Jim Keen is the author of the book Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner's Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family (URJ Press). He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife and two daughters.
I Have to Admit, I'm Glad We Had Girls
Before my wife, Bonnie, and I were married, we had numerous conversations on how to raise our kids. We eventually decided to raise them in her faith, Judaism. Through our discussions, I had grown comfortable with our decision.
"You know, they'll celebrate Hanukkah, not Christmas," my wife stated.
"Sure," I replied with confidence.
"They're going to go to temple, not church."
"I would expect that."
"If we have a girl, she'll have a brit bat."
"That's the baby-naming ceremony, right? It'll be beautiful."
"If we have a boy, he'll have a brit milah."
"No probl...Wait. Isn't that where they cut the...?"
I spent a few moments pondering what I had gotten myself into. I had no problem with circumcision. I had been; why shouldn't my son be? It was just the thought of making a big deal out of the procedure that made me pause and wonder. I pictured all of our family and friends gathered in our living room, eating delicious food, engaging in lively conversation, and genuinely enjoying themselves. Then the mohel, who performs the ritual, steps up to the baby, pulls out his scissors, and SNIP! Bonnie's family shouts, "mazel tov!" My family becomes silent, wide eyed, frozen like deer in your headlights, then runs to the bathroom to recycle their sesame bagels.
What was I going to do? I finally decided that a commitment was a commitment. My wife and I had made our decision together and we would stick to it. If we had boys, we would just have to ease my family into the idea of the brit milah, or bris as it is often called.
When joining two families of different faiths together, nothing else screams, "Welcome to intermarriage!" quite like a brit milah. Fortunately, my family has been very supportive every step of the way, and I'm sure they'd have behaved just fine. My guess was that they would have been so overjoyed just to have a grandson to love (and spoil), that nothing else would have mattered.
As it turns out, God has yet to test us on our reactions to a bris. Instead, he has given Bonnie and me two beautiful girls, for whom we had baby namings. While no surgery is involved during this ceremony, a brit bat is still a uniquely Jewish moment that can be foreign to a Protestant family such as mine. In fact, it can be new to many American Jews, as well, for the idea of this ceremony for girls came about only recently in the U.S.
Because it was a learning experience for so many who attended, I think that most were fascinated by it. The rabbi that came to our home to perform the ceremony did an excellent job of explaining what was about to take place. After welcoming all of our friends and family, he told everyone the significance of the baby naming. This was great for both Jews and Christians who had never witnessed one before. Then, after my parents carried our daughter into the room, he said a few blessings and gave her her Hebrew name. After this, my in-laws said the blessings over the wine and challah. The participation of both sets of parents was not only beautiful, but also crucial. Bonnie and I had coordinated what would take place ahead of time. We wanted to make sure that both families felt at home and comfortable with the ceremony. By having Bonnie's parents say the blessings and my parents carry our daughter into the room, everyone was a part of the baby naming. Nothing but smiles adorned the faces of those who were in our living room that day. Instead of potentially alienating my family, the brit bat resoundingly opened the door and welcomed them into our daughters' Jewish faith.
After the ceremony, it was, of course, time to enjoy the delicious spread of food covering the dining room table. Bagels, lox, pastries, cheeses, noodle kugel-you name it, we ate it, which also would have been true at a bris. Everyone was laughing, talking, and eating. I didn't care that it was 30 degrees and snowing outside. As far as I was concerned, it was a gorgeous day.
I will always remember my daughters' baby namings with deep, loving feelings. I'm sure that if they had been boys, their brit milah would have been just as fulfilling. Right now, though, I'm just as happy letting my friends with boys have the honors.
Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. Yiddish word for a savory or sweet pudding made from either noodles, potatoes or matzah. Hebrew for "circumciser" (Yiddish term is "moyel"), the person who performs a ritual circumcision. The feminine form is "mohelet." Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. Hebrew for "covenant," often referring to the ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old ("brit milah" - "covenant of circumcision"). It is commonly known as "bris," which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of "brit."