Rituals for newborn Jewish boys initiate them into their Jewish cultural and religious identities. People born to a Jewish mother are considered Jewish, and customary rituals begin to take place soon after birth. While many modern Jewish parents eschew some traditional Jewish practices, such as avoiding baby showers, other practices, such as circumcision and naming rituals, frequently take place today.
Brit Milah: Circumcision History
The Brit Milah is the Jewish circumcision ritual. Jews point to the biblical story of Abraham in Genesis for the practice's foundations. In the story, God tells Abraham to circumcise himself, his family, his slaves and any future male descendants that come into his family. Jews believe that the circumcision practice dates back 3,000 years. They see it as such an essential component of their identity that they allow it to take place on the Sabbath, despite the fact that it draws blood, a prohibited Sabbath practice. Those who do not receive circumcision risk the penalty called karet, or exclusion by the community.
Brit Milah: Circumcision Rituals
On the eighth day of a newborn Jewish male's life, he traditionally has his Brit Milah, though parents can defer the ritual for medical necessity. The ceremony can take place at the family's home or in the synagogue. Female family members dress the infant in white and bring him into a room with male relatives. They place him on the lap of a man whom the family chose as the sandek, or the person who will hold the infant during the ritual. The family usually chooses an older male relative or a rabbi for the honor. The room also includes an empty chair for the Prophet Elijah. A mohel, a person familiar with both Jewish practices and medicine, performs the circumcision in front of the father, though other male family members are typically present. They then give the child wine.
The Naming Ritual
After a child's birth, the father reads the Torah at a synagogue service in a ceremony known as aliyah. The family then announce the name of newborn girls. However, the family does not announce the name of newborn boys until after the Brit Milah. After the circumcision ritual, the family reveals the child's official Hebrew name, which they keep secret before that time. Jewish infants typically receive two names, a Gentile name and a Hebrew one. The family traditionally names children after a deceased ancestor, and believes that the child will have a special connection to that person.
Pidyon Haben: Redemption Ritual
Pidyon Haben takes place on the 31st day of a firstborn male's life. The redemption ritual does not apply to firstborns that are female, or to second-born males, so many families do not participate in the process at all. Jews believe that God selected the firstborn males to be priests, but that their ancestors broke a covenant when they worshiped an idol, the Golden Calf. God then granted favor to the tribe of Levites, who descended from Aaron, for upholding the covenant. During Pidyon Haben, the family dresses in their finest clothes, decorates their infant with jewelry and places him on a silver platter. They take him to a kohen, or priest and descendant of Aaron, in a synagogue. After the blessings, the family offers the kohen five pieces of silver. The silver serves to pay for the kohen's services in the temple, in place of the firstborn's services. The family then celebrates with a feast of meat and wine.
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