An eco-kosher babynaming/welcoming ceremony: "The Naming of Plonit"

By Rachel Barenblat
[Barenblat edits the "Velveteen Rabbi" blog. She is a rabbinical student in the ALEPH smikha program. This project was part of the course in Eco-Judaism taught by Rabbi Arthur Waskow in 2009.]

Working on this eco-kosher babynaming ceremony was a fascinating journey for me. My intention was to create a babynaming ceremony which would work, first and foremost, as a ceremony. This isn't a position paper or an intellectual argument; it's meant to be a ritual which works as a ritual. But I also wanted it to be crafted with sensitivity to the earth and to how our religious traditions can shape our relationship to the earth. Because a babynaming/welcoming ceremony marks one of the most powerful new beginnings in human life, it seemed like a perfect time to strengthen our commitments to protecting the earth and the environment in such a way that they will still be flourishing for this new child to enjoy when s/he has come of age.

The basic structure of the babynaming is simple, and matches ceremonies I've led in the past: an invocation, the blessing of wine/juice, something tangible and palpable (in this case, washing the feet), the giving of the child's name(s), a few prayers, and a closing.

The invocation / opening is adapted from a babynaming ritual I wrote for the son of two dear friends last year. They wanted a ritual which would be firmly planted in our local soil, which would reflect the turn of the seasons here where we live and which would highlight and heighten their appreciation for the beauty of the natural world here in western Massachusetts. It seemed only appropriate to adapt it for this purpose, too.

Blessing wine or grape juice is the next step. Wine is a symbol of gladness in Jewish tradition; we bless it at almost all of our ritual occasions. My intention in this part of the ceremony is to gently telegraph that the wine is local and sustainable. Another option might be to use locally-pressed and/or locally-fermented apple cider, though of course then the blessing would have to be shifted from borei pri hagafen to borei pri ha-etz.

The biggest question for me was what the palpable piece of the ritual would be. I consdered anointing the baby with oil and honey, both of which are Biblical substances which denote sweetness and richness and abundance. But though honey is local to the mountains of western Massachusetts where I live, olive oil isn't, and I didn't want to require the use of something that had to be shipped from afar. I learned recently that my teacher Reb Phyllis Berman has done anointing of babies with milk and honey, using mother's milk -- the most hyperlocal food source there is! So if anointing calls to you, that's one way of making it an eco-kosher act. She suggests anointing the lips, the ears, and the heart, symbolizing this new person's speech, her hearing, and the center of her emotions.

In any event, I chose washing the feet, which is a tangible manifestation of caring for the wellbeing of the baby and which has some Middle Eastern resonances which satisfy me.

The next piece of the ceremony places the baby on Elijah's throne. This is customarily an element of boys' naming ceremonies -- it's part of the traditional brit milah -- and I wanted to adapt it for use with a girl. (I should mention here that this ceremony could also be adapted for use with a boy; you could either opt to have an intimate family bris earlier in the day and then use this as a ritual for a larger crowd, or you could weave the bris itself into the fabric of this ritual.)

The giving of names is the piece of the baby-naming ceremony which I never write in advance. (When we -- God willing -- name our son in December, that piece of our ceremony will be impromptu, also.) I have found that there is great beauty in letting the parents speak in an informal, ad-hoc way about the names they've chosen and why those names are meaningful for them.

And then we ramp down: a couple of readings (which can be given to family members or friends as a way of including and honoring them), a covenant made between the gathered community and the new baby, and a closing blessing. The covenant ritual ("brit") is adapted from one I've used in wedding ceremonies over the years. It's a way of making everyone present feel like a participant rather than a passive observer. When you do this piece of the ritual, notice how the energy in the room shifts. Do things feel different? Have facial expressions around the room changed? It's often a very powerful moment.

