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About the Bris

The Bris milah is a religious ceremony within Judaism which welcomes infant Jewish boys into a covenant between God and the Children of Israel through ritual circumcision performed by a mohel ("circumciser"). The word Bris means "covenant" and the word Milah means "circumcision". This happens on the eighth day of the child's life in the presence of family and friends, and is followed by a festive meal.

Customs & Practices
The following is a summary of the various customs surrounding the Bris. Visit to learn about these practices in more detail.

The Shalom Zachar
It is a Jewish custom that on the first Friday evening after the birth of the child, we conduct a shalom zachar, during which we welcome the child to the world. The shalom zachar is held at that time, even in a case when the Bris had been postponed. At this "party" it is customary to serve chickpeas, wine and cake. Those who attend (usually, after they finish their meals at home), give blessings to the child and his parents.

"Vach Nacht"
The night before the Bris, it is customary for the father of the child to remain awake the entire night and to recite special passages from the kabbalah and Psalms. This custom to stay awake is called "Vach Nacht" (Yiddish for "awake night"). The purpose of staying awake is to guard the baby from forces that seek to disrupt the observance of this important mitzvah. Small children are invited to recite the "Shema" at the baby's bedside.

It is appropriate to keep some light on in the child's room throughout the night.

It is also customary for the father, the Mohel, and the Sandek (the person who holds the infant during the circumcision) to immerse in a Mikvah (ritual bath) on the morning of the Bris.

The Proper Time
The day on which the brit is to take place is a very festive occasion. It is mandatory that the brit take place during the daytime, and preferably in the early morning hours. If having the Bris in the afternoon will result in a larger attendance, it is preferable to wait and have it done in the afternoon, as this adds in the joy of the mitzvah. For this reason, it is preferred to have the ritual circumcision in the synagogue following the morning prayers.

A Bris may be carried out on Shabbat or even on Yom Kippur, providing that that is the eighth day from birth. If, however, the Bris had to be postponed (due to medical reasons such as jaundice or sickness), then it cannot be done on Shabbat or Jewish holidays. In addition, a baby that was delivered through an unnatural birth (such as a Caesarian section) has its Bris done on the eighth day from birth, providing that it is not a Shabbat or Yom Tov.

The Mohel and the Sandek
The person who performs the Bris is called a "Mohel." The mohel is required to study Jewish law, be familiar with the ancient traditions included in the circumcision ceremony, and must have expertise in the surgical process.

He undergoes intense training, learning the latest hygienic and medical techniques needed for the circumcision. He also receives instruction for evaluating the infant prior to the circumcision, and for providing post-procedural care. All this is done under the close supervision of a veteran expert Mohel.

The Sandek is the person given the honor of holding the child throughout the Bris. The Sandek should be a pious person. Our Sages teach that the good qualities possessed by the Sandek are passed over to the baby. For this reason the honor should be given to someone whose thoughts are pure and who is worthy to sit next to Elijah the prophet.

One does not give the honor of being Sandek to the same person for two of their children, so that this merit can be granted to two different individuals. Many observe the custom that the two grandfathers are given the honor of Sandek for the first two children.

After the Sandek sits down, his hands are sanitized with alcohol. He is shown by the mohel, how to sit, and is instructed to refrain from any movement during the circumcision.

The Messengers - Kvatters
The mother brings the newborn baby to the room where the circumcision will be performed.

Then, a designated female and male serve as messengers to bring the baby from the mother's arms to the side of the room where the circumcision will be performed. These messengers are called kvatters.

The kvatters are usually a husband-and-wife team. However, they may also be a daughter and father, a mother and son or a sister and brother. Many give this honor to a childless couple. It is considered a blessing for the childless couple, that in the merit of being the parents' messengers, they will be blessed with a child of their own. Many have the custom that a pregnant woman should not be the messenger.

The mother hands her baby to the female messenger, who is dressed in her finest clothing. She in turn hands him over to the male messenger, who, wearing his tallit, prayer shawl, carries the child and hands him to a designated individual whose honor it is to place the infant on the Chair of Elijah.

When the child is brought in to the area in which the Bris will take place, all present should rise and remain standing throughout the duration of the Bris. Only the Sandek will remain sitting throughout the Bris, while holding the infant on his lap.

When the circumcision is complete, the kvatters return the infant to his mother in the same manner.

Elijah's Chair
A special chair is prepared at every Bris in honor of Eliyohu HaNavi, Elijah the Prophet, which is located to the right of the Sandek. One of the attendees is given the honor of placing the baby on the chair of Elijah as the mohel chants, "This is the seat of Elijah…" The mohel also asks that Elijah stand to his right and protect him, so nothing will go wrong during the circumcision. The father then lifts the child and places it in the lap of the Sandek.

The Bris Ceremony
The father of the infant stands next to the mohel. The father picks up the surgical knife and hands it to the mohel, stating that he appoints the mohel as his messenger to perform the circumcision. The mohel recites the blessing, "Blessed are You, L?rd our G?d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning circumcision."

Then he begins the circumcision.

The father recites the blessing, "Blessed are You, L rd our G d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to enter him into the Covenant of Abraham our father."

Those present respond, "Just as he has entered into the Covenant, so may he enter into Torah, into marriage, and into good deeds."

Following the Bris procedure the Mohel applies some medical ointments to promote healing.

The Issue of Pain during Circumcision
As far as pain is concerned, Jewish law does not permit the use of a Gomco clamp or the like (tools used in most hospitals) being that it is too traumatic, as it crushes all of the flesh and veins in the area. A mohel, on the other hand, uses much simpler instruments. Some use no other tool than the knife used for the actual cutting of the skin! The mohel's method is the least painful and the most skillful as it is done with an extremely sharp knife and takes less than half a minute to complete.

Naming the Baby
Once the Bris is finished, certain blessings are r ecited and the official naming of the baby takes place. The blessings are recited over a cup of wine, and twice during the naming, the mohel will dip his pinky into the wine, and place tiny drops in the baby's mouth.

We do not name the child before the Bris, being that the Divine soul begins to shine its light only from the moment of the Bris when the body and soul are fully united. Therefore, since the Jewish name is connected to the soul, the Bris is the most appropriate time to give the child his Jewish name.

Ceremony following the Bris
After the Bris is completed, the food is served. This meal is called a Seudas Mitzvah, a meal honoring a Divine commandment, and everybody should, therefore, wash appropriately for the consumption of bread and partake of the meal. If the circumcision is performed on a fast day, the meal is put off until the evening when the fast is broken.

After the meal, the participants recite a special series of prayers, including a prayer asking that as a reward for properly fulfilling the mitzvah of circumcision, we should merit to speedily see the coming of the Messiah and the end of human strife.

The Pidyon Haben
Another interesting Jewish ceremony is that of "Pidyon HaBen". The Torah tells us that all firstborn sons that "open the mother's womb", belong to the Kohen, or High Priest. It is, therefore, our obligation to redeem our firstborn sons from the Kohen on the 31st day of the boy's life. This ceremony should take place on its appropriate day, unless the 31st day happens to be Shabbat or a Jewish holiday, in which case it should be postponed until the following day.

Pidyon HaBen applies only to males who are firstborn; that is, there were no previous miscarriages. In addition, the child must be born naturally, and not through any unnatural methods such as a C-section. If the mother is a daughter of a Kohen or a Levite, or if the father is a Kohen or a Levite, the child does not have to be redeemed. If a grown man was not yet redeemed by his father, he should then redeem himself from a Kohen.


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