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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Jewish Childrearing Related Questions (12/12)

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               Frequently Asked Questions on Soc.Culture.Jewish
		Part 12: Jewish Childrearing Related Questions
         [Last Change: $Date: 1996/04/10 18:08:37 $ $Revision: 1.7 $]
                    [Last Post: Sun Feb  8 11:07:17 US/Pacific 2004]

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     Special Introduction to the Jewish Childrearing Portion of the FAQ
   This FAQ is intended to serve two newsgroups: soc.culture.jewish and
   soc.culture.jewish.parenting. The latter group will recieve only the
   Jewish Childrearing Portion of the FAQ. Readers with non-childrearing
   questions about Judaism should consult the first part of the
   [2]soc.culture.jewish FAQ, available at [3]
   Answers to general childrearing questions may be found in the
   [4] FAQs, posted on a regular basis to

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Subject: ORGANIZATION This portion of the FAQ contains answers to the following questions: Section 21. Jewish Childrearing Related Questions * [8]Introduction to the Jewish Childrearing FAQ 1. Entering the Covenant 1. [9]What is circumcision? 2. [10]Why are Jewish boys circumcised? 3. [11]Who performs the circumcision? 4. [12]When is the circumcision done? 5. [13]But doesn't it hurt? 6. [14]But shouldn't the child make its own decision? 7. [15]But circumcision is only required for boys. What about girls? 8. [16]What are our options for welcoming our new baby girl? 9. [17]Can we hold a welcoming ceremony on the 8th day for a girl? 10. [18]What is a pidyon haben? 11. [19]When is a pidyon haben required? 12. [20]What about babies who are stillborn or die shortly after birth with respect to pidyon haben? 13. [21]What about an adopted child? 14. [22]Does Judaism have a tradition of Godparents? 15. [23]Is Circumcision required for a boy to be Jewish? 2. Naming 1. [24]What are the Ashkenazi customs regarding the naming of children? 2. [25]But my grandmother was named (insert old-fashioned out of use name here? No one uses that name today? How do I name after that relative? 3. [26]Is it appropriate to name a child after a relative of the opposite sex? 4. [27]Is it appropriate for multiple children (i.e. cousins) to be named after the same relative? 5. [28]My spouse has a living relative with the same name as my deceased relative. Can we name our children after my relative? 6. [29]What are the Sephardi customs regarding the naming of children? 7. [30]What about babies who are stillborn or die shortly after birth? 8. [31]Are there any distinctly non-Jewish names? 3. Playtime 1. [32]Can I let my kid swim on Shabbat? 2. [33]Can I let my kid play in the sandbox on Shabbat? 3. [34]Can children play sports such as Soccer on Shabbat? 4. [35]What is appropriate dress for swimming? 5. [36]Can my kid play with Playdough during Pesach? 4. Eating 1. [37]Where can I find kosher baby food? 2. [38]Where can I find kosher for passover baby food? 5. Holidays 1. [39]What are good activities for children for the major Jewish holidays? 6. Schooling 1. [40]How do I determine the right type of religious program: day school vs. afterschool? 2. [41]How are teachers in Chasidic schools trained? 7. B'nai Mitzvah 1. [42]What is a bar/bat mitzvah? 2. [43]What's a good gift for a b'nai mitzvah? 3. [44]What is appropriate dress to wear to the b'nai mitzvah ceremony? 4. [45]What are the characteristics of a good b'nai mitzvah program? 5. [46]How do I select a good b'nai mitzvah tutor? 6. [47]I need to speak at my child's bar/bat mitzvah? What do I say? 8. Other childhood lifecycle rituals 1. [48]I've heard of a ceremony called "Consecration". What is it? 2. [49]I've heard of a ceremony called "Confirmation". What is it? 3. [50]What is Upsherin? I know it relates to the cutting of the hair of boys at age 3, but tell me more. 4. [51]I've been invited to a Bat Barakah. What is it? 9. Coping with other religions 1. [52]My child says all of his friends have Christmas Trees, and he wants one too. What do I say? 2. [53]My child's non-Jewish grandparents have asked her to help trim the tree. What do I do? 3. [54]My child has been invited to an Easter Egg roll? What do I do? 4. [55]My child has been invited to the Easter Egg roll on the White House lawn? What do I do? 10. Growing Older 1. [56]My child wants to start dating? How do I ensure proper behavior? 2. [57]My child wants a tattoo. What forms of body modification are allowed? Tattoos? Earrings? 3. [58]When do I need to start worrying about issues of modesty? 11. Resource References 1. [59]I need some information on Jewish Genetic Diseases. Where do I start? 2. [60]Are there any recommended online resources on Jewish Childrearing or specifically for Jewish children? * [61]Special Credits for the Jewish Childrearing FAQ
Subject: Question 21.1.1: Entering the Covenant: What is circumcision? Answer: Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin of the penis.
Subject: Question 21.1.2: Entering the Covenant: Why are Jewish boys circumcised? Answer: The rite of circumcision is one of the most ancient practices of Judaism. The commandment to circumcise male children was given to Abraham in the Torah (Genesis 17:7-14) [English translation from 1917 JPS Tanach]: And G-d said unto Abraham: 'And as for thee, thou shalt keep My covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any foreigner, that is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that should shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken My covenant. It is repeated in the Torah in Leviticus 12:3, and has remained throughout history as one of the most important commandments. It has already led to martyrdom in Maccabean times (I Macc. 1:48,60). Circumcision is (in general) a common denominator among movements: Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Orthodox--all circumcise their male children and require male converts to undergo some form of circumcision. Furthermore, faith is the only reason that Jews should circumcise their male children. In Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Pereplexed), chapter 49, the Rambam says: "No one, however, should circumcise himself or his son for any other reason than pure faith; for circumcision is not like an incision on the leg or a burn on the arm, but a very difficult operation." Current medical fashions play no role in circumcision, as it is a religous rite to Jews. Thus, it is pointless to attempt to argue for or against circumcision from a basis of medical need. As said in the Reform Responsa addressing circumcision: "Circumcision remains for us an essential sign of the covenant. We have affirmed it since the days of Abraham, our Father, and continue to affirm it".
Subject: Question 21.1.3: Entering the Covenant: Who performs the circumcision? Answer: Although some modern Reform Jews use medical doctors to perform the circumcision, this is not the traditional method. Traditionally, the male infants are circumcised in the home or the shul on the eighth day after birth, surrounded by family and friends, and held by the sandek (an adult being honored by the parents, often a grandfather). The infant is given a little wine, and the ritual is performed by a specially trained Mohel, whose sole function is to perform circumcisions. Traditionally, the father is supposed to perform the Brit. As most fathers do not have the appropriate training, a Mohel performs the Brit. It is customary, that if possible, a Mohel will perform his first Brit on his own son - under the supervision of an experienced accredited Mohel (his teacher). Note that Mohelim are not unique to the more traditional Orthodox movement. The Reform and Conservative movements also train and accredit Mohelim; often, the Mohel is a practicing M.D. (For example, Dr. Samuel Kunin (a Reform Mohel in Los Angeles CA) and Dr. Robert Lewis (a Conservative Mohel in Columbus OH) are practicing urologists).
Subject: Question 21.1.4: Entering the Covenant: When is the circumcision done? Answer: The circumcision is done the eighth day after birth, unless ill health or serious medical problems prevent it. Even Shabbat does not stop a Bris. If such a child is not circumcised, he is nevertheless considered a Jew [San. 44a; Hoffmann, Melamed Leho-il, Yoreh De-a, #79]. However, if there are no medical contraindications (e.g. hemophilia), it is incumbent for the individual to arrange for their circumcision when medically safe to do so. There are quite a few customs associated with circumcisions: * In the Ashkenazi community, on the Shabbat night (Friday night) prior to the Brit, the community comes to the home of the newborn to welcome him with singing and thanksgiving to Hashem on his birth, and a small meal is served including chickpeas (ar'bes). These are served as a sign of mourning: the child mourns that the angel caused him to forget everything he learned in his mother's womb (just one explanation of many for this custom of eating chickpeas). * In Sephardi communities, the night before the Brit is called the night of "Brit Yitzchak" and the community and family gather to learn the "Zohar" together, to sing special songs and have a dinner. In many places people from the community and family get together and study all night not only on the night before the brit, but also during the preceding week. * The greeting said to the newborn when brought to his bris is "baruch haba"--blessed be the one who is arriving. It's a very old greeting, dating back to the workhands' reply to Boaz when he greets them in Ruth. The origin is probably a blessing God promises the Jewish people if they observe the Torah (Deut 28:6). "Blessed you shall be when you come, blessed you shall be when you go." It is part of a general covenant about getting the land of Israel, listing blessings and curses that will visit the land and the Jewish people depending upon their observance. * One does not issue invitations to a brit. This is because it is a mitzvah to attend a brit, and one tries as hard as possible to not refuse the opportunity to do a mitzvah. If you are invited and refuse, you run into this problem. If however, you are only informed of it, you have not been formally invited and circumvent the problem. Furthermore, since Eliyahu (the Prophet) will attend (the chair in which the holder of the baby sits is called Eliyahu's Chair), it is impossible to refuse an invitation.
