Lifecycle Events: The Bris

One’s first Bris of a child can be a difficult event for the BT. There are many details to take care and it’s a very hectic time. Perhaps the Beyond BT community can share their insights into the following questions.

1) How do you select a Mohel and when should you call him?
2) Should you invite people to the Bris?
3) What are the considerations in choosing a Sandek? How about the other honors at the Bris?
4) What are the potential trouble spots when choosing a name?
5) Should you give both a Hebrew and and English name?

A lot of helpful comments in this post from the archives.

47 comments on “Lifecycle Events: The Bris

  1. I know someone who made a bris on Yom Tov of Pesach. The mohel did not want to leave his family for YOm Tov so he invited the newborn’s family to his home for Yom Tov!

  2. belle: our first son had jaundice, and the ruling we received was that once it was not on the 8th day (b’zmano) the bris could be put off another few days if it was more convenient.

  3. Eric, this happened to my husband’s rabbi in Jamaica Estates- he had a bris for one of his sons over a 3-day Pesach YT years ago. It was very hard for them to find a mohel willing to come and stay over their house for the yom tov. Then they heard about one mohel who has a principle of never saying no to perform a bris (apparently this mohel once had a dream in which his own late father came to him and told him that he mustn’t ever say no to a bris). My husband’s rabbi felt guilty asking this mohel (knowing that he’d have to say yes, and thereby give up his yom tov with his own family). But my husband’s rabbi decided he had no other choice (other mohels had declined). Interestingly, this mohel did decline and sent his son instead to perform the bris (and thereby move in with the rabbi for the 3-day YT). Apparently, something difficult happened afterwards to this mohel who sent his son, and he regretted that he broke his rule never to say no!

  4. I have had my share of bris experiences. The one that comes to mind involved one of my sons who was jaundiced, so the bris was delayed. Under that circumstance, the halacha is that the bris should be held as soon as the baby can medically tolerate it. We were taking the baby for daily blood level readings (forget what it’s called). One night the mohel asked to see the baby and see the readings, and he came very late at night, at around 11-12 pm. He decided then and there that the baby was now healthy and could tolerate the bris, and our rabbi said the bris had to be the following morning! So we just called the family to come the next morning (luckily they were local and were nohaig to stay up very late at night!), we called some of our good friends at midnight to inform them. My dear hubby went to the kosher store at 6 the next morning to buy some bagels and spreads, and voila! We had the bris! No caterer, no preparation.
    Moral of the story: don’t sweat the food. Even on Pesach! It’s about the ritual, not the meal.

  5. Eric, I remember friends made a Bris on Yom Tov of Pesach. I distinctly remember how every food on the table was clearly labeled with regards to the source and the ingredients since there are so many different minhagim on what people will and won’t eat.

    I just emailed you with their names. Call them.

  6. Mark: We are all motivated by a mix of positive and negative drives – that is why the Torah talks about a yetzer tov and a yetzer ha-ra – both using the term “yetzer”. Everyone has to examine their own motives.

    My life – and that of BTs and FFBs I know and love, who set out into the adult world about when I did – has been affected by these trends of superficial charedization. Adversely affected, mostly.

    I certainly don’t think everyone who wears a Borsalino is in the throes of extreme insecurity or narcissism – but some are, and they are distorting communal structures and norms. That impacts and limits all of us.

    I also think this is a particular concern for BTs, who by their nature are searching for an identity upgrade.

    I am just reporting things as I see them.

    Jacob: My family are the lone BTs in a family of liberal American Jews. So I spent a decade defending frumkeit to them and others. Then I moved to Israel, where I’ve spent another decade defending Judaism AND capitalism AND Israel’s right to self-defense to both my Israeli coworkers and foreign journalists.

    So I’ve encountered my share of (mostly left-leaning) narcissists.

  7. The topic of preparing for a Bris has been on my mind recently. My wife and I are expecting our second child a few days before Pesach. Our 1st child is a girl so we don’t really have experience planning a Bris. Does anyone have any advice about having a Bris over Pesach either on Yom Tov or Chol Hamoed? I’m especially concerned about possibly having to plan a Bris for over the 3-day YT. I plan on calling some mohelim right after Purim to find out their availability just in case.

  8. Ben-David,

    May I inquire how you have such intimate knowledge of these sordid details of “True Believers” of whatever flavor?

  9. Ben-David. You made some good points, and I’m assuming you’re including yourself in some of them. However, I think the negative broad brushing of Charedi Jews is unsubstantiated and uncalled for.

    Love of our fellow Jews and giving the benefit of the doubt must extend in all directions. Even if a person has experienced negative attitudes from some or many in a group, does not give license to broad-brush them negatively.

