What is A Bris?

BRIS MILAH: THE COVENANT

Bris Milah, ritual circumcision, is one of the most fundamental precepts of the Jewish religion. It is referred to in the Torah as the covenant of Abraham, since our forefather Abraham was the first to receive the commandment concerning circumcision from G-d. “And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations” (Genesis 17:12). More than any other Jewish ritual, Bris Milah is an expression of Jewish identity. Its fulfillment symbolizes an affirmation of faith in Abraham’s ancient, and still vibrant, covenant with G-d. Through ritual circumcision, parents create with their precious child yet another link in the continuing chain of our people that has proudly survived the challenges to its physical and spiritual existence for thousands of years.

 

THE MOHEL

Traditionally, the parents engage a mohel (pronounced: moy-el) to perform the Bris. A mohel is a person who is specially trained in the medical and surgical techniques of circumcision. In addition to being an expert in his field, the mohel is also an expert in the Jewish laws pertaining to Bris Milah. A doctor’s medical circumcision, usually performed in the hospital within the first few days after birth, does not fulfill the requirements of a Bris Milah and is not considered valid according to Jewish law. The Bris must be performed by a Jewish person who understands, upholds and practices the tenets of the Jewish religion and is specially trained to function as a mohel.

THE BABY

The Bris of a healthy baby is done on the eighth day of life (counting the day of birth). This is so even if the eighth day falls on Shabbos, Yom Kippur or any other Jewish festival. However, in the case of a baby born by Caesarean section, the Bris is not performed on Shabbos or on a festival, but on the day following. Bris Milah may not be performed before the eighth day or at night. In the event that a baby is not in perfect health — even if not seriously ill — the Bris is delayed until both the doctor and the mohel are in agreement as to the healthy status of the baby. A common example of this situation is newborn jaundice. However, in the case of serious illness, a delay of one week following full recovery is required.

 

THE BRIS CEREMONY

The Bris (or brit) ceremony is a very special occasion and is accompanied by much happiness and rejoicing. The ceremony usually takes place at home, in a synagogue or at a catering hall. There are several honors to be conferred during the ceremony, usually bestowed upon the relatives and close friends of the baby’s family. A brief description of the ceremony is as follows: A couple enters with the baby and the baby is placed on a chair designated as the Chair of Elijah. The baby is then placed upon the lap of the Sandek (most often a grandfather) who holds the baby during the circumcision procedure. After the appropriate blessing is recited, the circumcision is performed by the mohel. Immediately following the Bris, another blessing is said over a cup of wine, and the baby receives his official Hebrew name, which he will proudly carry throughout his life. The newborn child is often named after departed relatives, a symbolic source of continued life for those no longer with us. The ceremony ends with the resounding wish of “Mazel Tov!” followed by the serving of refreshments or a light meal which includes bread and wine.

WHAT IS A COVENANT

The English word “covenant” comes from the Latin “con venire” which means coming together. A covenant is when two or more persons come together to make a contractual agreement.  For example, in a real estate contract the two parties come together to buy and sell a home. There are important and necessary ingredients such as commitment and consideration that are part of the contract. However, in almost all cases the contract will not be binding without the SIGNATURES of both parties. It is precisely the same with the bris milah or covenant of the ritual circumcision.  When a baby is born the parents witness the awesome and special miracle of life and miracle of birth otherwise known as GOD’S SIGNATURE on his side of the contract. When the baby undergoes the bris commandment he is essentially placing his INDELIBLE SIGNATURE so to speak on his side of the contract thus forging a very special relationship that he will proudly carry throughout his lifetime. A covenant usually includes commitments and responsibilities. Covenants are intended to be very personal, lifelong and irrevocable.

 

A JOYOUS BEGINNING

The Bris ceremony is a very special occasion and is accompanied by much happiness and rejoicing. The ceremony usually takes place at home, in a synagogue or at a catering hall. There are several honors to be conferred during the ceremony, usually bestowed upon the relatives and close friends of the baby’s family. A brief description of the ceremony is as follows: A couple enters with the baby and the baby is placed on a chair designated as the Chair of Elijah. The baby is then placed upon the lap of the Sandek (most often a grandfather) who holds the baby during the circumcision procedure. After the appropriate blessing is recited, the circumcision is performed by the mohel. Immediately following the Bris, another blessing is said over a cup of wine, and the baby receives his official Hebrew name, which he will proudly carry throughout his life. The newborn child is often named after departed relatives, a symbolic source of continued life for those no longer with us. The ceremony ends with the resounding wish of “Mazel Tov!” followed by the serving of refreshments or a light meal.

 

“WE THANK YOU, G-D, FOR THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF NEW LIFE AND FOR THE BLESSING OF PARENTHOOD WHICH ALLOWS US TO SHARE IN THE MIRACLE OF CREATION. PLEASE GRANT OUR CHILD A LONG, HEALTHY LIFE FILLED WITH HAPPINESS, THAT HE MAY PURSUE THE PATH OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, TRUTH, HUMILITY AND LOVE FOR ALL. AS WE CELEBRATE OUR SON’S BRIS TODAY, WE DEDICATE OURSELVES TO PROVIDE ALL THAT HE WILL NEED TO GROW IN THE TRADITIONS OF TORAH AND JEWISH VALUES, TO ENTER INTO MARRIAGE AS A CARING HUMAN BEING, AND TO BECOME A COMPASSIONATE PERSON WITH A DEEP CONCERN FOR FAMILY AND COMMUNITY.”

Testimonials

"During nursing school, I observed dozens of circumcisions and Rabbi Rappaport's procedure on our son was the most relaxed and least traumatic one I have ever seen."

Amber Zukas & Brad Cawthern

NP (John's Hopkins Hospital)

"I am happy to recommend Rabbi Avraham Rappaport with whom I have worked jointly with performing complex ritual and non-ritual circumcisions. I am impressed with his professionalism, technical abilities and rabbinic expertise."

Julian Jakobovits, M.D.

Assistant Professor of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Hospital and University School of Medicine

“Rabbi Rappaport brought great kindness and warmth to the bris he conducted for our son, Reuben, and the naming ceremony of Reuben’s twin sister, Anabel.  The Rabbi’s words contained both wisdom and humor–necessities if you’re embarking upon a journey with twins–and we believe that both children received the best of sendoffs to a rich, happy Jewish life.  We’re very lucky that Rabbi Rappaport with his expertise was there to help share in our simchas.”

Sarah and Howard Ockman,

Martinsburg, WV

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