Subject: Question 21.1.5: Entering the Covenant: But doesn't it [circumcision] hurt? Answer: The requirement is that it be done at the eighth day. The Rambam (just beyond the section previously quoted) says that earlier the baby is too tender and later the father might not be able to bring himself to do it. Some doctors have said that after, the baby develops too much and would actually be a more serious matter. With adults, the question is different. After the eighth day the nervous system becomes more developed (especially after puberty). For adults, a local anesthetic is used (often a mixture of lidocain and prilocaine). It is spread on the area, some time is allowed to pass, and the procedure is performed with no pain.
Subject: Question 21.1.6: Entering the Covenant: But shouldn't the child make its own decision [regarding circumcision]? Answer: Parents routinely make many decisions for their children; bringing a child up to practice a religion is only one of many such.
Subject: Question 21.1.7: Entering the Covenant: But circumcision is only required for boys. What about girls? Answer: Judaism does not practice female circumcision. However, there are many traditions that have arise related to the birth of a girl: * Commonly, girls are welcomed into the convanent through a naming ceremony, held in the synagogue. * Among Bucharan Jews when the father of the newborn girl is called to the Torah for the naming the congregation sing the song "Dror Ykra L'ven im Bat" in which each line ends with the word "bat". After the reading of the portion and the naming, candies are showered on the father and the congregation calls "Mazal Tov". * Many Sephardim have a party where they repeat the naming. A Cohen is invited and he holds the baby and blesses her with the "Birkat Cohanim". Fruit which Israel was blessed for them are served, and the Rabbi of the community holds the baby girl on his knees and says the words from the Song of Songs "Yonati Bechagvei Haselah" (2:14): The ceremony is called "Zeved Ha'bat". The word Zeved means gift and comes from Berayshit 30:20 where Leah said at the birth of Zevulun "Hashem gave me a good present" and then she gave birth to Dina. The more liberal movements have developed other ceremonies. There is [5]an excellent book on the subject by Anita Diamant. Another good reference is Lifecycles Volume 1 : Jewish Women on Life Passages and Personal Milestones, which includes material from Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist contributors. It was edited by Debra Orenstein, and is available from Jewish Lights Publications in Vermont. The Simchat Bat/ Brit Bat / Brit HaHayim is increasingly appearing in Modern Orthodoxy has well. A Simchat Bat ceremony is now in the Rabbinical Council of America's [Orthodox] Rabbi's manual. This ceremony is based on traditional Jewish forms. The Rabbinical Assembly [Conservative] has included the Simchat Bat rite in its new rabbi's manual. As the ceremony is still evolving, the RA's manual presents, within a common religious ceremony, three options that parents may choose to perform: (A) Lighting seven candles (symbolizing the seven days of creation) and holding the baby towards them; (B) Wrapping the baby in the four corners of a tallit; (C) Lifting the baby and touching her hands to a Torah scroll. A detailed article on this topic can be found at: [6]
Subject: Question 21.1.8: Entering the Covenant: What are our options for welcoming our new baby girl? Answer: A number of options are available. Traditionally, a baby girl is named the first time the father attends synagogue after the birth. In some communities, the mother recites a blessing of gratitude for her health and well-being after childbirth; and the father is called to the Torah. In other communities, there are more elaborate ceremonies. In the Sephardi communities of Turkey and the Balkans, infants are clothed in elaborate dress and jewelry. The ceremony has no fixed date, but is usually held sometime between seven and thirty days after birth, and is conducted by a rabbi, usually at home but sometimes in the synagogue. Several central Asian Jewish communities celebrate the first time an infant girl is laid in her cradle. In Bokhara, for example, small children are called to participate in snatching away the sweet treats that have been placed around the baby in the cradle. In the Bene Israel community in India, the naming ceremony usually takes place on the twelfth day after a girl is born. Held in the home, the ritual is intended primarily for the women and children of the family. A special new garment is sewn for the child, and her cradle, decorated with flowers and colored paper, is placed in the middle of the house. Cooked chickpeas, peeled pieces of coconut, and cookies are arranged along the inner edges of the cradle. In the Yishuv HaYashan (the community of Ashkenazic Jews who settled in Jerusalem beginning in 1811), the celebration took place on the eighth day, and the baby girl's ears were pierced. [Thanks to [5] for the information about ceremonies in other communities.] In liberal congregations, a number of new ceremonies have been developed to symbolically parallel the brit ceremony; these new ceremonies serve to welcome the infant into the convenant of Judaism. There are a number of approaches to these berit ceremonies. Some are based on the ceremonial washing of the infant's feet, based on Sarah washing the feet of Abraham. Others involve the use of seven blessings, paralleling the seven blessings of the wedding ceremony. A good source of ideas for such ceremonies is Anita Diamant's [6]The New Jewish Baby Book: Names, Ceremonies & Customs, A Guide For Today's Families; another is Zeved HaBat by Aryeh Cohen (ISBN 965-264-049-2). These ceremonies usually take place in the home, anywhere between 7 days and 30 days after the birth of the daughter. In Israel, they are often held in a hall, as the whole family and most of the community is invited. There is often a public naming at the synagogue approximately 30 days after the birth of the infant. In terms of other resources for such ceremonies, the following have been suggested. If you are aware of others to add to this list, please let the FAQ maintainer know. * The Women's League for Conservative Judaism puts out a whole package of information on the Simchat Bat ceremony. Contact them at: 48 E. 74th St., NY, NY 10021; 800/628-5083, 212/628-1600 or fax 212/772-3507. There is a charge for the package. * The ceremony the FAQ maintainer used for his daughter, Erin, is available through the autoretriever in PostScript format. To receive a uuencoded zip of the ceremony, send the command "send infofiles liturgy/britbat.uue" to [7] You can do this through the web by visiting [8] * Zeved HaBat, by Aryeh Cohen. ISBN 965-264-049-2.
Subject: Question 21.1.9: Entering the Covenant: Can we hold a welcoming ceremony on the 8th day for a girl? Answer: Traditionally, when a baby girl is born, the father notifies the synagogue officials of her arrival and of his plans to have her named at a service. Though the baby is not brought to the service, the child is named in the synagogue during the reading of the Torah on the Shabbat, Monday, or Thursday immediately following her birth. Sometimes the date is postponed so that the mother may be present. Typically, the father is also honored with an aliyah. The Conservative movement has no rule on whether or not the 8th day is a necessary day to hold the ceremony on for girls. The Conservative movement does encourage parents to hold a Simchat Bat for baby girls, and to view it as having the same importance as a Brit Milah for boys (see Moreh Derekh: The Rabbinical Assembly Rabbi's Manual"). More info is available from: "Jewish baby law" ([5] However, just because there is nothing "official" doesn't mean you can't use an established welcoming ceremony or create your own at any time. Baby girls are just as welcome in Jewish tradition as boys are, and there are marvellous ways, in every denomination, of showing them they are equally loved. Note: The Reform movement has a number of ceremonies written and available through the Reform rabbinate; UAHC publishes Bat Brit certificates.
