Now that we have learned the Biblical concepts about the creation of life and the foundation of development we are ready to embark on the joyous occasion of welcoming the newborn within the framework of Biblical law, custom, and philosophy. In this session, we will cover the "berit milah" (circumcision), "pidyon haben" (redemption of the firstborn), welcoming the baby girl, and naming the child. As in previous sessions, I look forward to your comments and feedback. As this session precedes the Passover holiday recess, I will have supplementary material on this session (in areas marked ***) available on the JUICE Forum. Details are available in the exercise section at the end of this session.


"Concerning five things the word "covenant" is written: circumcision. the rainbow, salt, chastisements, and the priesthood." (Zohar Chadash, 1, 4b)

There is no act in the universe more capable of symbolizing to man the secret of the existence in the image of the Almighty than the fulfillment of the mitzvah of circumcision (Hebrew, milah). "Happy are the Children of Israel! They willingly offer their male children as a sacrifice to the Almighty on the eighth day of their birth. The circumcision brings them into the good estate of the Almighty."(Zohar 1,93a)

The ceremony of circumcision officially binds the Jewish child to a life in the framework of Judaism, sealing the covenant with the Almighty in the flesh of the newborn so that it may never be violated. "G-d is the Lord of the Covenant, the Torah is the Book of the Covenant, and circumcision is the Son of the Covenant" (Zohar II, 66b).

When a Jewish male is circumcised on the eighth day of life, he becomes a complete human being. "Rabbi Bar Abba said:The name Avram adds up to 243 in gematria, (the numerical equivalent of Hebrew words) while the name Abraham adds up to 248. At first the Almighty gave Abraham full rein over 243 1imbs, and after he was circumcised, he had control over all 248. The additional five are his two eyes, his two ears, and the mind." (Nedarim 32) In other words, up to that point, Abraham worshipped the Almighty with the 1imbs in his control, for man sees, hears. and thinks things that are beyond his control. When Abraham was circumcised and joined the covenant of the Almighty, he was given complete control over his body, and was free to see, hear, and think by choice in accordance with the will of God. So it is with each newborn child; upon sealing the covenant with the Almighty, he becomes master of his own life as an individual created in the image of the Almighty. Judaism envisages this life as a series of stages leading to higher level of sanctity. The covenant (berit milah) is a sign that the force of the Almighty active in the body as well as the soul. (Eliyahu Kitov, "Man and His Home", J-m, Yad Eliyahu Kitov, 1977, pg. 294).

Circumcision is such a basic element of Judaism that child does not enter into account in his generation unless he is circumcised. (Tanhuma, Vayera 6). Moreover, "The covenant of circumcision is considered as important as all the mitzvot in the Torah together (Nedarim 31 -this concept holds true for some other mitzvot as well, such as Shabbat, tzitzit...).

The fulfillment of the covenant of circumcision is the reason for the survival of the Jews throughout their traumatic history: "Time and Byzantium will become but a memory, but the nation which practices circumcision will endure forever." (Tikkune Zohar, Tikkun 37, 112b). The rite of circumcision is the second commandment to appear in the Bible. "Every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin and it shall be a token of a covenant between Me and you, your children after you; every male shall be circumcised" (Genesis 17:13) The commandment appears again in Leviticus (12:3) "On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised." Why was this commandment given? If the Almighty had created men circumcised, man would never have the capability to perfect himself. The Berit Milah symbolizes the concept that just as man perfects his own body, he also has the power and possibility of perfecting his soul through his deeds Finally, it is said that the root of the commandment of circumcision is the Almighty's wish that there to be a permanent sign among the people He had separated from all nations to be named after Him. Just as the Israelites have a unique soul, they will also be physically unique - specifically in the 1imb which is the means of procreation." (Rabbi Aharon Ha-Levi, Sefekr Hakhinnukh, J-m, Eshkol 1960. Pg. 1)

