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Jewish parents who are having a bris (or brit milah) for their 8-day-old son, may find the ritual a difficult one to explain–even to other adults. It is not always easy to defend a practice that requires removing a part of the foreskin from a newborn boy’s penis.
How then should parents begin a conversation about this covenantal rite of passage with their older children?
While there is no one right way to have a discussion about a bris, not preparing children at all may leave them confused about a very important yet challenging ritual. Because the first eight days of a newborn’s life are hectic and overwhelming, expectant parents should think about how to have this conversation with their older kids before the baby is born.
It’s helpful to reflect and strategize around two distinct stages, the preparation for the bris and the bris itself.
What’s it all about?
Before considering how you talk about the meaning of a bris to kids, articulate what meaning it holds for you and your partner. Is it a religious rite of passage? A divine command? An ethnic tradition? A cultural norm?
Of course, you and your partner might not have the same answer. That’s okay; Jewish tradition is strong enough to survive (and even thrive on) multiple interpretations. Communicating a “both/and” approach as opposed to an “either/or” one will be helpful for your child–for example, saying, “We are having a bris for our son both because God told us to do so in the Torah and because it is an important part of what makes us Jewish.”
Once you identify your own reasons for having a brit milah, you’ll be able to convey them more clearly to your children. And if you feel like you don’t have an answer, this can be an opportunity for your children to learn that adults don’t always know everything. You can do some research together as a family.
Make space for questions.
Create an open atmosphere that gives children the chance to ask questions. Listen carefully to really hear what they are asking. If they ask questions like, “Will the baby cry a lot?” they might be concerned the procedure will hurt the baby. Assure them that the doctor or mohel is very competent and that the cloth drenched in wine that the baby sucks (or the anesthetic applied) numbs any pain the baby might feel. If your daughter asks, “Did I have a bris too?” she may be wondering whether she also had a special celebration. Assure her that her birth was just as special and remind her of the celebrations you had.
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