The following is an excerpt from chapter 7, "Jewish Practice in Lots of
Nutshells."  It is presented with permission of the Paulist Press, all rights

The Cycle of Life
1.        Circumcision & Baby Naming:
 As we have seen, Judaism is a religion of
covenant, a mutual commitment and set of obligations that Jews as a people, and
each of us individually, has with God.  The Hebrew word for “covenant” is
Brit (in
Ashkenazic Hebrew and Yiddish
Bris) and the ceremony for recognizing a male
baby as being in the
Brit is called the Brit Milah, or “covenant of circumcision”
(often, you will hear this shortened and referred to as a Bris).  As specified in the
Bible (Gen. 17:9-14, 17:24-25, and 21:4), Abraham was told by God to circumcise
himself, his two sons and “every male among you ... as a sign of the covenant
between Me and you.”  As God commanded Abraham, each baby’s circumcision
takes place at the age of eight days (some say so that at least one Sabbath will
take place before the circumcision), with the actual removal of the foreskin
traditionally performed by the
mohel, an individual specially trained in both the
medical and ritual requirements of the procedure.  At the
Brit, the baby boy
receives his Hebrew name.  Jews of Ashkenazi or Eastern European origin
generally will name the baby after a deceased relative they wish to honor,
whereas it is common for Sephardic Jews to name the child after a living relative.

Jewish baby girls often receive their Hebrew name at the synagogue a few weeks
(traditionally within a month) after birth; one traditional custom is that the name is
simply announced in connection with the father’s being called to the Torah during
services.  Although Judaism does not mandate a specific ceremony similar to that
of the
Brit Milah, Reform Judaism, with its emphasis on equality between the
sexes, has instituted a ceremony for welcoming baby girls into the covenant
Brit Ha-Chayim (“Covenant of Life”) or Brit Bat (“Covenant of the
Daughter”).  Increasingly congregations in all the movements are experimenting
with beautiful ceremonies to celebrate the entry of their daughters into the

2.        Bar & Bat Mitzvah:  When a Jewish boy reaches the age of 13, and a
Jewish girl reaches the age of 12 (13 in Reform practice), they are considered
young adults, and are hence considered by our tradition to be obligated to
observe Jewish law.  Beginning in the Middle Ages, this rite of passage was
observed by having the young man (there was no equivalent ritual for women at
that time) called up to offer blessings and, often, to read from the Torah scroll
(see below for a discussion of the Torah and Torah scroll) during a regular
morning service.  Since this honor, called an aliyah, was reserved only for adult
Jewish men, this act signified his “coming of age” Jewishly.  He was said to be a
“son of the commandment” (meaning someone responsible for its performance)
or a Bar Mitzvah.  In addition to reading from the Torah scroll, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah
will also read a related passage from the one of the Biblical Prophets, called the
Haftarah; a practice observed on sabbath mornings.

In modern times, this tradition has been expanded to include young women (who
become Bat Mitzvah, “daughter of the commandment”) and has become an
occasion for a festive family celebration often involving elaborate parties and
receptions.  In our age where education is normally secular, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah
signifies that a child has completed a course in Jewish learning and is now
competent to conduct a prayer service as well as to read from the Torah.  This
requires a working knowledge of Hebrew and the structure of the prayer service.  
The Bar/Bat Mitzvah student will also normally provide a sermon commenting on
his or her learning experience as well as on the Torah portion of the week.
From Ch. 7: "Jewish Practice in Lots of