The commandment of circumcision applies to all Jews in every corner of the globe at all times. The responsibility of circumcising male children rests on the father and not the mother. If the father neglects this duty, the bet din is authorized to fulfill it. If there is no father, the bet din (Jewish court of law) has the responsibility of circumcising the child. The circumcision may be performed by any qualified Jew, but it is better if the person who carries out the circumcision (the mohel) is a pious Jew. In cases where a male mohel is lacking, a woman may perform the circumcision (as in the case of Zipporah, who circumcised Moses' son).(Exodus 10:25;Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah, siman 264/a). In accordance with the Code of Jewish Law, the mohel must know the laws of circumcision specified in the Talmud and by later rabbinic authorities.(Yevamot 4, Shabbat 19, Yoreh Deah 266, Rambam, Hilkhot Milah) The mohel must also be capable of examining the infant to determine whether he is healthy enough to undergo circumcision (in addition to the required examination by the doctor or midwife who assisted in the delivery( Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh 163:3). If the father knows how to perform the circumcision, it is his prime responsibility to do so. If he does not have the knowledge or experience required, he may and usually does delegate his duty to a qualified mohel (Kiddushin 29a). In the talmudic period the mohel was a qualified surgeon and there was a special street where the professional circumcisers lived. (Sanhedrin 17a; Jerusalem Talmud, Eruvin5:5).Contemporary circumcisers must receive training in asepsis and in the method of circumcision as well as rabbinic recognition.


The festivities accompanying the circumcision ceremony begin on the Friday night after the birth. At this time relatives and friends come to the home of the child's parents to participate in the happy event (Rabbi Abraham Isaac Sperling, "Sefer Taamei Haminhagim", J-m Eshkol, 1957) and also to console the infant for having forgotten everything he had learned while in his mother's womb.The guests recite psalms and biblical passages relevant to the occasion. (Genesis 48:16 "The angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless this lad….) This happy event is called the "shalom zakhar" because it celebrates the safe birth of the child on the Sabbath, which is called "Shalom" -peace. According to the Code of Jewish Law, it is a mitzvah to attend the "shalom zakhar", and it is customary for all male friends and relatives to attend.(Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh 105) Various cakes, fruits, and other delicacies are served, as well as the symbolic lentils to mark the cycle of life.

Following the shalom zakhar is another festivity on the eve of the circumcision ceremony. This is the "vachnacht", or "night of the guard," when the mohel, the sandak, (the child's patron) and close relatives and friends again gather at the home of the proud parents to recite psalms and prayers to ward off Lilith and other demons who are after the souls of. infants before they are circumcised to prevent the fulfillment of the mitzvah.(J.D. Eisenstein, "Otzar Yisrael" J-m, 2:18.) It is customary for schoolchildren to come and recite the "Shema"(Hear O' Israel…) and the biblical passage: "The angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the children. . . ."(Genesis 48:16) A Bible is placed under the mattress of the infant while the parents recite the hopeful prayer that their child will perform everything that is written in the Bible. In some communities it is the custom to place a book of a learned sage under the mattress so that the child will grow up to be a wise scholar. It is customary to maintain a watch over the infant until after midnight. On this occasion as well, the parents serve wine and all sorts of delicacies to display their happiness at fulfilling the commandment of milah/ On the eve of the milah, the mohel examines the child to determine whether he is fit for the operation. The actual ceremony takes place on the eighth day after birth. Although, technically, it may take place any time in the day, it is more desirable that it be performed in the morning after prayers, to emulate Abraham's eagerness to carry out the mitzvah on the same day that the Lord spoke to him (Genesis 17, Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah, siman 262a). The performance of milah on the eighth day for a healthy child has precedence over the laws determining the sanctity of the Sabbath and other festivals..Nevertheless, all technical preparations, such as bringing the necessary equipment to the place of the circumcision, must be done before the Sabbath." This includes preparing a bowl with earth in which to place the foreskin to commemorate the Lord's promise to multiply the Jewish people like the earth and sand.