Subject: Question 21.1.10: Entering the Covenant: What is a pidyon haben? Answer: Pidyon ha-ben is a ceremony that recognizes the first born male child (to be specific, the first born male child that was born naturally). The ceremony arose due to the special status of the firstborn in biblical society. The firstborn received a double portion of his father's estate; the last plague in Egypt killed the firstborn--except for the firstborn of Israel. Traditionally, the firstborn of Israel were consecrated to service to G-d. The bible commands "sanctify unto Me all the first-born (Exodus 13:1). This has been interpreted to mean that a father was either to dedicate his first-born son to the service of the Holy Temple, or to redeem him by paying five schkels (approximately five dollars) to a kohen. Noet that this ceremony does not apply when either the father or the mother is of a priestly or Levite family. The Pidyon haben ceremony takes place on the thirty-first day after birth. For the occasion, a kohen is specially invited to the house. The baby is placed on a cushion, and in the presence of assembled friends and family, placed on a table. Five silver dollars are laid beside him. In the presence of those assembled, an ancient dialoge takes place betwen the father and the kohen. Sometimes there are additional English readings, and some ceremonies include participation by the mother. The kohen usually gives the "redemption money" to tzedahkah. What do you do if five silver dollars are not available? In the days that the Torah was given, the only significance to a coin was that someone attested that it contained a known weight of whatever metal in question. Thus, any other object of acceptable weight and purity would be acceptable (for example, solid silver utensils, such as teaspoons). A typical estimate for the weight of a shekel is 11.4 grams, the Chazon Ish (a large estimate) has 16.92 grams. You would need to consult an appropriate authority with respect to purity. Pidyon haben is observed in traditional communities, and in the Conservative community. It tends not to be observed in Reform movement. Why must the first-born be redeemed? The first-born has a significant history in early Judaism: * After Cain was born, we're told that Eve gave birth to "Abel his brother". Why does Eve define her second child as the first one's brother and not a person in his own right? And look how well that turned out! * We then get to Isaac and Ishma'el, where history sides with the younger. Similarly, we see this with Jacob and Esau. * First-born issues then cause all that strife between Joseph and his brothers (except Benjamin). * Next comes Moses and Aaron (and to some extent Miriam), where Aaron bows out to give his younger brother the prominent role. After we're introduced to Moses and Aaron, we have the plague of the death of the firstborn. The Jewish firstborn were saved because of the Pascal offering. (Those families where it was performed.) Why is the bechorah (first-born-ness) idea so central that the Torah continually returns to it throughout the first book and a half? Perhaps because Israel is repeatedly called "my child, my firstborn, Israel". Without first drawing a clear definition of the role of the first-born, we don't have a clear idea of our national mission. In Galachah there are actually two kinds of firstborn. It would seem that one is a physical primacy, the other a religious one. The father's firstborn is the primary inheritor. He gets twofold the inheritance of the other brothers. Tribal affiliation, which for all the tribes but Levi is tied to the ancestral land, is also patrilineal. The mother's firstborn is the one who require's pidyon, even if the father had children from another marriage first. Also, membership in the Jewish people is traditionally matrlineal (and is still considered so by the Orthodox and Conservative movements, and by most Reform movements outside the US). The mother's firstborn is naturally the one to reinforce the religious instruction. It was the Egyptian firstborns' failing in this role that made them fitting victims of the plague. Not to mention the punishment being in kind for the killing of G-d's "firstborn", the Jewish people. Had there been no history, they would have been the nation's priests and (for want of a better word) levites. Just as Israel is called a "kingdom of priests" -- which explains the "firstborn" metaphor. However, after the golden calf, the majority of the nation was no longer trusted to maintain the religion on their own. Only the tribe of Levi, who did not participate, were fitting to carry that torch. So, they were not given an ancestral territory, and instead given tithes that they could live of off. This frees them up to pursue roles of religious leadership without worrying about a livelihood. Also, without a homeland, they end up more distributed among the flock. In the meantime the firstborn, the would-be priests, still maintain a vestage of that sanctity. In order to free them from that duty, we have the pidyon haben. This redeems their sanctity by giving something to their replacements, the kohanim.
Subject: Question 21.1.11: Entering the Covenant: When is a pidyon haben required? Answer: A pidyon haben is required on the 31st (although check with your Rabbi, for one source says 30th) day after the birth of a first born male child. This child must be an "opener of the womb". That is, a male child born naturally (not a caesarian) and not preceded in any way by another child. Note that if the father is a Levite or a kohen, (making the child a Levi or a kohen) the pidyon haben does not apply (logically since the father could wind up paying himself). If the mother is the daughter of a Levi or a kohen the child is exempt.
Subject: Question 21.1.12: Entering the Covenant: What about babies who are stillborn or die shortly after birth with respect to pidyon haben? Answer: A child who dies before the month is up could not have become subject to pidyon haben. However, if it was a natural birth, it is an "opener of the womb", and any subsequent child would not be subject to pidyon haben. The laws of pidyon haben involve only the state of development of the miscarried fetus, not the location in which it was carried. In the mishnah, the debate is between Rabbi Meir who says that the fetus must have eyes in order to be considered and the majority of sages who say it must be human-looking. (The Talmud's discussion is in Bechoros [logically enough, the tractate named "Firstborns"] 46a.) In practice, there is a large grey area, and it can end up being a rabbi's judgement call.
Subject: Question 21.1.13: Entering the Covenant: What about an adopted child? Answer: An adopted child is treated according to the status of the natural parents (assuming that they are Jewish). If the adopted child has been converted, pidyon haben does not apply. Baby girls should be named in the synagogue; baby boys should be circumcised at the appropriate time. If the adopted boy is more than 8 days old and has not been circumcised, they should undergo the surgery as soon as it is legally and medically permissable. If the child has been circumcized without the appropriate ritual, your rabbi should be consulted as to the appropriate manner of initiating the child into the community of Israel.
Subject: Question 21.1.14: Entering the Covenant: Does Judaism have a tradition of Godparents? Answer: Judaism does have a role that is sometimes referred to as "Godparents", but this is not "Godparent" in the Christian sense. In America, Jews began picking up words used by non-jews, but gave them Jewish meanings. In Judaism, a person nowadays referred to as a "Godparent" actually has a different job. This person is really called the Sandek (Hebrew term), Ba'al berit milah (Hebrew term) or the Kvater (Yiddish term). Among some Sephardi communities it is customary for the Sandek (who holds the child during the brit) to buy the clothing, blankets and diapers for the baby. In all communities, to act as sandak is considered a great honor and as a meritorious religious act which, according to the kabbalists, has atoning qualities. Where a grandfather of the child is still alive, it is customary to bestow the honor of sandak upon him. The woman who brings the child to the circumcision and hands it over to the sandak is called sandakit. The Sandek is obligated to see to the child's upbringing if the parents fail or are unable to do so -- just like a godparent. Note that the sandek really should be Jewish. However, this practice is not a universal minhag (custom), and since it is not universal, it doesn't have the status of law. Thus, technically speaking, one could make a decision that a gentile may act as Sandek. In practice, most rabbis and mohelim (people who do the circumcision) won't allow this, but some will. The notion of Godparent in the western sense is not a Jewish notion; it is derived from the Christian godparent, whose charge is to ensure the child's spritual upbringing in the church. Judaism rejects this concept outright. In the Jewish tradition, there are two tiers of responsibility: the immediate family, and the local Jewish community. Jewish law, from the Talmud itself, absolutely mandates that the parents of a child are obligated to teach the child three things: 1. An education that can lead to a trade, so that the child can have a career. 2. A comprehensive Jewish education. 3. How to swim. These three obligations are an absolute minimum. The second tier of responsibility falls on the Jewish community that the parents live in, which is obligated to work together to set up a Beit Midrash (house of study, including a Hebrew school), hire teachers (preferably, including at least one rabbi, as well as other learned lay-people), to build a mikveh (to allow families to observe the laws of family purity, allow people to convert to Judaism, and a number of thing things as well), and finally, to build a synagogue.
Subject: Question 21.1.15: Entering the Covenant: Is Circumcision required for a boy to be Jewish? Answer: Technically, no. It is not a bris that makes a child Jewish, it is the circumstances of birth. In traditional Judaism, if the child is born of a Jewish mother, the child is nominally Jewish. For religious reasons, both Conservative and Orthodox Jews view it as a terrible mistake to avoid giving your Jewish child a brit milah (hebrew) (Note that a medical circumcision does not count in halakha (Jewish law) as a brit). Nonetheless, a Jew is a Jew, and he can join a synagogue and participate just as fully as any other Jew. Note that adults can choose to have a circumcision later in life (although medical involvement is necessary, along with religious involvement). Should a medical circumcision take place, your son could always get the full religious benefit of a second circumcision: the procedure is called hatafat dam brit, "the drawing of a tiny drop of blood in the name of the covenant". This action and ceremony can be done by a mohel (Hebrew)/moyel (Yiddish) nearly painlessly (surprise!) either when your child is still an infant, a child or even as an adult. Lastly, note that in Reform Judaism, under the Patrilineal Descent decision, either parent being Jewish gives the presumption of the child being Jewish. However, Reform Judaism requires that this presumption be confirmed by the child being raised with appropriate Jewish lifecycle and yearcycle events (i.e., observing holidays, home pratices, religious education)... and one of the specifically recommended events is a circumcision!
Subject: Question 21.2.1: Naming: What are the Ashkenazi customs regarding the naming of children? Answer: In Judaism, one's name has always been considered to be extremely important. As names were bestowed, the meaning of the name was the prime consideration of its selection. The name often imbodied characteristics that the parents wished the infant to have, or experiences surrounding the birth, or the look of the infant. Many naming traditions in Judaism arose out of custom, and this custom often arose out of superstition. This was often based on a close association between the name and the person. From this arose a common belief that the changing of a name would prevent the evil spirit from harming the person. If the name were changed, the evil spirit would not recognize the person. This belief is embodied in the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16b): "Four things can abrogate the decreee of man and they are: charity, supplication, change of name, and change of action." These customs carried over in Eastern Europe to the naming of children. In Poland, when several people have died in a family, a new-born child is given a name that is never uttered, so as not to give the evil spirit any opportunity. Often, a nickname was given to the child, such as "Alte" (Old One), Chaim (Life), or Zaida (Grandfather). This was a way of deceiving the angel of death. A similar practice was done for the extremely ill, changing the individual's name to deceive the angel of death. In Ashkenazi Judaism, the custom arose to name a child after a deceased relative. Infants were not named after the living, because the angel of death might mistake the infant for the adult, and take the wrong one. Some felt that to name after a living relative might be to rob the adult of their soul, as the name was tied very closely to the soul.
