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Baby Traditions Around the World

Pregnant WomanHebrew Baby Shower in Israel

By Maria

After 9 months the happy moment arrives. You have a newborn baby. In many countries it is a custom to throw a shower in honor of the newborn and his parents. Here, in Israel, we also have our version of a baby shower party. Those “Hebrew style” baby showers are only celebrated after the child’s birth and, surprisingly enough, have their strong roots in Jewish religious traditions. Therefore, in order to understand contemporary traditions of the Israeli non-religious population regarding newborn babies, we should first understand more about Jewish religion traditions.

Ritual circumcision - what is it, and how was it done:
Circumcision (Brit Milah in Hebrew) symbolizes in Jewish tradition the covenant between Abraham and God. According to the Bible, Abraham performed the circumcision for himself and for his two sons as a symbol of the covenant (brit, in Hebrew) with God. The younger son of Abraham, Yitzhak, who is considered as one of Jewish ancestors, was circumcised when he was only 8 days old. Through the ages and until present time, a tradition to circumcise male newborns at the age of 8 days is one of the more devotedly kept traditions in Jewish society. Many claim that circumcision is “good for the health”. Whether this claim is truthful or not, the main reason for the fact that vast majority of Israeli males are circumcised lay in religious traditions. This is reassured by the fact that circumcision became more popular at the Roman age, as a contra to the Jews that tried to assimilate into the Roman society. To sum up, most of the Israeli boys are circumcised at a very young age.

The celebrations of the circumcision were also of a religious character. In the past, it was accepted to perform the circumcision at your own home, and the celebrations of the pact with God were held adjacent to the circumcision. Elder people celebrated by eating and dancing, while young males celebrated by studying the Bible. The newborn was at the center of the celebrations. However, attention was also given to the newborn’s family and the man who holds the baby during the circumcision - the newborn’s godfather. Brit Milahwas one of the most important events in a family life; therefore many guests were invited to celebrate with the family. During the ritual, a name was also given to the newborn (usually a rabbi or a circumciser were the one who first pronounced the name).

Hey, and what about the girls?
Fortunately enough, there is no female circumcision in Jewish tradition, since no treaty was “signed up” with God through Jewish females. Maybe because of that or maybe due to the minor role of women in Jewish religious life no celebrations were held for the newborn baby girls. However, the lack of ceremonies for the newborn girls disturbed the reform religious Jews, and new traditions were starting to form. (An oldest reference for the ceremony in honor of a newborn girl appeared only in 1554!) Those included naming of the child in a special ceremony, greeting of the child and a celebration feast. In some places the tradition also included planting of a tree for the newborn girl.

It should be noticed that the celebrations for the birth of a male child have always had several necessary components and were held as a well-established ritual. However, there has always been a lack of ceremonial uniformity for the birth celebrations of baby girls.

Baby showers in the present:
Nowadays, the vast majority of non-religious baby boys still undergo the brit milah (or brit in short) being only 8 days old (the brit can be postponed only for medical reasons). However, the main goal of the circumcision is not religious but rather traditional. Therefore, the surgery itself is not necessarily done by a circumciser (mohel), but rather by a medical doctor (who can, nevertheless, be also a mohel). In this way, the circumcisions are usually done in hospitals and the celebrations cannot be done adjacent to the surgery itself. Moreover, usually the non-religious families do not want to celebrate the act of circumcision, but rather the birth of their child. The celebrations of the brit milah are usually done at celebration halls, coffee shops and more rarely at the newborn’s parents or grandparents’ home. Families that still insist on sharing the circumcision act with their beloved ones can invite the mohel to the event and make the circumcision a part of the celebrations. However, since the surgery itself is rather shocking, this practice is not popular. Since there is an equality of sexes in non-religious Jewish families, similar celebrations are thrown for the birth of baby girls. Those celebrations are called brita - a female version of the brit. But be certain- no cutting is involved!

In Israeli traditions, brit or brita is a most important event in the life of a child parents. Therefore, all the relatives and friends of the parents are invited to the event. The party can take place at a private house. However, since many people are invited (and we are talking about 50 people at least) it is more accepted to arrange for the celebrations at celebration halls, coffee shops or small restaurants. Usually, the brit (or brita) celebrations are child oriented. For those celebrations we don’t leave the kids home with a babysitter but take them to the party with us. The newborn child is also brought into the celebrations, where he or she is introduced to the guests. Sometimes, in order to avoid excessive attention to the newborn, parents prepare a presentation that contains photographs of a newborn. The presentation is projected on a big screen, and everyone can see the baby and comment on his looks. Since many children are usually invited to the celebrations, it’s only logical that the celebrations are arranged in such a way that younger children enjoy them. The celebrations are usually scheduled for late mornings or afternoons, at weekends. A special entertainer for the kids (usually a clown of some sort or even a babysitter) is provided. It is also a popular habit that young siblings and relatives of the newborn congratulate him and his parents, seldom by a song or a poem. Music in those events is usually rather quiet, since often small children fall asleep during the celebrations. As in all Jewish parties, a main entertainment of the brit celebration is the food. Light dishes with an entertaining motives (again, for the children) are usually served. No such party takes place without a photographer or a cinematographer; especially due to a recent trend to integrate photographs from brit into wedding videos. 

Recently, due to the fact that the act of a circumcision is mainly done as a tribute to tradition (that few believe should be abandoned) and not as a religious act, and because the birth of a baby girls was not celebrated by religious Jews, more people believe that the brit or brita should not be celebrated at all. However I personally believe that the birth of a child must be celebrated and not necessary due to religious or historical reasons. After all, this is a good opportunity for the new mother to go outside for a party, to rest for a while, and to show off the fruit of a hard labor that took a whole nine month to complete.


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