A practical suggestion I'd like to offer -- in the name of Reb Arthur Waskow and my fellow ALEPH classmates, in conversation with whom this idea arose -- is the creation of a brit document, some kind of certificate. List the commitments made by the community to the new baby, and leave space at the bottom for everyone who is present to sign the document. This can be as simple as a printed sheet of paper, or as elaborate as a calligraphed ketubah -- that's up to you! One way or another, it can be framed and becomes a beautiful memento of this lifecycle moment, and every time the people who were present at the babynaming see it hanging on the wall they'll be reminded of their relevant role in this new baby's life.

Thanks for reading! I hope that this ceremony brings you joy.

If this babynaming speaks to you, I invite you to use it, either as a whole ceremony -- or as inspiration for crafting your own! Re-use, remix, take it apart and put it back together again; this is how contemporary ritual creativity unfolds. My only request is that you continue to give attribution to the writers whose words appear in this document. (If the language isn't attributed to anyone, you can assume that it is my own.)

The Naming of Plonit
An ecokosher babynaming/welcoming ceremony
Welcome to all who have gathered here to celebrate Plonit's existence and her entrance
into our community and our world! We’ll begin by invoking God's presence as it manifests
in the physical world. Please join me responsively; the response we’re looking for,
to each of these blessings, is “For all of these, we are grateful.”
This is the season of winter: soft snowfall, frost spidering the windowpanes, the comfort
of a cosy hearth on a cold winter’s night. And this is also the season of Plonit's birth!
For all of these, we are grateful.
In time we’ll reach her first spring: reddening twigs, muddy driveways, her first drop of
maple syrup from local trees.
For all of these, we are grateful.
She'll take her first steps in the summertime: the riotous explosion of new green,
vegetables grown in local soil, the sun warming the earth.
For all of these, we are grateful.
And then she'll come around to her first season of harvest: fall foliage and bright
pumpkins, cold nights and fragrant woodsmoke.
For all of these, we are grateful.
Blessing wine
In Jewish tradition wine is a symbol of gladness; it’s part of every celebratory and ritual
occasion. Because we want everyone here to savor Plonit's birth, we’re passing around
little cups of wine; please take one, and share in our joy!
We've chosen a regional wine, made from grapes which are sustainably grown and
harvested. In the way the vines are grown and nurtured, in the way the grapes are
picked and crushed, and in the way the wine is distributed we find values which match
our understanding of how holiness should unfold.
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This cup is the vessel of our hopes. It is filled with the new wine of life just begun. The
sweetness of its taste is the added joy that this new child brings.
Please join with me in blessing the wine, in Hebrew and in English.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן.
Baruch atah, Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, borei p’ri hagafen.
Blessed are you, Adonai our God, source of all being, creator of the fruit of the vine.
Washing the feet
Our religious tradition has its roots in the ancient Near East, a semi-arid climate where
water is of paramount importance. Torah is rife with water imagery—think of the
miraculous skein of water which Hagar finds when she and Ishmael have been cast into
the desert.
So too is the Hasidic tradition, which turns texts about Isaac re-digging the wells of his
father into deep teachings about plumbing our sources of insight. Water symbolizes
spiritual wisdom; it's also our primary source of actual sustenance. Without it, we could
not live.
Each of us began life surrounded by amniotic waters. Even now, each of us is made up
mostly of water. The tradition of immersing in a mikvah reminds us that water is a solvent
which can wash away our accumulated spiritual schmutz. Immersing in water is
also a sybaritic pleasure, a source of embodied joy.
To welcome Plonit into our household and into our family, we will wash her feet. The
water in this bowl comes from our own well, which draws on a water table sustained by
the snows and the rains.
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As we cradle her tiny feet, let us be mindful of the miracle of her presence in our lives...
and also the miracle of living in a place and time when water flows easily from a spout
like the unfettered flow of divine shefa through which we all live. May we rededicate
ourselves to the intention of stewarding our world's water wisely and well, so that
Plonit and her children and her children's children will be able to live freely upon the
Kiseh Eliahu / Elijah's Throne
Plonit is held in the loving arms of a family member seated on a special chair: the kiseh