As this is such a joyful occasion, marking the birth of the son and the fulfillment of a basic mitzvah, it is customary to share the privilege with honored guests. The "shoshbinim" are a couple chosen to assist in bringing the child into the synagogue. .The woman brings the infant into the women's section or to the site where the milah is to take place, and the man then takes him from her arms and brings him to the place where the milah is to be performed. (The shoshbinim are also called "kvaterin").As the child is brought into the room, all those present welcome him with the greeting "Barukh ha-ba". Since the numerical equivalent of the word "ha-ba" is eight, the greeting has a special meaning suitable for the occasion: "blessed is he who is circumcised on the eighth day of life."(Sperling, pg. 387) According to the Code of Jewish Law, it is desirable for at least ten males to be present at the ceremony, but if this is not possible, the milah may be performed with fewer in attendance. The guests remain standing during the actual performance of the circumcision to commemorate the fact that the Jewish nation stood when the covenant with the Almighty was sealed.(Responsa of Maharil 85, Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah, siman 256/6). Before the mohel begins the technical surgery, an honored guest takes the child from the arms of the shoshbin and places him on a special ornate chair set aside as "Elijah's chair." This symbolic act is a part of each berit milah ceremony to honor the prophet Elijah, who is considered the Angel of the Covenant because he fought for the fulfillment of the commandment at a time when the kingdom of Ephraim had neglected it. For this reason, it is said that the Almighty promised Elijah that he would be present at each milah performed for a Jewish child. The following blessing is recited: "This chair is devoted to Elijah the prophet, may his remembrance be for the good." Another honored guest lifts the child from Elijah's chair and places him on the lap of the sandak (the Jewish godfather). The sandak holds the infant throughout the ceremony. Before the circumcision is performed, the following blessings are recited: If the father himself performs the milah, he says: "I am ready and willing to perform the commandment . . . which the Creator, praised be He, commanded me to circumcise my son." If a professional rnohel is delegated to perform the rnilah, he says "Praised be Thou, 0 Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Thy commandments, and commanded us concerning the rite of circumcision." The circumcision is performed, and immediately before "periah" (circumcision) the father (or the sandak if there is no father) recites: "Praised be Thou, 0 Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by Thy commandments, and hast bidden us to make him enter into the covenant of Abraham our fatherf." Those assembled at the rnilah reply: "As he has been brought into the covenant, so may he be introduced to the study of Torah, to the marriage canopy, and to good deeds," After "periah" and "rnetzitzah", the circumciser takes a goblet of wine and recites: "Praised be Thou, 0 Lord our G-d. King of the Universe, who has created the fruit of the vine." He continues with a blessing for the welfare of the newborn and naming formality.

"Praised be Thou, 0 Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified the well-beloved (Isaac) from the womb and has set Thy statute in his flesh, and has sealed his offspring with the sign of the holy covenant Therefore, because of this, living G-d, our portion and our rock, command that the dearly beloved of our flesh be delivered from destruction for the sake of the covenant Thou has set in our bodies. Praised be Thou, 0 Lord our G-d, who has made the covenant. Our G-d and G-d of our Fathers, preserve this child to his father and to his mother, and let his name be called in Israel ________ son of ________. Let the father rejoice in his offspring, and let the mother be glad with her children; as it is written: "Let thy father and thy mother rejoice, let her that bare thee be glad" And it is said; " And I passed by - thee, and I saw thee weltering in thy blood, and I said unto thee: 'In thy blood thou shalt live.' Yea, 1 said, 'In thy blood thou shalt live."'

Next, the mohel ( circumciser) places a few drops of wine on the lips of the infant and continues:

"And it is said: He has remembered his covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations: which he made with Abraham, and his oath with Isaac, and established it as Law with Jacob to Israel for a lasting covenant. And it is said: "And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as G-d commanded him." " give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for his loving-kindness endures forever. This little child-may he become great. As he has been brought into the covenant, so may he be introduced to the study of the Torah, to the nuptial canopy and to good deeds." This is followed by a solemn prayer recited by the mohel ( circumciser) while standing: "Creator of the Universe, may it be Thy gracious will to accept this [milah] as if I had brought the infant before Thy glorious throne. And Thou, in Thy abundant mercy, send through thy holy angels a holy and pure heart to ___________ son of ______________ who was just now circumcised in honor of Thy great name. And may his heart be wide open to accept Thy Torah, that he may learn and teach, keep and carry out Thy laws."

