Customs and Rituals

How do Jews celebrate birth?

When God made a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17), the removal of the foreskin of the penis was to be the sign of its ratification. Circumcision of baby boys generally occurs on the eighth day, performed by a specialist called a moyel, who is often a rabbi, in the baby’s home. After the surgical procedure and accompanying prayers are completed, participants bless a cup of wine. Parents then declare the child’s name. Reform communities now have a parallel home ritual to welcome baby girls, including all but the surgery. Other congregations still generally perform the naming ritual for girls in the synagogue. Some still give children two names, one religious, in Hebrew or Yiddish, and one secular. In addition to these early rituals, a ritual of “redemption” of a firstborn son also occurs on the thirty-first day of his life. The practice arose from the biblical teaching that each firstborn son belongs to God but can be “bought back” (Numbers 18:15-16). In general the ritual is tied to the residual importance of the hereditary priesthood, for it requires a kohen, or descendant of the biblical priesthood, to perform it.


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