Because it is written in the Torah. The first time Brit Milah is mentioned in the Torah is in Genesis 17: 9-12: "And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised..." It is mentioned again in Leviticus 12:3: "And on the eighth day he shall be circumcised." There is no reason given as to why the eighth day was chosen. Dr. J.H. Hertz, in his commentary on the verses in Genesis, writes: "The meaning is not that the Covenant is to consist in the rite of circumcision, but that circumcision is to be the external sign of the Covenant. As the following verse declares, 'it shall be a token of a covenant,' just as the rainbow was the token of the covenant with Noah. And even as the rainbow had existed before Noah, this rite had been practised among other peoples before Israel. To whatever origin and purpose it might be traced — whether as a measure safeguarding cleanliness and health (Philo), or to counteract excessive lust (Maimonides), or as a sacrificial symbol — for Abraham and his descendants all these conceptions are supplanted, and the rite is the abiding symbol of the consecration of the Children of Abraham to the God of Abraham."
The best thing to do is to speak to the mohel first who will advise you of the correct and proper day for the bris. Do this before calling the caterer or informing the guests. There are a number of exceptions to the eighth day rule and I have had to unschedule brisses that had been scheduled for the wrong day.
The day of birth counts as the first day. Jewish days begin and end with sunset. Brisses are performed during the daylight hours only and never at night. The preferred custom is to perform the bris in the morning as we are anxious to perform the mitzvah, but the entire day is available to do the bris. (In the New York area, the last bris of the day in the winter is around 4:00 P.M. During the summer, the last bris of the day is around 8:00 P.M. — the sun is still up.)
A baby born on a Monday will have his bris the following Monday. A baby born Monday night after it's dark will have his bris the following Tuesday. A baby born Friday evening (after sunset, but before it's dark) is called a "twilight baby" — the proper day for his bris is the following Sunday. 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 or festival will have his bris on the next available weekday. (This is one of the exceptions to the eighth day rule. The rabbis defined a caesarian section differently than a regular birth in that the bris of a baby born by c-section does not supercede the Sabbath or holiday. One birth scenario is neither inferior to nor superior to the other.) If the baby is not well, we delay the bris until he is well. There are specific rules for scheduling a delayed bris for a baby who was ill, so please speak to the mohel to determine the correct day.
We do brisses on all major holidays and festivals including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the Shabbat assuming there is a mohel who is able to walk to the bris. If you live in an area where there is no local mohel and your son's bris coincides with the Sabbath or a Jewish holiday and you cannot import a reliable, observant mohel to your neighborhood, it is a better religious decision and religiously preferred to delay the bris to the ninth or tenth day. That will avoid many unnecessary religious conflicts and insure a proper bris.
The bris determines everyone's schedule and not the reverse. The religious and spiritual value of a Brit Milah on the eighth (or proper) day cannot be emphasized enough. Since we never know when the baby will be born, someone important may be unavailable for the bris. The bris should proceed on the proper day and not be delayed. Brisses should not be scheduled for convenience.
No. From the verse in Leviticus 12:3, we learn that the rite must be performed "on the eighth day," even if it is the Sabbath; and during the daylight hours, not at night.
Yes, and on all holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, etc.) and festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot). It presupposes you have a mohel who lives in your area. If not, one would import a mohel who could spend Shabbat in the neighborhood within walking distance of the home or synagogue where the bris will take place. If no mohel is available or arrangements cannot be made to bring in a mohel, then the bris will have to be delayed. If someone offers to ride or drive on the Sabbath or holiday to perform the bris, regardless of the family's background or affiliation — please turn down the offer. It would be religiously preferred to delay the bris to a Sunday or a weekday which then avoids setting up many unnecessary religious conflicts. A bris delayed for this reason would still be valid and acceptable.
The best way is by word of mouth. You (or an eager future grandparent) may have attended a bris and taken the mohel's card. Or your obstetrician may have a referral. You can also call your rabbi or cantor for the name of a mohel. Most often, one family will pass the mohel's name on to the next, and so on.
A minyan (quorum of ten) is preferred, but not required.
No. The appointing of Godparents is not a Jewish tradition. We do not have godparents for boys or for girls. In Judaism, the parents are responsible for the religious upbringing of the child. It is also a common misnomer to call the Sandak (the one who holds the baby for the Bris) the godfather. The word Sandak comes from the Greek word "syndikos" which means patron. Therefore, you may appoint as many godparents as you wish or none at all. If it will keep peace in the family by appointing godparents, then do it. Otherwise, skip it. It is up to the individual discretion of the parents.