  10. HaShem commanded Jews to have our boys circumcised according to Torah law at the age of 8 days (under normal conditions). Any secular legal restraint on this practice would be intolerable and faithful Jews would not obey it.

  11. Who’s this Ben-David? He says good! Mark and Dave should tie him down and make write a few posts.

  12. DK,

    Maybe, for you, it is or was a natural progression (some might call it decay).

    However, “abolished” means, not for oneself only, but for all. This is a radical step to undermine Judaism and interfere with other Jews’ lives.

  13. I’m reminded of what happened once at work when I was complaining about politicians. The manager of my department said (more or less), “Bob, do you know what the problem with politicians is? It’s that they’re just like us!” That is, we’re dealing here with the foibles of human beings. Jews are human beings, too, but we should be able to use Torah concepts to reinforce our good side.

  14. Too often something much like Ben-David’s (or Eric Hoffer’s) psychological argument is aimed at the really true believers, namely us.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    … well, since you brought it up…

    Most Jewish outreach leads directly to Torah study, which engages the intellect and invites debate. This is the primary argument used when parents and others claim that a BT is being “brainwashed” – and it’s true. Torah living also emphasizes giving and communal responsibility, and this naturally counters narcissistic tendencies.

    BUT.

    There are also BTs – and FFBs – who are misusing frumkeit to bolster their sense of themselves in the narcissistic way I’ve described. The notion of being “special”, of being in on the capital-T Truth can appeal to lesser, baser aspects of our nature, and both BTs and FFBs can fool themselves about their motivations.

    Never met a BT/FFB who:

    – forgets that they themselves are beginners and adopts the fundamental attitudes of the True Believer: I know the Truth, it’s my way or the highway, I know your worth and what you should do.

    – forgets the good in their parents and other non-frum people, and starts labeling rather than seeing others as individuals (non-Jewish or non-frum people as objects in a self-confirming scheme).

    – craves the approval of an authority figure, and brandishes such approval to bolster their own authority.

    – brushes away practical, financial, and intellectual challenges with claims that life will go differently for them because of their elevated spiritual status

    – loses a sense of the proportional weight of halacha, minhag, and chumra

    – Rather than settling into a derech, continues to seek out extreme positions and seems to delight in the fireworks that result.

    Never met any of these, have we?
    Hmmmmm…

    Narcissists are overbearing and obnoxious – but their behavior springs from deep insecurity about their self worth. To cover their fears, they project for themselves a special, elite status.

    And many BTs and FFBs are insecure, and latch onto Torah Judaism, cloaking themselves in its authority as a narcissistic self projection/protection.

    I personally think that this dynamic is largely responsible for the culture of chumra-based one-upmanship that has overtaken the haredi world. It’s clear even to those caught up in it that it is largely “horizonal” rather than “vertical” – more about status than service.

    Certainly many of the “kano’im” who attempt to manipulate our sages are operating in this mode.

  15. The problem with these “true believers” is, in large part, that the thing they so fervently believe is a lie. Fervent belief can be also be good! Too often something much like Ben-David’s (or Eric Hoffer’s) psychological argument is aimed at the really true believers, namely us.

  16. I agree with Fern about live-and-let-live… but that’s not the situation when you are confronted with a True Believer – not just about brit milah, but about any subject.

    These people are not really looking for – or up to – reasoned debate.

    They often want attention – so they provoke. And they have a deep emotional drive to fit the conversation into self-affirming scripts (“I am spreaking Truth to Power” or “I am Enlightened, you are a Fundamentalist” or “my Spirituality is so much more than Judeo-Christian strictures”).

    The True Believer is a narcissist – in the clinical sense! – who sees others as objects in their internal morality play. There is no dialogue: you are a prop in their self-confirming monologue.

    So discussion – sincerely felt or tightly reasoned – is irrelevant: they will at best fake interest in what you are saying, waiting for their chance to emote. The result is a Tar Baby situation.

    Arguing the actual topic on its merits doesn’t work, because that’s not what the “exchange” is really about. Inconvenient realities (such as Palestinian aggression, or the differences between brit milah and hospital circumcision) are ignored, or shouted down, or denounced, or sidestepped with largely emotional arguments – in order to preserve the True Believer’s sense of self, which is what the conversation is really about.

    It’s important to recognize these people, and not let them feed off you emotionally.

  17. We should not be antagonistic but we should be brave and forthright.

    I can agree with this statement. I didn’t mean to imply that BTs should be pushovers in the face of someone who is advocating something wrong or immoral. But at the same time, there is a way to stand up for yourself that is non-confrontational. And I think a lot of times maintaining positive relationships with your family allows you to be much more influential that if you alienate yourself from them. I guess I’m a “you attract more flies with honey” kind of gal. I didn’t used to be this way, but since adopting a non-confrontational approach (in all areas, not just religious disputes) I’ve found that I’ve been able to sway more people’s opinions because they don’t have their guard up for a fight.

