Simchat Bat Ceremonies: Feminist Ritual or Jewish Ritual?

I recently attended both the shalom zachor and brit mila of the son of good friends of mine. As all shalom zachors do, this made me think about how there’s no real female equivalent of a shalom zachor, and how this practice seems like a throwback to the days when families favored boys over girls.

When I was growing up, in a small, out-of-town community with one orthodox shul, one conservative shul, and one reform shul, the process was pretty standard across the board: No one had a shalom zachor. If you had a baby boy, you had a brit, and if you had a baby girl, you had a baby naming ceremony. The ceremonies were fairly similar, both involved the whole community sharing bagels and lox, both involved the parents (or just the father, if the mother was too weak from just having passed a human being out of her body) talking publicly about their child and his/her name and where it comes from and who the baby is named after and their hopes and dreams for their child. There were only two differences: 1. The brit involved a snip-snip and 2. The brit was held 8 days after the baby was born (unless there were medical concerns) and the baby naming was held whenever was convenient for the parents, usually the first or second sunday after the baby was born.

It was pretty fair, if you asked me. I never thought of judaism favoring baby boys over baby girls because we celebrated both babies publicly, and even I, as a kid, understood that the ceremonies couldn’t be 100% equal because, well, girls and boys are not biologically 100% equal.

It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I heard people talk about simchat bat ceremonies. I assumed that those were just the hebrew version of a baby naming ceremony. Then I started to read about how people have designed special prayers, songs, and passages for simchat bats. What finally made me realize that these ceremonies were viewed a little differently here than where I came from, however, was a comment made by a caterer friend of mine. He does events all over the tri-state area, and was once talking about a simchat bat he was planning. Someone asked him where the event was going to be. He replied, “Riverdale, duh. If it’s a simchat bat, it’s either Riverdale or the Upper West Side.” So, apparently, the only people that celebrate a daughter are feminists. Hm.

This conversation led to more discussions about baby girls and baby boys. Apparently, “most people” up here name their baby girls in shul the first time that the husband goes to shul after the baby is born. There’s usually no coffee and bagels, and no guests are invited. The only parties are for boys.

This is wrong. It is weird that my small town is more “progressive” than the big city, but apparently, that’s how it is. But the thing is, we didn’t think of ourselves as progressive at all. Most of the people would shun the title feminist. I once got ridiculed for studying gemara in shul on simchat torah while all the other women were contentedly watching the men dance around the torah. This is NOT a progressive community. We simply like babies, male or female, and we celebrate whenever ANY new member joins our tribe.

This is the final step for feminism. Feminism has taken great strides lately, has implemented wonderful additions and rituals and services that make judaism welcoming for all genders, and thats great. But the final step is to get these things normalized, to not be seen as a “feminist” practice, but instead, to be seen as simply a Jewish practice.

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