These are the most frequently asked questions and concerns about Bris. If you have any questions or concerns that were not answered on this page, please email me at info@BrisMilah.org, and I will respond with alacrity!
Brit ... Bris ... Mohel ... Moyel ... It really doesn’t matter how you say it; Bris is the Ashkenazic way to pronounce it and Brit is the Sefardic way and Israeli way to pronounce it. Moyel is simply a “yiddishised” pronounciation of the Hebrew word Mohel, meaning “circumcisor”. But don’t argue with your grandmother. She has been waiting a long time for this joyous occasion. She is “shepping” lots of “nachas”
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 the same way, becoming knowledgeable about Bris can allay the natural anxiety parents feel when planning a Bris for their son. Much of the anxiety comes from what parents learn in these childbirth classes about the circumcision technique performed in the hospitals, a much more painful and invasive procedure often lasting 7 to 20 minutes. When using a reliable Mohel, one need not worry as our procedure takes less than 20 seconds and is performed, as required by Jewish law, with minimal discomfort to the baby.
With a traditional Bris, the baby will feel a discomfort for the first one to two seconds of the procedure. The sensation is similar to the removal of a band-aid. This is the result from the separation of the mucous membrane from the glans penis. The baby does not feel the actual removal of the foreskin. However, what is important to understand is that, while this pain is limited and short-lived, the Bris represents, that special bond being developed between the baby and G-d, a bond that will be everlasting. No matter what the child will encounter or do in life, 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 (minimal if it’s a Rovinsky Bris!) 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 only seen an increase in discomfort of the babies where Emmla is used. In fact, even parents who are doctors prefer not to use Emmla. The best anesthesia is speed and accuracy in the procedure. The only benefit of Emmla, in my opinion--and it is not something to dismiss easily--is that parents will be more relaxed feeling that they have done something, at least, to minimize the pain. So if you prefer that I use Emmla, please do not hesitate to ask. I will be more than happy to do so.
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 Shabbos, Yom Kippur or any other Jewish festival. However, in the case of a baby born by Caesarean section, the Bris is not performed on Shabbos 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 to discuss your situation with you.
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. I personally feel that in order to be considered an expert Mohel, it is necessary to spend a significant amount of time in training and apprenticing in order to become familiar with the many challenging variations of the Bris area and its impact on how the Bris must be performed in each case.
Another reason to use a mohel is to guarantee that the technique used to perform the Bris is acceptable in Jewish law and not the standard procedure used in hospitals.
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.
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. I often joke with parents and tell them that learning how to do a bris was easy. The hard part was learning how to organize a “politically safe” line-up of honorees. 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 25 minutes.
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 a baby 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. What about naming our son after a woman? Some female names have a direct male counterpart (i.e. Chaya - Chaim, Tzivya - Tzvi, Malka - Melech), but if the particular name does not, then the custom is to use as many letters from the female name as possible. It is also quite common for parents to choose a Hebrew name for a boy or girl which would reflect meaning of the English name. For example, I recently did a baby naming for a girl whose English name was Ava Valentine. For Ava, a type of bird, we used Tzipporah (Hebrew for bird) and for Valentine, which represents love, we used Ahava (Hebrew for love). There is much room for creativity when it comes to the names.
Unless you have a question or concern, you do not need to contact me until the child is born. Once he is born, I am the third phone call (both sets of grandparents, then the Mohel). I may be reached at any of the following numbers: 314-727-Brit (2748) or 800-85MOHEL (800-856-6435) Office / 314-498-6279 cell. If you reach my voice mail please leave all numbers, including the area code, where both parents may be reached. Any calls received Friday night or Saturday, will be returned Saturday night approximately one hour after sundown. When we speak, we will schedule the bris and a convenient time for me to come meet with you either in the hospital or at home to discuss and plan the ceremony.
The day of birth is counted as the first day. Jewish days begin and end at sunset. For example, a baby born on a Sunday will have his Bris the following Sunday. A baby born on Sunday night after sunset will have his Bris the following Monday. A baby born by caesarian section on Friday night or Saturday will have his Bris the following Sunday. A baby born by caesarian section where the Bris coincides the following week with a holiday will have his Bris on the next available weekday. A Bris must be performed during daylight hours. A Bris performed at night or before the eighth day is not valid.
It is nice to have a minyan at the Bris, but it is not required.
No. The term Godparents alludes to legal guardians and it is not necessary to have this determined prior to the bris. Although the terms Kvater and Kvaterin (the individuals who carry the baby into the bris room) are often translated as Godfather and Godmother, there is no concept of Godparents in Judaism and those given this honor have no legal responsibilty.
If you are having a boy and girl, we can have a Bris and Baby Naming at the same time. The Bris is first, followed by the Baby Naming . If you are having twin boys, the older would go first followed by his baby brother.
Following the Bris you will receive a certificate that is universally recognized. It contains the following information relating to your son: Baby's name in both Hebrew and transliterated into English, Jewish date of Birth, date of the Bris, and parents Hebrew names. This Certificate will serve as a reference for future life cycle events. I will also provide a medical receipt that you may submit to your insurance company.
This is the most important and most frequently asked question of me. As a Mohel, who is judged every day by the sounds the baby makes both during and after the circumcision, it is one that I do not take lightly. The "success" of a Mohel is generally judged in three areas: 1. The baby's comfort during and after the circumcision; 2. The ceremony; and 3. The Pediatrician's evaluation of the circumcision.
Many studies have been performed to try to ascertain how much pain the baby feels. I myself participated in one that measured the difference in the baby’s discomfort level when the hospital/doctor were used vs the technique a kosher Mohel uses. The results were startling. There were signs of minimal discomfort with our technique and severe discomfort with the standard medical techniques. This is because the Mohel is a specialist, an expert at his profession. An active Mohel will possess much more experience than most doctors. A doctor will strap the baby down on a molded plastic bodyboard placed on a table, use a very painful clamp (Plasti-bell or GOMCO) and the procedure may take up to twenty minutes or longer, depending on the ability of the individual doing the circumcision.
The approach I use is to place the baby on a pillow and not strap him down. The instrument I use to perform the circumcision is not the same instrument used by a doctor. It is much more efficient with better results. Most importantly, a procedure should never take more than 30 seconds.
There are topical creams, ointments and penile blocks that are available. As a Mohel with the technical expertise to perform adult circumcisions, as well as infants, I am able to use them but they all have some drawbacks on a newborn that far out weigh any benefit. I do use a special numbing agent following the Bris. There are also a variety of non-pharmacological interventions that may be used very effectively, alone or in conjunction with the other approaches for treatment of procedural pain in neonates. It is my goal to provide the most effective pain management for your baby. I am familiar with most of the studies undertaken to determine the safety and effectiveness of interventions to relieve pain associated with neonatal circumcision. I would be happy to discuss each approach with you.
Have you ever met a barbarian with a Bris? Have you ever met a barbarian with a Bris?