Subject: Question 21.2.2: Naming: But my grandmother was named (insert old- fashioned out of use name here)? No one uses that name today? How do I name after that relative? Answer: There are a number of different approachs. Some take the first letter of the relatives name, and choose a different name beginning with the same letter. Unfortunately, this loses the original meaning of the name. Others choose an arbitrary English name, but retain the relative's Hebrew name. Kolach recommends choosing an English name with the name meaning as the Hebrew name. Consider the English name of Mildred. Mildred is either from the Latin, meaning "Sweet Singer", or from the Teutonic, meaning "Strength". It has Hebrew equivalents of Amtzaw, Gavreelaw, N'eemaw, Neevaw, Reenaw, Sheeraw, and T'heelaw. Thus, less-dated English equivalents might be Shira (Song), Valerie (Strong), Gabrielle (G-d is my Strength), Renana (Joy or Song), or Carol (Melody or Song). One source asked this question of Rav Avigdor Neventzhal, the Rav of the Old City of Jerusalem. Rav Neventzhal said that while there is no requirement to name after somone, if there is a desire to attach the deceased relatives characteristics to the newborn and/or to tie one soul to the other (according to Kabalah) then the name must not be altered. According to this Rav, taking the first letter of name A and creating name B, thus, does not constitute naming after someone, and combining names from different people also does not result in "naming after" someone. So, the answer for those that consider Rav Neventzhal authoritative is that you can't change the name. As usual: two Jews, multiple opinions.
Subject: Question 21.2.3: Naming: Is it appropriate to name a child after a relative of the opposite sex? Answer: Yes. However, you may run into some difficulty, depending on the name. Only a few Hebrew names are easily adaptable, such as Simhah (Joy), which can be used for either a boy or a girl. More often than not, you will have to look for a name with an allied meaning, or even merely a similar sound.
Subject: Question 21.2.4: Naming: Is it appropriate for multiple children (i.e. cousins) to be named after the same relative? Answer: Yes. Note that many Sephardi families consider it a sign of blessing there are many grandchildren named after them (during their lifetime).
Subject: Question 21.2.5: Naming: My spouse has a living relative with the same name as my deceased relative. Can we name our children after my relative? Answer: Note that this response is significant only to those that hold with Ashkenazi traditions; Sephardi traditions name after living relatives. Also note that we are dealing with custom here; there is no formal law that would prohibit it. Ashkenazic custom discourages naming a baby after a living relative. This is a based on a folk-myth that this might confuse the Angel of Death, who might then accidentally take the baby instead of the older relative. Sefardic custom has no such tradition, and thus encourages parents to name their children after living relatives. Generally, Ashkenazi Jews should follow the traditional Ashkenazi custom, and Sefardic Jews should follow the Sefardic custom, but the end decision is left to the parents. For the most part, most people would not use the same name. Often, the living relative with that name would be offended that one might be trying to use the name before they were done with it! However, as with anything, there are solutions. Consider using a less recognizable variant of the name, or a name with the same first letter, instead. Another approach would be to use a name that is different, but has the same meaning. There also appears to be less of a taboo against using English names of living relatives (i.e., use the English name, but use a different Hebrew name). However, the best approach is to check with the living relative to see if they would be offended.
Subject: Question 21.2.6: Naming: What are the Sephardi customs regarding the naming of children? Answer: Sephardic Jews have the opposite custom from the Ashkenazi. In Sephardi tradition, one customarily names an infant after a living relative, usually its living grandparents.
Subject: Question 21.2.7: Naming: What about babies who are stillborn or die shortly after birth? Answer: * Orthodoxy: Traditional Jewish law is that if a child dies before reaching the age of 30 days, no formal burial is required. Such a child is considered a nefel, and for such a child, no burial and no mourning rites are required (Ket. 20b; Shab. 135b; Evel Rabati I; etc.) The Shulhan Arukah addresses whether a eulogy is permitted; it says for the children of the poor, it may be done from the age of five and onward; and for the children of the rich, from six and onward (M.K. 24b; Shulhan Arukh 344.4). This shows that, traditionally, little was made of infant deaths. Further, a nefel was treated as an amputated limb, and buried in the general section of the cemetary (Ket. 20b) to avoid ritual uncleanliness for the priests (M. Edut 6.3; Yad Hil. Tumat Hamet 2.3; Pahad Yitzhaq, Ever). Note that, strictly speaking, it was not necessary to bury amputated limbs (Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah #209). It's very easy to think of the traditional position as "heartless." When you've lost a baby and need to grieve, it's natural that you'd want to do it in the way you're familiar with. Orthodox families in this situation are usually forced to look for alternative ways of coming to terms with their grief, since in most cases, the traditional funeral and mourning periods are not observed. This doesn't mean that nothing has happened, or that as far as Judaism is concerned, they have not experienced a loss. They still need consolation and any compassionate Orthodox rabbi and community will recognize this and do their utmost to help the family through their time of pain. * Conservative: Four papers have been validated by the Conservative movement's Commitee on Jewish law and Standards on this issue. Conservative Judaism affirms that where Jewish law allows for more than one possible position, a congregation should follow the ruling of its rabbi, who as mara d'atra [halakhic authority] has the sole responsibility and authority in his/her community for making a p'sak [ruling/decision]. The significant teshuvot are summarized below: 1. Rabbi Isidoro Aizenberg, 1987. (a) When a full-grown, full-term baby dies within 30 days after birth, there is aniut, keriah, burial, shivah and shiloshim; no eulogy is delivered and the burial is peformed by the immediate family members. If the parents wish, they may recite the kaddish for 30 days. (b) If the baby was born prematurely, the above customs should be practiced only if it died more than 30 days after its birth. (c) If the baby was born prematurely and died before 30 days are over, the baby should be treated as a fetus. There is burial, but no other rituals are practiced. In all 3 cases, should parents ask the rabbi if they may recite the kaddish, their request should not be denied. This teshuva can obtained from the CJLS by one's local Conservative rabbi. (II) 2. Rabbi Debra Reed Blank - teshuva on miscarriage. She agrees with the first teshuva for the case of a full-term baby dying within 30 days after birth. For cases when the fetus was not born alive, full mourning rites are not called for or appropriate, for that would compromise the position of classical Judaism on the legitimacy of abortion in some circumstances. However, in event of a miscarriage the community should tend to both members of the couple under the rubric of bikur holim (visiting the sick), for they are suffering from the loss of the child that they were expecting to have. The couple may recite the kaddish if they choose. This teshuva can obtained from the CJLS by one's local Conservative rabbi. 3. Rabbi Stephanie Dickstein, 1999. In an extension and revision of her 1992 paper, she also agrees with the first teshuva for the case of a full-term baby dying within 30 days after birth. For cases when the fetus was not born alive, she holds that burial in a Jewish cemetery is required for stillbirths, and she recommends a funeral service. The stillborn may be named and circumcision can, but need not, be done. The grave should be marked later. After the first day, the parents may observe the practices associated with shiva b'tzniut (private observances which do not involve the community). This teshuva is online at [5] ront.shtml Additionally, Conservative/Liberal Jewish responses to these situations can be found in Nina Beth Cardin's "Tears of Sorrow, Seeds of Hope: A Jewish Spiritual Companion for Infertility and Pregnancy Loss" (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 1999). * Reform: Reform believes that times have changed from the days of the large family and common infant deaths of tradition. This has made all events in a child's life more significant and magnified. Thsi includes the tragic death of a yong child, a still-birth, or a miscarriage. A responsa issued in 1983 (Contemporary American Reform Responsa #106) suggests that there be a simple burial for a still-born infant or a child who dies at an early age. This provides a way for the family to overcome its grief. It indicates that a miscarriage may, however, be disposed of by the hospital or clinic in accordance with its usual procedures. Not burial is necessary in such a case, but it is not prohibited either. They do suggest burial for infants, and possibly for still-births. Personal autonomy allows laypeople and rabbis to observe or not observe as they see fit.
Subject: Question 21.2.8: Naming: Are there any distinctly non-Jewish names? Answer: Yes. There are a number: Natalie Christmas Child Dolores Sorrow of the mother of our lord Noel Christmas Christopher Christbearer However, even such names are not always clear. For example, in Israel, "Natali" is considered a Hebrew name , meaning "my plant, etc." (or literally, "it was planted to me").
Subject: Question 21.3.1: Playtime: Can I let my kid swim on Shabbat? Answer: There are two documented concerns for traditional Jews. First, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaiim 326:7) discusses washing (presumably for hygienic reasons) in a river, and permits it provided that the person dry him/herself completely before walking four amot in a karmelit (i.e., the banks of the river). The Mishna Brurah (loc cit., note 21) points out that other (later?) authorities have ruled against washing in a river on Shabbat, because of the possible wringing out of the towel (an av m'lakha -- major category of activity forbidden on Shabbat). Hence, there appears to be concern about wringing out a towel after swimming. More directly, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaiim 339:2) rules against swimming (recreational?) in a pool on Shabbat, on the grounds that a person might make a "havit shel sha'yatin" (raft, float), and that swimming might force water out of the pool and outside the eruv. But if there is a rim around the pool (so that there is no possibility of water spilling over the edge), there is also no concern that the swimmer will make a raft or float. There are also some other potential violations, but these are the two clearly documented ones. To Conservative Jews, this concern is not relevent today; when swimmers wish to use such devices in modern society, they purchase them ahead of time, and do not actually build one on the beach.
