Excerpted from "Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter" with permission from Jewish Lights Publishing.
The brit milah ceremony for boys is a single ritual of prayers, blessings, and the physical act of cutting the foreskin, which is universally practiced. It is fundamentally the same whether the ritual is being performed at the hands of a Chasidic rabbi in Brooklyn or a Reform mohelet (female circumciser) in Georgia. We have no such single practice for our girls. It is too new a ceremony, still being tried on and shaped by every pair of parents that welcomes their daughter this way. That means there is no set liturgy, that each time the responsibility for what we are to do is in our hands. That is our challenge and our opportunity.
But these ceremonies work best, too, when they are rooted not simply in modern poems and songs, reflections of the popular culture of the moment in which we are living, but in what have become elements of classical Jewish liturgy. The religious evolution reflected in the popularity of welcoming ceremonies for Jewish girls does not mean a break with the past. Instead, it means an adaptation of tradition and continuity, bringing some of the same precepts that we apply to the ritual welcoming our sons into consonance with our contemporary sensibilities.
I found, in reviewing the hundreds of ceremonies sent to me from Jewish communities around the world, that there has already been a process of organic codification, that certain prayers and poems and rituals are emerging in many, though far from all, of the ceremonies as the elements that seem right to most of the parents. So while there has been no rabbinic seal of approval designating a single ceremony as the only suitable one, there has been, in fact, a process turning experiment into accepted liturgy all the same.
The first contemporary welcoming ceremonies for Jewish daughters were held in the early 1970s by people involved in the then-nascent havurah movement, whose goal it was to take the power of Judaism out of the sole purview of the rabbinate. They wanted to empower the laity and create a renewed sense of intimacy and community in Jewish life.
One of the earliest published daughter's welcoming ceremonies was that created by Rabbi Michael and Sharon Strassfeld for their daughter Kayla in 1973. They were central figures in the movement now known as Jewish Renewal and edited the groundbreaking Jewish Catalog series of books, which put do-it-yourself Judaism literally into people's own hands. It was about that time that two Reform rabbis published a new ritual called kiddush peter rechem (sanctification of the womb's opening) to mark the arrival of a first child of either sex, in an egalitarian parallel to the traditional pidyon ha-ben, or ceremonial redemption of a one-month firstborn son from service in Jerusalem's holy Temple.