Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Hebrew Baby Names

Hebrew Names

Hebrew names started to compete with names from other languages early on in Jewish history. As far back as the Talmudic period, 200 B.C.E. to 500 C.E., many Jews gave their children Aramaic, Greek and Roman names.

Later, during the Middle Ages in Eastern Europe, it became customary for Jewish parents to give their children two names. A secular name for use in the gentile world, and a Hebrew name for religious purposes.

Hebrew names are used for calling men to the Torah. Certain prayers, such as the memorial prayer or the prayer for the sick, also use the Hebrew name. Legal documents, such as the marriage contract or ketubah, use the Hebrew name.

Today, many American Jews give their children both English and Hebrew names. Often the two names start with the same letter. For instance, Blake's Hebrew name might be Boaz and Lindsey's might be Leah. Sometimes the English name is the English version of the Hebrew name, like Jonah and Yonah or Eva and Chava.

The two main sources for Hebrew names for today's Jewish babies are older Biblical names and modern Israeli names.

For more information see
Why Give Your Baby a Hebrew Name

Friday, January 25, 2008

Simchat bat

While brit milah is performed for newborn boys, there is no corresponding formal birth ceremony for baby girls. Traditionally, newborn girls have been given their Jewish names in a simple naming ceremony in the synagogue. To many people, the disparity between the elaborate birth rite for boys and the brief naming rite for girls seems unequal in this day and age, to say the least.
In response, many new birth ceremonies for infant girls have been introduced in recent years. Because it is not yet part of the liturgy, there are no standard, agreed upon elements for the ceremony. Indeed, even the name of the ceremony is undecided—simchat bat ("the rejoicing of the daughter"), brit habat ("covenant of the daughter") and brit kedusha ("the covenant of holiness") are all routinely used.
Simchat bat is often celebrated on the eighth day of life, as for a brit. However, many parents choose to wait several weeks to a month after birth before performing the ceremony.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Brit Milah

Today, circumcision—the removal of all or part of the foreskin covering the glans of the penis—is routine for many babies, whether Jewish or not. For non-Jews it is most often performed for hygienic reasons. But for Jews, circumcision is a ritual with deep religious and cultural significance. Brit milah, which literally means "covenant of circumcision," symbolizes the child's entry into the community of Israel and is a reminder of the covenant between God and the Children of Israel.
The ritual of circumcision is the most widely observed commandment among Jews, both past and present. Indeed, the pages of history are filled with stories of Jews who, during times of persecution, risked everything, even their lives, to fulfill the mitzvah of brit. Where did the practice of ritual circumcision come from? And why would so many follow the commandment, especially when risking so much?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Naming Ceremonies

In Judaism, it is traditional to give boys their Hebrew names during the ceremony of brit milah, or bris, the ritual circumcision that takes place on the baby's eighth day of life.

Traditionally, girl's names are given in the synagogue on a day when the Torah is read.

However, in recent times many parents have begun to hold naming ceremonies for their daughters, called simhat bat, which take place at the same time as would a brit milah.

For both boys and girls, naming ceremonies are beautiful, often highly emotional ceremonies for welcoming a child into the world.

Special Note on Naming a Child After a Relative

One of the most common practices is to name a child to honor a relative. Sephardic Jews name their children freely after both living and deceased relatives.
However, Ashkenazim rarely name children after living relatives, based on the belief that this will bring bad luck to both the child and the relative.
Traditional superstition held that the Angel of Death may take the child instead of the older family member.
For this reason, it's very uncommon to name a child after his living father. You won't find many Juniors among Ashkenazic Jews

Different English & Hebrew Names

Other parents pick unrelated English and Hebrew names, deciding instead on a Hebrew name that evokes special meaning or significance for them. Biblical names and names of relatives are the most common Hebrew names, but names are also chosen to reflect:

A holiday, season or month

An animal, plant or flower

Place names of special meaning, especially places in Israel

A name that appears in the parashah, the weekly Torah portion, around the time of the child's birth (popular among Orthodox Jews)

Jewish or Israeli celebrities

Jewish or Israeli historical figures

Similar English & Hebrew Names

Many parents pick Hebrew and English names that compliment each other. The names may:
Sound alike or start with the same letter
Be variations or equivalencies of the same name
Have the same meaning