Subject: Question 21.3.2: Playtime: Can I let my kid play in the sandbox on Shabbat? Answer: For traditional Jews, there are some aspects of sandbox play that cross into traditionally prohibited activities for Shabbat, such as straining, constructing, or digging. Although young children need not be prevented from engaging in these activities, parents should not encourage them to do it. As the child gets older, they can be taught about the prohibited activities.
Subject: Question 21.3.3: Playtime: Can children play sports such as Soccer on Shabbat? Answer: The Shulkhan Arukh (Orach Chaiim 343) provides a general guideline for raising children in an obervant home: As soon as a child is educable, the parents should teach the child about observance. Thus, even a three-year old (who, as a halakhic minor is not obligated to observe Shabbat) should be taught the relevant rudiments of Shabbat observance. This does not mean that the parent must take away a rattle or battery-powered toy, but it does mean that, on Shabbat, the child should be encouraged to play Shabbat-appropriate games. The R'ma and the Mishna Brurah (loc. cit.) point out that, by the time a child understands what Shabbat is (e.g., certainly by age 8), the child should be avoiding blatant Shabbat violation. The Shulkan Arukh's standard thus does not see the age of majority (13 for boys, 12 for girls) as a threshold for observance, and does not permit Shabbat violation by "educable" children (i.e., children above the age of 8 or so). In addition to the standard 39 classes of activities ("m'lakhot") forbidden on Shabbat, there is a prohibition against activities that are inconsistent with the spirit of Shabbat. The Ramban, for example, suggests that the obligation to "rest" ("shvita") on Shabbat is, in fact, biblical; it is in any event certainly a major rabbinic obligation. Thus, there are two general principles: Begin with Shabbat-appropriate games and play as early as is practical, and encourage Shabbat- appropriate activity, rather than Shabbat-inappropriate activity (even if such activity does not inherently violate Shabbat). What kinds of games and play are Shabbat-appropriate? Certainly activities with substantial Jewish content (e.g., board games with Jewish themes, available from many Jewish bookstores). Family activities should also be encouraged; reading stories, reviewing relevant parts of the weekly Torah portion, etc. Friday night bed-time can become a special occasion for hearing stories of "when Grandpa was young," or Chelm stories, or stories about SuperJew. When done appropriately, children see Shabbat as a special treat, not as a day when "we don't do these things." Some children's games [e.g., those involving explicit violations of halakha, such as games involving writing] are clearly inappropriate for Shabbat in an observant Orthodox or Conservative family. There is nothing wrong with saying "No, we do not paint on Shabbat." But it is educationally a much sounder practice to say "We don't ride bikes on Shabbat, but we do hear stories about Curious George going to shul." In some cases, the question of whether a particular activity is permissible on Shabbat requires halakhic expertise, and a rabbi should be consulted. For example, Conservative authorities permit swimming on Shabbat; most Orthodox authorities do not. Note that some Orthodox authorities rule that ball-playing is technically allowed within an eruv, based on the OH 306:45 and the Rama's gloss and the Mishneh Berurah's note on this. However, this is widely discouraged by rabbis as not being in the spirit of Shabbat. Rabbi Neuwirth's Shmirat Shabbat k'Hilkhata states that playing ball on Shabbat is okay for children, provided that it is within the eruv and on artificial surfaces. The reason for this is that Orthodox authorities feel that compacting dirt is a violation of a melakha (forbidden Shabbat activity); thus the restriction to hard surfaces. However, this should be checked with a local rabbi to determine whether it is appropriate for your particular community; don't assume beforehand that it is. For those that follow Conservative practice, in "A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice", Rabbi Issac Klein rules that some ball playing is allowed on Shabbat, based on the Rama on OH 308:45, as long as we distinguish between commercialized sports and activities one indulges in for personal enjoyment. Commercialized sports and amusements are obviously not reccomended because of the many violations of the Sabbath that are involved. Individual sports and amusements in themselves, where no other violation of the Sabbath is involved, are permissible. Again, a key aspect is that one should avoid participating in such activities to the point of overexertion and fatigue, which would make the act not in the spirit of the Sabbath." Hence, as a general principle, the best policy would be to give children lots of experience with Shabbat as a day for enjoyable Shabbat-appropriate activities, either synagogue- or family-centered. The emphasis should be on "shabbat-appropriate" activities.
Subject: Question 21.3.4: Playtime: What is appropriate dress for swimming? Answer: For girls, pink and frilly. For boys, anything that puffs up enormously around their waist the second they get into the water. :-) But seriously, this would depend how the family felt in general about modesty. There are few exceptions for swimming, and the families who are most careful about this even with young girls will not allow them to swim in mixed groups if they are dressed "immodestly." Also, some men and boys will not go out with their chests uncovered. The extent to which modesty is a concern depends both on the movement and the individual (some people are more modest than others). The more Orthodox a movement is, the greater the concern about modesty in swimming attire. Hence, it is difficult to give a broad rule. In general, especially revealing bathing suits, such as bikinis and thongs, are probably inappropriate (unless covered). Similarly, men should wear boxer-style trunks. Lastly, remember that it is not a good idea in general to start dressing very young children in ways that mimic sexually suggestive adult dress. A good approach to modesty is to wear a very long tee-shirt (i.e., one that goes to your knees) over your bathing suit. Many people do so for other reasons as well, such as to protect one's skin from the sun. There is less of a concern around the immediate family. Note that men and boys who are uncomfortable being bare-chested should also wear a T-shirt. Obviously, a dark-colored shirt should be worn so it won't go transparent when wet and defeat the purpose of wearing it in the first place...!
Subject: Question 21.3.5: Playtime: Can my kid play with Playdough during Pesach? Answer: If you are talking commercial playdough, the answer is no. Playdough contains chometz (products made from the 7 grains prohibited on Passover). An alternative solution to Playdough might be real clay or real modelling clay. You should read the ingredients to ensure that there are no chometz or chometz-derived ingredients. Note that, for traditional Jews, there would be a problem with real modelling clay during Shabbat, given the prohibitions on constructing things or creating (i.e, various forms of art).
Subject: Question 21.4.1: Eating: Where can I find kosher baby food? Answer: In the U.S. and Canada, some Heinz, Beech-Nut and at least one organic brand has at least a few kosher lines. Except with brands marketed specifically as kosher baby food, one should always look for a hechsher on the package, since many of these products contain meat and other non-kosher ingredients.
Subject: Question 21.4.2: Eating: Where can I find kosher for passover baby food? Answer: Alas, few of the major manufacturers make a line of baby food specifically for Pesach, although in some areas a few manufacturers do. A local "kosher store" just before Pesach would probably be your best bet. However, you should check with your local rabbi or halachic authority, because there may be leniencies available -- on a local and limited basis only -- for products such as baby cereal or formulas. However, you should not use such products without consulting your rabbi. Note: You may be in the position of having to make your own. Another potential avenue is to check some of the online Kosher grocers, such as [5], [6] [7], [8], [9], or [10]
Subject: Question 21.5.1: Holidays: What are good activities for children for the major Jewish holidays? Answer: The Jewish Theological Seminary maintains a website for family and children's holiday activities at [5]
Subject: Question 21.6.1: Schooling: How do I determine the right type of religious program: day school vs. afterschool? Answer: A day school education has the advantage of keeping the child's social, and secular training consistent. An after school program is often perceived by the child to show that the religious education is only an afterthought and is not as "important" as the "regular" classes. A day school education will also cover more ground, be integrated with the child's life, and teach the child throughout his/her entire school career. On the other hand, there are also advantages to public school plus afternoon Hebrew school. These include having school friends in the neighborhood, and the fact that non-Jews who go to school with Jewish kids are probably less likely to grow up to be antisemites than those who've never met a Jew before. The determination of the most appropriate choice depends on many factors: family finances, academic quality, child care options, the community, the religious schools available (there are fewer Reform day schools than Orthodox day schools, for example), transportation, the quality of the public school system, the attitude of the school if parents are not of the same movement, and other factors. Parents should also consider how close a match there is between the day school(s) available for their children and the family's own religious philosophy and level of observance. In any case, any form of Jewish education is important, and many a committed Jew is the product of afterschool education.
Subject: Question 21.6.2: Schooling: How are teachers in Chasidic schools trained? Answer: In the U.S., the answer is mixed. Some teachers in chasidic schools are licensed to teach by the state, and some are (alas) not trained and high school graduates. This is because some of the teachers in chassidic and more charedi Orthodox grade schools are products of their own system. Typically they are young women with 9 months to 2 years of post-high school training. The rest of the teaching staff (including all Special Education teachers) are better-trained, often from outside the community. It is common is to draw former public school teachers, perhaps ones who prefer the different hours, smaller class sizes, or who like the idea of working within the Jewish community.