Eliahu, Elijah's throne. Jewish tradition holds that the prophet Elijah—the same one who
sips wine at every seder!—witnesses every baby-naming. Elijah is the harbinger of messianic
time. His presence reminds us that every child has the potential to transform the
(To Plonit) At this moment, you are not yet formally named. We do not know who you
will become. May Elijah, who witnesses this holy moment, guide and guard you as you
heal the world through words and deeds which are uniquely yours.
The prophet Malachi wrote:
"Here! -- I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of that great
and awesome day of YHWH, so that he will turn the hearts of the parents
to the children and the hearts of the children to the parents, lest I come
and strike the earth with utter destruction."
May Elijah, who is mystically present with us today, help us turn our hearts toward one
another in lovingkindness. And may we be inspired today to help to heal the wounded
earth on which we live, in order that we might avert the destruction of floods and
tsunamis, drought and fire.
Giving / explaining names
[parents explain the significance of Plonit's names]
A reading from the poet Wendell Berry:
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Within the circles of our lives
we dance the circles of the years,
the circles of the seasons
within the circles of the years,
the cycles of the moon
within the circles of the seasons,
the circles of our reasons
within the cycles of the moon.
Again, again we come and go,
changed, changing. Hands
join, unjoin in love and fear,
grief and joy. The circles turn,
each giving into each, into all.
Only music keeps us here,
each by all the others held.
In the hold of hands and eyes
we turn in pairs, that joining
joining each to all again.
And then we turn aside, alone,
out of the sunlight gone
into the darker circles of return.
(—Wendell Berry)
A benediction based in the words of poet John Soos:
To be of the Earth is to know
the restlessness of being a seed
the darkness of being planted
the struggle toward the light
the pain of growth into the light
the joy of bursting and bearing fruit
the love of being food for someone
the scattering of your seeds
the decay of the seasons
the mystery of death
and the miracle of birth (—John Soos)
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May you know each of these in its time
and may they bring you joy.
I'm going to ask a series of three questions of those who are gathered here today; the appropriate
answer to all of these is a resounding "We will!"
Do you covenant with Plonit to be her community; to love and to nurture her, to laugh
with her and to teach her, to answer her questions when you can and to encourage her
to question always?
(Community: We will!)
Do you covenant with Plonit to help her discover her world, its hills and streams, its
valleys and farms; to teach her to see the interconnectedness of all things, and to care for
her place on this earth?
(Community: We will!)
Do you covenant with one another to keep each other honest, to support one another as
we support Plonit and her family in living joyously and sustainably upon the earth?
(Community: We will!)
Plonit, may you always know
that this family is your home
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that this household is your home
that this community is your home.
May you draw from the deep well
of our spiritual tradition
and also, as you grow, learn to sip
from the wisdom that others carry.
May you inhabit a world
which has clean air for all to breathe
clean water for all to drink
healthy sustenance for all to eat
and may you do your part
to ensure the continuation of this world
so that your children and your children's children
may walk with joy on this beloved Earth.
Be who you are
And may you be blessed
In all that you are
Heyeh asher tihyeh
Veheyeh barukh
Ba’asher tihyeh (— Marcia Falk)
Blessed are you, Adonai, sovereign of all worlds, who has kept us alive, sustained us,
and enabled us to reach this moment!
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה:
Baruch atah, Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’olam, shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higiyanu lazman hazeh.
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Go and act!
Rabbi Akiva famously answered the question of "Which is greater, study or action?"
with the response "study... if it leads to action." We hope that this babynaming ceremony
will lead all of us to action.
Action opportunities:
Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life:
Contact your senator to express your thoughts on climate change and the environment:
Contact your representative:
EPA: Protect the Environment:
Environmental Defense Fund:
The Green Menorah Covenant:
Greenpeace "Take Action on Climate Change:"
Save Our Environment: A National Coalition for the Envronment http:/
For further reading & reflection:
Jason Clay and measuring the environmental impact of agriculture
The Jew and the Carrot: Resources
Index of essays / books by Michael Pollan


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: