27/29 April: Shabbat Tazia/Metzora comes in 8.04pm, goes out 9.14pm
The opening paragraph of this weeks double parsha, Tazria-Metzorah deals with a mother who gives birth, and the required period of Tum’ah/Impurity that she undergoes. The parsha also mentions in a short verse that the brit takes place on the 8th day. Our rabbis learn from this that even if the 8th day is Shabbat the bris takes place.
Normally the Shabbat law would dictate that one does not do a surgical procedure on Shabbat. So why does the circumcision take precedence over Shabbat? Biblically, both Shabbat and circumcision are considered an “Ot” – a sign of the covenantal relationship between God and the children of Israel.
Since it is the brit milah that places males into the covenantal relationship in the first place, it makes sense (meaning you can’t observe Shabbat if you were not made Jewish with a bris to begin with) that a brit milah supersedes Shabbat and is permitted to be observed on this day.
Are baby girls just born Jewish? Many Jewish communities have also had ways of welcoming their daughters into the covenant with celebrations that date as far back as the Middle Ages, but they were more often folk custom than religious ritual per se, and rarely had the same sense of spiritual weight or importance as brit milah.
After a few decades of witnessing Brit Bat or Simchat Bat (Bris/covenant welcoming for a girl) ceremonies, Deborah Nussbaum Cohen has written Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter: Creating Jewish Ways to Welcome Baby Girls into the Covenant (Jewish Lights). It contains an exploration of the themes and issues related to simchat bat, and a complete collection of blessings, prayers, readings, and songs to choose from, as well as sample ceremonies. Today, welcoming ceremonies for Jewish girls have become so popular that in many circles they have become an expected–if not yet universally practiced–rite of passage.
Rabbi Paul Arberman