Mazal Tov on the birth of your son!
The Torah states (Vayikra/Leviticus 12:3) that Brit Milah (circumcision) takes place on the eighth day inclusive after a baby boy is born, subject to the baby being fit and well. If the baby is not ready on the eighth day, the Brit Milah is ideally performed as soon as possible once the baby is ready.
Why is the eighth day the ideal day to perform a Brit Milah? We learn that the seventh day of creation, Shabbat, represents the unity between God and the Universe. The eighth day, the first day after the seven days of creation, represents values beyond nature and hence a metaphysical connection with God. Brit Milah, which combines a physical action with a metaphysical link to God and to God’s continuing involvement in history even after the seven days of creation, is therefore carried out on the eighth day.
As noted above, if a Brit Milah cannot be performed on the eighth day, it is postponed until the Mohel (a qualified person who performs the circumcision) has deemed it safe to do so. A postponed Brit cannot take place on Shabbat or a Yom Tov.
The Initiation Society, which operates under the aegis of the Chief Rabbi, trains and supervises many Mohalim (plural) to make sure that its Mohalim are fully trained with the relevant medical and halachic (Jewish law) expertise for performing a Brit Milah. We strongly recommend that you only use a Mohel who is licensed by the Initiation Society. Please click here for a list of such Mohalim.
The ceremony can be held either at home or in another place, such as a synagogue. The main factor is that the location should be convenient for the mother and baby!
Often, the ceremony takes place in the morning, such as straight after morning prayers, but can take place at any time during the day before sunset, if early morning is not convenient.
We set out below the standard procedure for a Brit Milah. If you have any questions about your circumstances, please ask your rabbi or Mohel for advice.
The service begins with the mother passing the baby to the ‘Kvaterin’, a lady who starts the procession to the area where the Brit Milah will take place. This honour is often given to a newly married couple but can be given to any family member or friend.
Often, the baby is carried along on a special satin, or embroidered white pillow. If she is married, the Kvaterin then passes the baby to her husband, the Kvater, who completes the procession.
Two chairs are set out in the area where the Brit Milah will take place. The first is for the ‘Sandek’, who holds the baby on his knees during the Brit. This is considered the highest honour at the ceremony. It is often given to the baby’s grandfather or a rabbi.
The second chair is known as the ‘kisei shel Eliyahu’ (Elijah’s chair). According to Jewish teachings, the Biblical prophet Elijah spiritually visits every Brit Milah to testify to the commitment of the Jewish people to this great mitzvah (commandment).
After the Mohel has made the bracha (blessing) and performed the Brit Milah, the father responds with his own bracha, followed by two more blessings recited over a cup of wine. The baby is then given his Hebrew name. Finally, a seudat mitzvah (festive meal) is served.
We wish you mazaltov and every happiness with your new son! Don’t forget to apply for a free Tribe baby gift pack as well.
The Pidyon Haben ceremony is when a first born baby boy is ‘redeemed’ by his parents from a ‘Cohen’ (descendent of the priests who served in the Temples in Jerusalem when they stood), thereby exempting him from the initial Biblical obligation on firstborn boys to serve in the Temple in Jerusalem, when it is standing. Its source is in the Torah (Shemot/Exodus 13:2)
It should take place on the thirty-first day of the boy’s life, with the calculation starting the first day for this purpose from the time that the baby is born. Even if the Brit Milah has been postponed, the Pidyon Haben will still go ahead on time, unless that day falls on Shabbat or Yom Tov in which case the Pidyon Haben is postponed until the following Sunday or weekday after Yom Tov respecitively.
This ‘redemption’ process involves payment by the father to the Cohen of five coins (in ancient times, they would have been a Selah), which is the approximate value of 100 grams of silver. The Cohen or your rabbi will advise as to how this takes place and the Cohen will often provide the coins for the father.
The ceremony begins with a sit-down meal, including making a blessing (hamotzi) over bread. This does not have to be a full-blown party.
One custom in some communities, but not a law, is for the baby to then be carried in on a silver tray adorned with jewellery. Then, the baby is redeemed by his parents, as they hand the Cohen the coins. Finally, the Cohen blesses the child and hands him back to the parents.