Subject: Question 21.7.1: B'nai Mitzvah: What is a bar/bat mitzvah? Answer: A bar/bat mitzvah s considered legally responsible to fulfill the mitzvos. A boy becomes bar mitzvah at the age of thirteen and one day. Girls become bat mitzvah at age 12. This is usually celebrated by the child being called to read from the torah at the shabbat closest to their bar/bat mitzvah. As is common in Judaism, there is often a party afterwards, which can vary from the simple home reception to an overly ornate "theme" celebration. Until the child reaches bar/bat mitzvah age, they are responsible only as part of chinuch (training). After the bar/bat mitzvah, the child is legally an adult in the eyes of Judaism. This means the following: * They are now counted for a minyon (prayer quorum of ten). * They are responsible for wearing tefillin. * They are eligible for aliyot (being called up to read the Torah). * They are responsible to fast on fast days. * They are responsible for observing the mitzvot. With respect to Bat Mitzvah. The event itself has been recognized for many generations: * Rabbi Yosef Chaim in his book "Ben Ish Chai" [1883-1909, a rabbi from Bagdad] talks about the day of a girls Bat Mitzvah as a day of celebration on which she should wear a new outfit and say "She'he'chiyanu" and include her entrance to the "burden of Mitzvot" (Ol Mitzvot). * Rabbi Yitzchak Nissim Z"l quotes from Rabbi Mussafya (1606-1675, born in spain a rabbi and personal doctor of King Critian the IV of Denmark. later he moved to amsterdam) that the day of the Bat Mitzvah is a day of celebration and the dinner is a "Se'udat Mitzvah" (mitzvah dinner). * In Italy (Torrino and Milan) it was customary to gather the Bat Mitzvah girls and the community during a weekday, the girls stood in front of the open Aron Kodesh and recited (dividing the prayers among them) a special prayer written for them which included a blessing of Shehechiyanu and ended "Baruch Ata Hashem Lamdeynee Chukecha" (bless ..teach me your laws). [note, the prayer was also said by bar mitzvah boys]. Then the rabbi speaks and blesses the girls and their families. Afterwards, there is a Se'udat Mitzva at the girls' home However, none of these ceremonies involved the girl reading from the Torah. The first public bat mitzvah ceremony in which a girl read from the Torah is believed to have been for Judith Kaplan Eisenstein z"l, the daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of the Reconstructionist movement. The ceremony has since been adopted by almost all movements in Judaism. Note that the focus of the bar/bat mitzvah should be the actual ceremony, not the party afterwards. More information on Bar and Bat Mitzvah may be found at [5]
Subject: Question 21.7.2: B'nai Mitzvah: What's a good gift for a b'nai mitzvah? Answer: The following are some of the ideas that have been suggested: * Jewish books involving torah study. * Ceremonial objects that allow observance at home: kiddish cups, seder plates, havdalah sets. * Ritual objects, such at tallitot. * Gift certificants for Jewish bookstores. * For girls, some communities give items for the dowry: sheets, towels, etc. * Fountain pens. :-) Remember that the gift is a celebration of coming of age. The present should be useful throughout the individual's Jewish life. Argues well for a fountain pen, doesn't it :-) It is a good idea to have the child register at a good Jewish book store so as not to be flooded with duplicate books or gifts. Gift certificates are nice in that they allow multivolume sets to be purchased without having to know the volumes that the child already owns. Lastly, you should not bring your gift with you to the ceremony (if it is held Friday evening or before sundown on Saturday), especially if you know the child is from a traditional Jewish household. For those that follow traditional halacha, carrying is forbidden on Shabbat [there are some exceptions, but as those vary from community to community, its just best not to carry at all].
Subject: Question 21.7.3: B'nai Mitzvah: What is appropriate dress to wear to the b'nai mitzvah ceremony? Answer: Since the usual acknowledgment is by having a kiddush in the synagogue the Shabbat of the bar/bat mitzvah (when the child is called to the torah for the first time) appropriate dress is that to be worn to Synagogue. This means you should dress as if you were going to the house of someone you deeply respect. For men, suits or sportjackets (subdued) and slacks. Ladies should wear appropriate dresses. In traditional congregations, women should not wear pants, and the dress should be appropriately modest (covering the elbows, knees, and not low-cut in front). In most congregations, when you arrive, men will be provided with a kipah (yarmulke) to wear (of course, if you have one, you may bring their own). In some, women also cover their heads; such congregations often provide a covering. If you are unfamiliar with Jewish congregational services, follow the lead of others attending the services. Stand when they stand. You should have prayerbooks provided. You should plan to arrive on time, but no more than 1/2 hour late.
Subject: Question 21.7.4: B'nai Mitzvah: What are the characteristics of a good b'nai mitzvah program? Answer: An ideal program would start when the child is born and extend well into early adulthood. Be cautious about any program that claims that to prepare a child completely to fulfill his or her entire responsibilities as a Jew in a limited period of time. A program that encourages the children to pursue a lifetime of Jewish learning is better than one that lets him or her "cram" for just a year. The program should emphasize that Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the beginning, not the end, of a child's religious education. In any program a parent wants to have their child learn and be able to do the standard requirements of that program for their ceremony. At the very outset there should either be someone who will explain the entire process, or some written materials that will offer a guide to the congregation's program. Not every child is the same and not every bar/bat mitzvah is the same. Rather, due to a variety of variables (intermarriage, divorice, etc) some children are often facing more than just the task of Hebrew and leading the service. A key characteristic is parental involvement. When parents are involved, even when they might not be able to help with Hebrew they send an important message. They tell the child that this is important to them the parents. A program needs to have a role that the parent plays and places some responsibility beyond the financial and the party. Our children need to feel our presence in the journey and struggle to accomplish their bar/bat mitzvah. As a parent, you need to understand the program, the Heberw and the expectations on both your child and you. This will insure that it will be a family experience and that Torah is truly passed from generation to generation. Another factor is whether the program provides the motavation to continue Jewish education. Far too often, we lose our children to Jewish education after the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. The program must have characteristics that will keep the child motivated to stay in a Jewish learning environment. In general, look for programs that offer extra-curricular activities in addition to just "parsha" tutoring, to demonstrate that Judaism is something we live both in the synagogue and away from it, and to encourage lifelong religious involvement with peers.
Subject: Question 21.7.5: B'nai Mitzvah: How do I select a good b'nai mitzvah tutor? Answer: A tutor is a less desirable option in general, because in a one-on-one situation, the child will see Judaism as an activity apart from the rest of his or her life. Synagogues will provide recommendations, but probably word-of-mouth is a better option. Attend a few Bar or Bat Mitzvahs and observe, not only to the quality of the singing, but how confident the child is on the bima, and his or her level of understanding of the Torah portion and haftorah. Beyond that, you should look for a teacher with whom you are comfortable and can work with. The teacher should be knowledgable, and should command the respect of the student.
Subject: Question 21.7.6: B'nai Mitzvah: I need to speak at my child's bar/bat mitzvah? What do I say? Answer: One approach to the parent's speech is to use quotations from the Tanakh or the Talmud, or other Jewish sources. The best speech, however, is one that is simple and from the heart, and is to your child, not to the audience.
Subject: Question 21.8.1: Other childhood lifecycle rituals: I've heard of a ceremony called "Consecration". What is it? Answer: It is a ceremony used in Reform congregations to mark the beginning of formal Jewish education, usually with K or 1st grade. It is a group ceremony often celebrated on Simchat Torah, and usually the young participants are given a small replica of a torah (can you read 4-point type?) to symbolize the start of their study of torah. Consecration is not based on traditional rituals, and is not observed in Orthodox congregations. Some Conservative congregations do observe the ceremony. They either call it "consecration", or opt for the more Jewish-sounding names. In the Orthodox community in England and Australia: The ceremony has nothing to do with children. The term "Consecration" refers to the official unveiling of a tombstone. Roughly a year (although often as early as 3 months or as late as 2 years), a minyan is held at the graveside while kaddish and a few psalms are recited.
Subject: Question 21.8.2: Other childhood lifecycle rituals: I've heard of a ceremony called "Confirmation". What is it? Answer: In the non-Orthodox community, Confirmation is a ceremony used to mark the end of the tenth year of formal Jewish education, and usually corresponds to 10th grade graduation. It was originally introduced by Reform to replace Bar/Bat Mitzvah, but has evolved to parallel Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and provide a point of celebrating continuing Jewish education past Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Confirmation is a time for young adults to reconfirm the commitment to Judaism made at Bar/Bat Mitzvah, when they were legally adults but in this day and age not likely as mature as 12-13 years of centuries ago. Unlike bar/bat mitzvah, confirmation is a group ceremony often celebrated on Shavuot. It is not based on traditional rituals, and is not observed in Orthodox congregations. Some Conservative congregations observe the ceremony. It is either called "confirmation", "graduation", or the more Jewish-sounding "Bikkurim". Some refer to confirmands as "Sar Torah".