It adds a festive element, but it's not essential. If there is no challah, one may recite the blessing over a bagel or a slice of bread. If you'd like to give someone an honor at the bris who may not be comfortable holding the baby, letting them recite the blessing over the bread is a very nice thing to do.
While many choose to have a large party for a bris, others prefer a small, private event with just immediate family present. Either is fine as long as it is held on the eighth or proper day.
No. I happen to be a cantor and there are many rabbis who are also mohalim. You don't have to be a rabbi or a cantor to be a mohel.
I apprenticed to Rabbi Yosef Halperin, the Chief Mohel of Jerusalem in 1977. I studied the laws, participated in setting up the instruments, changed bandages, and by the end of my apprenticeship, performed a number of brisses, first under very close supervision and then "solo." Once Rabbi Halperin was satisfied with my abilities, he certified me. I am also certified by the New York Board of Rabbis Brith Milah Board.
The mohel is a super-specialist, an expert at his profession, who probably possesses more experience at performing circumcisions than most doctors. A mohel may have the opportunity to perform more brisses in a month than some doctors do in an entire year.
Doctors may be called away on medical emergencies and have to cancel their participation in your child's circumcision at the last minute. There have been occasions when I have been called in to perform brisses on behalf of doctors who've had to cancel due to a sudden medical emergency.
Knowledge of Jewish Law and Custom:
Doctors, not familiar with the religious requirements of Brit Milah, and dealing with the demands of their own busy schedules, may inadvertently schedule brisses at religiously inappropriate times: on the incorrect day, for example, or at night. A bris should be scheduled to take place during the daylight hours of the eighth day of life (which can be tricky to calculate at times, since the Jewish day begins at sunset), and never at night. A mohel who is properly trained in the Jewish laws and customs of Brit Milah will know how to avoid such mistakes in scheduling and ensure that your son's bris takes place at the religiously correct time.
Brit Milah is an ancient Jewish ritual, and practicing as a mohel is a time-honored profession. If doctors were routinely to perform a mohel's function, a spiritually rich and important Jewish tradition might eventually be lost.
When a circumcision is performed by a doctor or a non-traditional mohel, the baby is strapped down to a cold, molded plastic bodyboard, placed on a table and the procedure can take up to a half an hour or longer, depending on the ability of the individual doing the circumcision. The device that is used is called the Gomco circumcision clamp. It is very clinical and very difficult for the baby.
The technique that I (and other traditional mohels) use is very different. The baby is not strapped down. Instead he is placed on a double pillow, on the lap of the sandak held by warm, loving hands. With this technique, the bris takes forty seconds or less. The device I use is called the Mogen circumcision clamp. My instruments are autoclaved (heat-steam sterilized), I wear gloves and follow the same techniques of sterilization and asepsis that hospitals and doctors use.
Simply put, we don't really know but this is a very controversial area. There is clearly some discomfort. Many studies have been done to try to ascertain how much pain the baby feels. These studies, however, reflect the clinical experience of hospital circumcisions, not traditional brisses that were done by mohels. There are other reasons why the baby will cry such as when his diaper comes off and he is exposed, and when he is held down.
I believe the reason that this question is asked with such increasing frequency is because of the non-traditional circumcision techniques that are used today by doctors or non-traditional mohels. A circumcision can take up to a half an hour or longer when performed by a doctor or in the hospital. In a traditional bris, the entire ceremony takes about fifteen minutes. The "bris" part takes about thirty to forty seconds.
(Note: The following information is provided for parents who are investigating the use of topical anesthetics or other pain relief options. I am neither pro nor con. That is a decision for the parents in consultation with their pediatrician. I am deeply concerned that many parents have opted to use some of these products without doing the necessary research to determine if they are safe, effective, etc. If you do decide to use a topical anesthetic, kindly inform me prior to the Brit Milah.)
Although the proper technique used by myself and other traditional mohalim takes approximately 20-30 seconds to perform (as compared with a hospital circumcision or one performed by a doctor/mohel that can take anywhere from 10-40 minutes), understandably, parents are still concerned about their baby feeling pain during a bris and often ask me what I can do to reduce discomfort to their baby during the procedure.