There are certain circumstances in which a first born baby boy will not require a Pidoyn Haben. Your Rabbi will be available to guide you through the process and answer any questions you may have.
We wish you Mazaltov and every happiness with your new son! Don't forget to apply for a free Tribe baby gift pack as well.
Mazal Tov on the birth of your daughter!
The father of the newly born baby girl receives an aliyah (‘a call up to the Torah’) at the synagogue on the first Shabbat, Yom Tov or weekday morning following the birth of his daughter, whichever occasion he is able to get to first. Following the aliyah, the rabbi or another officiant will bless the baby and her parents, including a special blessing in which the baby is named. The mother of the baby also attends if she is sufficiently recovered from giving birth.
At that time, or when she is well enough to go to shul, or in the presence of a minyan, the mother should recite the Prayer of Thanksgiving after Recovery from Childbirth.
Some parents also hold a ‘Zeved Bat’ ceremony, the ‘Home Service on the Birth of a Daughter’. This ceremony, developed from Sephardic practice, is an optional ceremony providing another opportunity to mark the arrival of a baby girl. It may be accompanied by a celebratory meal, although it does not have to be a full-blown party!
We wish you mazaltov and every happiness with your new daughter! Don’t forget to apply for a free Tribe baby gift pack as well.
At the age of thirteen, a Jewish boy becomes a ‘Bar Mitzvah’ which means ‘son of the commandments’. At this age, in Jewish terms, boys become adults in respect of being obligated to live a Jewish life and thereby accept an additional set of responsibilities. This is why it is traditional to celebrate this milestone by a boy participating in a service in a way which reflects this new stage in his life.
Your rabbi will work together with you to help plan a Bar Mitzvah. We have set out some general information below as to how the process may proceed.
On the day of his thirteenth birthday (in the Hebrew calendar), the Bar Mitzvah should go to shul that morning, along with his family, to wear his tefillin for the first time as an adult, rather than the time he has spent learning how to wear them.
If this occurs on either a Monday or Thursday, or another time when the Torah is read, the Bar Mitzvah will receive a call-up (aliyah) to the Torah. He may also choose to read from the Torah.
After the Bar Mitzvah completes his aliyah, his father recites a special blessing of thanks for his son making it to adulthood. This blessing is at the top of page 126 in the green edition of the Singer’s Siddur.
On the Shabbat of the main Bar Mitzvah ceremony, the boy will receive a call up to the Torah and often read a portion, if not all, of the Sedra (the Torah reading for that week from the Pentateuch) and the Maftir (an extra piece following the Sedra), as well as the Haftarah (a reading from the Prophets, a later part of the Hebrew Bible, connected to a theme in the Sedra). Your rabbi and barmitzvah teacher will advise how much the Bar Mitzvah should read and how the service will proceed on that particular Shabbat.
As befits this rite of passage, it is traditional to have a festive meal to celebrate a barmitzvah. This could range from a special Kiddush, to a meal at home or shul on Shabbat, or another form of party.
A girl becomes ‘Bat Mitzvah’ (‘a daughter of the commandements’) when she reaches her 12th hebrew birthday. In terms of Jewish law, girls become adults at this age in respect of being obligated to live a Jewish life and thereby accept an additional set of responsibilities.
In US communities, girls can chose either to have a batmitzvah in the synagogue, at home or elsewhere, or to be part of Bat Chayil ceremony with other girls. A Bat Mitzvah ceremony is the most common of these and general information about this is set out below. To plan your own ceremony, please speak to your rabbi.
Girls prepare for their Bat Mitzvah by studying about some of the obligations they will take on once they reach twelve, such as Shabbat, Kashrut (laws of kosher food) and laws about showing kindness to others.
To celebrate this next stage of her life, it is customary for a girl to research and prepare a ‘Devar Torah’, a short speech in which she presents ideas about Jewish life and study. This is a gateway to the advanced Jewish studies options now available to her and the opportunities she has to be involved in Jewish experiences and social networks after her Bat Mitzvah.
You may wish to have a festive meal to celebrate a batmitzvah. This could range from a special Kiddush, to a meal at home or shul on Shabbat, or another form of party.
