- Will it hurt our baby?
This is probably every parent’s number one concern before their son’s brit. Even if you’re circumcising your tenth son, it is *so* normal to feel some anxiety beforehand. The last thing any loving parent wants is for their child to feel even the smallest amount of pain, ever. Rest assured that this ceremony has been performed for the past 3700 years and an experienced mohel knows exactly how to minimize your son’s discomfort. He will be absolutely scrupulous in making sure your baby is ok, and will advise you on what to do if your little one seems to be uncomfortable afterwards.
- Do we really need to do this?
As a new parent, you’ve probably already seen your baby undergoing some things he found unpleasant. Being bathed, a new diaper and a change of clothes can be enough to make a new born protest quiet loudly. Add to that the standard hospital interventions like the PKU test and his first shots…even at a week old he’s had to do things he didn’t want to do! But just like a new parent accepts that these things are vital to their baby’s health, a Jewish parent also acknowledges that there is something the soul of their son needs- a brit milah. A brit bonds your child with God and with the Jewish people forever. It’s his identity, his birthright and his welcoming into this world.
- What does the Mom need to do?
Whatever works for her! Some mothers very much want to hear their baby receive his name, make sure he is sleeping peacefully afterwards (he will be) and receive him back into their arms as soon and the ceremony is complete. It’s a joyous occasion to be shared with family and friends, and she wouldn’t miss it for the world. Others are not into the pressure of getting dressed up so soon after birth, and prefer to hand baby over to Dad, who whisks him away for a half an hour while she relaxes and recovers at home. It’s totally up to you, and different communities have different traditions on this. If the mother is at the ceremony, she hands the baby to a ‘go-between’ who then passes the baby to the father. It is also traditional for the mother to pray during this time for her son to get married, follow the Torah and have a life of good deeds.
- What does the Dad need to do?
There are honors given out at a brit, and the father needs to decide who is doing what. Most importantly, there is the role of the ‘sandek’, who is the person who holds the baby during the ceremony. This is usually reserved for an older, respected person like the baby’s grandfather or the Rabbi of the parents. The father begins the ceremony by saying a few words in Hebrew (the mohel or Rabbi will help with that). He then hands the baby to a male friend or relative who gently places him on a larger-than-life chair called the Chair of Elijah. Either the mohel or another friend/relative then picks the baby up and places him on the lap of the sandek. The father formally gives permission to the mohel to perform the ceremony by handing him the scalpel, and the mohel and father both recite blessings in Hebrew over a cup of wine or grape juice. After the brit is complete, the mohel then asks the father what the name of his son is, and everyone listens in closely to hear.
- Who else is involved?
As mentioned above, there is:
- The mohel, who performs the procedure
- The sandek, who holds the baby during the brit.
- The go-between couple who pass the baby from the mother to the father
- The man who places the baby on the Chair of Elijah
- The man who places the baby on the lap of the sandek
You can find more info on this here.
- What do we need to organize?
The first thing to organize is the mohel. He will tell you what the ceremony involves, what to bring and how to care for the brit afterwards. You also need to arrange a ‘brit seuda’ which is a festive meal held immediately after the ceremony. This can be in a different location to the brit, such as a local hall, a home or a restaurant.
- Do we have to give our son a Jewish name?
There are many Jewish traditions on how to name a baby; some name after the living, some only after those who have passed away. Some choose a name of someone who was a role model, in the hope that their child will emulate their good deeds. Of course, there are many millions of Jews that go by a name that isn’t necessarily Jewish. But it’s important to give your son a Hebrew name as well, as this is the name that is used when he is called up to the Torah, and will form part of his Jewish identity and connection with his heritage.
- How can we find a reputable mohel?
The best way is through personal recommendation. If that’s not an option, you can find a list of excellent mohelim here. Don’t be afraid to pick someone you are both comfortable with. Make sure they offer after care and are available by phone before and after the brit.
- When is the ceremony performed?
The brit milah is ideally performed when the baby is eight days old. Of course, if there is even the slightest medical concern, such as the baby being jaundiced, the ceremony is delayed, and you should discuss this with your family practitioner and your mohel. The eighth day is a time when the baby’s clotting ability has fully formed, but the nerve endings are not entirely developed. It is the ideal time for the baby to quickly heal without feeling acute pain. We only delay a brit if there is a medical concern, as it is considered auspicious to perform the ceremony on time.
- Does it need to be performed in the synagogue?
A brit milah is often performed after the morning prayers in a synagogue, so it is common to hold the ceremony there. But it is entirely your choice, some babies are circumcised at home, or in the house of a family member or friend, or wherever else works for you!