Celebrating the birth or adoption of a child is a joyous time. Whether within the context of a Humanistic congregation or community or as an individual adherent to the philosophy of Humanistic Judaism, a public ceremony is a wonderful experience.
In celebrating the birth of a child, Humanistic Jews recognize several underlying assumptions: 1) male and female children ought to be treated equally; 2) children of all intermarried couples should have equal status, regardless of whether the mother or father is Jewish; 3) medical or moral decisions about circumcision should be considered separately from decisions about birth and baby-naming celebrations; and 4) the birth celebration should affirm the family’s connection to the Jewish people and to the human community in a philosophically consistent, meaningful way.
Circumcision and B’rit Mila
When a male child is born, the families are encouraged to decide whether to circumcise their child separate from the type of ceremony they will choose to celebrate their child’s birth. Passionate arguments for and against circumcision and for and against b’rit mila (covenant of circumcision) abound. Since a b’rit mila is a covenant with God, the ceremony is not consistent with the beliefs held by most Humanistic Jews. Yet, whether to circumcise the male child is another decision that parents must make. Humanistic rabbis and leaders are trained to guide parents and grandparents through the decision-making process so they can determine what is best for their child and family. Our movement leadership has considered the issue of circumcision in its resolution Circumcision and Jewish Identity.
Humanistic Birth Celebrations
A Humanistic birth celebration has two functions: to name and to welcome. Naming a child in English, Hebrew, and/or Yiddish can provide an important link to the child’s ancestral heritage and to the community. In the welcoming portion of the ceremony, grandparents, parents, siblings, other relatives, and the Humanistic Jewish community publicly acknowledge the event, symbolizing their commitment to the child’s welfare. Participation in the ceremony gives family members deserved recognition and honor.
Generally, a birth celebration is held about a month after the baby is born, in order to give the infant and parents time to adjust to their new life together. The celebration may be held in the home, temple, or other public place. It is not necessary that a rabbi or madrikh(a) (ceremonial leader) officiate; however, officiation by a certified leader or sponsorship by the Humanistic Jewish community serves a valuable purpose by providing communal recognition of the event and professional creation of the ceremony.
There are many resources in the SHJ Store Life Cycle section that can help you in creating Humanistic Jewish ceremonies to mark the cycle of life. SHJ Rabbi Miriam Jerris may be able to assist you in connecting with a program that meets your needs.