There is no commandment in the Hebrew Bible to welcome Jewish girls in a particular ceremony, so over the centuries a wide variety of ceremonies have been developed. In India, parents decorate their home with flower blossoms floating in water. In Turkey, and originally in Medieval Spain, guests at the Las Fadas ceremony would pass around the baby girl and say a blessing and speak of their hope for the new child.
Until the ‘70s, the only widespread ritual for welcoming girls in the U.S. was a brief ceremony where fathers, or both parents, would go to synagogue and have a blessing recited expressing hope that the girl grows up in good health, learns Torah, marries under a wedding canopy and does good deeds. (See Blessing for Entering Baby into the Covenant.)
In 1973, the first welcoming ceremony for girls was created by an innovative Jewish couple, Michael and Sharon Strassfield. Since then, countless variations and adaptations of the ritual (sometimes known as simchat bat or kabbalat bat) have sprung up, and it is now common among both liberal and Orthodox Jews to hold welcoming ceremonies for their baby daughters. There is no equivalent to a mohel for girls.
While there is no fixed form or required content for a simchat bat, a common structure has emerged, often in this sequence:
- A song, sometimes a wordless Jewish one known as a niggun.
- An introduction welcoming guests to the ceremony.
- A Hebrew welcome.
- Blessings of thanksgiving by the baby's parents.
- Prayers and readings related to parenting and raising a child.
- A ritual welcoming the new daughter into the Jewish community. This often involves wrapping the child in a ritual shawl (tallis), lighting candles or washing her feet.
- Explanation of the baby's name, and a recitation of formal naming blessings.
- Presentation of a Jewish ritual item as a gift.
- Recitation of prayers, poems and other readings by honored guests.
- Blessing over wine.
- Blessings of gratitude from the girl's parents.
- Another song or two.
- Recitation of the blessing over bread (hamotzi).
- A festive meal.
Sources include Traditional Ways of Welcoming Jewish Daughters, The Modern Evolution of Ceremonies for Girls and The Elements of a Brit Bat, all by Debra Nussbaum Cohen, MyJewishLearning.com.
The Guide to Birth Ceremonies for Interfaith Families is also available in PDF or Word formats.