Each couple has their own special journey to their wedding day, with some finding it easier than others. The Marriage Department of the United Synagogue are here to help and guide you on your way, especially when it comes down to the formal side of planning your wedding.
The following three steps must be put in place for your marriage to take place through the US:
In order to be married through the US the marrying couple needs to have their marriage authorised by the Office of the Chief Rabbi.
Both the bride and the groom need to contact their local Registery Office to make an appointment to give notice of their intention to marry under Jewish auspices.
The bride or groom, once the officiating synagogue is chosen, should make contact with the administrator of that synagogue regarding membership prior to the wedding.
The questions we are asked are many and often relate to the individual couple, so if you need help just call Lindi Wigman, our Marriage Liaison, on 020 8343 6314.
If you have questions relating to documentation or halachic issues please, speak to your synagogue's Rabbi or call Rabbi Shindler on 020 8343 6313.
For further information please look at the Getting Married Guide
For comprehensive information please look at the Understanding The Chuppah Guide
Frequently Asked Questions (These refer specifically to those getting married within the United Synagogue in London)
We have got engaged and want to set a date for the wedding, what do we do next?
Initially, speak to your local Rabbi, the Rabbi of your parents' synagogue, or a Rabbi you'd like to officiate at your wedding. You should also have a conversation with the administrator at the United Synagogue where you want to be married. It is a requirement of English & Welsh Law that either the bride or groom must be a member of the synagogue responsible for registering the marriage for civil purposes, and that the membership started at least 6 months prior to the wedding. Please contact the administrator at your officiating synagogue to confirm these details and to complete relevant membership forms.
How do I book my wedding?
Once you have identified a suitable date and venue for your wedding you should contact the synagogue's administrator to reserve the date in their shul diary. Sunday weddings, particularly during the summer and at popular venues, need to be booked as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.
You will also need to secure the participation of an Orthodox Rabbi who is authorised to solemnise weddings. If your own Rabbi is unavailable, the synagogue will help you find a suitable alternative. Any catered reception should be fully kosher and will therefore be prepared and served by a caterer licensed by an Orthodox Kashrut Authority. The Kashrut Division of the London Beth Din licences a large number of caterers. Look at the KLBD Approved Caterers List or take a look at the listings in the latest edition of the Really Jewish Food Guide.
Besides setting the date for my wedding is there anything else I need to do?
Yes. You need to obtain authorisation for your marriage both from your local authority Register Office and from the Office of the Chief Rabbi. For further information, call Marriage Liaison on 020 8343 6314.
The former can be applied for up to 12 months prior to the wedding date and requires each of you to give notice at the Register Office in the Registration District where you live, of your intention to marry under Jewish auspices. You may need to book an appointment for this. The Register Office staff will advise what documentation to bring with you. If either party is not an EEA national then please ask the local Registrar about documentation and time limit requirements.
At the conclusion of the notice period (29 days) the Register Office will issue each of you a certificate for marriage. The Registrar office will advise the process for collecting your certificates. This authorises the synagogue to register your marriage civilly on your wedding day and thus issue you with a civil marriage certificate.
Can you tell me more about this meeting for Marriage Authorisation at the OCR?
Before your wedding can take place under Orthodox auspices, you will need to provide documentary evidence that you are Jewish and eligible to marry.
In straight forward situations, where both of you are marrying for the first time and are the biological children of parents who married under Orthodox auspices, you would need to provide your full birth certificates and your parents' Ketubot (Jewish marriage lines). If any key documents are not readily available, every assistance and advice will be given to help you obtain whatever may be necessary.
The option of signing the Pre Nuptial Agreement (PNA) is offered as part of the marriage authorisation meeting. Please ask the Rabbi, at your meeting, should you wish to discuss this further. He will happily answer any questions you may have on this, or any other issues you may be concerned about.
The Marriage Authorisation office will be able to advise you if you have any other queries. Please call them on 020 8343 6314.
My parents weren't married in an Orthodox synagogue. How do I proceed?
If they were not married in an Orthodox synagogue, you need to go further back in the maternal line, bringing a Ketubah from your grandparents or great-grandparents on your mother's side, together with full birth certificates, showing the direct connection to you.
I am adopted. What documents do I need to bring?
