From the moment of the birth of a Jewish Baby Boy, you have only 8 days to prepare for the bris. Not only do you need to find a mohel, find a venue and notify guests, you have to plan a celebration. We have prepared some answers to common questions and provided links to respond to other key questions you may have about the Bris Ceremony, Choosing a Mohel and ways to add your personal touch to your bris ceremony.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT A BRIS or BRIT MILAH - THE BASICS
The tradition of Bris, Brit Milah, Bris Milah dates back to Abraham and signifies the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people.
1. The baby is brought into the room where the brit milah ceremony will be held. He is often carried on a pillow by family or friends.
2. The baby is given to the Mohel (pronounced Mo-hail or Moy-el). A mohel is a person trained in the ancient traditions and rituals that dictate how a bris is to be performed in order to meet the laws of the Torah (the 5 Books of Moses).
3. The mohel will announce the baby's arrival by asking everyone to say “Baruch HaBa” – “Blessed is he who comes”, and will place the baby on the Kisei Shel Eliyahu, a special chair designated for Elijah the Prophet who was designated by G-d to witness every bris.
4. The Mohel will then put the baby on the lap of or on a table in front of the Sandek. A sandek is an honoree who will hold the baby during the brit milah ceremony and also give him gauze dipped in sweet wine to keep him calm.
5. The mohel will ask the father if he requests that the mohel perform the bris. It is actually the father’s responsibility, as it was Abraham’s to perform Isaac's, so the father needs to request that the mohel be his designated stand-in.
6. The mohel will remove the baby’s diaper (generally this is when the baby starts to cry – no one likes a cold tush!) and perform the circumcision ceremony. He or she will then wrap the cut area in gauze, diaper and swaddle the baby.
7. A Kiddush, blessing over a cup of wine, will be recited. (After the bris, a sip of the wine is often offered to couples trying to conceive)
8. The baby will then be given to the Sandek Me'umad or the “Standing Sandek” who will hold the baby for the Jewish naming ceremony.
9. The parents will be asked to say a few words about the baby’s Hebrew name and why they chose it. Babies in Jewish tradition are given the hebrew name of someone they want to honor or of a great person in Jewish history as it is believed that the Hebrew name connects that baby to the soul of the person they are named for.
10. The baby will be carried out by the same people who brought the baby in. If there is more than one person who passed the baby, they will pass the baby out again following the order in reverse.
11. The guests will take part in a celebratory meal or a Seudat Mitzvah (Soo-dat) to mark the occasion. It is considered just as important, if not more important, to celebrate with the family after the brit milah as it is to attend the actual brit milah ceremony.
HOW TO FIND A MOHEL or MOHELET
The best source will always be personal recommendations. If you are not affiliated with a synagogue, you can still call a local synagogue and ask for recommendations. Another source is the National Organization of American Mohalim ( beritmila.org ) which offers lists of mohels that meet your religious preferences (Orthodox, Reform, etc.).
The best resource we have found on choosing a mohel was at the website www.findthemohel.com There is also a wonderful overview of the bris ceremony, brit milah rituals and history. If you need to find a mohel or mohelet (female word for mohel) this is a great place to start. Not only do they give you tips what you should discuss with a mohel you are considering, but also how to prepare for a bris.
You can also check online for your area for prominent Mohels and Mohelet. Search by region, Mohel NYC, Mohel Philadelphia, Mohel Baltimore, Mohel Boston, Mohel Miami, Mohel Atlanta...
The most popular Mohel in NY City, Long Island, Westchester, NJ and Connecticut were listed in NY magazine's Best of NY, Best Mohel Section:
Dr. Emily Blake - Doctor Mohel NYC, Long Island, West Chester, NJ & CT.
A obstetrician-gynecologist widely touted for her willingness to personalize bris ceremonies. Dr. Blake includes English prayer translations and looks for ways to include extended-family members in the ceremony. Dr. Blake uses anesthesia and is very sensitive to the parents needs and concerns (917-405-0696).
Cantor Philip Sherman - Mohel NYC, West Chester, NJ
One of the most prolific mohels in the city, Cantor Sherman often packs in several bris ceremonies a day. Popular partly because of his openness to nontraditional families—including those outside the Jewish faith (917-448-2747).
Rabbi Paysach Krohn - Mohel NYC, NJ, Long Island
A renowned speaker; his bris ceremonies are often described as exceptionally spiritual and inspirational (718-846-6900).
Dr. Dorothy Greenbaum - Mohel Doctor Long Island
Dr. Greenbaum is a pediatrician known for her warm demeanor and gentle methods, which include anesthesia (800-600-3022).
Dr. Jeffrey Mazlin - Mohel Doctor NYC
Obstetrician-gynecologist is touted for his vast experience, spanning over 30 years. Dr. Mazlin uses anesthesia and will travel to all five boroughs (212-517-9048).
Dr. Eric Diamond - Mohel Doctor Long Island
The Long Island–based urologist performs all over the metropolitan area; Dr. Diamond is touted for his quick and efficient technique and use of anesthesia (516-677-9672).
Rabbi Gerald Chirnomas
A Conservative mohel trained at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem; Rabbi Chirnomas has performed thousands of bris ceremonies throughout the NY region (973-334-6044).
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Friedman
An Orthodox mohel and member of the executive committee of the American Board of Ritual Circumcision; Rabbi Friedman is popular for his calming, upbeat presence (347-992-0306).
