Mychal Springer

Yesterday I began planning a baby-naming for Sunday. I haven’t officiated at a baby-naming in a couple of years and had forgotten all the feelings that it would stir up. I much prefer the rituals that have come down through the generations. Simple words that carry the weight of centuries. Weddings are like that. They revolve around traditional blessings and symbolic acts, and all I have to do is help make it all accessible to the modern crowd, to personalize the ceremony in a particular moment for a particular couple. It’s not that I’m lazy–though I can’t say I’m big on preparing anything–I just feel that a liminal moment is most profoundly experienced when it’s refracted through the lens of something beyond ourselves. Perhaps that sounds archaic. So many search for the perfect reading, the unique flourish that will make it all their own. But I suppose that for me it’s all about walking through the ancient gate and feeling the weight and company of all those who’ve crossed it before.

The problem is that when it comes to a girl’s naming, there is no real ancient gate. There’s a traditional naming prayer that’s recited in synagogue, but that’s not a stand-alone ritual. Inevitably I start thinking about a boy’s bris and–against my will–I encounter frustration that boys and girls enter into the Jewish community differently. It’s not that I want to invent a ritual that would touch a girl’s body the way a bris touches a boy’s. The point is that I don’t want to invent anything. The bris’s power comes from its origins in the Bible, in Abraham’s relationship with God. It is an awesome and terrible act that humbles us in the face of the birth of a child, reminding us that God is God, no matter how much we think that we gave life to this baby. How can the naming of a girl compete in drama or symbolism?

I hate that question. I wish I no longer felt a need for it to compete. In fact, I thought I had moved beyond it until I sat down to plan this Sunday’s naming. Faced with the need to sort through my own approach to this modern ritual, I re-experienced my sense that the rabbis had let me down. I don’t often feel that way toward the rabbis. My Jewish life is so fully egalitarian that I don’t often dwell on all the transformations and reinterpretations that have made my own existence as a woman rabbi possible. For others it may be a novelty. For me it’s simply a reality. I feel as fully welcomed as a covenantal partner with God as I could want–my struggles have to do with living that out in my daily existence. So, it’s painful to go back to the little baby girl and acknowledge that it’s not yet possible for her to be ushered onto a well-trodden path with a sense of its reassuring ancientness. I still need to be inventing a way for her. And so I will. I just hope that we won’t always have that burden of inventing.