Today, I had the unique and sacred responsibility of bringing a pair of newborn twin girls into the covenant of Israel. It was a truly joyous moment, but as I engaged in this ancient ritual at the mikvah, I paused in a moment of existential bewilderment.
In what way was my role in this confluence of relationships “making” these two baby girls Jewish?
Before I answer my own question, allow me to share the circumstances. These two beautiful babies were born here in Houston to a non-Jewish surrogate mother. The parents, who are two gay men from Israel, requested my services so that these two babies would be “officially” Jewish before they returned to Israel to be raised in a Jewish household.
On so many levels, these two babies were already 100% Jewish. Even though the womb from which they emerged was not of a Jewish mother, everything from the point of their births forward would be Jewish. Their fathers were Jewish. They were going to live in Israel. They would speak Hebrew. They would know all the blessings. Nothing in their lives was anything but Jewish, and yet, in the minds of these two fathers, immersion in the mikvah with a rabbi was a necessary step.
Why? The answer is that this ritual was for the fathers, not for the babies.
Sometimes we do rituals to remind ourselves of our commitments to our faith. In this case, immersing their newborn daughters in the mikvah was a means to affirm who the fathers were and what they believed.
So too it is with all of us. Rituals serve many purposes in our lives. They help us mark sacred occasions; they enable us to connect to our faith; they bond us together as a community; and YES, they even make us Jewish!