The ceremony is concluded at this point with a special prayer for the infant:

" May He who blessed our fathers. Abraham. Isaac. and Jacob, bless this tender infant who was circumcised and cure him completely: may his parents (or relatives) have the privilege to raise him up to the study of the Torah, to the wedding canopy, and to good deeds, and let us say, Amen."

Those assembled then recite "Aleinu le-shabbe'ach" to conclude the morning prayers-and to include the circumcised infant in the community as a full-fledged Jew.(Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah siman 265/24a.

The milah itself involves the amputation of the foreskin wit a double-edged knife,(Shulkan Arukh yoreh Deah siman 265/24a) thus disclosing the mucous membrane.The mohel grasps the edge of the mucous membrane firmly between the thumbnail and the index finger of his hand and tears down swiftly through the center as far as the cornea. This manual technique is called the "periah". The goal of this surgery as we have seen, is to complete the form of the human being by removing the foreskin, which is an unnecessarv addition. Finally, the mohel performs the metzitzah (or suction), intended to remove the blood from other parts of the wound. (Rambam, Hilkhot Milah). "Metzitzoh" is considered by some rabbinical authorities not to be part of the actual mitzvoh but rather for medical reasons, to ensure the safe healing of the wound.(Rambam, Hilkhot Milah). Therefore, even though the father may in many instances perform the circumcision, the metzitzoh is done by someone else. (Shabbat 133) The technical procedure must be carried out in accordance with Jewish Law. After the circumcision ceremony, the kvotterin takes the infant from the mohel and hands him back to the mother. The guests then wash their hands and sit down to a festive feast, which, according to the Code of Jewish Law should be prepared bountifully in order to commemorate the festive meal prepared by Abraham on the occasion of the circumcision of Isaac. All three ceremonies celebrated in connection with circumcision (sholom zokhor, vachnocht, and miloh) are carried out in a merry spirit, just as the Jewish nation accepted this commandment with joy. (Shabbat 130)

As the milah celebration began with honored guests actively participating in the commandment, it is concluded by delegating various passages of the Grace After the Meal to honored guests. At the end of the Grace, the following passages are recited:

"May the AII-Merciful bless the father and the mother of the child, may they be worthy to rear him, to educate him, and grant him wisdom; from this eighth day on. May his blood be accepted and may the Almighty be with him. May the Almighty bless the godfather who has overseen the circumcision, and has delighted to perform this act of piety; may He reward him for this with a double recompense and always exalt him more and more. May the AII-Merciful bless the tender infant who has been circumcised on the eighth day of life, and may his hands and heart be firm with the Almighty, and may he be worthy to appear before the Shekhinah [Divine Presence] three times a year. "

The berit milah ceremony is a most fitting beginning for a Jewish child's life, for it constitutes an induction into the world of Judaism in a spirit of joy, through the fulfillment of a basic mitvah (commandment).


We have seen that milah is a basic commandment in Judaism, equal to all the other mitzvot together. Because of its importance in Jewish life, the Code of Jewish Law stipulates that one must be very, very careful not to circumcise an infant who is ill. The life of the individual has precedence over all laws; while it is possible to circumcise a child at another time, it is impossible to revive a soul who is lost. Specific laws concerning when it is possible to circumcise a child who is ill during the primary date for milah on the eighth day of life and recuperates later on appear in Yoreh Deah 262-263.(Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh 163). Technically, one must circumcise the child seven days after he has been determined to be healthy. Various rulings on such cases have been summarized in "Laws Concerning Medicine and Medical Practitioners" by Abraham Steinberg in his book "Hiklhot Refu'ah Verofim (Jerusalem, Mossad Harav Kook, 1978). As there are extensive controversies involved in cases of jaundice and other medical problems, a Rabbi should be consulted in all these cases. ***