IDEAS FOR PERSONALIZING YOUR BRIS CEREMONY, BRIS MILAH OR BRIT MILAH
Many mohels will provide you with a service prior to your bris and allow you to confer with them on certain elements that you may or may not want to include. More traditional mohels following a traditional ceremony but will often allow the parents to add some personal elements to the service. At the least, all mohels will ask the parents to say a few words about why they chose the baby’s Hebrew and English names.
Other ideas and opportunities to personalize your bris and include friends and family:
1. Choosing a Sandek – the Sandek holds the baby during the procedure. This is a great honor and many believe it is a blessing for good health and life for the honoree.
2. Choosing a Sandek Me'umad or the “Standing Sandek” The Sandek Me'umad will hold the baby for the Jewish naming ceremony which takes place after the bris ceremony. This can be a family member or friend.
2. Passing the Baby – The baby can be passed from the mother up to the place where the bris will take place. Generally it is nice to organize this ahead of time having everyone in place, in a line so that the baby is brought into the room and passed to the various people who will be honored, and then up to the mohel. Just passing the baby around the room can be disorganized and disruptive. This honor is often given to grandparents, aunts and uncles, and most often to couples who are newly married or trying to conceive because it is considered a blessing for fertility.
3. A grandparents prayer There are many poems and prayers available that can be recited at the bris ceremony by the grandparents to offer their good wishes to both the baby and the parents. This is a wonderful way to give them a special part of this very special day
4. Singing of baruch haba – When the baby is brought into the room, the mohel will ask the guests to say “Baruch Haba”; “Blessed is he who comes”. If your mohel is a cantor, or if you have a singer in the family, there is a beautiful rendition of this song by
Cantor Marcie Jonas in Boston that she performs on her cd "Marcie Jonas - Timeless". She also has a stunning version of the "Priestly Blessing" which might be a nice ending to the ceremony above.
5. Prayer for the parents There are many beautiful prayers and poems that parents can say at the bris with special wishes for the baby as well as the life and guidence they hope to provide for him.
6. Having a special baby yarmulke made. A baby sized yarmulke is generally put on the baby's head a some point during the ceremony. Having a friend or family member crochet or knit a yarmulke as a keepsake is a nice touch. If the parents had yarmulkes given out at their wedding and have an extra, someone who is adept at sewing might be able to make a baby yarmulke from the wedding yarmulke or incorporate a piece of it into the baby yarmulke.
7. Wrapping the parents and baby in the father's or grandfather's tallit (talis). After the circumcision, the baby can be wrapped in a talis to signify his welcoming into the covenent of the Jewish People. Using a talis from teh father, grandfather or other family member can signify the welcoming of the baby as the next generation of the family. Wrapping the talit around both parents' shoulders while holding the baby is symbolic of the parents bringing the baby into the covenant and the importance of the family in the continuation of the Jewish people as well as the responsibility of the parents to create a Jewish home that nurtures this next generation.
8. Shema with children the night before the bris. It is believed that the prayers of children are given the greatest priority with G-d. Therefore, in traditional communities, groups of children will come to the home of the family the night before the bris and say the Shema for the baby, asking G-d for good things for the baby. Afterwards the family gives each child a small bag of candy, cookies or other treats. You don't need a whole group of children, and if the children do not know the Shema, they can either repeat after an adult in hebrew or english. If there is a Chabad or observant synagogue near by, you may be able to call and ask if some children in their community would like to come by to say shema for the baby. Just make sure the candy is kosher! (Candy or cookies with an OU on the packaging - the letter U inside a letter O is the safest bet. Do not offer anything that is unwrapped.)
TIPS FOR A COMBINED BRIS & BABY NAMING FOR TWINS
There is really just one tip that differs from our other ideas on personalizing your ceremony and experience. Always have the baby naming for the little girl before the bris. The bris can be very stressful for the mother and often the father as well. In order not to take away from the naming, it is generally best to do the baby naming before the bris.
BRIS CLOTHING, A BRIS OUTFIT or BRIS GOWN
"The most important when choosing Bris clothing for the baby, is that the the baby does not have to be entirely undressed in order to perform the ceremony. The best choice for bris outfits are gown style clothes that open completely at the bottom - often called "baby bags". This way the baby can be undressed and dressed quickly by just lifting up and lowering the lower part of the gown. Most people will not even see the outfit as generally, the baby is brought into the ceremony, the ceremony if performed and the baby is taken out to a separate room, away from the crowd. Having a special bris pillow with a decorative cover or pillowcase is a nice way to do something elegant while allowing the baby to be inclothing that is as comfortable as possible."
BRIS INVITATIONS & BRIS INVITATION WORDING
Invitations are generally not sent out for a bris. For one, there is only 8 days between the birth of the baby and the bris. Two, if the baby is not healthy enough for the bris, the mohel will postpone it until the baby is well, which means the date will be uncertain. The traditional or religious reason is that attending a bris is considered a "Mitzvah", a good deed that each guest is given the opportunity to do. This particular Mitzvah is to wittness and welcome a new baby as they enter the covenant of the Jewish People with G-d. If you send an invitation and they are unable to attend, they are being forced to turn down the opportunity to do a mitzvah. Doing mitzvot is central to Judaism.
In order to notify guests of a bris, most people call or e-mail their guests, however, instead of saying "we hope you will come", "Please join us" or "You are invited", the wording is generally more of an announcement. "The bris for our new son will be held on...", "With great joy we announce the birth of our son on October 15th. The bris will take place on.... at....."