On the Birth of a Daughter, Leifer

These blessings were chosen from the Blessings for Various Occasions and the Seven Wedding Blessings. We chose those blessings that had general and particular personal meaning for us. We deliberately paralleled these blessings in number and content with the wedding blessings, seeing the birth of our child one of the fulfillments of our marriage, and because of the fullness and sacral quality of the number seven in Jewish tradition… We said these seven blessings together at the Kiddush following the naming of our daughter in shul.

baby and Hebrew text
Praised are you, Adonai, our God, Lord of the Cosmos, Creator of the Mystery of Creation.
Praised are you, Adonai, our God, Lord of the Cosmos, Creator of Everything for your Glory.
Praised are you, Adonai, our God, Lord of the Cosmos, Creator of Humanity.
Praised are you, Adonai, our God, Lord of the Cosmos, who created human beings in your image, after your likeness, and out of their very selves you prepared for them a perpetual spiritual being. Praised are you, Lord, Creator of humanity.
Praised are you, Adonai, our God, Lord of the Cosmos, who has such as these creatures in your world.
Praised are you, Adonai, our God, Lord of the Cosmos. Who remembers of the Covenant and steadfastly faithful in your Covenant, keeping your promise.
Praised are you, Adonai, our God, Lord of the Cosmos, who has sustained us in life and being and brought us to this very moment.
Praised are you, Adonai, our God, Lord of the Cosmos, Creator of the fruit of the vine.

The giving or taking on of a Hebrew name connotes the acquisition of being and identity within Jewish language culture. When done amidst a quorum of ten Jews, a congregation, it connoted the introduction and acceptance of the new member and the celebration of the community in its enhanced strength and vitality… [Both parents, together with the baby] had an aliyah… paternal grandfather read the naming prayer…followed with the sheheyanu blessing.

Immediately following and to mark the occasion, members of the minyan, were asked to read in Hebrew, in accompaniment with the English response of the congregation, the verses of a specially selected Psalm. We comprised a Hebrew letter acrostic spelling out Ariel's name from Psalm 119, which itself is an eightfold acrostic… This was not an original idea but its origin is unknown to use, except that we had heard of its use by Prof. Petuchowski of Hebrew Union College.

Pidyon Haben (redemption of the first-born son): After the first-born of Egypt are slain in the tenth plague, "The Lord spoke further to Moses, saying, 'Consecrate to Me every first-born...'" (Exodus 13:1-2) In gratitude for being spared the fate of the all the other first-born in Egypt, the Israelite first-born were to become priests serving in the Tabernacle. However, after the incident of the Golden Calf, the Levites are assigned to service in the Tabernacle, in place of the firstborn, without nullifying their dedication: "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 'I hereby take the Levites from among the Israelites in place of all the first-born... For every first-born is Mine: at the time that I smote every first-born in the land of Egypt, I consecrated every first-born in Israel, ....'" (Numbers 3:11-13)

Traditional Jews therefore continue the practice of redeeming the firstborn son. To "require" redemption, the baby must be his mother's firstborn, not have been born by Caesarian section and neither parent be a Cohen or Levite (descendants of the Priestly families). During this ceremony, the father presents his son to a Cohen and then gives the Cohen five ceremonial silver shekels (the Bank of Israel mints special coins for this purpose), five silver dollars or the equivalent, in order to redeem the child. Although the Cohen is entitled to keep the money, he often donates it to tzedakah (charity) and may even return it to the family, if they are in need.

PIDYON HABAT (redemption of the firstborn daughter)

Perhaps most important of all, in our efforts to celebrate the birth of our daughter with the same equality and dignity with which the birth of a son is traditionally celebrated, was our decision to have a pidyon habat, a redemption of our firstborn daughter…. Many have objected to the ceremony of pidyon haben because they no longer wish to maintain the distinctions and privileges of office of the Priests, Levites, and Israelites. While we subscribe to this point of view, to rest one 's opposition to the concept of pidyon redemption upon the role of the priest in the ceremony is sorely to misunderstand the nature of the religious ritual. The holiness acquired by firstborn males "at the time that I (God) smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt" (Num. 8:17) is the kedushah of life, a supplemental and extraordinary gift of hesed (loving-kindness) and redemption, bestowed by God when all other firstborn human life was annihilated. The "twice-born" sanctity of the firstborn is a result of joining kedushah from Nature with kedushah from History so characteristic of our tradition.

We wished to retain the awe and gratitude for a peter rehem (womb-opening) child which is reflected in the traditional ceremony. We also wished to emphasize, as does the traditional ceremony, the dedication of the parents to rear their child for a Jewish life of "Torah, huppah (marriage), and good deeds." However, we wished to shift the latter emphasis to include the broad range of values, traditional Jewish and nontraditional Jewish and humanitarian values, with which we hoped to imbue our daughter. Thus we eliminated the role of the priests, and the five shekelim… Instead we chose to donate a sum of eighteen dollars (the numerical value of the Hebrew letters of the word hai, life, is eighteen) in Ariel's name to three Jewish and three non-Jewish organizations which are engaged in [causes that represent] values we affirm and hope to convey to her. In each case we sent a letter explaining the meaning and occasion of our contribution. (In almost all cases, we received warm letters in response we are saving these for her.) We followed the traditional text and format of the ceremony; changing, adopting, adding so as to create what we hoped would be a ritual that took our tradition forward, unabused but invigorated…

Their innovative pidyon habat (redemption of the firstborn daughter) ceremony.

excerpted from: Koltun, Elizabeth, The Jewish Woman: New Perspectives (New York: Schocken, 1976), pp.22-24; 25-28. Originally published in Response number 18; summer 1973. By permission of Myra Leifer, PhD.




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