Hopefully your adoption will have been registered with an Orthodox Beth Din, which will have issued a certificate vouching for your Jewish status.
I am a convert. What documents do I need to bring?
You will have a conversion certificate from the Orthodox Beth Din which handled your conversion, which should be brought to the meeting.
I changed my name. What documents do I need to bring?
Any deed poll or similar legal declaration which shows the name change should be presented at the meeting.
My fiancé lives abroad and we are getting married in England. What do we need to do?
This is more complicated because English & Welsh Law requires both parties to be residing in England for a more specific time before giving notice of their intention to marry. Please contact your local registrar office for further information and assistance. (See above). If you envisage a difficulty in fulfilling this requirement, contact Rabbi Shindler, Director of the Marriage Authorisation Office, on 020 8343 6313 for advice.
Please note that the person coming from abroad will need to involve a Rabbinical Authority local to them, in order to provide further evidence of their Jewish and single status. Ideally, this would be provided by a properly constituted Orthodox Beth Din. For guidance in these circumstances, contact Rabbi Shindler on 020 8343 6313.
Must our Chuppah (marriage ceremony) be held in a synagogue?
Whilst a synagogue is the choice of most couples for their Chuppah, many choose to celebrate their marriage at other venues.
However, in these circumstances, we do require that the wedding reception be catered under the supervision of a recognised kashrut authority. Since some venues will not permit an outside caterer to work on their premises, it is important to bear this in mind before the venue is booked. The Kashrut Division may be able to suggest suitable venues where our caterers are permitted to work, so call our Simcha Executive, Loraine Young on 07538 794898 for advice.
Even though the chuppah may not be taking place in a US synagogue, it still requires to be solemnised under the auspices of one of our US synagogues. You should therefore identify a US synagogue that suits you through which to book the wedding and ask if the Rabbi and other officials of that synagogue will be available to marry you on your chosen date.
Do I have to take out US Synagogue membership?
It is a requirement of English & Welsh Law that either the bride or the groom must be a member of the synagogue responsible for registering their marriage for civil purposes. In order to benefit from the free year and discounted US membership scheme offered for a first marriage, both bride and groom must complete a Marriage Membership Form (pending Jewish status checks).
There will be two separate charges made for the marriage, by the host synagogue:
a) to cover the membership fee
b) the wedding fees for the chuppah
Either the bride or groom will need to fill out and sign a membership form and a marriage membership form (obtainable from the synagogue). If you are currently a member, only a marriage membership form needs to be completed.
For a first marriage, we have a new membership fee scheme in place. Please ask the administrator at the host synagogue for further details.
If you have any queries please contact Michelle Mervish for membership on 0208 343 5687 or Lindi Wigman for marriage on 0208 343 6314.
I am already a US member. Can I transfer my membership?
Yes, you can. To do so, please contact the synagogue at which your wedding is being held. If it is your first marriage, you will complete a one-page synagogue transfer membership form. Likewise, membership taken out with the synagogue responsible for the marriage can be transferred thereafter to another United Synagogue local to where you intend to set up home at no extra charge. The free extension year can likewise be transferred from one US member synagogue to another.
If I am not getting married in my shul, will my marriage be recognised by the Jewish authorities?
Yes, you will need to contact the Marriage Authorisation Office prior to your wedding to obtain the Chief Rabbi's Authorisation in just the same way as if you were marrying in a synagogue. Likewise the authorisation, once granted, will be recorded in the Chief Rabbi's marriage archives in exactly the same way as if the marriage were to take place in a synagogue.
Do I need to give notice to a local civil register office even if I am getting married in a non-synagogue venue?
Yes, civil registration is a legal requirement irrespective of the venue. When you give the notice you must inform the registrar that the marriage will be taking place under Jewish auspices.
The Rabbi we wish to use is a friend of ours, is Orthodox, but not a United Synagogue Rabbi. Can I book this Rabbi for the ceremony?
Only Rabbis authorised by the Office of the Chief Rabbi are permitted to solemnise weddings. You should therefore contact Rabbi Shindler to ascertain if your friend would be authorised to officiate at your wedding.
For other enquiries please contact:
Rabbi Dr J Shindler
Director of the Marriage Authorisation Office
Tel: 0208 343 6313