What about topical anesthetics?
Many families today tell me their doctor has recommended using a numbing cream (topical anesthetic) before the bris. As a mohel who has successfully been performing circumcisions for over 30 years without such methods, I am concerned that doctors are making this recommendation. Current and readily available information on using topical anesthetics yields the following warnings:
My own personal experience in performing brisses or circumcisions where the parents have decided to use topical anesthetic creams has shown:
What other options for pain relief are available?
Some doctor/mohels will administer a penile block--multiple injections in and around the base of the penis. The pain of these injections is greater than the pain of the bris itself. And again, as with topical anesthetics, the potential for side effects or extreme reactions--especially in newborns--is substantial.
What about Infant Tylenol?
Tylenol can mask a fever. While fever after a bris is very rare, the one thing parents need to know about their infant at any time is if he has a fever so I do not recommend the use of Tylenol. In my observation, giving the baby Tylenol does not have that much affect on pain relief at all.
To conclude, I don't apply topical creams or use other means of pharmaceutical anesthetics when I perform brisses, and I generally advise against their use in the circumcision of newborns. As an observant traditional Jewish mohel, I am religiously obligated not to cause harm in performing the mitzvah (commandment) of circumcision, and I employ an ancient and time-honored technique that has been used successfully for thousands of years. To quote an anesthesiologist whose son's bris I performed, referring to the baby he said, "He'll have the bris; he'll cry a little, and it will be over." That more or less sums up what typically happens. However, if parents feel strongly that they do want to use a topical anesthetic, they may need a prescription from their doctor (although some of these topical creams are now available over the counter). Application instructions should be followed exactly, and parents should definitely inform the mohel before the circumcision takes place that they have used it.
So finally, what form of pain relief do I recommend?
Before the bris, let the baby suck on a gauze pad soaked in concentrated sugar water. After the bris (during the "naming" portion of the ceremony), let the baby suck on a second gauze pad dipped in sweet kosher wine or grape juice. In my opinion, this is the safest and most effective approach to pain relief in a newborn both before and after the bris. Most of all, be sure to use a certified rabbi or cantor mohel who will perform a circumcision in 20-30 seconds without strapping the baby down to a board. Parents will then be assured of a proper bris experience that will significantly minimize any pain for their son.
Traditionally, after the bris, the foreskin is buried — covered in dirt or sand. This custom may relate back to the Jews wandering in the desert for forty years or even to Abraham.
Normal physiological jaundice is just that — normal. It does not prevent a bris from taking place. The bilirubin count can be as high as eighteen and as long as the doctor agrees that it is normal physiological jaundice, the bris may be scheduled for the eighth (or proper) day. Pathological jaundice does prevent a bris from taking place and your doctor will advise you. In any event, if the doctor determines that the baby may not have a bris for any health reason, the mohel may not proceed until the baby is declared fit and healthy by the doctor.
The doctor will determine if the baby can have a bris. While there may be other health concerns, most parents want to know how much the baby should weigh before he can have a bris. While there is no minimum weight, many doctors prefer that the baby's weight be at least five pounds. I have done many brisses on babies under five pounds but it depends on the doctor and the comfort level of the parents.
When boy/girl twins are born prematurely, if the boy is healthy but the girl must remain in the hospital, the boy should have his bris on time, i.e. the eighth day. If twin boys are born and one is healthy and one is not, the one who is healthy should have his bris on time and when the other boy is healthy, he can have his bris. One can make two small parties after each bris. What should not be done is delay the bris of the healthy twin until the other baby is healthy just so both can have their brisses at the same time. Brisses should not be scheduled for convenience. Each child is special and unique and should be given the best posssible start in life — spiritually and physically.
Traditionally, it is the parents of the baby who give out the honors at the bris. Both men and women are included in the ceremony. I prefer to have parents distribute select honors in a meaningful way, rather than pass the baby around just to include a lot of people.
The honor of bringing the baby into the room at the beginning of the ceremony and/or taking him out at the end is given traditionally to a couple who do not yet have children or the grandmothers of the baby can be given this honor — both together or one at a time. If this is the first boy for the parents, the paternal grandfather of the baby holds for the bris and the maternal grandfather of the baby holds for the Naming portion of the ceremony. (If one grandfather has already served as a sandak previously, he can defer to the other grandfather. Similarly, one of the grandfathers may not want to hold the baby or may not be able to hold the baby for the bris, so the other grandfather can hold the baby.) It is said that Elijah the Prophet is present at all brisses and a chair is set up in his honor. Placing the baby on the Chair of Elijah and carrying him from Elijah's chair are honors that can be given to other relatives.