It is interesting to note that the talmudic scholars were aware of the consequences of circumcision for a hemophiliac - an infant who has inherited a blood disease from the mother. Accordingly, talmudic law stipulates that if the mother has lost two sons as a result of circumcision, or if two sisters each lose one child after milah, subsequent male children born to either of them or to another sister are not to be circumcised until they are determined medically fit for the operation. (Yevamot 64b)

Concerning the performance of the circumcision, the "Tzitz Eliezer" rules out the use of the Mogen clamp and the Gumco clamp in the actual surgery.(Steinberg, pg. 217)' Indeed, it has been found that the traditional manual technique causes the least pain to the infant. The question of whether anesthesia may be used so that the infant will not feel any pain during circumcision, is considered in the Responsa literature. We find that partial anesthesia to the area involved may be permitted, however, the use of general anesthesia is controversial because it is like sealing a covenant with a stone, which does not feel anything, and not with a human being. Such a covenant would have no validity. In addition, it is not permitted to perform circumcision on a sleeping baby, for this is considered wounding the child. (Responsa Seridei Esh, 3:96).

If the child was born by Caesarean section and the eighth day of birth falls on the second day of the New Year, circumcision must be postponed to the following day (Steinberg, pg. 217) If the birth was normal and occurred during the twilight hours, rabbinical authorities should be consulted as to the day of circumcision. (Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh 163:6) The importance that Judaism attaches to circumcision is ingrained in the very essence of the Jewish people. Throughout Jewish history, from the Roman period through the Nazi terror and the communist persecution, we find that Jews sacrificed their lives in order to perform this mitzvah.

Modern medical research has discovered that when circumcision is performed in infancy, it offers almost complete protection against the development of cancer of the penis in later life (as well as cancer of the cervix in women). Circumcision provides protection against inflammation of the prepuce and glans. Despite the medical benefits, circumcision is not performed as a medical operation, but as a basic mitzvah that opens the gate of Judaism for every newborn Jewish male. Regarding all questions about the timing of the berit milah and other medical or technical problems, a competant Rabbi must be consulted.


Judaism grants a special status to the firstborn male child. In every home, the birth of the first child is a special occasion preceded by preparations and a sense of excitement. The attitude toward the newborn is usually one of doubt and hope that they are "doing the right thing"! With the birth of subsequent children, the feelings are more settled and preparations become more routine. The special excitement and wonder accompanying the birth of the firstborn male is captured in Judaism in the special ceremony for the redemption of the first son, "pidyon ha-ben".

One explanation given for this commandment is that it commemorates the great miracle that took place in Egypt when the Almighty killed all the firstborn Egyptian males and spared the Jewish sons.(Rabeinu Aharon Halevi, Sefer ha-Chinnukh (Jerusalem:Eshkol, 1960). Furthermore, the firstborn male child has special rights concerning inheritance and a certain religious obligation to fast on the eve of Passover. This stems from the historic fact that the Almighty sanctified the firstborn males of the Jewish people while they were still in bondage in Egypt, so that they would devote their lives as priests in the Tabernacle and the Temple. This is interpreted by Elihau Kitov as a reward for the faith and trust in G-d displayed by the Jewish people, who fulfilled the commandment of circumcision and the Passover sacrifice while in Egypt and under the difficult conditions imposed upon them. As the entire nation proved their loyalty to G-d by joining the covenant, the Almighty did not isolate the entire nation for the priesthood, but only their firstborn, as it is written: "Sanctify each firstborn male child to Me, among the children of Israel(Exodus 13:1) However, since the firstborn males joined the nation in their act of worshipping the golden calf in the desert, the Almighty replaced them with the Levites, ordaining: "And each firstborn male child shall be redeemed"(Exodus 13:1) " And you shall take the Levites for Me, the Almighty, instead of each firstborn male child in Israel."(Numbers 3:41.

The sanctity of the firstborn is retained in his birthright and in the religious regulations specific to him, such as the "pidyon ha-ben" ceremony and the obligation to fast on the eve of Passover. (If the firsborn attends a "Seudat Mirtzvah" such as a ceremony for the completion of a tractate of the Talmud, he is exempt from this obligation).

