Your Baby’s Bris
About the Ceremony and What You Will Need
This page describes your baby’s Berit Mila ceremony (“Bris“) – how to prepare, how the ceremony will go, and what to expect afterwards.
AHEAD OF TIME
To prepare for your simcha (happy occasion), you will only need to do a few things.
The first is a conversation with me! If you’re calling before your baby is born, I’ll make sure all your questions are answered, and I’ll email detailed information to you. When we speak after your little boy has arrived, we’ll set the date and time for the ceremony, and you’ll let me know the Hebrew name you’ve chosen for your son. (If you need help with this, I’ll consult my “Complete Dictionary of English and Hebrew First Names” by Kolatch!). We’ll go over a few roles in the ceremony with which you may, if you wish, honor various friends and family members.
Next, you’ll need to get just a few supplies to care for your baby after the Bris: (1) petrolatum jelly, (2) small (3×3 or 4×4) gauze sponges, and (3) plain acetominophen (Tylenol) infant drops. For the ceremony, you can provide as many items as you would like which add meaning and beauty to your baby’s ceremony. These can include special clothing for baby, framed photographs of loved one’s who are unable to attend or who have died, special Kiddush cups – any special item you’d like to have there we can work it in!
For the ceremony, you will need some kosher wine, an uncut challah, and two special chairs set aside, one for the sandak and one which will be the honorary chair of Elijah. The prophet Elijah is at every Passover Seder and at every Bris, always bearing witness to the continuity of the Jewish people. The sandak is the highest honor you can bestow at a Bris; this is the person on whose lap I will place the baby (on the board) for the circumcision. (If he or she prefers, the sandak can sit close to a table on which the baby can be placed.)
Lastly, for baby himself you will only need to time his feeding so he is neither very hungry nor has a full tummy. I usually suggest that he finish a feeding about an hour before the scheduled time of the Bris. (I understand that this may be a bit of a challenge with a newborn, so you can only do your best to aim for it!) Also, I prefer that he wear a “baggie” style outfit, i.e. open at the bottom (like a dress with an elastic in the hem). This helps me get your baby to your arms quickly, as soon as the circumcision is done.
Your baby’s Bris ceremony consists of three main parts. The first part is the circumcision, the second is his naming, and the third contains various prayers to God.
I perform the circumcision with the Gomco clamp. There are several other clamps one can use, and each is safe in the hands of an experienced user. I prefer the Gomco clamp because it has a bell-shaped piece which goes over the head of your baby’s penis. This does two things: (1) the foreskin is brought up around the bell, and the cut is against the metal, guaranteeing that the penis cannot be hurt, and (2) the cut is circular, giving a really nice-looking end result.
I use a plastic board, on which your baby will lie with only his legs secured with soft foam-rubber straps. It is not necessary to secure his arms; he can suck his fist or have his hands held by a loved one. Your baby’s comfort will be helped by soft blankets on the board.
I use several forms of pain-relief for your baby: First, I’ll have him suck on a gauze with concentrated sugar-water mixed with a very small amount of wine (I call this a baby sangria). Then, I place local anesthetic into the foreskin where the cut will be. Either before or just after the Bris, he can get a half-dropperful of the infant acetominophen drops.
Now the circumcision is done and everyone can breathe easier!
THE BABY NAMING
Now that your son has his Jewish physical identity, he will receive his Jewish spiritual identity, his Hebrew name. A kiddush blessing over the wine begins this part of the ceremony. A name is a beautiful and meaningful gift to your son, and you will have the opportunity during the ceremony to let your family and friends know what went into your choice of names. As I mentioned earlier, I am happy to help with the name-choosing, and can verify correct Hebrew spellings for you.
This is a beautiful section of prayers in which we ask God for refua shlemah – complete healing – mainly for the baby, but we include the mother as well. The priestly blessings that we say to our children every shabbat are said at this point. Then we thank God for enabling us to reach this joyous occasion. Finally, we break bread and say the HaMotzi, and the se’udat mitzvah (celebratory meal) can begin (this can be as simple or elaborate as you wish).
At this joyful moment most of those present experience great relief, and may sing the traditional song Siman Tov and Mazel Tov!
AFTER THE BRIS
A little while after the ceremony is done, I meet with the parents in a private place and give instructions both verbally and on a written sheet for post-circumcision care of your baby. I then check your baby’s penis and make sure there is no unusual bleeding, and show you how things look. We’ll go over what to expect over the course of baby’s healing, and what his follow-up care will be.