There are many more permutations and possibilities (older siblings, stepparents, great-grandparents, etc.), so the best thing to do is prepare a list of those people whom you would like to include in the ceremony, and the mohel can help you decide the best way to distribute the honors.
My recommendation is to tell them it's a party for the new baby. I don't think very young children need to have the surgical aspects of a bris explained. In general, I also recommend that children under the age of twelve not be permitted to watch the bris. I try to include the older siblings in the ceremony (before the actual bris takes place); you can tell them that part of the celebration is a big brother/big sister party.
From time to time, I may not be available for the specific time that you wish to schedule your event. If I am not available, I will recommend another traditional mohel who shares my approach, both religiously and medically, to Brit Milah.
A Baby Naming for a girl may be held at any time after the baby is born, It is usually held within the first year and may be held in the home or synagogue.
I do not publish my fees on my web site. If you would like to know the cost of a Bris or a Baby Naming ceremony, please email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your due date, phone number and any questions you may have. A new fee schedule will go into effect on September 1, 2015.
By confirming an event with me, you are committing to have the Bris (or Circumcision or Naming) performed by me on the specific date and time selected by you that we will have agreed upon. In the event of a cancellation (not a postponement), there is a $200.00 cancellation fee. It is based on the honor system and the good word and integrity of the individual who scheduled the event. When your event is confirmed, it means that your time slot is no longer available, so if you cancel, two events are lost — yours and the one that I gave away. So please be considerate and do not cancel once you have committed.
Many insurance plans do not cover the cost of the Brit Milah or circumcision that is performed by a mohel. A receipt can be provided for you to send in, but be prepared for rejection.
Yes. A circumcision is not a bris. If a baby was circumcised in the hospital on the first or second day, even if someone recited prayers and blessings, that child still needs a Brit Milah because it took place before the eighth (or proper) day.
A regular Brit Milah ceremony is held, but since the baby is already circumcised, a hatafat dam brit is performed. The blessings are recited, a drop of blood is drawn from the penis and the baby is named. This should be done as soon as possible, preferably before the baby is three years old.
A Pidyon Haben (often mispronounced as Pid-in-a-ben or Pidgin Haben) is the Redemption of the First Born ceremony which takes place on the thirty-first day of life. (It is not done at the same time as the Brit Milah ceremony, which is performed on the eighth day.) In a brief service performed by a Kohen (not a rabbi, unless the rabbi happens to be a Kohen), this ceremony harkens back to the tenth plague — the slaying of the first born. Because the first born of the Egyptians were killed and the Jewish first born were saved, we redeem our first born sons through this ceremony. All Israelite first born are consecrated to G-d. There is a brief dialog between the father of the baby and the Kohen, at the conclusion of which, the child is redeemed with five silver coins.
If the child is not the first born, if the parents are descended paternally from Kohen or Levi (i.e. both parents must be Israelites), if the child is born by caesarian section, and if there were any previous pregnancies that went beyond six weeks, one is exempt from performing this ceremony. The two most common myths associated with this ceremony are that the Pidyon Haben is for the first born of the first born or that this ceremony is for the first born son, even though he may be the second child. The Pidyon Haben cannot be performed before the thirty-first day and if the thirty-first day is the Sabbath, the ceremony is held Saturday night or Sunday. A minyan is preferred and the ceremony can be held in the home or the synagogue.
If the mother of the baby is Jewish, then the child is Jewish whether or not he is able to have a bris. A circumcision before the eighth or proper day is not a bris, even if prayers and blessings are recited. One cannot have a bris without a circumcision. A ceremonial circumcision (removing only a small part of the foreskin) is not a bris, either. The entire foreskin must be removed to uncover the glans completely.
Allow me to preface my comments about Bar/Bat Mitzvah with the following disclaimer: What you are about to read flies in the face of what you may have been told or taught and most especially, what is being done today in most communities and synagogues.
