Planning a Brit Milah (Bris)

What to do besides calling the mohel.

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Given this wealth of choices, it is important to know what questions to ask before you select a mohel. While you may simply choose a qualified and skilled mohel on the basis of recommendations (many people do), you may well want to ask him or her many of these questions for your own knowledge. Some of the issues are self-evident, but not all:

-How many years have you been a mohel (et)? Do you do this on a full- or part-time basis? How often do you perform brit milah? How many have you performed overall?

-What is your background and training? In addition to being a mohel/et, are you a rabbi, physician, or nurse practitioner? Do you have a current medical license and board certification? In what medical specialty? Are you a member of a national body representing mohalim?

-How do you sterilize your instruments? Do you use anesthesia? If so, what type do you recommend? What technique do you use to perform the circumcision? Do you do a "prep" on the baby? If so, what does it entail? Is the baby restrained on a board during the ceremony?

-(If appropriate:) Can you integrate the needs of an interfaith couple? Are you comfortable with a role for both men and women in the ceremony? What part can non-Jews play in the event? Can you describe the ceremony briefly?

-What is your fee structure? What is your usual territory? Would you consider traveling outside that area?

-Do you have a list of references that I may contact?

Now that you've found a mohel, you also have someone who can answer many of your questions about preparing your house or synagogue for the brit milah. If you are planning to have many guests, the mohel may be able to suggest a caterer, a photographer, and even a Jewish calligrapher who can do a certificate commemorating the event.

Every mohel(et) has his/her own requirements and guidelines for what happens during the ceremony and it would be wise to be guided by them, but certain elements are standard.

A minyan is customary but is not necessary for a brit milah. The mohel can, if need be, perform the rite with only the presence of the father and the sandek(et), the person (usually a grandparent) who holds the baby while the circumcision is performed. You may want to have a kvatter and/or kvatterin, the loose Jewish counterpart to godparents, who carry the baby in. Of course, you can invite as many or as few people as you want (although you won't have much time to contact them, so e-mail, phone calls, and word of mouth are usually the way to go). Traditionally, people are not technically "invited" to a bris, because attending is considered a mitzvah, but are simply notified of the event and encouraged to attend.

The brit milah is a cause for celebration and should be treated that way. You may want to decorate the house or synagogue with flowers or candles. While you will probably want to provide a festive table of food for your guests (the meal after a brit milahis considered a seudat mitzvah, a meal with sacred status), at a minimum you will need a loaf of challah or other bread (or two if it is Shabbat or a holiday), kosher wine, and a kiddush cup. You may want to provide kippot (head coverings) for those who wish to wear them.

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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.