You are about to become a parent — perhaps for the first time, or maybe this isn’t your first rodeo. Or maybe you’re here because you want to help some expecting parents. Whatever the reason, if you think you might need to organize a bris, we’re here to help.
We’ve got everything you need to know in order to plan a bris for your little one — read on for our comprehensive answers to FAQs below.
So wait, what is a bris anyway?
Bris, or brit milah, is what we call the Jewish process of circumcision. Brit in Hebrew means “covenant,” and with the bris, you are entering into a covenant between the Jewish people and God, as Abraham did the book of Genesis. Many parents also choose to wait until the bris to announce their baby’s name.
How early do I need to plan a bris?
Ideally, it’s best to pick and reach out to your mohel 4 to 6 weeks before the baby’s expected due date. But if you’re the kind of person who likes to have things squared away earlier, by all means, start earlier. It’s better not to leave things to after the birth, as you will probably be busy and want to do the least amount of planning possible.
How do I find a mohel?
There are a lot of ways to look from a mohel. The best way is to find your mohel through a bris you have attended. That way, the mohel has already “auditioned” for you. But if you haven’t been to a bris lately, you can ask your local synagogue. The internet is also filled with ways to find mohels: You can find a list of mohels at the Brit Milah program of Reform Judaism or on our website. Another way is to ask your local parenting Facebook groups (though watch out for backlash from those who are against circumcision) or even our very own Kveller Moms Facebook group.
How do I know a mohel is right for me?
Don’t just go for the first mohel you find — we suggest you interview at least a couple mohels to see who would be the best fit. Some questions to ask the mohel:
- How many circumcisions have you done?
- How do you perform the procedure?
- How personalized can I make the ceremony?
- How do you prepare the baby?
- What kind of clamp and analgesia do you use?
- Are you comfortable working with a rabbi?
Here is a list of other questions you may want to ask.
What if I’m not choosing to find out my baby’s sex until after the birth?
It’s still a good idea to reach out to a mohel before your birth — after all, it’s a 50-50 chance!
Does it matter if my mohel is a doctor?
That’s for you to decide. Some mohels are also OB-GYN or pediatricians, which means they have more medical experience and knowledge, while some mohels are trained in the craft of circumcision. At the end of the day, the medical process should be similar — whether your mohel is a doctor or not.
Is it better to circumcise my son in a hospital?
That truly depends on how you feel. If you’re worried about sterility, you should know that circumcisions in hospitals usually do not take place in a sterile operating room, but in a clean room adjacent to the nursery. Hospital circumcisions are usually performed by the OB-GYN who delivered the baby, and you might want to ask your doctor what their experience with circumcision is.
One upside to having a circumcision in the hospital is that if anything goes wrong, you are surrounded by medical professionals. Fortunately, the chances of that happening are very slim.
Can we have a bris ceremony if we did the circumcision in the hospital?
Yes, you can! Baby naming ceremonies are becoming more and more popular nowadays! Find out all about how you can organize one here.
When will the bris take place?
Traditionally, a bris takes place eighth day of life. So if your baby was born on a Tuesday morning, then his eight day of life will be that following Tuesday.
A bris precedes Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, and Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, in importance, so it can take place during both of those days. There are, however, reasons to delay a bris, primarily if the baby isn’t in full health — a bris is still kosher if it’s held after the eighth day. Keep in mind that a bris has to be held during the day, and not in the evening, to be kosher (and honestly, it’s probably safer that way!).
What if my mohel of choice isn’t available on the 8th day?
As mentioned above, a circumcision after the 8th day is still kosher, so if your heart is set on a certain mohel, then by all means, wait!
Do I need to have a rabbi at the bris?
No, you do not need a rabbi at a bris, a mohel should be able to hold the ceremony by themselves. However, inviting a rabbi who knows you or your family could help the ceremony feel more personal and moving.
Where should I hold my child’s bris?
You can have a bris anywhere, from the hospital to an event hall to a synagogue to your house (even a firehouse!). The most important thing is that there is a space that it is well lit enough to conduct the procedure.
What do I serve at a bris?
The easy answer is, whatever you want! But bris must have bread for saying HaMotzi, the blessing over bread, and wine for the Kiddush, the blessing over wine. Bagels and lox are often served for this reason — and also because they’re delicious, obviously! — and there are different Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions for what to serve. You can also choose to serve something personally meaningful to you, a food you craved during your pregnancy, or a dish that your family traditionally eats on special occasions. You can find more ideas for what to serve at a bris here.
What should my baby wear for his bris?
