Simchat Habat (Zeved Habat) is the Ashkenazic (European) Jewish name for the ceremony for naming of baby girls. It is sometimes called Brit Habat or “Brita” (feminine of Brit) as a parallel to the Brit Mila of boys. The Mizrachi Jews (from Spain, Arab countries, Italy, Greece) call this occasion Zeved Habad in Hebrew. It usually takes place within the first month of the girl’s life, but no earlier than a week after birth.
Though several sources claim that Simchat Habat it is a “new” or revived custom peculiar to the United States, similar ceremonies have taken place in Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jewish communities since the Middle Ages. The common features of these different ceremonies are an “aliya” (calling to the torah) of the father in the synagogue, with announcement of the name of the child, and a celebration for family and friends at home.
Mizrachi Jews celebrate the Zeved Habat. The name for the ceremony derives from the book of Genesis 30:20, in which the matriarch Leah states, following the birth of Zevulun, “Zevedani Elohim oti zeved tov,” which may be translated as “God has given me a good gift,” or in the King James translation “God hath endued me with a good dowry.”
A rabbi or Hacham presides over the Zeved Habat ceremony and several prayers and verses are recited. The mother recites Birkat Hagomel, the prayer of deliverance in honor of the safe birth.Song of Songs 2:14 is recited. If it is a first daughter, Son of Songs 6:9 is recited as well. Other prayers and recitations may include (Psalm 128 and the Priestly Blessing (Birkat kohanim). The main recitation is the Mi shebberach prayer for naming the baby girl (words in parentheses are local variations):
מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ (אִמּוֹתֵינוּ) שָׂרָה וְרִבְקָה. רָחֵל וְלֵאָה. וּמִרְיָם הַנְּבִיאָה וַאֲבִיגַיִל. וְאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה בַּת אֲבִיחַיִל. הוּא יְבָרֵךְ אֶת הַיַּלְדָּה הַנְּעִימָה הַזּאת. וְיִקָּרֵא שְׁמָהּ (בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל) פלונית. בְּמַזַּל טוֹב וּבְשַׁעַת בְּרָכָה. וִיגַדְּלֶהָ בִּבְרִיאוּת שָׁלוֹם וּמְנוּחָה. וִיזַכֶּה לְאָבִיהָ וּלְאִמָּהּ לִרְאוֹת בְּשִׂמְחָתָהּ וּבְחֻפָּתָהּ. בְּבָנִים זְכָרִים. עשֶׁר וְכָבוֹד. דְּשֵׁנִים וְרַעֲנַנִּים יְנוּבוּן בְּשֵׂיבָה. וְכֵן יְהִי רָצוֹן וְנאמַר אָמֵן׃
“He who blessed Sarah and Rivkah, Rachel and Leah, and the prophet Miriam and Abigayil and Queen Esther, daughter of Abichayil — may He bless this beloved girl and call her name (in Israel) … [insert the given name here] with good luck and in a blessed hour; and may he raise her in health, peace and tranquility. May her father and her mother see her joy and her marriage, and male sons, riches and honor; and may they be healthy into old age; and may this be the [divine] will, and say, Amen!”.
There are or were many additional ceremonies, customs and variants in different Mizrachi Jewish communities, some of which are still observed today. Jewish communities of Spanish origin celebrated Las Fadas, deriving from a Spanish custom. For a girl, about two weeks after the baby’s birth, the parents would invite family and friends to their home for Las Fadas. The rabbi would make a speech. Then the guests would each take a turn holding the baby, offering blessings and speaking about their hopes for this new life. “Las Fadas” in Spanish folk custom were bad fairies of the underworld (“las fadas”) who were upset that they weren’t invited to celebrate the new child, and might harm the child. Passing the baby from person to person was supposed to show the bad fairies that good fairies were protecting the baby by blessing him or her.
Traditionally, Yemenite Jews officially welcome all the new babies born in a given year into the Jewish congregation on the first Simchat Torah after their birth. Simchat Torah is the autumn holiday that celebrates the conclusion of the year-long cycle of reading the entire Torah and beginning it anew. The father or grandfather usually makes a donation to the synagogue that earns him a right to make a hakafah, one of seven processions with the Torah, in the baby’s honor, and with the infant in his arms he leads the procession around the block or the neighborhood. Syrian Jews welcome baby girls in the synagogue with a round of traditional Spanish songs and a large kiddush celebration in the synagogue. Iraqi Jews hold a Shisha ceremony on the sixth day after birth. Girls are named then, but boys are named at their Brit Mila.
Among Ashkenazic (European) Jews it is also traditional for the father to be called to the Torah reading in the synagogue after the birth of a daughter. The name of the girl is also announced, and a prayer for healing of the mother is recited.
In Jewish communities of Southern Germany and parts of France and Holland there was a medieval birth celebration custom that survived in some cases until the Holocaust. Relatives would assemble in the home of the parents for a festive gathering, and the cradle would be lifted three times. The people would call out Hollekreisch! Hollekreisch! What will be the baby’s name? The meaning of Hollekreisch is uncertain.
In recent times it has become customary to hold a “Brit Habat” ceremony at home or even in a rented hall, similar to the Brit Mila done for boys. Reform Jews often bring their new daughter to services on Friday night or Shabbat morning for a baby naming ceremony.