Six years ago, when I was expecting my first child, my husband and I debated ritual circumcision. We finally concluded that we would do it for the sake of shalom bayit, for the peace of the family. Now our house is overrun with boys: I have a 6-year-old and 1-year-old twins. That’s a lot of brit milah.
A bris usually takes place in the morning because Jewish tradition declares that a mitzvah be performed early in the day. But each bris I planned had a slightly different flavor than the traditional. Both took place in the late afternoon to allow time for out-of-towners to arrive. One was held in Boston with tons of New York family and local Jewish friends. The other was held in Atlanta with a handful of out of town family members and many non-Jewish friends. Each time we chose a Reform, female, mohel with an MD.
Here’s some hands-on advice for the foggy, postpartum days when you’d rather take a nap but find yourself hosting a bris for a cast of thousands. Parents of twins, there is a special section for you.
1. Ask friends for names of the most popular mohels in your town. After you interview each mohel on the phone, program your top three choices into your cell. Call from the hospital so you can book a mohel before you go home. (For Kveller’s list of Manhattan & Brooklyn mohels, click here.)
2. Check with your pediatrician about anesthesia. I’ve used a combination of Tylenol, a penile block, or topical numbing. There are options to help keep the baby comfortable but you have to ask.
3. Recruit your parents and in-laws with planning the guest list, coordinating flowers, and wine and food delivery. This is not your second wedding, however, so don’t go overboard.
4. Hold the bris somewhere other than your own home. This seems counterintuitive – who wants to schlep kids, a diaper bag, clothes, and supplies to another location? Those who just had a baby and cannot imagine what Aunt Doris would find while snooping through their bathroom cabinet, that’s who.
6. Determine a budget. This is an important day, but you don’t need to break the bank. Provide light fare and drinks – no one is expecting a sit down dinner.
7. Consider guests. Some guests will travel many miles or take time away from work; some may fight heavy traffic; some may not eat unless the food is kosher.
8. Elect a friend to take pictures. It’s fun to look back and recall who came to meet the new baby.
1. Stress about who can’t make it. A bris is an intimate affair and the most important people who need to attend are Parents and Baby.
2. Exclude friends because they are not Jewish. We all have friends who feel as close to family as snoopy Aunt Doris. No matter their beliefs, friends want to attend this important life cycle event in support of you and your new arrival.
3. Make a big deal about it to your child age 6 and under. Focus instead on his or her role. I focused my older boy on seeing his out-of-town grandparents and asked him to lead the hamotzi (blessing over the bread). There is plenty of time to talk about it in the future and, hormonally speaking, this may not be the best time to answer 300 questions about penises.
4. Say no to friends who offer to help. If you can’t immediately name a task when someone offers help, tell her you will call back to give her a bris-related duty.
5. Start the ceremony until you know exactly what to expect: Order of prayers, when it is your turn to speak or read, what to do with the baby after the mohel is finished. Our second mohel was so distracted that we never explained our twins’ Hebrew names during the ceremony. I was crushed when I realized it later.
Special tips for twins:
1. Ask your mohel about his or her policy for twins who are experiencing health issues. What happens if one baby is released and the other must stay in the NICU? One mohel I spoke to said he would perform one bris the same time, no matter how old the babies and another mohel performed the ceremony one at a time if the babies came home separately.
2. If you have boy/girl twins: Hold the girl’s naming first because it is less stressful. As soon as the bris is over the mohel will ask the mother retreat to feed the baby (or take a moment to breathe).
3. Each child has his own ceremony, back-to-back. Mohels argue over whether to say a b’racha for each child (the widespread practice) versus one for the entire bris. However, the mohel should perform a bris for each baby to honor each child.
4. Dress them as individuals, not in the exact same outfit. This is their debut to friends, family and the Jewish community. Each baby, even if they are identical twins, has grown and arrived in his own fashion. Provide a few moments of individuality in this sacred ceremony.
5. All hands on deck. You and your spouse will not have time to pass out yarmulkes and greet guests as they arrive. If you’re not good at asking for help, start now! Infant twins demand a lot of attention and you’re going to need all the help you can get.