The only thing you need to consider is that it has to be something that leaves your baby’s nether region accessible to the mohel. Depending on the weather, consider a baby gown or a onesie with snaps. Some families have a gown, one passed brother to brother, cousin to cousin, and so on, on which you can possibly embroider each baby’s initials and the date of his circumcision. If your family doesn’t have this tradition, you can certainly start one! It’s a wonderful keepsake to pass on.
What should I wear to my baby’s bris?
Whatever you want! Depending on the venue you select, you may find it more appropriate to dress up, or you can keep it casual if it’s a more homey affair. A good thing to keep in mind is that, if your baby is nursing, he will want to nurse for comfort (and possibly hunger) after the ceremony, so make sure that pretty dress or shirt can provide easy access. We’d also advise for something that has a pocket for tissues — a bris can be an incredibly moving event.
What do I do if I get too emotional or overwhelmed?
Oh mama, we’ve been there! Having a newborn is emotional enough! Having to witness that newborn go through surgery in front of your eyes can be a bit too much. Talk to your mohel and your family and friends if you need someone to hold your hand, or hold you in a bear hug. And if you feel like you need to leave the room, or avert your eyes, it’s absolutely OK to do so.
Who should I invite to the bris?
That is truly up to you. A bris does not need a minyan (the congregational quorum of 10 that’s required in order to recite certain prayers, according to Jewish law), so you really don’t have to invite anyone but family. You will also need to appoint a sandek to help hold the baby during the ceremony (that role is usually filled by a grandparent), and a kvatters, who will help carry the baby in (the kvatters can be grandparents, aunts or uncles, or anyone really, though some people give this honor to a childless married couple, in hopes they will be blessed with a child of their own). After that, it’s really up to you.
Don’t feel weird about inviting non-Jewish friends, they will be honored to be a part of your special day. But you may want to leave anyone who has strong anti-circumcision feelings, or anyone too squeamish, off the list. Aside from that, it’s really up to you, but here is an excellent guide to help you finalize that guest list for your bris.
What equipment do I need to have for a bris?
Most mohels should provide a list of things you’ll need for the bris. That list usually will contain some kind of analgesic which you will have to get at a pharmacy, infant tylenol, sweet kosher wine (some Manischewitz would do!), and some blankets and a pillow to hold your ceremony on. Your mohel will also want to make sure that there is a well lit space to perform the ceremony.
How long does the bris take?
The ceremony itself typically takes between 15 minutes to 45 minutes, while the surgery really shouldn’t take more than a minute or two.
What does a bris ceremony entail?
Before the circumcision, the mohel recites a blessing acknowledging that the mitzvah (commandment) of circumcision is about to be fulfilled. Then they perform the circumcision. Afterwards, the father, or both parents, say a blessing “for fulfilling the commandment to bring one’s son into Abraham’s covenant.” Then all the guests respond: “Just as this child has entered into the covenant, so may he enter into (a life of) Torah, the marriage canopy, and into good deeds.”
The mohel takes a cup of wine and recites a special blessing to announce the baby’s Hebrew name, if it has not been announced yet. Then the baby drinks a few drops of wine, and the parents drink, too — probably more than a few drops if they’re nervous! — and the bris ceremony is concluded.
Do you have to wait to announce the baby name until the bris?
No. But some people find it special to announce the name in a room full of loved ones for the first time. It’s really up to you!
The medical facts about circumcision — here’s how it all works:
If you’re squeamish, you may want to skip this part, but for some parents, it is a comfort to know exactly what the process of circumcision entails. So here goes: During a circumcision, the mohel will first retract the foreskin all the way back so they can see the head of the penis. They will put the foreskin through a clamp, or sometimes, through a shield, to separate it from the penis, and then take the scalpel and separate the foreskin from the penis. It’s a short surgical process, and relatively uncomplicated.
What kind of aftercare is needed after the bris?
Your mohel should let you know exactly how to take care of your baby’s wound after the bris, but we have a pretty thorough guide for how to care for your baby after the bris. The most important thing is to keep the area clean in order to ward off infection. Another big issue is to keep urine away from the wound, usually using an antibiotic ointment. If the area looks red, puffy, swollen, or uneven, call the mohel with your concerns. In (the very rare case) of exorbitant bleeding, sores, difficulty peeing or fever, go to your doctor immediately.
What if I don’t want to have a bris?
Not having a bris doesn’t mean you can’t raise your child Jewish — far from it. You can still have a baby naming ceremony on the eighth day, for example.
Is there an alternative to a bris for baby girls?
Yes, you can organize a baby naming ceremony! Learn more about this tradition how to plan a baby naming ceremony.