Bris Milah or Bris Bat?
Mazel Tov! You’re having a boy! Whether you find out that you are having a son beforehand or on that big day, Jewish parents look forward not only to welcoming their son into the world, but also to the Jewish convenant. The Jewish son will have a ‘bris’ (also known as a bris milah, brit or brit milah). The bris bonds your son to thousands of years of tradition, in the the presence of family and friends.
Mazel Tov! You’re having a girl! Don’t we also want to welcome our daughter to the Jewish convenant? Isn’t there a celebration of her birth?
Lucy Eisenstein Waldman, a mohelet (female mohel), explains how Jewish parents celebrate the birth of their son or daughter.
“The bris” Lucy states, “bonds your baby (boy or girl) to thousands of years of tradition, in the presence of family and friends. The Hebrew word bris, or brit, translates to covenant or agreement.” On the eighth day of a son’s life, the Jewish parents ‘agree’ to do a medical procedure, commonly known as a circumcision. The circumcision is performed by a mohel incorporating certain Jewish traditions and blessings and often followed with a celebratory meal. Mohels and Mohelets receive special training and certification to perform a bris and may be rabbis, cantors, medical doctors, or midwives.
Lucy goes on to explain that “daughters are welcomed into Jewish traditions with a ceremony called a bris bat, also known as a simchat bat. Simchat bat translates from Hebrew into the ‘joy of a daughter’. In both ceremonies, families and friends are invited to connect with your new baby and an almost six thousand year old history of Judaism.”
Finding a Mohel
SInce the ceremony for the son is almost always performed eight days after the birth, Lucy recommends finding and interviewing the mohel before your child is born – even if you do not know whether you are having a boy or a girl. She notes, “ You should choose a mohel with whom you are comfortable. Once your son is born, time to plan is limited since our tradition is to have the brit milah on your baby’s eighth day of life.
Lucy shares some questions to ask so your mohel (or mohelet) can tailor your ceremony to your needs.
- Evaluate the mohel’s experience, and certification requirements (medical or religious background only). If you are an interfaith couple, check to be sure he, or she, is comfortable working with an Interfaith family.
- Don’t hesitate to ask specifics about the circumcision. Does your mohel use a type of anesthesia, and if so, what is it? Which circumcision tools does he or she use, and are they sterilized in an autoclave?
With a newborn daughter, you are not bound by strict Judaic law. A bris bat ceremony can be held on the baby’s eighth day, but it can also be held at a later time. The ceremony can be performed by the parents, a rabbi, cantor or mohel.
The Bris Milah, Bris Bat and Jewish Baby Naming Ceremony
Lucy describes the bris milah as well as bris bat ceremony. “Similar to a bris milah, the baby girl is welcomed into the room with the same words as a boy, “Blessed is He/She” and placed in a ceremonial chair, on which Elijah, the prophet who protects us and our children, also sits. Your mohel might have a ceremonial dressing for this special Elijah throne. From the lap of Elijah, a boy baby is placed onto a soft pillow and is readied for circumcision. By the same token, a girl baby is placed on a pillow and wrapped in a prayer shawl, or talit. Then, your baby is blessed with requests and hopes for a life of knowledge, the joys of sacred relationship (ie; marriage) and a life filled with good deeds.”
Oftentimes, family members are honored by having the baby named after them. Ashkenzi Jews traditionally name their children after departed relatives; however it is not uncommon that Sephardic Jews will name their children after parents or grandparents who are still living. The child will often have both an English and a Hebrew name. During the ceremony, your mohel will incorporate the story behind the child’s naming into the ceremony. Since this is a joyous occasion, celebrated with family and friends, parents sometimes extend honors by inviting a few guests (family or friends) to share in some of the readings of blessings and prayers. The choice is yours. Lucy assures, “Your ceremony can be as broadly inclusive as you might like, or you may choose to keep things simple. This is your decision, and your mohel can help by providing ideas like a special candle-lighting and readings for your loved ones.”
The venue choices for a bris milah or a bris bat are broad. My son’s bris was in our home; but I have attended many in synagogues, restaurants and community centers. You should just make sure that the venue will accommodate your guests (seated at tables) and that there will be an area designated for the ceremony which will also allow for guests to congregate around the ceremony area.
To add to the festivities and add even more special meaning to the celebration, you may want to include your wedding kiddush cup or one that is a family heirloom. Some families prefer to buy one especially for the ceremony. Though it is not mandatory, many include a challah and kosher wine for the blessings before the meal. Yes – a meal – What is a Jewish celebration without a celebratory meal! If you are holding the bris in a synagogue or Jewish Community Center, check with the rabbi or executive staff for recommended or preferred kosher caterers. If you are having the bris in your home or a restaurant, be sensitive to the kosher observances of your guests and plan your meal accordingly. Your child has been welcomed into the Jewish community and traditions and can now be called by his/her given name.
At the end of the ceremony, (hopefully the baby is back asleep!), and the last piece of cake is eaten (or saved for later on!), you will receive a bris certificate with the date of birth, date of the ceremony and the names of the parents, your baby, and honorees. Many Judaica artists also create custom art pieces of blessings for a boy and blessings for a girl as well as bris certificates which can also be framed and given as beautiful and commemorative gifts to the couple.
Special thanks to Lucy E. Waldman, Certified Mohel, Certified Nurse Midwife for providing her insight into these special traditions.
- 5 Tips for an Amazing Bris or Baby Naming Celebration
- Bris & Jewish Baby Naming Budget Manager
- Questions For the Mohel or Mohelet of Your Son’s Bris