Tomorrow morning, in addition to celebrating a Bar Mitzvah, we will get to once again place a baby in the actual Torah and welcome her into the covenant of the Jewish people. It is incredible to imagine how many dozens of babies over the past seven years have been swaddled in the womb of Torah, quite literally wrapped in the letters of the parchment scroll.
I first wrote this ritual in my final year of rabbinical school. I had seen it done elsewhere but can't quite trace its lineage. Shosh was pregnant and I wondered how we might welcome a child in a way that felt true to our values as transfeminists.
Historically, babies assigned female at birth did not actually have a Brit, aka a Bris - a ritual to enter the covenant. Since ritual circumcision is not possible for all babies, I knew I wanted to create a ritual that would invite every baby to enter the covenant of the Jewish people regardless of their assigned sex. In the end, I researched and wrote three ritual options - and Brit Torah has been the most popular at Kol Tzedek.
What feels unique about tomorrow's naming is that it will coincide with the words of parashat Vayishlach, which in addition to recounting Jacob wrestling with an angel and getting blessed with the name Yisrael, also includes the birth of Jacob's only daughter, Dinah.
Genesis 29-30 reads, "And Leah conceived and bore a son...And she conceived again and bore a son...and she conceived again and bore a son...And she conceived again and bore a son...and she conceived again and she bore Jacob a fifth son...And Leah conceived again and bore a sixth son to Jacob...And afterward she bore a daughter."
As was shared last week at another B'nei Mitzvah, relative little is said about or by women in the Torah. Throughout the entire biblical story, Dinah never speaks. Her silence is painful. Which makes this brief mention of the birth of Dinah pronounced and important.
In a recently published collection, Dirshuni: Contemporary Women's Midrash, Rivkah Lubitch writes about this moment,
"What is 'and afterward'? After all these sons, she had a daughter.
Some interpreted 'afterward' as a language of pain, others of joy.
A language of pain, for Jacob made no feast when she gave birth to Dinah, and Jacob didn't come when her mother named her; rather the call went out, a daughter is born to Jacob, and the world went on as usual..."
Every time we ritualize the naming of a daughter or non-binary child at Kol Tzedek, we are redeeming Leah's pain. But even more so, we are remaking Jewish tradition. Even rewriting Torah. We are claiming the birth of a daughter is a reason to celebrate, a moment of joy.
My only regret is that this ritual tradition did not yet exist for my own kids. While I had written them before they were born, we were not yet embedded in a community that had a Torah where we could imagine fulfilling it. You all have taught me so much about the importance of ritual and community. I am proud of the ways that we have found truly meaningful ways to reclaim the concept of covenant so that it can include everyone.
It is said that the birth of a child brings with it the possibility of shalom in the world. Tomorrow morning, when we place a newborn baby inside the heart of the story of Dinah, may her cries be ones of joy and the beginning of so much Torah we hope to learn from her.
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.