The ceremony for the redemption of the firstborn is a mitzvah bound in religious law. The root of this mitzvah is that by performing the determined symbolic act of redeeming his firstborn male child from the Almighty, man acknowledges that all belongs to the Creator and that man has only that which G-d wishes to bestow upon him. It is the duty of the father to redeem the son, and the mother is not responsible for fulfilling this commandment. If redemption is neglected or omitted for any reason, the bet din may compel the father to do so. The responsibility rests on the father forever,(Halevi sec 234) but if he does not fulfill this mitzvah, the son must redeem himself after he has reached the age of maturity (bar mitzvah - thirteen years of age).

Since an infant is not considered viable until after his thirtieth day of life, the redemption ceremony must take place thirty-one days after birth. If the thirty-first day of life is a Sabbath or festival, the ceremony is postponed to the following day. It is desirable for the father to hasten to fulfill the mitzvah as soon as it is time to do so. (Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh 164:3)

The father redeems his son by giving a priest the equivalent of five shekalim (Numbers 3:47) The exact amount is determined by rabbinical authorities in each Jewish community.The redemption equivalent may be given in the form of other assets except for property and legal notes.


The pidyon haben ceremony is a significant event for the parents, relatives, and friends of the male firstborn. The infant is especially dressed for the occasion in his best formal outfit and is bedecked with jewels and ornaments. In some communities it is customary to lay the child on a special silver platter for the ceremony. The father brings the child before the "kohen" (priest) and places the five shekalim before him. The father then declares :

"This, my firstborn son, is the firstborn of his mother. And the Holy one, blessed be He, hath commanded to redeem him, as it is said, 'And those that are to be redeemed of them, from a month old shalt thou redeem, according to thine estimation for the sum of five shekels, in commemoration of the shekel of the sanctuary, the shekel being twenty gerahs. [Num- 18:151 And it is said, "Sanctify unto Me all the firstborn, whatsover openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast; it is Mine'. [Exod. 13:2]

The kohen then asks the father whether his wife has ever had a miscarriage or given birth to a child. The father replies: "No". The father then lays the child before the kohen and the latter asks him: "Which wouldst thou rather give me - thy firstborn son, the firstborn of the mother, or redeem him for five shekalim, which thou are bound to give according to the Torah?" The father replies: "I want to redeem my son, and here is the value of his redemption; which I am obliged to give according to the Torah " The father then holds the redemption money in his hand and before handing it over to the kohen, he he recites: "Blessed art thou. 0 Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who hast sanctified us by Thy commandments and commanded us to redeem the firstborn son. Blessed art Thou, 0 Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, who has kept us in life and bast preserved us and enabled us to observe this occasion"

The kohen then receives the money and holds it over the head of the child while reciting: "This is instead of that, this substitutes for that, this in remission of that. May this child enter into life, the Torah, and the fear of heaven. May it be G-d's will that even as he has been admitted to redemption, so may he enter into the Torah, the nuptial canopy and into good deeds. Amen." The kohen then places his hand on the child's head and recites the following benediction: "May G-d make thee as Ephraim and Manasseh. The Lord bless thee and keep thee; the Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the Lord turn His face unto thee, and give thee peace. The Lord is thy guardian; the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. For length of days, and years of life and peace shall they add to thee. The Lord shall guard thee from all evil: He shall guard thy soul. Amen."

It is customary for the kohen to recite the blessings over wine and in some communities over myrtles immediately after the benedictions.(Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh 164:4)

Following the ceremony, it is customary to invite the guests to a festive dinner which is a "seudat mitzvah". The usual custom is for the pidyon ha-ben ceremonv to take place after the guests have washed and recited the blessing over bread, before they actually sit down for the festive meal.(Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh 164:4).

