December 14, 2011: Hanukkah/Birth

We'll spend a few minutes this evening talking about Hanukkah.  The traditional story behind the holiday can be found here.  If you are hungry for more about the holiday, you can also check out an old posting of mine about it, and you might consider reading "A Different Light: The Big Book of Hanukkah" by Zion and Spectre.

In terms of navigating the December season, check out the slightly tongue in cheek 2005 opinion column by Joel Stein here and the much more thoughtful piece by Rabbi Dr. Lawrence Hoffman here.  For resources for interfaith families (from a Jewish perspective of course), click here.

The handout for the class can be found here.

This session will be an overview of Jewish birth rituals.  If you are going to be planning a Jewish birth ritual at some point, the book to read is "The New Jewish Baby Book" by Anita Diamant.  (Yes, the same Anita Diamant who is the bestselling author of "The Red Tent."  Turns out that Diamant is not only a bestselling author.  She's also an incredible non-fiction writer and teacher of Judaism!  As if she hasn't done enough really cool things already, she also helped establish Mayyim Hayyim, a community mikveh in Boston that has helped change the way that non-Orthodox Jews think about mikveh.  We'll talk much more about mikveh when we do conversion.)

The main ritual to mark the arrival of a Jewish boy is brit milah (ritual circumcision).  A mohel is a ritual circumciser (trained of course!).  I would be happy to refer you to one if you need.

There continues to be some debate in the Jewish community about circumcision.  We'll discuss this at length.  But, if you're interested, see the important article by Jon Levenson that appeared in Commentary Magazine in 2000.  And, consider checking out the book "The Covenant of Circumcision: New Perspectives on an Ancient Jewish Rite" by Elizabeth Mark.  One other reference: last year, "New York" magazine had a whole section on circumcision!  Check it out here.)

On a more humorous note, take the 23 minutes or so to watch "The Bris" - the classic Season 5 episode of "Seinfeld." 

Back to business: To mark the arrival of Jewish boys and girls, we do naming ceremonies to bestow a Hebrew name on the child.  There is a brief list of Hebrew names in the Diamant volume.  But the standard volume for names is "The Complete Dictionary of English and Hebrew Names" by Kolatch.  We have a variety of Hebrew name dictionaries in our library.

We'll be discussing the Jewish legal and sociological forces that have combined to bring us a new generation of feminist-inspired Jewish rituals (written for and by men and women).  Ground zero of that work is at the website Ritual Well.  Check it out.

Finally, we'll spend some time talking about the implications of intermarriage on the question of the Jewish status of children.  Do take the time to check out the landmark 1983 CCAR (Reform rabbinate) resolution on patrilineal descent.

In terms of our online discussion in the days following this class, I would invite you to post your reactions to our class.  They might touch on any of the following topics: the December Dilemma; the bris; difference between welcoming rituals for boys and girls in Judaism; or the tension between partrilineal/matrilineal descent.  We are interested in hearing your reflections, your questions; what really resonates with you; or what doesn't resonate at all with you.


  1. This is a test....Rabbi Hoffman's piece was spot on. Well written, carefully thought out and very telling.

  2. Easy Sufganiyot (Jelly Doughnut) Cupcake Recipe

    24 cupcake liners (2 1/2 inch)
    1 package (18.25oz) Plain Yellow Cake Mix
    1 package (3.4oz) Vanilla Instant Pudding Mix
    1 cup Milk
    1 cup Vegetable Oil
    4 Large Eggs
    1 Jar preserves/jam/jelly
    1/2 cup Powdered Sugar

    Makes 22-24 cupcakes
    Preparation Time: 15 minutes
    Baking tme: 18-20 minutes

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in center of oven. Line 24 cupcake cups with paper liners.

    2. Place cake mix, pudding mix, milk, oil and eggs in large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low for 30 seconds. Scrape down sides and mix again on medium for 1-2 minutes. Scoop a spoonful (1/4 cup) of batter into each lined cupcake cup. Place pan in oven.

    3. Bake until they are golden and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger (toothpick should come out clean) about 18-20 minutes. Remove pan from oven and cool for 5 minutes.

    4. Fill a pastry bag with a metal tip that has a large round hole and spoon about 1/2 cup jelly into the bag. Insert the tip into the top center of the cupcake. Generously squirt 2 teaspoons jelly into each cupcake (you may need to wipe the tip clean as you go). Continue filling all cupcakes and refill pastry bag as needed. When done, sift with powdered sugar.

    Happy Hanukkah and Enjoy!

  3. When doing some research in regard to the differences in welcoming rituals of boys and girls, I came across an interesting article. The article explained a girl is born “complete” and does not require a physical marking to welcome her into the religion. On the other hand, a boy requires a circumcision to reach the same level of “completeness”.

    Is this a recent explanation of why Jewish tradition does not call for some type of physical marking upon a girl?

    Link to the article: