Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Naming a Baby Before His Bris

When one studies the Torah's narratives, following the births of the forefathers and the sons of Yaakov (later known as the sons of Israel), we find they are all named before birth (by God, for example) or shortly after birth. There is no indication of their being named at the time of circumcision, as their circumcisions are not talked about (with the exception of Yitzchak, the first baby to be circumcised at on day 8).

In my other blog I wrote about when we name boys and girls, and why we name them at the bris and at a Torah reading, respectively.

Yossele Weisberg z"l, dedicated a chapter of his magnum opus on the laws and practices of the Bris Milah experience, "Otzar Habris," to the customs surrounding when we name both boys and girls. He records 4 reasons for why a boy is named at his bris:

  1. At the time we are involved in blessing the child (ie. we say a "mi sheberach" after the bris), it is appropriate to refer to him by name. This would imply that the bris is the latest we can name a boy. 
  2. Until his bris, he carries the name of an "arel" ערל (uncircumcised), which must be changed to a proper Jewish name as soon as possible after his circumcision. 
  3. When we give the name with the formula of "Kayem" קיים את הילד הזה לאביו ולאמו ויקרא שמו בישראל... (establish this baby to his mother and father with the following Jewish name…), we are asking for the name to carry with it "God's approval," which would surely be most forthcoming once the child is circumcised. 
  4. Once he is circumcised, and has arrived at his personal physical "completion" (shlemut), it is the right time for him to be given his name.
But what happens if the baby is not circumcised right away for health reasons?

What about when this happens, and on account of an anatomical abnormality there will not be a traditional "bris"?

The answer is that we would name the baby! A baby should have a name! In particular if the baby is in need of our prayers, he should have a name. The bris is the absolute last opportunity to name a baby boy - because he should not go past the bris without having a name, as per the 4 points mentioned above - but it is not an absolute that we must wait until the bris, especially when it will clearly be delayed for weeks and certainly months (when a different kind of surgery is required).

May this discussion only be hypothetical, as all babies should have their brisses on time. In the event that it becomes a practical question, I hope the baby in question is named sooner than later.

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