The Challenges of Raising Jewish Daughters

Raised in a Modern Orthodox home, I have long struggled with the contradictions I have found inherent in being both a committed Jew and a feminist. I have managed to carve my own path, create my own rationalizations, and find a space that makes sense to me at the juncture of my religious practice and my political and personal commitment to gender equity.

I am the mother of three girls, G, aged 5, P, 3, and M, two months old. Parenthood changes and challenges so many things, not the least of which is self-identity. It also requires one to articulate and form a cogent explanation for one’s choices, choices that previously required no justification. Becoming the mother of three girls has brought into high relief for me the challenges of living a life dedicated to both Judaism and feminism, and forced me to reflect closely on my priorities.

When G was born, I was frankly relieved that there would be no bris and that therefore I would not to have to throw a party eight days post-partum. Yet I was also unprepared for the strong sense of exclusion I felt at the lack of a religiously mandated ritual welcoming my precious, perfect first child into the community. What did this say about her value and worth to the community I expected her to cherish as much as I did, and which, I in turn, expected to cherish her?

My husband and I carefully designed a simchat bat (a baby naming ceremony, literally translated as “joy of the daughter”) to welcome G, incorporating ritual with personal expression. We held it in our synagogue, we included the rabbi, and it felt spiritually fulfilling. Yet, I could not escape the fact that it was voluntary, not mandatory, and that it was not something she shared with all other affiliated Jewish females the way a bris binds all affiliated Jewish males together. And indeed, when our second daughter was born, we neglected to hold the same ceremony for her. I justified this by telling myself that it was because I suffered a serious injury just prior to delivery and I was not fully mobile for several months afterwards; but the truth is, we would have held a bris no matter what the circumstances. There is something about a ritual being obligatory that makes it…obligatory.