A New "Covenant of the Heart" (Naming) Ceremony for Jewish Women

Hope (Hadassah) Pracht, 6/29/2005

Jewish women - come now and gather under a new banner, a Naming Ceremony that will no longer "play second fiddle" to the entrance rite of Jewish men. This ceremony which I will elaborate on further by Scriptural bases, midrash and liturgy, is called "The Covenant of the Heart for Jewish Women". We women can realize that we were not home doing dishes and laundry at Sinai, we were there with the men at the foot of the mountain, and we still are , as Jewish feminine writers have said. From this realization, we women can create new liturgy and revivify old practices - as I show below.

Our "New Covenant of the Heart" parallels the major entrance rite in Judaism, the Brit Milah or Circumcision for men. But I must explain some Scriptural background.

In Scripture, the rite of literal circumcision was also used in a midrashic interpretation such as, chastising the heart of Israel for being shortsighted or sinful. For example, we graphically read: "Circumcise the foreskin of your heart and be no more stiffnecked." (Deut. 10:16) Literally, as some rabbis have said, the "foreskin of the heart" means a barrier which in Hebrew is "orlah ha-lev". "Orlah" is a word which referred literally to an agricultural situation, removing the first three years of the fruit tree's produce, called "orlah" so the tree could produce better fruit. (Artscroll Mesorah BRIS MILAH). And too, the Jewish male's foreskin was called "orlah", a barrier which had to be removed. Rabbi Arthur Waskow explains that both the pruning of fruit tree produce and the organ of Jewish males were tied into consecrating the "fruitfulness" of land and man to God. (TREES, EARTH & TORAH).

Midrashically, circumcision was seen as I said before, the removal of a spiritual barrier so that one could serve God more effectively by removing the 'orlah ha-lev' or removing the "foreskin of the heart". We read: (Lev. 26:41), "then the foreskin of your heart will be humbled and you will atone for your sins and (Jer. 9:26) " Israel is "uncircumcised in the heart..." Being spiritually stiffnecked and selfish to others was a major problem addressed by Moses and the Prophets to all of ancient Israel in these analogies to literal circumcision. So Jewish women, of course not needing the literal rite for men, can see consecrating the heart as the essence of becoming more consecrated in the Covenant. We can appropriate and spiritualize the ancient consecration of men to a wider and profounder one for Jewish women (opening our hearts to God) since we are either born into the Covenant (through Jewish parents) or brought into it by conversion.

"Circumcision of the Heart"

Since the heart as the avenue to God is being addressed in symbolic circumcision, Jewish women relate to this very well. God was saying, (in effect), "You can have literal circumcision, but if your heart and deeds are not 'pruned' in the right way, then the "fruits" of your actions are for naught." Jewish women understand that we can take upon ourselves a "Covenant of the Circumcision of the Heart", opening ourselves to God and Torah, asking Him to remove the barriers ("Orlah ha lev") of mind and heart so that prayer, study, good deeds and sustenance of our People are our foremost "fruits".

Note this truly profound verse: "The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of all your offspring to love the LORD your God." (Deut. 30:6)

So The Creator is our spiritual "ritual circumciser" - a 'mohel of the heart' - the One who removes barriers. Take a look at the following "Covenant of the Heart" (naming) ceremony as a source for Jewish women's new and profound reflections.


1. The father and mother of the daughter are given Aliyot on the Shabbat and/or Monday or Thursday before the "Covenant of the Heart" (Naming Ceremony) in synagogue or in a private home. In a traditional synagogue, the father will have an Aliyah and the mother, grandmother or aunt may give a 'Devar Torah' at Kiddush.

2. The girl child (at 8 days) is dressed in white and carried (or led) by her father, who at the door of the room hands the daughter to an aunt, sister or other feminine relative who in turn hands the daughter to her mother. The mother carries (or leads, if older) the little girl in to the following welcome: (Other male relatives are in the audience.)

