Mystery of the Covenant: A New Ceremony of Simkhat Brit

What moment better illustrates the tzelem Elohim (the image of God) than bringing a child into the world? Through conception, gestation, and delivery, many of us are blessed to discover that we, like HaShem, have the capacity to partner in creating life.

In the best of circumstances, parents conceive an infant out of shared passion for each other and a mutual yearning to love, teach, and nurture a new life. Birthing that child can seem nothing less than miraculous, especially for the mother whose life force animates the child for nine months. In adoption, the efforts to bring home a child require a remarkable degree of tenacity, ingenuity, and years of fervent hope, prayer, and commitment—a different kind of miracle.

Even in the worst of circumstances, when a child is born of unthinkable transgression but the mother continues the pregnancy, the birth and caring can (though not always) serve to heal the trauma and bring love and faith back into the mother’s heart.

For these and many other reasons, bringing a child ritually into “the tribe” soon after birth is no light matter. In fact, bringing a newborn ceremonially into the mishpachah can and should be one of the most powerful religious moments in a family’s experience. Ideally it engages the deep structure, scripture, liturgy, and theology of our tradition. Because it is commonly a home-based ceremony, it is critical that it evoke the Shekhinah (Divine presence,) introducing the palpable reality of Mystery into a child’s consciousness and into a family’s center, to dwell in the mishkan (sanctuary) of their hearts and their home.

Brit Milah, the covenant of circumcision, with the inherent tension and intensity of a public surgical procedure, is without doubt one of the most dramatic ritual events in the Jewish tradition. Its prayers and blessings have logical roots and its scriptural foundation is clear. This combination works to jolt the consciousness of all those present into a strong waking state, allowing HaShem’s presence to permeate even our strongest defenses. The ceremony for welcoming Jewish boys into our covenant contains all of the elements appropriate to the occasion.

But what is our experience of Jewish ceremonies welcoming daughters? Some of the existing ceremonies don’t even name the brit (covenant) into which the female child is brought. Surely there is more we can do to activate the Shekhinah in our midst, to declare to her: “HERE IS ANOTHER JEWISH SOUL! HALLELUYAH!” and leave those in attendance transformed. To create a satisfying, meaningful ceremony, we can identify compelling texts, appropriately complementary blessings, and dramatic ritual elements that capture the deep foundation of a daughter’s entry into the brit.

The following scriptural and theological analysis, with resulting ritual suggestions, is offered in an effort to draw us closer to a Simchat Brit, or Rejoicing of the Convenant, that captures the awe and blessing of bringing a ‘baby woman’, as the Doonesbury comic would say, into our people.

Why “Simkhat Brit?” First and foremost, because initiation is about a lifetime contract. A title such as Simkhat Bat (literally Rejoicing in a Daughter) that does not acknowledge the covenant, does not capture the purpose of this welcome. Next, the covenant we are initiating the girl into isn’t hers alone, as the title Brit Bat would suggest. Naming the covenant for the ritual element at its center, as is done in Brit Milah, seems to say that covenant is about the circumcision, but we know that circumcision is merely the sign, not the covenant itself. Simkhat Brit, on the other hand, captures our joy at bringing a new soul into the community. Moreover, because the term is gender neutral, it could be used for welcoming boys as well.

For a PDF of the complete article, click here.

For the ceremony alone, see Simkhat Brit.

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