Q: My mother says it one way and my grandmother says it another way. What is the proper pronunciation for the word “Bris” and “Mohel?”
A: Brit … Bris … Mohel … Moyel … It really doesn’t matter how you say it; the Jewish rite of circumcision performed on an eight day old baby is a prime first cut. All kidding aside, the Bris is a momentous occasion in the baby’s life and that of his family. It is meant to be a time of happiness and extreme rejoicing. I look forward to sharing in your Simcha and joy!
Q: Why is there so much anxiety associated with Bris?
A: Anxious feelings are normal and natural for new parents, but most of the anxiety is due to a fear of the unknown. Most expectant couples attend childbirth education classes where they are prepared for what to expect during childbirth in order to maximize their ability to enjoy the process as much as possible. In the same way, becoming knowledgeable about Bris can allay the natural anxiety parents feel when planning a Bris for their son.
Q: How much is it going to hurt the baby?
A: Honestly, despite the fact that the nerve endings of newborns are not fully developed, in all probability, there will be some pain like any other minor cut or wound. However, what is important to understand is that, while this pain is limited and short-lived, what the Bris represents, that special bond being developed between the baby and G-d, will be everlasting. No matter where the child will be in life or what he’ll be doing, he will always have that Bris and all that it symbolizes. Let me illustrate this idea with the following story. Claude Monet, the renowned artist, was a student of another famous artist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. In the early 1900’s, toward the end of his life, Renoir developed a severe case of arthritis making it difficult to continue producing his beautiful, detailed paintings. His love for painting was so deep however, that he tied a brush to his hand and continued to paint broad stroke paintings. One day, Monet approached his teacher and asked him why he doesn’t retire? Why do you continue to paint amidst so much pain and suffering? You had an illustrious career, and now, enough is enough! Renoir answered with conviction, The pain will fade away; it won’t last, but the art that I produce will last forever, long after I pass away. This story is a perfect analogy for the mitzvah (commandment) of Bris. Yes, the Bris creates some pain but the special relationship and covenant it creates will last throughout his lifetime. There is a topical anesthetic out on the market called Emmla Cream that parents can get through their pediatrician. It is supposed to reduce the pain felt by the baby. However, I must tell you that, in my experience, I have not seen any difference between the amount of crying by babies where Emmla is used and those where Emmla is not used. Babies cry even when their diaper is changed simply because they do not like being exposed to the air and handled. The best anesthesia really is speed and accuracy in the procedure.
Q: Is there a preferable time is for a Bris to take place?
A: The Bris of a healthy baby is done on the eighth day of life (counting the day of birth). This is so even if the eighth day falls on Shabbat, Yom Kippur or any other Jewish festival. However, in the case of a baby born by Caesarean section, the Bris is not performed on Shabbat or on a festival, but on the day following. Bris Milah may not be performed before the eighth day or at night. In the event that a baby is not in perfect health-even if not seriously ill-the Bris is delayed until both the doctor and the mohel are in agreement as to the healthy status of the baby. A common example of this situation is newborn jaundice. However, in the case of serious illness, a delay of one week following full recovery is required. There may be other technical considerations that would necessitate delaying the Bris beyond the preferred 8th day. I would be glad and open to discuss your situation with you.
Q: Why should parents want or need to use a Mohel to perform a Bris?
A: Traditionally, the parents engage a mohel to perform the Bris. A mohel is a person who is specially trained in the medical and surgical techniques of circumcision. In addition to being an expert in his field, the mohel is also an expert in the Jewish laws pertaining to Bris Milah. A doctor’s medical circumcision, usually performed in the hospital within the first few days after birth, does not fulfill the requirements of a Bris Milah and is not considered valid according to Jewish law. The Bris must be performed by a Jewish person who understands, upholds and practices the tenets of the Jewish religion and is specially trained to function as a mohel. It is important to choose a Mohel with whom you feel comfortable, someone who will be accommodating to the specific needs of the family. Pediatricians, obstetricians and urologists constantly marvel at the work of a good mohel.
Q: Does the Bris have to be done in a Synagogue?
A: A Bris does not have to be done at a Synagogue. My experience is that most families have the Bris where it’s most comfortable for them, usually at their home or the home of a close relative. Some people opt to have it at a catering hall.
Q: What happens in the ceremony?
A: How am I going to get all my family and friends involved? How long is the ceremony? These are all great questions. The Bris ceremony is a very special occasion and is accompanied by much happiness and rejoicing. There are several honors to be conferred during the ceremony, usually bestowed upon the relatives and close friends of the baby’s family. The number of honors can always be minimized or maximized in order to include every relative or friend that needs to be included. A brief description of the ceremony is as follows: A couple enters with the baby and the baby is placed on a chair designated as the Chair of Elijah. The baby is then placed upon the lap of the Sandek (most often a grandfather) who holds the baby during the circumcision procedure. After the appropriate blessing is recited, the circumcision is performed by the mohel. Immediately following the Bris, another blessing is said over a cup of wine, and the baby receives his official Hebrew name, which he will proudly carry throughout his life. The newborn child is often named after departed relatives, a symbolic source of continued life for those no longer with us. My personal Bris presentation includes all the blessings and prayers in the traditional Hebrew and also in English for everyone to understand and appreciate. The ceremony ends with the resounding wish of Mazel Tov! followed by the serving of refreshments or a light meal. The entire ceremony lasts approximately 15 minutes.
Q: Can we get some clarity on the baby naming part? We need some assistance in choosing our baby’s Hebrew name.
A: More often than not, the baby is named for a departed relative, in which case the simplest way to go is to determine what the Hebrew name of the relative was. If the name is not known, parents can choose any Hebrew name, Biblical or contemporary. I have named many babys in my day by giving suggestions from which the parents can choose. Biblical names are easy since virtually all have a Hebrew source (i.e. Jacob-Yaakov, Samuel – Shmuel) but the English and Hebrew name need not correspond. It is also quite common for parents to choose a Hebrew name for a boy or girl which would reflect the meaning of the English name. There is much room for creativity when it comes to the names.
Q: Isn’t a Bris a barbaric act?
A: Have you ever met a barbarian with a Bris?