The bris (ritual circumcision) is a ceremony I’ve basically been going to since my own birth. Except not really, of course, because back when I was born, women had a lot longer to stay in the hospital following delivery, especially in the case of a C-section. In those days, a lot of the brises happened right in the hospital.
With a mohel, sure, and as a fully religious/Jewish experience, but much more quietly. Much more privately. In those days, often, women did not have to host 150 of their (and their parents’) closest friends and family eight days after having a baby. In those days, women did not have to organize a meal and a ritual and, sometimes, full prayer with leaky breasts and a bleeding body and no sleep at all.
That was those days.
Don’t get me wrong—I loved, absolutely loved, having my son welcomed to the world by our extended community. I loved revealing and explaining his carefully chosen and deeply meaningful (to us) name, and having the opportunity to honor his extended family and those who were no longer with us, much as I loved our daughter’s simchat bats (welcoming celebrations). The rituals not only confirmed the place of all of our children in the covenant, it confirmed our place in our community. We’ve got you, the community seemed to say. And you’ve got this, they helped us to understand.
But there were a lot of decisions to make, from caterer to location to time of day. It wasn’t nothing.
And we had to secure a mohel. That’s also not nothing.
For us, it wasn’t a hugely complicated decision. There is a mohel in our synagogue, and he’s wonderful, and he has a wonderful website that outlines all the various niggly details involved in preparing for the bris. So many details! Jobs to assign, bandages to buy, names to pick. Emotions to anticipate.
That website was hugely helpful. I’m so grateful to our mohel for guiding us through the process, even well before we knew if we would need a bris. We didn’t find out the sex of the baby in advance, and we didn’t know exactly when he’d arrive, so there was a lot of uncertainty. Information was good.
For some, picking a mohel is an obvious choice. There’s one person in town, or one person available, or one person their family has all used. For others, it’s more complicated; they may be new to a community or new to the Jewish community. They may not be familiar with the various ritual requirements. They may not care about them.
For families searching for a mohel, I’d say: Start with what you know best—yourself. What are your priorities? Do you want someone who is going to take care of everything for you? Look to the mohel’s website, or ask around, and find out what type of guidance that mohel gives.
Is religious affiliation a priority? That’s also something to consider: Many people want a mohel whose practice reflects their own; others want the strictest possible approach to the ritual, which will frame your choices. Do you have preferences about the gender of your mohel? Again, for some in more traditional communities, only men are an option, but that isn’t the case for everyone.
This may be obvious, but training and frequency of practice matter. Your mohel should be highly skilled and well-trained. While many mohels are not doctors (though some are, and most rabbinic authorities agree that doctors are totally appropriate mohels as long as they perform the ceremony according to Jewish tradition), they should have completed a long-term training process (not a brief workshop!), and, ideally, have performed this multiple times.
Different mohels have different approaches to pain management, and types of clamps, and how the family should prepare the little guy in advance. These are questions you might ask…or not. It’s a bit granular and your brain may not have space for it. That’s just fine.
You might want to think about the mohel’s style as well. If your guests are well-versed in Jewish tradition, a no-frills mohel probably works quite well. But if many of those attending are unfamiliar with the bris process, a mohel who walks people through the meaning of the event could be a nice touch. You can ask about that, and also frame your own preferences. You might want it over as quickly as possible. That’s also just fine.
Ask around. Your hospital and your local synagogue will have recommendations and options. Remember that a hospital circumcision is not a ritual one; it will likely be done prior to the 8-day requirement, and there are some technical differences to how it is performed. It will almost certainly not be done by a mohel, and it will lack the ritual aspects. Many people opt for a hospital circumcision—that’s a totally personal choice, but do keep in mind that it isn’t the traditional Jewish choice.
In the end, the most important thing is that your baby is safe and that your mohel cares for him and for you in the moment. There are ways that this can’t be anticipated. I will be forever grateful to our mohel for two things, neither of which I even saw coming. Immediately prior to the circumcision itself, our mohel gave me and my husband a prayer to read aloud. It was a lovely prayer. And it gave me something to look at. And it got me through.
And then, right after (like right after), he took us away with the baby. Those precious few minutes to collect myself, to learn how to treat the wound, to nurse my son, to have some privacy—those were holy moments, too. Our mohel gave us those, and he gave us a healthy circumcision, and he gave us back our son, now inducted into the covenant. That’s all I could ask for, and I didn’t even know what to ask. And that was OK, too.
FAQ: Everything You Need to Know About Planning a Bris
What Food Should I Serve at a Bris?
How to Get Through Your Baby’s Bris: Tips for Mom