Why Do We Have a Bris?
What is a Brit Milah?
Brit Milah is a ceremony that has connected all Jewish families for thousands of years. Brit means covenant and milah means circumcision.
It is written in the Torah, Genesis Ch. 17, that G-d comes to Abraham and tells him that his wife Sarah,who is barren, will bear him a son. And from this child, a nation will be born; Abraham's descendants will be many and fruitful and G-d will always provide them a homeland. In return, Abraham will mark this covenant by circumcising himself and all males after him. Sarah subsequently bore Isaac and when he was 8 days old, he too was brought into the covenant with G-d and circumcised.
Therefore, we perform the bris on the eighth day of life, even if it falls on Shabbat or even Yom Kippur! The bris may be postponed beyond eight days if there is an issue of health for the baby, It can never be done prior to eight days.
"The covenant of circumcision is the oldest continuous Jewish rite. It is a ritual that unites Jews throughout the ages and across cultures, and signifies the connection between individual human life and the Holy. With this ancient ceremony, parents announce their commitment
to taking on the responsibilities and joys of raising a son according to the terms of the contract between G-d and the Jews.
Brit Bat, the act of welcoming infant daughters to this historic relationship, does the same with words and rituals."
(Anita Diamant, The New Jewish Baby Book).
The brit milah is an affirmation of spiritual and physical identity. Throughout the ages, when Jews were persecuted for their beliefs by the Crusaders, the Inquisition, the Romans, and the Nazis, brit milah has endured, confirming the resilience of the Jewish spirit. Practically, the bris is a time to gather your friends and family, and those that you love, to welcome this new, precious life into the world.
What is a Mohel/Mohelet?
A mohel is a shaliach (agent) for the father, who was traditionally required to perform the bris. The mohel is trained in the rituals and procedures of the bris. Over the years, families designated a mohel to actually circumcise the infant.
In modern times, more women have become mohels. The feminine of mohel is 'mohelet'.
In the Torah, there are only two places where the performance of the circumcision is mentioned; when Abraham fulfilled the covenant with G-d, and when Zipporah, Moses's wife, stepped in and circumcised their son.
There is no place in the Torah that states women cannot perform this covenant. It is only minhag, or tradition, that men have been mohelim exclusively.
There is no mention in halacha (Jewish law) that a mohel has to be a man. Conversely, there is no restriction against women performing a bris.
Who Performs a Bris?
Preparation for the Ceremony
On the day of the bris, please finish feeding the baby one hour prior to the ceremony.
Items for the ceremony:
Table - an area to display the kiddush cup, wine, and challah. If you you'd like, there may be candles or other personal items (pictures, symbols) to enhance the ceremony.
Two Chairs - one for the Sandak and one to symbolize Elijah’s presence.
Pillow - with a non-slippery case to lie on the Sandak’s lap.
Wine - Wine for the kiddish cup. You may also have small cups of wine for the guests.
Challah - for HaMotzi
Kippot - for the father/parents and for guests (if you'd like).
Tallit - if you have a special one you'd like to use, otherwise I can provide one. Optional items can include candles, flowers, pictures, readings, symbols to enhance the ceremony.
Items for Baby - vaseline, gauze, diaper, wipes, burp cloth, and a light (thin) receiving blanket
For the Baby Naming:
Parents, family members or friends are encouraged to prepare and write down some words about the person/s for which the baby is being named to be read at the ceremony;
Who they were
Where they lived
What they did
Describe a story and/or what traits or attributes they embodied, which you hope your child will inherit
There are special honors bestowed for the ceremony.
The Sandak is the highest honor given to a participant at the bris. The main role for the Sandak is to hold and comfort the baby during the ceremony. This role is traditionally fulfilled by a grandfather, but can be given to another family member or friend. Typically, this person is Jewish.
Kvatter and Kvatterin
The Kavatter and Kvatterin honorees are responsible for presenting the baby to the Sandak. The baby's mother hands the baby to the Kvatterin, an honored female, She brings the baby into the room and hands him off to the Kvatter, an honored male. The Kvatter then places the baby in the arms of the Sandak. Any family member or friend may be designated for these honor and do not necessarily need to be Jewish. Traditionally, a couple who seeks to start a family would be asked to fulfill this role, as it is felt it enhances their fertility.
The baby is welcomed into the room, carried by the Kvatterin then passed to the Kvatter. The baby is then placed briefly on "Elijah's Chair", and then given to the Sandak. The Sandak cradles and calms the baby during
the ceremony, feeding him small amounts of wine. Prayers and readings are given and the circumcision is performed. The Kiddush is recited and then the baby naming starts. After the naming, the priestly blessings are given. The ceremony ends. The baby is given to the mother for feeding and comfort.
The ceremony lasts approximately 30 minutes.HaMotzi is recited and the ceremonial feast begins.
After the ceremony, care for the circumcision is explained and the baby is reexamined.
About Dr. Debra Weiss-Ishai
I am a Board-Certified Pediatrician in practice in Northern California. I have spent 20 years circumcising infants in the hospital and clinic settings, and 15 years as a mohelet.
I became a certified mohelet with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion after my own son's brit milah. I realized I could provide others with a spiritually uplifting, moving experience, while providing medical and technical expertise.
My goal is to assist parents in welcoming their new child to our community in a profound and meaningful way.
I may be reached by voice or text at 510.589.8556.
When leaving a message, please be sure to leave your name and phone number. Calls and texts are generally returned within 24 hours, but if you have not been contacted, please call or text again.
For the most flexibility of the timing of the bris, bring my contact information with you to the hospital so that you may contact me within 24 hours of your baby's birth.
If you would like information or have questions in advance of your baby's birth and/or bris, please email me at mohel@TheBrisDoctor.com