One of the greatest joys of adulthood is bringing a child into the world and for most, this time brings much excitement, joy and even some feelings of overwhelming anxiousness. For expecting Jewish parents, having a child not only means their family is growing, but also, they are bringing a new member into the Jewish faith.
For to-be Jewish parents of newborn boys, the first week of life is especially important for their new sons. When a newborn is eight days old, the brit milah is held and this ceremony is one of the most important days in a young Jewish boy’s life. Aside from the bar mitzvah, the brit milah, which is also known as a bris, is where the newborn joins in a sacred covenant with God. There is much to understand and plan, especially for first-time parents. In this article, we’re going to spell out the necessary steps and important things to remember when planning a bris.
What Is a Brit Milah?
The main event of the bris is the physical circumcision of the newborn baby boy, which the tradition stems from Biblical times. It began with the patriarch Abraham when God directed that every male descendant of Abraham shall be circumcised in the flesh in order to join in a sacred covenant between God and the boy. The act of circumcision, which is the removal of the foreskin around the penis, was commanded by God, “shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.” This lifelong bond between the male and God is to serve as a consistent reminder of their faith and bond with God. To this day, in the Jewish religion, the ceremony continues and takes place on the eighth day of the newborn’s life. This Jewish ritual holds such importance that eight days must be adhered to regardless of the circumstance.
Yes, even on the eighth day of the Shabbat or festival or even a Yom Kippur, the baby’s bris must take place. However, an exception can be made for the health of the if there is any concern and in the case of rescheduling, the event cannot happen at a festival or Shabbat. This covenant is so sacred because it symbolizes the living promise in the flesh that God has made that the Jewish people will continue to exist. The heart of the ceremony involves the male organ that is responsible for producing future generations to continue the Jewish faith.
The Bris itself is a full ceremony that involves many important family members, ceremonial actions and blessings. Real quick, we’ll run through the ceremony to give you an idea of what to plan for. Aside from the location and family members being present, having an experienced and ordained mohel scheduled for the ceremony. Today, all sects of Judaism have ordained mohels as well as the increasing number of Jewish physicians that have become trained in the ceremonial practice of brit milahs.
Word of mouth and personal recommendations are the best way to find an experienced mohel. While there are many important roles for the ceremony, the most important is having an experienced mohel. It’s important for a newborn to have such a sacred religious ceremony, it’s vital to have a mohel that will perform the ceremonial circumcision safely and as painlessly as possible for your newborn baby boy while adhering to the Jewish traditions of the brit milah.
At the beginning of the ceremony, the baby’s godparents, typically, will carry the newborn boy into the room, traditionally held at a Synagogue but a home is acceptable, and hand him over to the sandek, who is typically a grandparent and the person who will hold the child during the ritual. Before performing the circumcision, the mohel recites a sacred blessing. Once the actual circumcision is underway, the father will recite the blessing as well. After the procedure is completed, all family members and friends present will respond with a blessing as the mohel puts a few drops of wine into the baby’s mouth and then the father and mother will finish the wine. Following the ceremony, a seudat mitzvah or a festive meal to celebrate the joyous occasion is served. Keep in mind that this is just an abridged overview of the actual ceremony.
Planning the Brit Milah Ceremony
We’ve already touched on quite a bit, but here we’re going to lay out how to plan a bris for your baby boy.
When: as mentioned above, your son’s bris is to occur on the eighth day of his life, regardless of what day it falls. In the Jewish religion, the new day begins when the sun sets, so for example, if the baby is born on a Tuesday, the bris is to be held the following Wednesday morning. This practice is to ensure that the impure soul of the newborn baby is purified by living through one Shabbat.
Where: if able to, the traditional precedent is to hold the bris at the Synagogue, during the morning services. However, this can sometimes present complications due to the considerable amount of moving the newborn child around from different rooms. If your home is big enough, some families choose to do it in the comfort of their homes. If health considerations of the baby mandate the baby to still be in the hospital on the eighth day of its life, the mohel can perform the bris there so long that the health considerations aren’t serious enough to cancel the circumcision.
Mohel: once you’ve researched or been recommended a mohel, booking them for your newborn’s is crucial. It goes without saying that a bris doesn’t happen unless a mohel is able to perform it.
Additional Details: after you’ve booked the mohel, they will be a valuable resource for the remainder of your planning. There will be many additional questions that arise as you prepare for the bris like, how many guests are appropriate, caterer/photographer suggestions. Some parents even love to have a Jewish calligrapher present that can do a certificate to make it all official.
Necessary Items: while the mohel will give you particular instructions on what will be necessary for the ceremony, at the very minimum, you will need the following:
- Disposable diapers
- Another table for the circumcision instruments
- A waist-high table that is sturdy
- Infant Tylenol
- Adequate lighting
Decorations: Flowers and candles are traditional decorations for the home or Synagogue as well as a festively decorated table for all the guests. The meal following the brit milah is called a seudat mitzvah or “a meal with sacred status.” The necessities for the post-ceremony meal, what is needed is a bottle of kosher wine, kiddush cup, and a challah bread loaf.
While the ceremony itself will only last 15-20 minutes, the preparation and symbolism of the sacred ritual are important. Dr. Andrew Krinksy of Tamarac, FL, has been performing circumcisions for brit milah for years with exceptional satisfaction. To learn more about how Dr. Krinsky can help make your baby’s bris as special as ever, contact our office today or visit our website.