Image: An infant at a bris. (Photo: via wikimedia.)
You’ve been invited to a bris! If this is your first bris, there are some things that you should know.
1. WHAT’S A BRIS? A bris, or brit milah, is the ritual circumcision of a Jew. A bris is not merely a medical procedure, however. It is a symbol of the Jewish partnership with God, the covenant of Abraham. For the son of Jewish parents, a bris is usually on the 8th day after birth.
2. WHERE? A bris may take place in a home, in a doctor’s office, or in a synagogue. If you have been invited to attend as a guest, dress for the place: a bris at a home will be a bit more casual than one at a synagogue. When in doubt about dress, ask!
3. TIME? A bris is often scheduled for the morning, usually on the eighth day after birth. The actual bris takes only a few minutes, but there will be schmoozing before and schmoozing and a festive meal afterwards, so allow an hour or even two.
4. WHO PERFORMS THE BRIS? A bris is performed by a mohel (moyl), a Jew who has been trained specifically for this ritual. Generally, liberal (Reform or Conservative) mohelim (mo-heh-LEEM) are physicians who have received additional ritual training. Orthodox mohelim may be doctors, or they may have graduated from a program that trains mohelim in surgical techniques, aseptic techniques, and Jewish ritual and law.
5. DO I HAVE TO WATCH? No. The mohel will tell everyone where to stand, but unless you are the sandak (the person who holds the baby and delivers him to the mohel) you are unlikely to see much anyway. If blood bothers you, don’t look.
6. DOES IT HURT THE BABY? At most of the brissim I have attended, if the baby cried, it was when his diaper was removed (cold air). An experienced mohel will do the circumcision as painlessly as possible. Most modern mohelim use a local anesthetic.
7. PRESENTS? It is not customary to give a present at a bris. However, if you wish to take a baby gift or something for the parents, it is OK to do so. “Gag gifts” such as one might have at a baby shower are in poor taste, however; this is a serious religious ritual.
8. GREETINGS “Mazal tov!” A bris is one of the happiest occasions in Jewish life, when the covenant moves to the next generation.
9. NAMING A Jewish boy receives his name at the bris. Many parents do not call him by name until after the bris; before that he is simply “Baby Lastname.” If you ask about the name and they are cagey about it, that’s what’s going on – go to the bris and you will learn the name when everyone else does.