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"New York Times" reports on naming ceremonies for Jewish girls

March 14, 1977

Noting that the new Reform Jewish prayerbook, published in February 1977, included a naming ceremony for baby girls for the first time, and that Ezrat Nashim a small feminist activist collective, was about to publish a booklet entitled “Blessing the Birth of a Daughter: Jewish Naming Ceremonies for Girls,” the New York Times reported on March 14, 1977, that such ceremonies were becoming common in all branches of Judaism.

While Jewish boys had always been welcomed into the world with a brit milah (a ceremony for circumcision) on the eighth day of life, no parallel ceremony for baby girls had existed until American Jewish feminists began to invent them. As the Times reported, naming ceremonies (often called simchat bat, or rejoicing in a daughter) violated no strictures of traditional Judaism, so women could blend Judaism and feminism in new rituals without creating conflict with rabbinic authorities.

As Paula Hyman explained, speaking for many women, “as feminists … we believe that egalitarianism must begin at birth.” Many naming ceremonies—which differ from synagogue to synagogue and family to family—express a belief in egalitarianism also by giving prominent roles to mothers and grandmothers, whereas the father traditionally takes the lead in a brit milah.

Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, now a well-known supporter of Jewish Orthodox feminism, told the Times that he saw the boom in naming ceremonies as evidence of a larger change in the relationship between Jewish feminists and tradition. While previously, he said, Jewish feminists were turning their backs on religion, “now they are demanding the expression of feminism in religious life.” In this sense, the profusion of naming ceremonies can be categorized with the growth in women’s Passover seders around the same time, as an effort to transform tradition in ways that keep its integrity yet bring women fully into the ritual circle. Today, girls’ naming ceremonies are common enough not to elicit any notice from the media, whether performed at home or in a synagogue, from a printed text or a newly imagined one.

To learn more, visit Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution.

See also: This Week in History for March 14, 1972, "Ezrat Nashim presents manifesto for women's equality to Conservative rabbis"; We Remember - Paula Hyman.

Sources: New York Times, March 14, 1977; Maralee Gordon contribution to Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution, jwa.org/feminism/index.html?id=JWA028.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - "New York Times" reports on naming ceremonies for Jewish girls." (Viewed on April 19, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/mar/14/1977/naming-ceremonies-for-jewish-girls>.