About Brit Milah
The Commandment to Circumcise
The Torah teaches us "God ... said to Abraham, “As for you, you and your offspring to come throughout the ages shall keep My covenant. Such shall be the covenant between Me and you and your offspring to follow which you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And throughout the generations, every male among you shall be circumcised at the age of eight days." (Genesis 17:9-12, JPS Translation)
The Jewish commandment (mitzvah) to circumcise is known as Brit Milah (the Covenant of Circumcision), and traditionally occurs on the eighth day if the baby is healthy, or as soon as they are healthy enough to have a Brit / Bris. Brit for a baby delivered by Cesarian section does not occur on Shabbat (Saturday) or Jewish festivals.
The ceremony consists of two parts: first is the circumcision (a surgical procedure) with blessings; second is the naming ceremony. As a certified Mohel, I can conduct both parts, or co-officiate with your Rabbi. For the ceremony, I use the traditional liturgy, including blessings in both Hebrew and English. Your Rabbi or I will lead the Baby Naming portion of the ceremony, including prayers in Hebrew and readings in English which may be read by parents or grandparents.
It is extremely important to me that both the family and the baby are comfortable during the ceremony, which is usually performed in a semi-circle in the living room, if at the home. When it comes time for the actual circumcision, those who are interested can watch closely while others stand quietly in the back of the room.
As a licensed physician, I use a local anesthetic prior to the circumcision to make the procedure as painless as possible for the infant. Another effort to insure the infant’s comfort is that the baby is not strapped to a board, but rather the Sandak holds the infant steady on a pillow. Traditional sweet wine is also placed upon the baby’s lips to further his comfort.
Once the circumcision is completed, we'll do the Baby naming, where your family has the opportunity to tell about the background leading to their son’s names, if desired. I will give you a certificate to document the brit / bris, with the baby’s names in Hebrew and English.
Honors at a Brit / Bris
- Jewish Baby Boy - eight days old
- Parents – Beaming and surrounded by family
- Someone to carry the baby into the room - Baby is carried into the room at the start of the ceremony. This honor is often given to a grandparent, aunt or uncle.
- Sandek – the person who holds the baby during the actual circumcision. This can be any Jewish man or woman. They need to be comfortable with minor surgery being performed in front of their eyes.
- Grandparents or other guests May be given an English reading
Choosing a Hebrew Name
Among Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of Eastern European Descent), a baby is often named after a deceased relative who the parents wish to honor. Sometimes families use the name in full while other families keep the first letter is used and a more modern name is chosen. In many cases, two relatives are honored -- one with the first name and the second with the middle name.
Among Sepahardic Jews (Jews from France, Morocco, Spain, Greece and some Arab Countries), it is more common to name the baby after a living relative, such as a grandparent.
In Israel today, many's custom is to pick a unique name for the baby. It may be based on the parents' wishes for the baby, the season the baby is born in, etc.
Many good sites exist to assist in selection of Hebrew names, including:
- babynames.com List of names of Hebrew origin (select Search and 'Hebrew' origin)
- my-hebrew-name.com Helps suggest Hebrew alternatives to English names.
In addition, there are a few books available, although they often include names fallen out of use (check the BJE library at the JCC):