3. All say "Bruchah ha-bat" ("Blessed is she who comes." In kavanah (intention) this can also symbolize the Shechinah, the feminine Presence of God Whom we ask to be with us now.) The daughter to be blessed is handed to the senior Grandmother on the "Chair of Miriam" (like the Chair of Elijah). A small Table is set near the chair with a fine white cloth on it and 2 cups, one is for wine and the other a "Cup of Miriam" since Miriam is both prophetess, healer, midwife and sustainer of Israel through her mystic well of water. (A dynamic telling of the legend of Miriam's well is found in Penina Adelman's MIRIAM'S WELL, Rituals for Jewish Women Around the Year". The Cup of Miriam is also found in the "Ma'yan Hagaddah" ofNYC.)

4. The mother of the daughter now says: " I am ready to perform the rite (or 'honor') of bringing and affirming my daughter in the Covenant, the "B'rit Hadashah Orlah ha-Lev (the Opening or 'spiritually circumcising of the Barriers of the Heart)"on this eighth (or __?) day, for we Jewish women are, like the eight days ofPesach, Chanukah and Succot, the nourishment, light and continuity of our People."

Page 3 "Circumcision of the Heart" Ceremony

5. The mother, after saying the Affirmation in the middle of the room, now hands her daughter to the Senior Grandmother, (in tallith if desired, & on the 'Chair of Miriam") who says: "Bruchah at Yah, Ruach ha_01am, who has sanctified us in your commandments and allowed us to bring our daughter into the "Brit Hadashah Orlah ha-Lev" ("The New Covenant of the Heart"). Remove now the barriers of all our hearts, 0 Holy One, to know you more fully. Source of Compassion, mayest Thou circumcise her heart and the hearts of all our People to love you, Holy One, Nurturer of All." (Deut. 30:6.). The Mother or Grandmother may make a 'sign' of the Hebrew letter "shin" on the child's forehead, lips and heart, signifying "Shaddai" (God of Abraham) like a "shin"on a Mezzuzah, or like Shechinah, God's Presence.

6. Now prepare to take the two cups of Wine. The Mother says the blessing over the wine, "Bruchah at Yah....hagofen. Sustain this our daughter for her Mother and

Father, (or say: "for her family", if a same-gendered arrangement)."Let our daughter be called in Israel _______, daughter of_______ and ______. "

The Mother drinks the wine handing the first Cup to the grandmother, aunt, sister and feminine relatives as well as the father. (If the adopted girl or adult woman is a convert, and has participated in Immersion (a mikveh) first, one may say alternatively/additionally, "daughter of (Abraham and) Sarah, our Mother of Many Nations, enshrined in Hebron and our Tradition.")

7. Now the Mother may take the Cup of Miriam (filled with fresh water, and hold it up. "We take this Cup of Miriam, filled with the Water of Life. We women in Israel, like Miriam who drew her brother Moses out of the water, 'draw out' our People as well as nurture them in the Womb of Compassion. Give thanks to the One Above, Source of Compassion (Rechem/rachamim). Even as ____(X)______has been

brought into and honored in the B'rit Hadashah Orlah ha-Lev, the Covenant of the Opening of the Heart", may she also come to the Torah, the Canopy of Peace and Deeds of Compassion" Amen. (Or the Mother may say instead, "come to the Torah, Avodah {holy worship the 'service of the heart'} and Gemilut Chesedim {deeds of love}. (The Mother may drink from the Cup of Miriam.)

8. Now all congratulate the family of the Honoree and proceed to a festive meal with song, dancing and appropriate blessings. (If using a full "bentsh" book, substitute for the "covenant in our flesh" the following: "the Covenant in our Hearts".)

9. For Adult Converts: After the Bet Din and the mikvah procedure, this ceremony can be modified and done by the supervising Rabbi and Bet Din Members, while bringing the adult woman convert to the Torah in a synagogue chapel. A small chapel is best as it lends itself to actual and spiritual intimacy. It is especially helpful if one of the Bet Din members is a woman or if the Bet Din has no woman in it, an important woman member or friend of the adult convert be present.

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