Subject: Question 21.8.2: What is Upsherin? I know it relates to the cutting of the hair of boys at age 3, but tell me more. Answer: Amongst Ashkenazic Jews, this custom is called upsherin, a Yiddish word from the same root as the English "shearing". Upsherin is prevalent in Chassidic and Sepharadic communities, communities that share a number of Kabbalistically derived custom. The more popular reason given for the custom is the law of "arlah", that one may not use fruit from a tree until its fourth year. In explaining the prohibition against needlessly killing fruit trees, or wastage in general, the Torah (Deut) uses the expression "for a man is a tree of the field" (what you waste now could cost lives later). This expression could be taken to compare people with trees. Since the "tree of the field" isn't harvested for three years, neither do we cut a boy's hair. But why just boys? Those who keep the custom of upsherin also wait until the child turns three before giving him a yarmulka and tzitzis to wear. Also, the day of upsherin the child is taken to a teacher and shown the alef-beis. In "the old country" the child would start cheder (single-classroom school), now this formalized "start of education" is done instead. This gives an explanation about why boys in particular. The obligation to educate girls in Torah is functional--you can't be a good Jew without knowing Judaism. However, for boys there is in adddition an obligation to study Torah as an end in itself. Since upsherin marks the start of the mitzvah of education, it's therefore tied to gender. The educational aspect also adds a second layer of meaning to the custom. The prohibition of using fruit of a young tree is called "arlah". The same word used for an uncircumcised foreskin. Circumcision is commonly used as a symbol of removal of barriers; both in Jewish tradition, and in Paul's letters where he writes of "circumcision of the heart". Here we see "circumcising" the mind and head, removing the "arlah", as a preparation for schooling. Add to the change in self image of the haircut and starting to wear tzitzis and yarmulka, and upsherin becomes a rite of passage from babyhood to childhood.
Subject: Question 21.8.3: I've been invited to a Bat Barakah. What is it? Answer: This is NOT a Jewish ceremony, although it sounds like one. The only reference to such a ceremony is from a group called Family Foundations, which is a Christian ministry, that has established a ceremony called Bat Barakah, which is a Christian "Bat Mitzvah."
Subject: Question 21.9.1: Coping with other religions: My child says all of his friends have Christmas Trees, and he wants one too. What do I say? Answer: That as Jews, we celebrate our own holidays and that a Christmas tree is a statement that one is celebrating a different religion.
Subject: Question 21.9.2: Coping with other religions: My child's non-Jewish grandparents have asked her to help trim the tree. What do I do? Answer: Some parents would say "yes" immediately; others would issue an outright refusal. The child knows her grandparents are not Jewish, and it might be helpful for her to see how they practice their religion and what sorts of things are important to them. But this must also be weighed against the potential for identity conflict and confusion in the child, who may begin to feel as though she is "sort-of" Christian, or Christian in some "honorary" kind of way. For young children (under 10), it is probably not a good idea, as their Jewish identity is not yet fully-formed and they will definitely absorb the confusing message that Christianity is somehow just as much a part of them as their own religion. Note that this answer does not address some of the potential underlying reasons for the question; it assumes the child is being raised Jewish by both parents (one, quite likely, a convert, although there are situations where it is the grandparents that left Judaism after the children were born). The question gains significance if there is an attempt to raise the child with multiple faiths. Most of the main Jewish movements (Reform, Conservative, and of course Orthodoxy) do not believe that is possible, and recommend raising the child within Judaism only. However, the issue is quite complex, and some of the texts in the Intermarriage and Conversion reading list, in particular, the "After You've Done the Deed" section, are appropriate. URL: [5]
Subject: Question 21.9.3: Coping with other religions: My child has been invited to an Easter Egg roll? What do I do? Answer: The answer to this is similar to Question 21.9.2. Some parents would permit it, and some would not. As always, one must weighed any benefits against the potential for identity conflict and confusion in the child, who may begin to feel as though she is "sort-of" Christian, or Christian in some "honorary" kind of way. Additionally, Easter Egg rolls are public events, and one must be cautious about giving the image that Jews observe such events (this is especially true if one has obviously Jewish dress: kippahs, peyot, etc.). In general, it is probably not a good idea.
Subject: Question 21.9.4: Coping with other religions: My child has been invited to the Easter Egg roll on the White House lawn? What do I do? Answer: Aside from the honor, the issues are the same as any ordinary Easter Egg hunt. The public factor, however, is more critical. You do not want to give the impression that this is an approved Jewish activity. In general, we shouldn't let the "importance" of an occasion blind us to our Jewish values. Don't leave them behind just for a chance to meet the President. If you would ordinarily feel that it was not appropriate, religiously, it's important to say no in this case, too. Of course, if you insist on going, get the President's autograph.
Subject: Question 21.10.1: Growing Older: My child wants to start dating? How do I ensure proper behavior? Answer: Well, the "Dr. Laura" answer is for the child to wait until he or she is ready for marriage before serious dating can begin. Certainly, it's within the parents' right to be strict -- more than that, it is their responsibility. Regardless of what "all the other kids are doing", if you're serious about ensuring proper behavior, don't allow boys and girls to be alone together. They have no "right to privacy" in an era when teen pregnancies happen even to the smart kids (and even to the Jewish kids), and if they are living in your home, you can create and enforce standards you feel are morally appropriate. All of this may sound a little on the tough side, but to any sensible parent, it will seem like a small price to pay for knowing who your kids are with and who they're doing it with until they are old enough to be trusted. For those in the Conservative movement, the Rabbinical Assembly Commision on Sexuality has published "This Is My Beloved: This Is My Friend: A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate Relations". This booklet instructs laypeople in Jewish tradition's views of all areas of human sexuality, including dating and marriage. It is available from the United Synagogue Book Service ([5] More specifically, one of the members of that commission, Rabbi Michael Gold, wrote "Does God Belong in the Bedroom?" (JPS), which includes a chapter on this topic. He identifies sex keys that parents can provide their children with that will help them grow into responsible Jewish adults. These keys, briefly stated are: self-esteem; a positive body image; accurate knowledge about sexuality; Jewish values; a sense of holiness, and proper role models. The question that most Jewish parents ask today is how to deal with a teenage child who wants to date a non-Jew. Rabbi Alan Silverstein has dealt with the uneasy questions surrounding interfaith dating in "It All Begins with a Date: Jewish Concerns about Intermarriage" and "Preserving Jewishness in Your Family After Intermarriage Has Occurred". [Jason Aronson Inc. 1995] Written on behalf of the Conservative Movement's Leadership Council, these books offer a comprehensive guide for anyone struggling with interdating and intermarriage, from teenagers to parents to interfaith couples wondering how to raise their children. Rabbi Silverstein's own perspective on interfaith dating is that every date must be treated as a potential mate: "If you are committed to living in the US, you don't date a Scandinavian exchange student bent on returning home." With great ease, he segues from a hard line on prevention to the hard realities facing an intermarried couple. "The Conservative Movement's approach offers a combination of compassion and principle, one that teaches the ideal but deals with the reality." "It All Begins with a Date" offers a preventive approach to inter-dating and intermarriage and includes a section on raising children to value Judaism. "Preserving Jewishness in Your Family" understands that when intermarriage does occur, a new set of issues arises that requires equally careful examination, discussion and resolution. More information is available at [6]
Subject: Question 21.10.2: Growing Older: What other forms of body modification are allowed? Tattoos? Earrings? Answer: In general, Judaism does not approve of the purposeful damaging of the body or the making of permanent marks. Thus, tattoos, branding, and the punching of holes through the body are not generally accepted. Earrings are a special case. The Torah does record that wearing an earring in the upper cartilage of the ear is a mark of slavery, and thus is not allowed. Wearing an earring in the fleshy lobe of the ear has a long history and has been allowed, but only for women. There is also a history of Haredi Jews wearing earrings, and there are records of Chassidic Jews wearing earrings to prevent or cure poor eyesight.
Subject: Question 21.10.3: Growing Older: When do I need to start worrying about issues of modesty? Answer: There are three issues with respect to tzeni'us (modesty): 1. The exposure of areas absolutely deemed erotic 2. An objective standard that isn't subject to societal norm 3. The societal standard To apply this model to real life: Nudity, such as bathing, of the first sort, as might be short shorts or bikinis. According to the Aruch haShulchan, this is banned at least by age 3 for girls and 9 for boys. The disparaty in age has to do with the difference in age required for rape to be a realistic problem. This is true for all people of the opposite gender, and according to this text, fathers included. Some authorities are more lenient, ruling that fathers are an exception to the three and up rule, and no prohibition starts at an age where the child is too young to learn about such things, just as in any other home. A better known case of the second category would be going sleeveless. Another that the Aruch haShulchan discusses is the Talmud's pronouncement that a woman's hair (which is understood to mean a married woman's hair) is erotic. This is an objective standard; it holds even in societies that aren't shocked by these things. However, it is also not blatantly erotic in the normal sense of the word. Married Orthodox women by and large cover their hair (or at least know they're supposed to). When one starts observing these depends on the child; i.e., when they're educable in such matters (as in any mitzvah). They ought to learn before reaching b'nai mitzvah age, but the number of years before is going to on the child. This includes sleeves that go past the elbow and skirts that go past the knee even when sitting down. However, when it comes to distraction for prayer, we go by what distracts -- which is going to be societally determined. So, the Aruch haShulchan rules that one may say Shema in the presence of a woman whose hair is uncovered. Societal standards, in other words, things that aren't blatantly erotic, aren't spelled out by halachah, but are considered "not done", wouldn't apply between a father and daughter until she is married. The word "wouldn't" is used because once we live in a world where Calvin Klein can put up billboards of women in their underwear and bikinis are acceptable, this category is empty. There is nothing beyond the core of the body that will shock most people today even when seen in someone other than one's daughter. However, if you still haven't lost the art of blushing... your married daugher shouldn't wear in front of you something that would make you blush if worn by someone else -- even if the area exposed isn't spelled out by halachah.
