Gearing up for your child’s baby naming? There are many things to consider, particularly for interfaith and unaffiliated families. Lev Baesh, rabbi of Jewish Renewal congregation B’nai Or of Boston and director of the Resource Center for Jewish Studies at InterfaithFamily.com, shares his expertise on baby-naming ceremonies.
What are some things interfaith families should think about when considering baby-naming ceremonies?
If at all possible, couples should meet with clergy to talk about the logistics of naming ceremonies well before a baby is on the way. If a rabbi or other clergy is part of the wedding planning, this person may be helpful in planning for naming children. Couples will want to talk about including family members in the ceremonies and appropriate rituals and blessings. Also, choosing names can be important for family continuity and identity, and the more couples know about their family’s expectations, the less stress there will be once the baby is named. Along with logistics, couples will want to discuss the meaning of naming and how to choose names for their children. Couples can often find Hebrew equivalents for names from other traditions and cultures. Some rabbis require Hebrew names to be associated with Jewish family members and others are open to any names coming from any relationships. I just celebrated a naming with the child’s middle name coming from a young friend of the family who had died and whom the family wanted to honor.
What about unaffiliated families?
Unaffiliated families will want to search for clergy support for naming ceremonies early in pregnancy, or toward the end of an adoption process, and should ask about fees and availability for the ceremony. Ceremonies can be performed at home or a public place, like a restaurant or function hall, if synagogue membership is not a part of the plan. Very often, families have made a strong connection to their wedding rabbi or cantor, and have continued to use this person for other family ceremonies.
What about baby naming itself? Are there any specific “rules” to consider?
There are several rituals often included in baby-naming ceremonies. Wine blessings for the joy of the day, blessings for new occasions, blessings for the naming and for the welfare of the baby and blessings for parents and grandparents are often included. Often in Jewish naming ceremonies, babies are named for deceased relatives (from Eastern-European tradition) or for living relatives (from Southern-European Jewish practice). Godparents are understood as important in Christian baby ceremonies, and are found in some Jewish ceremonies. Some rabbis welcome any godparents who will support the parents in raising “spiritual” children, and some require that all participants in the ceremonial naming be Jewish. It’s important to discuss this with officiating clergy. Also, some rabbis require couples to choose only Judaism for their children, while others are open to blended religious identities, and there are those who will support couples in including Jewish rituals in ceremonies that are mainly held in other religious traditions.
How can interfaith families have meaningful celebrations that incorporate both traditions?
Interfaith families should find support for their ceremonies, like clergy from both traditions, who can guide them and facilitate the ceremonies. If couples lead the ceremonies on their own, clergy can be a guide behind the scenes to help introduce the couples to rituals and readings they might otherwise not know about. Including blessings and readings from both sets of family are important to create an inclusive and welcoming ceremony. Also, paying attention to language about God and spirituality, with an awareness of comfort levels for extended family, can help to make a ceremony balanced and connective. Couples should be aware of which rituals families expect to be included and which ones are optional. Clergy can help couples talk with their families if ceremonial rituals will be different from these expectations. Also, a written program and explanations during the ceremony can help people feel included.
What should an interfaith family consider for a bris?
A bris (or brit milah) is the ritual circumcision of a Jewish baby boy. Within both interfaith and intrafaith families, the issue of circumcision can raise concerns or differences of opinion. Some fathers feel strongly that their sons should not be circumcised if they are not, and vice versa. The ritual may feel unsafe or unnecessary, particularly for a parent who isn’t Jewish and is unfamiliar with ritual circumcision. The best way for parents to come to an agreement is through better education about the meaning and importance of a bris in the Jewish tradition, and about what the baby will experience physically. It’s often helpful to discuss the experience with other parents who had similar concerns. Your synagogue or other local Jewish agency may be able to put you in touch with other parents who are willing to share their experiences. For those who feel anxious about the safety of the procedure, it may be comforting to work with mohelim (ritual circumcisers) who are also trained physicians.