As in all cultures, the birth of a child is an occasion for joyous celebration in Judaism. Indeed, the first commandment in the Torah is to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).
The Birth of a Son and Ritual Circumcision
Male circumcision is known and practised by many peoples. In Judaism it is a religious requirement, based on a divine command:
“This is my covenant which you shall keep; every male among you shall be circumcised, and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin.” (Genesis 17:10 – 11)
It is the first life-cycle ritual that is mentioned in the Torah. It signifies a commitment by the Jewish people to the divine being, recorded as a physical sign on the body. The circumcision is carried out on the eighth day after birth, or later if medical reasons make postponement advisable. The operation takes place in the midst of family and friends, symbolising the community’s welcome to the new-born child. Prayers and benedictions are recited, a Hebrew name is bestowed on the child, and all present express the wish that he may progress from one sacred moment of his life to another, particularly to marriage and good deeds.
A Jewish baby boy is rarely left uncircumcised, even among those who are not strict in their observance of other Jewish practices. For example, in the Former Soviet Union, where all religious practice was banned and was punished severely if discovered, Jews regularly went to extreme lengths to organise for the circumcision of their baby boys.
The Birth of a Daughter
The birth of a Jewish daughter is celebrated by the father being called to the reading of the Torah in the synagogue on the first Sabbath (or Monday or Thursday – when the Torah is read) after the birth. A blessing is pronounced and the baby’s name is announced.
Further ceremonials on the birth of a daughter have developed in recent years. These rituals have been given a variety of different names, such as Simchat Bat (Rejoicing of the Daughter) or Brit B’not Yisrael (The Covenant of the Daughters of Israel). A service and celebration of the event takes place in the home.