As the status of the firstborn depends upon the mother, in some pidyon ha-ben ceremonies the mother participates in her own right. The order of the ceremony is as described above, but the rabbis taught that the following prayer is recited at the beginning of the "negotiation" for redemption: The kohen begins by saying: "Blessed art Thou, 0 Lord our G-d, who has sanctified the fetus in his mother' womb, and on the fortieth day from conception, divided his 1imbs into 248 1imbs, and then gave him a soul, as it is written: " And G-d gave man a soul" [Gen. 2:7]. He dressed him in skin and covered him with bones as it is written: "Thou hast clothed me in skin and flesh, and Thou hast covered me with bones and veins" [Job, 10:11]. And the Lord commanded that he be supplied with food and drink, honey and milk for him enjoy, and ordered two guardian angels to watch over him in mother's womb, as is written: "Thou hast given me life and goodness [Job l0:12].

The mother then recites the following declaration: "This is my firstborn son, with whom the Almighty hath opened the doors of my womb." The father follows by pronouncing: "This is my firstborn son, whom I am warned to redeem, as is written: "And every firstborn male child shall be redeemed" [Exodus 13:13].

The benedictions that follow are those described for the contemporary ceremony. The occasion of the pidyon ha-ben is enhanced by the beautiful prayers composed for celebration and the fact that it takes place one month after birth, w hen both parents as well as friends and relatives can enjoy the festivities.


The father is obliged to redeem his firstborn male son to his wife, as it written: "Every first issue of the mother's womb - among human beings and beasts - is Mine (Exodus 13:2) . If the firstborn is born to his mother after a miscarriage, a rabbi should be consulted concerning the requirement for redemption. Usually, if the miscarriage occurred before Fourtieth day of pregnancy, the first viable male child must be redeemed. However, if the mother had a miscarriage which rendered her impure according to the Halakhah (Biblical law) the firstborn viable male need not be redeemed. A distinction is made in this matter between the firstborn "for the Kohen" (i.e. who requires redemption) and the firstborn for inheritance privileges, as specified in tractate Bechorot (Kitzzur Shulkhan Arukh 164).

A firstborn male child born through Caesarean section is exempt from redemption. Kohanim and Levites are also exempt from redemption. Thus, if a daughter of a kohen or a Levite marries an Israelite, her firstborn male child is exempt from redemtpion. If she marries a non-Jew, however, her firstborn male child requires redemption, for she has forfeited her sanctity.ince low weight does not determine the viability of a child if he is not ill, an incubator baby whose low weight has kept him from being circumcised is nevertheless redeemed on time. (Rambam, Hilkhot Milah, Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh, 164:3)


While the festivities after birth naturally center around the newborn, the mother is never forgotten in Jewish tradition. According to the Code of Jewish Law, women are not exempt from reciting the "birkat ha-gomel" (the blessing of thanks) after being saved from mortal danger or after recuperating from an illness ((Shulkhan Arukh, Orach Chaim, siman 219).The occasion of a safe delivery naturally falls in this category. Therefore, it is customary for the mother to come to the synagogue on the Sabbath after she has regained her strength. (In some communities this is done forty days after the birth of a boy and eighty days after the birth of a girl.) At that time, the father rises to read the Torah, and after he recites the second blessing on the Torah, the mother recites the "birkat ha- gomel" from the women's gallery as follows: "Blessed art Thou O Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, who bestows goodness to the undeserving and who has dealt kindly with me." The other women present answer as follows: "May - He who has shown you kindness deal kindly with you forever." (The Hertz prayer book includes a special prayer composed for the occasion.) In many communities only the father recites the blessing. In other communities, the blessing is recited on the Saturday night after birth, or after the milah a minyan (ten peaple) come to pray in the home of the mother, and after the "maariv" (nighttime) prayer the mother recites the blessing and those gathered reply " Amen". Yet others maintain that the blessing should be recited during the milah ceremony. In this case, it is a unique opportunity - for the woman to fulfill the commandment, thus emphasizing the importance of conception in Judaism and the special status awarded to mothers. In some communities the father rises to read the Torah, and the mother recites: "Blessed art Thou, the blessed eternally."


