The Hebrew word Brit means Covenant. Brit Milah, Covenant of Circumcision, also called a Bris is a Jewish religious ritual that formally welcomes a boy into the relationship with God and Jewish people.
The Bris ceremony takes place on the 8th day following the birth of a baby boy; and is usually a combination of Circumcision and baby naming ceremony. There may be times when parents choose to have the circumcision take place at the hospital immediately or when it is not medically possible to perform the circumcision as early as eight days after birth. In those instances, the parents may give their son a Hebrew name in a Baby Naming Ceremony.
Circumcision is a surgical procedure in which the foreskin is removed from the penis. It is also the oldest and one of the most widely followed of Jewish ritual practices. It is first mentioned in Genesis 17, when God commands Abraham: “Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. At the age of eight days, every male among you throughout the generations shall be circumcised.” It has remained a physical sign of Jewish male identity through out history.
The procedure is performed by a mohel, who is trained in the rituals of circumcision according to the rules prescribed in classical rabbinic texts; and who has also been educated in modern surgical hygiene. Today, most mohels are doctors who not only have the appropriate medical training, but have all also been taught the the theology, history, and liturgy of the brit milah.
A Brit Milah, Circumcision Ceremony, usually contains the following traditions, but many reform families decide to personalize the ceremony based on family customs or personal choices:
- The godmother and godfather, relative or close family bring the baby into the room.
- The grandfather is seated at a table, and the baby is laid on the table in front of the grandfather.
- The mohel performs the circumcision in three steps: milah, the cutting of the foreskin; p’riah, the removal of the underlying membrane; m’tzitzah, drawing the blood from the wound.
- Blessings are said by the Mohel, the Rabbi, the father and those in attendance.
- It is quite common to add songs, readings, and poetry.
- A festive meal traditionally follows.
An excellent book to help you become more familiar with these customs and to help you get started in your preparations for a Brit ceremony is “The New Jewish Baby Book” by Anita Diamant.