  18. I am not quite sure what the parameters of the term “suffer” are. A parent certainly can’t be a sadist. But he certainly can give a nice hard patch on tuchus. (I am NOT advocating that!)

    You use the word “power” which has a certain connotation. Maybe “authority” and “responsibility” would be better. From what I have read (a bit here and there) anti-bris folks are questioning the parents right to impose the “cruel” act on an innocent child that can’t make a choice for himself. So I am saying that parents indeed do have a right and responsibility to do things to / for their children that others may consider cruel.

    But yes, if the high road of love will be heard, that would be preferable.

    Let me ad that Fern and others may be discussion a bris at a certain stage in the Baal T’shuvah process and I am discussing a later stage. This means the subject that I am discussing is perhaps more settled in his Yiddishkeit and more sure of himself. And the hypothetical relative is no longer shocked by the fact of his t’shuvah.

  19. Michoel

    Isn’t it true that in general a parent cannot cause his child to suffer, even according to Torah law?

    I think you need to focus on convincing Mr. Critic of your parental compassion, the bris as an act of love/sacrifice, and not your parental power to cause suffering, mitzvah deoraisa notwithstanding.

    (This comment was submitted, but we edited it slightly (after asking the poster if they would resubmit it). We’re posting it under the Administrator name because we think it makes an interesting point.)

  20. Fern wrote:
    “I couldn’t disagree more. The above described advice is a really good way to turn your son’s bris into a huge family fight.”

    I sometimes like to play the sitra achra’s advocate, :-).

    Obviously each case is different and I did not mean that the discussion should take place a the bris itself. Yes, baalei t’shuvah sometimes are to blame for the friction. But that doesn’t mean that being very defferential and compromising is always the best way to avoid the stresses. It may be inviting more stress later on. We should not be antagonistic but we should be brave and forthright.

    I know people that have taken the potentially confrontational approach and gained respect by it. I think that when baalei t’shuvah end up increasing the tensions, as you accurately say can happen, is when the family percieves a helathy dose of egoism mixed into the new religiousity. But if that is not the case, then we need not be overy meek. Again, every case is different and needs careful thought.

  21. Sorry, I hit submit too soon.

    I have to say that sometimes I think BTs are at least partially to blame for the family friction often felt between the BT and their non-observant family members. If you are constantly beating your family over the head with the Torah its no wonder they have a negative reaction. I think BTs make a lot better impression when we’re not the constant subject of family friction.

    Let the wacky anti-circumcision family member be the black sheep. Then you’ve set yourself up to be the reasonable, knowledgeable family member to turn to when a one of them is wondering whether they should circumcise their son.

    I can’t tell you how many times this has played out in my family. I am not anywhere near as knowledgeable as many of you are about traditional observance, but I am the one my family calls when they have a question because I’ve never criticized them or debated their religious beliefs with them. Now I have a cousin who is attending a Jewish day school and a brother who is choosing a college based on whether there is a near-by Orthodox community. I don’t want to brag, but I played a role in nudging both of them in the right direction, but I would have never been able to do that if I had alienated my family by arguing with them.

  22. Tal wrote:
    Certainly not at the bris itself!
    – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Unfortunately that is exactly where the activists get all cranked up. My wife was also put upon by coworkers when she started being obviously pregnant (while I was being approached by adult Soviet Jews at MY workplace asking if I new a good mohel…)

    Don’t know how widespread this is, but I’m not the only frum/BT person I know who’se encountered it among aquaintances or family.

    Michoel wrote:
    I would engage forcefully
    – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    OK – but in our situation what worked was not the force of moral debate, but the force of simcha – call it “defensive love bombing”.

    In many cases you are dealing with someone who is feeling doubly bitter and wounded – both in general, and about their Jewishness.

    After 3 brisses with this family member in attendance – I found it best to just inflate a impervious bubble of confident joy whenever he approached me. Joy at being Jewish, at continuing our tradition – and at him being there.

    “- but you are hurting your baby!?”

    “The great privilege and benefit of being Jewish far outweighs any other consideration, and are the best gift I could give to him. We are so happy and grateful, etc. – and thank you for joining us at this happy occassion.”

    This subtly underscores their bitterness and lack of tact without drawing you in or making you sound reactionary or angry yourself.

    In this and similar conversations (religion, Israel) once you’ve identified a True Believer it’s important not to give them anything they can feed on.