Although Judaism places great value on the birth of a boy (Pessachim 65), the arrival of a girl in the family is also celebrated with great joy and love .There are no specific religious rituals as in the case of A boy, however, the birth of a baby girl is marked with a festive naming ceremony which takes place in the synagogue. It is customary to name the new baby girl on the first Shabbat after birth. The father is given an "alivah" (called to read the Torah portion), and to honor the occasion the cantor recites the benediction for the mother who has just given birth and for the baby girl "who was born to her with good luck, and whose name shall be in Israel ________." Thus, with the first formal use of her name, the girl's birth is announced to the community in the framework of the synagogue. In some communities, it is the custom to announce the birth and name the girl in the synagogue on the first Tuesday or Thursday after birth, when the Torah is read in the morning prayers. In yet other communities, the naming ceremony is held thirty days after birth. Following the naming declaration, it is customary to hold a festive Kiddush (light meal) in the synagogue. Many parents also schedule a special Kiddush on the Sabbath in honor of the occasion.

An interesting statement in the Talmud adds a symbolic note to the fact that the naming ceremony is held at the same time that the father is given an aliyah: "Man should be accessible to grant his daughter her needs with kindness."

Despite the fact that a girl's birth does not bring any specific economic benefits for her parents, and does not ensure the continuance of the family name, Judaism attributes great importance to her status as a future "woman of valor")Proverbs 31) and affords her the same protection and possibilities for development to her maximum capabilities as in the case of boys. Thus, Judaism acknowledges the need for all children to receive the care and attention they require according to their needs (San 69)


The name given to a Jewish child is carefully chosen and usually methodically planned. The event of naming is incorporated in the religious ceremonies after birth, and the choice of a name is integrated with Judaic philosophy and the historic or family sentiments of the parents. The importance attached to names is perhaps best explained by the following passage from the Midrash: "Man has three names: one by which his fond parents call him, another by which he is known to the outside world, and a third, the important of all, the name which his own deeds have procured for him." (Tanchuma, Vayakhel) Jewish parents have three main categories of names to choose from. The most common choice is that of a deceased close relative. The custom of naming children after members of the family arose only after the fourteenth century. Often a is given more than one name so as to commemorate more one ancestor. The second category of Jewish names comprises the names of the patriarchs and of prominent historical figures. The Talmud recommends that names be chosen from the list of Jewish patriarchs and prominent personalities (Rosh Hashana 18a) but not from the oppressors or enemies of the Jews, as it is stated: "Have you ever seen a person who named his son Pharaoh, Sisera, or Sancherib? But he calls him Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Reuben or Simeon."(Genesis Rabbah 41:1) Finally, there are foreign names which have been translated into Hebrew throughout the course of history as the Jewish people came in contact with other nations. (Examples of these are Abba (from Aramaic), Alexander (from Greek). Many Hebrew names have some meaning or symbolical significance. The Hebrew name is most important when the person is called to read the Torah in the synagogue or when prayers are recited on his or her behalf, in times of trouble or illness. The Talmud emphasizes that the people of Israel were redeemed from bondage in Egypt as a result of their admirable tenacity in adhering to their Hebrew names even while in exile (as a symbol of their religious identity).(Sotah 11b) The importance of giving the Jewish child a Hebrew name is also based on the concept that the language of the "celestial court" is Hebrew. This is related to a custom originating with the kabbalists of the seventeenth century, in which everv Jewish child chooses a biblical verse beginning with the first letter of his/her name and ending with the last letter of the Hebrew name This verse is recited after the "Shemoneh Esreh" prayer. and it is believed that the soul reports to the celestial angels with this verse in order to advance the processing of its earthly record after death. It is also believed that the Messiah will use the Hebrew names when he calls upon the departed to arise. ***


A) The following are some informative internet sites relating to the berit milah, pidyon haben and naming the child:

www. www.

B) Further information on halakhic rulings and special cases regarding "berit milah" and Jewish names may be available on the JUICE Forum which you can enter via the JUICE Cafe link on the JUICE home page.

Best wishes to you all for a Happy Kosher Pesach! In our next session after the holiday recess we will begin to discover the Biblical Perspective on the "First Five Years: From Infant to Child




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28 Aug 2005 / 23 Av 5765 0