Jewish Circumcision for the Interfaith Family
The decision whether to have a bris is an obvious choice for Jewish couples. However, for the interfaith couple this is a much more challenging dilemma. Many non-Jews hadn’t even entertained the thought of having their sons circumcised since others in their family had never been so before. The non-Jewish partner may even have some concerns regarding the need for circumcision at all. There may also be unease with the cleanliness of the home as a setting for circumcision, rather than the supposed sterility of the hospital. However, the infection rate is well under .1% at home – and there is no potential for a hospital-acquired infection!
The monumental decree by the Reform Movement allowing patrilineal descent has opened up the doors for scores of interfaith couples. According to Reform Judaism, if either parent is Jewish (and also agree to raise their baby to be Jewish) then this child would be considered Jewish.
The Interfaith Mohel
The decision to have a bris establishes the potential opportunity for your son to be a full member of the Jewish community. That does not mean that your son cannot be exposed to his non-Jewish grandparents’ customs and traditions. However, taking part in two different cultures may be somewhat challenging when bringing up your son as a Jew, yet, through teaching acceptance and recognition of differences your son will be able to form a Jewish identity.
A Mohel who is experienced in working with interfaith couples must understand all these nuances. The bris must also be conducted in the most sensitive and respectful manner that regards the backgrounds of both extended families. It should permit both sides of the family to feel comfortable and involved. This doesn’t mean that the ceremony should be altered in any way, yet should be flexible with adjustments explaining the ritual in English, and allowing others in attendance to share in the varying honors.
Bris Ceremony Honors
One honor, the person/people carrying the baby into the room initially (the Kvatter/Kvatterin) may be of any religion. Another honor is holding the baby during the bris (the Sandek /the guardian.) The Sandek should be Jewish, however, those surrounding the baby during the actual circumcision can be of any religion. People from various religions can perform additional readings that are also honors. In my experience, the more involvement by both sides of the family, the more comfortable the bris experience has been.
Hebrew Baby Naming
The bris is a beautiful and spiritually enriching ceremony. It consists of the explanation of the origin and purpose of the Brit Milah (Genesis 17:1) as well as prayers before and after the circumcision. Additionally the baby will receive his Hebrew name, and frequently I will even get requests to assist in offering suggestions of translations into Hebrew names. I encourage the new parents to say of few words about the person whom the baby is named after. I also welcome family members to recite personal statements, correspondences, poems or various readings that may be quite significant. All these things make for a welcoming and satisfying experience.
In summary, the Mohel should be respectful and inclusive in his or her approach. This should be done in appreciation of the possible obstacles that you have been facing culminating in this event. It should transcend the experience from being a foreign ritual to being a spiritually rewarding and wonderful ceremony.
Dr. Jeffrey Mazlin, a New York Mohel and Physician, is very well known for his sense of warmth, sensitivity and caring. As a Mohel and as an Obstetrician/Gynecologist, Dr. Mazlin has performed several thousand circumcisions, including brises, for over twenty-five years. He is listed in New York Magazine on a short list of Mohels that are highly recommended by synagogues, Jewish community organizations, and parents.
He is available in New York City and Vicinity.
www.NYMohelMD.com NY (646) 558-9558 NJ (201) 344-7606
We would like to thank Dr. Jeffrey Mazlin for writing this article and sharing his expertise and advice with mazelmoments.
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