Subject: Question 21.11.1: Resource References: I need some information on Jewish Genetic Diseases. Where do I start? Answer: There are a number of places that you can look: 1. Consult the "[5]Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man" database at The Johns Hopkins University (<>), or the [6]GDB Genome Data Base (<>). 2. Consult the National Foundation for Jewish Genetic Diseases: National Foundation for Jewish Genetic Diseases, Inc. 250 Park Avenue Suite 1000 New York, New York 10177 (212) 371-1031 3. Check out the [7]Jewish Genetic Disease Program of the Saint Barnabas Health Care System ([8] This is a grant-funded program with the goal of educating people about disorders more common in the Jewish population. The site has information on common Jewish Genetic Diseases, and links to information on the following individual disorders: Bloom Syndrome, Canavan Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Fanconi Anemia (Type C), Familial Dysautonomia, Gaucher Disease, Niemann-Pick Disease (Type A), Tay-Sachs Disease, and Mucolipidosis IV. You may contact them at [9] or call (973) 322-7020 for more information. 4. If you are dealing with a Tay Sachs related disease: National Tay Sachs and Allied Diseases Association 2001 Beacon Street Brookline, MA 02146 (617) 277-4463 5. If you are dealing with Mucolipidosis Type IV (ML4), an inherited metabolic storage disease traced back to Lithuania and Poland: ML4 Foundation 719 East 17th Street Brooklyn , NY 11230 [10]ML4 Home Page: 6. If you are dealing with Fanconi Anemia, an inherited chromosomal/haematological disorder: Fanconi Anemia Research Fund, Inc. 1902 Jefferson Street, Suite 2 Eugene, OR 97405 Phone:(541) 687-4658 E-mail: [11] Home Page: [12] 7. Check out some of the medical links at [13]Hebrew University in Jerusalem (<>)
Subject: Question 21.11.2: Resource References: Are there any recommended online resources on Jewish Childrearing or specifically for Jewish children? Answer: With respect to Jewish childrearing, the following resources are of interest: 1. soc.culture.jewish.parenting. The newsgroup [5]soc.culture.jewish.parenting , and its parallel listserv, scj-parenting. If you cannot get the newsgroup, you may subscribe to the listserv by sending the command: subscribe scj-parenting your first and last names to the [6]Shamash List Processor <>. 2. Torahtots. The Torahtots site ([7] provides lots of good traditionally-orented coloring pages and information for children. 3. The Jewish Family site ([8] provides useful information for raising a Jewish family.
Subject: How do I obtain copies of the FAQ? Answer: There are a number of different ways to obtain copies of the FAQ: * WWW. If you are reading this on Usenet, and would like to see an online, hyperlinked version, go visit [2] This is the "web" version of the FAQ; the version posted to Usenet is generated from the web version. Note that the version is a copy of the actual master version; if you want to access the master, visit [3] * Email. also provides an autoretriever that allows one to obtain a copy of the FAQ by return Email. To use the autoretriever, you send a retrieval request to [4] with the request in the body of the message. A more reliable way to retrieve these files is through the [5]FAQ autoretriever ([6] For the FAQ, the request has the form: send faq partname For the reading list, the request has the form: send rl partname "Partname" is replaced by the name of the part, as shown in the general index. The following is a short summary of the mapping to partnames for the FAQ: + [7]01-FAQ-intro: Section [8]1: Network and Newsgroup Information. + [9]02-Who-We-Are: Section [10]2: Who We Are + [11]03-Torah-Halacha: Sections [12]3, [13]4: Torah; Halachic Authority + [14]04-Observance: Sections [15]5, [16]6, [17]7, [18]8: Jewish Holidays; Jewish Dietary Law and Kashrut; Sabbath and Holiday Observance; Woman and Marriage + [19]05-Worship: Sections [20]9, [21]10, [22]11: Jewish Worship; Conversion, Intermarriage, and "Who is a Jew?"; Miscellaneous Practice Questions + [23]06-Jewish-Thought: Section [24]12: Jewish Thought + [25]07-Jews-As-Nation: Section [26]13: Jews as a Nation + [27]08-Israel: Section [28]14: Jews and Israel + [29]09-Antisemitism: Sections [30]15, [31]16, [32]17: Churban Europa (The Holocaust); Antisemitism and Rumors about Jews; Countering Missionaries + [33]10-Reform: Section [34]18: Reform/Progressive Judaism + [35]11-Miscellaneous: Sections [36]19, [37]20: Miscellaneous; References and Getting Connected + [38]12-Kids: Section [39]21: Jewish Childrearing Related Questions + [40]mail-order: Mail Order Judaica The following is a short summary of the mapping of partnames for the Reading Lists: + [41]general: Introduction and General. Includes book sources, starting points for beginners, starting points for non-Jewish readers, General Judaism, General Jewish Thought, General Jewish History, Contemporary Judaism, Noachide Laws, Torah and Torah Commentary, Talmud and Talmudic Commentary, Mishnah, Midrash, Halachic Codes, Becoming An Observant Jew, Women and Judaism, and Science and Judaism. + [42]traditional: Traditional Liturgy, Practice, Lifestyle, Holidays. Includes Traditional Liturgy; Traditional Philosophy and Ethics; Prayer; Traditional Practice; The Household; Life, Death, and In-Between; and The Cycle Of Holidays. + [43]mysticism: Kabbalah, Mysticism, and Messianism. Includes Academic and Religious treatments of Kabbalah, Sprituality, and the Jewish notion of the Messiah. + [44]reform: Reform/Progressive Judaism + [45]conservative: Conservative Judaism + [46]reconstructionist: Reconstructionist Judaism + [47]humanistic: Humanistic Judaism (Society for Humanistic Judaism) + [48]chasidism: Chassidism. Includes general information on historical chassidism, as well as specific information on Lubavitch (Chabad), Satmar, Breslaw (Breslov), and other approaches. + [49]zionism: Zionism. Includes Zionism and The Development Of Israel, The Founders, Zionistic Movements, and Judaism in Israel. + [50]antisemitism: Antisemitism. Includes sections on Antisemitism, What Led to The Holocaust, Medieval Oppression, Antisemitism Today (Including Dealing with Hate Groups), Judaism and Christianity, and Judaism, Freemasonry and other rumors. + [51]intermarriage: Intermarriage. Includes sections on "So You're Considering Intermarriage?", The Traditional Viewpoint, Conversion, and Coping With Life As An Intermarried. + [52]childrens: Books for Jewish Children. Includes sections on Birth and Naming, Raising a Child, Family Guidebooks, Upsheren, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Confirmation, Holiday Books for Children, Liturgy for Children, Bible and Torah for Children, Jewish History for Children, Jewish Theology for Children, Israel, Learning Hebrew, and Jewish Stories. Alternatively, you may send a message to [53] with the following line in the body of the message: send usenet/news.answers/judaism/(portionname) Where (portionname) is replaced by the appropriate subdirectory and filenames; for example, to get the first part of the reading list, one would say: send usenet/news.answers/judaism/reading-lists/general * Anonymous FTP: All portions of the FAQ and of the reading lists are archived on [54] and are available for anonymous FTP from the pub/usenet/news.answers/judaism/FAQ directory (URL [55] Similarly, the parts of the reading lists are stored in the pub/usenet/news.answers/judaism/reading-lists directory (URL: [56] ts). Note that the archived versions of the FAQ and reading lists are the posted versions; that is, they are each one large ASCII file.
Subject: Jewish Childrearing FAQ Credits The Jewish Childrearing portion of the s.c.j. FAQ was developed by the [2]soc.culture.jewish.parenting Advisory Board committee, the advisors and moderators of the soc.culture.jewish.parenting newsgroup, and past contributors to the S.C.J FAQ. Specific contributors include: Shoshana L. Boublil, Rabbi Jim Egolf, Robert Kaiser, Hillel Markowitz, Jennifer Paquette, and Linda Zell Randall. It is maintained by Daniel Faigin <[3]> [Got Questions?] Comments and corrections are welcome; please send them to [4] Note that the goal is to present a balanced view of Judaism; where a response is applicable to a particular movement only, this will be noted. Unless otherwise noted or implied by the text, all responses reflect the traditional viewpoint. However, you should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start. A special thank you... Special thanks for her patience and understanding go to my wife, Karen, who put up with me hiding at the computer for the two months it took to complete the July/August 2000 remodel of the entire soc.culture.jewish FAQ and Reading Lists. If you think the effort was worth it, drop her a note c/o [5] ------------------------------------------------------------ -- Please mail additions or corrections to me at End of S.C.J FAQ Part 12 (Jewish Childrearing Related Questions) Digest ************************** -------

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