By: Kaufmann Kohler
The ceremony of naming infants, especially girls, in the cradle ("shem ha'arisah"), adopted by the German Jews from their neighbors. On the Sabbath when the mother of the child attends the synagogue for the first time after her confinement, children of from eight to ten years of age are invited to the house for a festivity, where they form a circle around the cradle in which the infant (as a rule, a month old) lies. Lifting the cradle three times, they cry: "Holle! Holle! What shall the child's name be?" Whereupon the child's common, or non-Hebrew, name is called out in a loud voice, while the father of the child recites the first verse of Leviticus. In some places the Book of Leviticus is laid in the cradle, under the child's head. In parts of Germany this ceremony of naming the child was performed in the case of both boys and girls; but generally only girls were named on such occasions, the naming of boys being done in connection with circumcision.
From Moses Minz (Responsa, No. 19), Yuspa Hahn ("Yosef Omez," p. 212a), and Sefer Ḥasidim, pp. 1139-1140, it appears that the custom was established among the German Jews in the fifteenth century, and that its origin was so little known that the name given it was taken to be partly Hebrew ("ḥol" = "profane," and "kreish" = "naming"), and was interpreted: "the giving of the profane [or non-holy] name." This explanation is even accepted by Zunz ("G. V." p. 439) and by M. Brück ("Pharisäische Volkssitten," 1840, p. 27; see also L. Löw, "Lebensalter," 1895, p. 105, where "holla" is taken as an interjection). But Dr. Perles has shown that the custom originated in Germany, where Holle, like the Babylonian and Jewish Lilith, was a demon eager to carry off infants; and, in order to protect the child from injury, a circle was drawn around it and a name given under forms intended to ward off the power of Holle. As circumcision seemed a sufficient safeguard for boys, holle kreish by the Jews was generally performed in the case of girls only.
- Perles, in Grätz Jubelschrift, 1887, p. 26.