Bris cheat sheet for jittery goys

Invited to your first bris? Here's what you need to know.

City bris

Illustration: Kim Rosen

To the uninitiated, hosting a brunch so that everyone can see someone take a sharp object to your newborn’s genitals can seem odd, if not alarming. But let us explain:

What it is
A bris, or Brit Milah—the Jewish rite of circumcision—is both a simcha (celebration) and a mitzvah (holy obligation). It’s a father’s duty to have his son circumcised on the eighth day of life, in a ritual meant to be celebrated before family and friends to reaffirm the covenant made between Abraham and God. A mohel (pronounced “MOY-uhl”) or mohelet (a female mohel, pronounced “moh-he-LET”) is an expert in the laws and customs of Brit Milah and is technically qualified to perform the bris.

What to expect
The entire ceremony lasts approximately ten minutes and includes Hebrew prayers and blessings (generally explained in English), the circumcision and the naming of the child, followed by a festive meal. The actual circumcision takes less than a minute; many mohels will announce when the deed is about to take place, giving people the option to look away. (Note: It’s not that gory and you don’t see much.) Five people, usually including grandparents, perform honorary roles, carrying the baby and holding him before and after he is cut. Afterward, his Hebrew name is announced and more blessings are recited. Then the party begins.

What to do
While hearing the baby cry may make you uncomfortable, know that mohels are well trained in this procedure, and the baby is surrounded by people who love him. Remember, too, that it’s a religious ceremony, not just a medical procedure. So keep quiet and stay in the moment.

What to wear
Since a bris will often take place on a weekday morning, work attire is appropriate. Otherwise, choose clothes suitable for any family party—festive but not suggestive.

What to give
Many Jewish families uphold a tradition of “no presents before the baby is born,” which means the birth and bris open the floodgates for gifts—receiving blankets, baby outfits, what have you.

What to say
If you found the ceremony meaningful, be sure to tell the mohel. And, of course, a “Mazel tov!” (Congratulations!) to the proud parents, grandparents and any great-grandparents is a must.

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