliot Pachter once explained Brit Milah as follows: “Brit (or bris) Milah, which means Circumcision of the Covenant, is the ceremony required of all Jewish baby boys on the eighth day of life. Brit Milah is a commandment of the Torah and binds each participant to a covenantal relationship with God, first established by Abraham.
When counting the eighth day, remember that the day of birth counts as Day One. So, a boy born on a Tuesday has a brit milah on the following Tuesday. If the child is born after sundown, then the brit milah is moved to Wednesday because a Jewish day begins at night, and we don’t want to make the mistake of doing brit milah on the seventh day. If we’re in doubt about the count, better to err on the side of doing the brit milah on the ninth day, and never on the seventh day…
So important is the mitzvah of brit milah that one is required to perform the ceremony even on Shabbat or a holiday (even Yom Kippur!). The exceptions to holding a Shabbat or Yom Tov brit milah are in the cases of births at twilight or births by