Planning a Brit Milah (Bris)

What to do besides calling the mohel.

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Congratulations, it's a boy! Now you have eight days to plan a brit milah. 

Actually, this is not as hard as it sounds. The mohel you choose will tell you almost everything you need to know. Today you can even find one over the Internet--indeed, you can learn enough about planning a brit from the websites of various mohalim that by the time your research is done you'll be ready to everything but the actual cutting.

The brit milah is held on the eighth day of the baby's life, and is frequently held in the morning. The Jewish day begins in the evening of the previous day. For example, if your son was born late Tuesday night, his brit will be schedule for the Wednesday of the following week.

planning a brisA brit milah is one of those rare Jewish life cycle rituals that can, in fact, on occasion, must, be performed on a Shabbat or festival, even Yom Kippur; eight days is eight days. However, if the brit milah needs to be postponed because of the baby's health, the rescheduled event cannot take place on a Shabbat or festival. If it cannot happen on the eighth day, the timing is no longer considered sufficiently imperative to risk the violations of traditional Shabbat practices that could potentially be involved.

The mohel will examine the baby to certify that he is healthy enough to undergo the procedure (unless a doctor has decided he is not). If he isn't, it will be postponed to a later date. As usual in matters of physical health, Judaism takes a cautious approach, and mohalim are generally more strict on this issue than doctors.

Perhaps the first decision you have to make is where to hold the ceremony. There is ample precedent for having a brit milah in the synagogue, in the context of daily morning services, if you so choose. The main argument against using the synagogue rather than your home is that it involves unnecessarily moving the baby around, which may be unsettling for a newborn (and more work for you!). If your home is large enough, you may choose to host it there. The mohel can even do the circumcision in the hospital on the eighth day, should there be health considerations that aren't serious enough to postpone the circumcision altogether but which would be helped by this setting.

Finding a mohel is both easier and more complicated than it was, say, a century ago. Back then, you would have used the local mohel without too much thought. Today, your options are considerably expanded, with mohalim available from all the major streams of Judaism, including an ever-growing number of MDs who are also trained as mohalim. Your local rabbi and Jewish friends who have had boys can recommend a mohel to you. The Internet can also jumpstart your search with listings of mohalim in your area or nationally. The Reform movement has become much more active in promoting brit milah as a ritual observance and maintains a directory of Reform mohaliml/ot.

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George Robinson

George Robinson, author of Essential Judaism, is the recipient of a Simon Rockower Award for excellence in Jewish journalism from the American Jewish Press Association. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsday, Jewish Week, and The Detroit Jewish News.