One does not "have" a Bar Mitzvah; one becomes a Bar Mitzvah. The age of majority for a Jewish girl is twelve and the age of majority for a Jewish boy is thirteen. The reason that a girl has a different age of majority is that a girl matures before a boy does, hence the age of majority is not the same for boys and girls. (If you say that the age of majority is thirteen for both boys and girls, you take something special and unique away from the girls.) One may celebrate this coming of age in many ways, but no ceremony is required. It is simply a Hebrew birthday. On that day the status of the individual changes and he/she becomes obligated to perform the mitzvot (commandments). For example, if the boy's thirteenth Hebrew birthday happens to fall on a Wednesday, then that morning he goes to the synagogue, puts on tefillin (officially) for the first time and participates in the services. Following services, a seudat mitsvah (festive meal) is held, the boy goes to school and the guests go to work. Can one read a haftarah, give a speech and have a huge party? Sure, but you can do that anytime. When one becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, one's obligations begin, they don't end. Jewish education is ongoing and Torah learning is a lifelong endeavor. Unfortunately, for many Jewish children, the Bar or Bat Mitzvah marks the end of their Jewish education. If you never "had" a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and you would like to celebrate your Jewishness in a meaningful way (no matter how old you are), I would recommend that you join a synagogue, take a Torah class, learn about Judaism, (Shabbat, keeping kosher, etc.), give tzedakah (charity) and try to re-direct yourself and your family towards a Jewish way of life.
Sometimes babies are born with certain medical conditions which may prevent the Bris from taking place. The first thing parents should do under these circumstances is have the baby seen by a pediatric urologist (preferably one who is sensitive to the requirements of Brit Milah). These specialists can best determine whether a Bris may or may not take place on the eighth day. The opinion of the pediatrician may be considered, but should not be the sole determining factor as there are some conditions that a pediatrician may not recognize or that the pediatric urologist may determine are not serious enough to postpone a Bris. If the baby is seen quickly enough by a pediatric urologist, it is possible that he/she will allow the Bris to go forward on the correct and proper day. If needed, I can provide you with the names of some of the top pediatric urologists in the New York/Tri-State area.
If the pediatric urologist determines, however, that the Bris cannot take place for medical reasons, please be aware that no physical aspect of the Bris may be performed on the baby. Often a doctor will suggest that a small piece of skin may be removed or a drop of blood may be drawn. This is against Jewish law and is not permitted. No physical procedures may be performed on the baby.
If it is determined that the Bris cannot take place on the eighth day, it means an operation will be required at least six months later (or more) to correct the problem. A family then has three options regarding the Brit Milah ceremony:
When the operation finally does take place, it ideally should be performed along with a proper Bris. If the hospital is accommodating, they will allow me into the operating room to recite the blessings and begin the actual "hands on" procedure. The surgeon then takes over the operation from there. (Note: It is not considered religiously valid if the mohel or rabbi only recites the blessings without actually participating in the "hands on" part of the procedure.) In the recovery room following surgery, the blessings over the wine and covenant are recited, the baby's Jewish name is announced once more and other prayers are said. In this way, the operation becomes a Bris. The family returns home later that day and celebrates with a seudat mitzvah (festive meal) in honor of the occasion.
If the hospital does not allow the mohel into the operating room, then the operation may take place and once the baby is fully recovered, a Bris can then be scheduled. A full Bris ceremony is performed with all of the honors included, but since the child has already been circumcised a hatafat dam brit (the drawing of a drop of blood from the circumcision site) is performed. The appropriate blessings are then recited followed by a seudat mitzvah.
The mohel who is invited into the operating room should be shomer Torah u'mitzvot, i.e., a religiously observant individual. If the person who performs the Brit Milah does not keep kosher or is not Sabbath observant, for example, the Bris will not be considered religiously valid and will not be universally accepted or recognized. Since we don't know what spiritual path our children may take in life, we ideally should provide them with the broadest number of options and insure that the Bris/Operation is performed at the highest level, and will not be subject to question later on.
Once the baby is born — DO NOT WAIT — please email me right away at email@example.com. The only thing you need to do in advance is read this web site carefully. Brisses and Baby Namings may now be scheduled in advance of the birth. All events that are scheduled in advance (i.e. beyond eight days) must be confirmed with a specific date and time and payment in full (not a deposit) by mail. All payments are non-refundable. Please click on the "Dear Parents" link to read more about scheduling a Bris or Baby Naming in advance of the birth.
Update: The Metzitzah B'peh Controversy—My position