Ten Facts About the Bris
Some customs and laws to consider when planning a circumcision ceremony
1. The Night Before
There is a custom to make a feast of fruits and beverages on the erev shabbat (Friday evening) before the day that the bris takes place. This is seen as a feast held in honor of performing a mitzvah. Similarly, there is a custom to stay awake studying all night before the circumcision, to protect the child from demons, etc. It is obviously the last chance for the demons to get the child before circumcision makes him safe. This is called leil shimmurim (the night of watching).
2. Postpone for Health Concerns
One should not circumcise an infant who is weak, sick, or premature when medical opinion indicates that the circumcision might be dangerous. The bris, in this case, is postponed until a later date.
3. Rules for a Postponed Bris
4. Let There Be Light
It is customary to light candles in the room where the bris is to take place.
5. Make Room for Elijah
Another custom is to set aside a chair for the prophet Elijah (who is called the angel of covenant and is reputed to be the protector of little children).
6. Use a Chair
It is also a custom to put the infant on the chair before the actual circumcision.
7. Call Your Friends
Whenever possible, the bris should take place with a minyan (a quorum of 10).
8. Stretch Those Legs
It is customary for everyone but the sandek (the person who holds the baby) to remain standing during the ceremony.
9. Involve the Parents
The father--or both parents in more progressive communities--should hand the knife to the mohel and stand by him while he performs the circumcision, to indicate that the mohel is the agent of the parents. If the child's father is not Jewish then traditionally the mohel simply acts on behalf of the community.
10. Add Your Own Flourishes
In addition to the basic elements of the bris ceremony, there is great historical precedent for adding meaningful readings, songs, statements, etc.--whatever the parents are into. While psalms, poetry, music, and group readings are appropriate within the context of the traditional bris, you should check nonetheless with the mohel you'll be using.
Reprinted with permission from The Second Jewish Catalog, published by the Jewish Publication Society.