Birth Rituals in Judaism
In the Jewish faith children are a gift and a blessing from God. Observant Jews consider a new mother to be unclean, and thus she must purify herself by immersion in a mikveh (ritual bath) after a prescribed time.
For the newborn there are two rituals that take place, the Brit Milah and the Brit Habat. The Brit Milah, or covenant of the cutting, is celebrated with Jewish boys eight days after their birth. During the ceremony the baby boy is circumcised by a highly trained mohel in the presence of a group of 10 people, a minyan. The godmother presents the baby which is then placed on a highly ornate seat called the Chair of Elijah. The circumcision is performed by the mohel using a izamel (ritual knife). Circumcision is one of the 613 mitzvot (commandments) and is seen as the physical mark of the covenant between God and Abraham. At the completion of the ceremony the Kiddush is recited and the baby is given his formal Hebrew name.
The Brit Habat, or covenant of the daughter, is a newer ritual that developed in America in the 1970’s (Golburg, Investigating Religions, 2009, p.29). The ritual celebrates the gift of a daughter and has some elements in common with the Brit Milah. The ceremony is performed in the synagogue or home, and usually begins with a blessing call. There are prayers and readings by the rabbi and the parents. The Kiddush is recited and the parents bless the child. The baby is also named during the ceremony.