  23. Engage forcefully.

    Tell him that life is full of pain. Does that mean that we shouldn’t have children? It is most likely that they will have a broken leg or a serious sickness etc at some point in life. So by what right do we have children and put them through that pain? Maybe they would prefer to not be born. So because I want to be a parent they should suffer? Eleh mai, you agree that I can make decisions for my children even when others might not agree that it is in the child’s best interest.

    We are Jews and this is how we have brought our children into the Jewish people from Avraham Avinu down to today. You (Mr. Critic) should be ashamed to express such an attitude! I will make a bris and I will do it with great joy and conviction!

    I couldn’t disagree more. The above described advice is a really good way to turn your son’s bris into a huge family fight.

    The vast majority of people are not going to change their mind on a firmly held belief because their family member passionately defended the “other side.” What you are advising Michoel, is to expend a lot of energy needlessly at a time when the parents’ attentions should be elsewhere.

  24. Engage forcefully.

    Tell him that life is full of pain. Does that mean that we shouldn’t have children? It is most likely that they will have a broken leg or a serious sickness etc at some point in life. So by what right do we have children and put them through that pain? Maybe they would prefer to not be born. So because I want to be a parent they should suffer? Eleh mai, you agree that I can make decisions for my children even when others might not agree that it is in the child’s best interest.

    We are Jews and this is how we have brought our children into the Jewish people from Avraham Avinu down to today. You (Mr. Critic) should be ashamed to express such an attitude! I will make a bris and I will do it with great joy and conviction!

  25. “How about: Moses, R. Akiba and Maimonides all had one. Not to mention Einstein, Freud and any other Jewish secular genius you care to mention. None of them seemed to be hurt none by it.”

    The objection that they have to circumcision isn’t that it makes people dumb, so countering by saying “look at all these bright and learned people who had one” doesn’t particularly counter their objection.

    I agree it’s best not to engage them. “We’re content with our decision” is all that needs to be said.

  26. 1) How do you select a Mohel and when should you call him?

    Ask around. FFB’s do that too. Call from the hospital. It will give your spouse (or you) something to do!

    2) Should you invite people to the Bris?

    Like mentioned above, it is customary not to invite, only to inform. Let a few friends know and ask them to spread the good news. A brit milah is a very relaxed simcha for the most part.

    4) What are the potential trouble spots when choosing a name?

    Our children’s Hebrew names were predetermined for us generations ago, so choice wasn’t the operative word for us. I think if you are going to deviate from whatever someone in the immediate family expects, it is best to discuss with them in advance.

  27. “how do I handle the anti-circumcision activist among my friends/family?”

    Honestly, don’t engage them and refuse to discuss the issue. There is nothing you can say to change their mind, and hopefully there is nothing they can say to change yours, so what’s the point?

    I have a cousin who is constantly trying to get me to eat bacon because “it tastes so good and the laws of kashrut are ‘stupid’ and ‘outdated.'” I tried educating him and explaining my viewpoint. It just encouraged him to try harder. Now I just ignore him and he gives up quickly.

  28. “you might want to ask him to give a little speech during the seuda if he likes to speak. However, this might not work in some shuls. My dad gave a speech at our chasuna, and it was a special moment.”

    That’s a good idea, thanks! I don’t know if I would feel comfortable at a shul where my father couldn’t participate in any way in the major events of my children’s lives. I guess that’s something to consider when choosing shuls.

  29. Tal, not exactly a scientific argument!

    I for my part would hope not to see this thread devolve into the topic of the circumcision “controversy,” however, which does not really seem appropriate for Beyond BT, IMHO.

    Just saying!

  30. “You forgot another one: how do I handle the anti-circumcision activist among my friends/family?”

    Certainly not at the bris itself!

    How about: Moses, R. Akiba and Maimonides all had one. Not to mention Einstein, Freud and any other Jewish secular genius you care to mention. None of them seemed to be hurt none by it.

  31. Fern R (comment #1),

    My father is also not Jewish. For our first son’s bris, my wife’s father was sandek. My dad is pretty shy of religious events to begin with, so he just assumed that since the bris was a Jewish event, he wouldn’t play much of a role. (By the way, my dad is probably the most supportive of our Jewish observance out of all the grandparents!) He had a nice time at the bris despite not playing an active role. At our second son’s bris, a rabbi was sandek. While I don’t think it’s appropriate to have a non-Jewish father do the sandek thing, you might want to ask him to give a little speech during the seuda if he likes to speak. However, this might not work in some shuls. My dad gave a speech at our chasuna, and it was a special moment.

  32. On the other hand, I was also told by a young mohel here in Baltimore that Rav Chaim Ozer Grodenski would not accept the honor of Sandek unless both grandfathers had already had the honor. Rav Chaim Ozer held that the t’filla of a grandfather for a baby was very powerful and more implortant than having a talmid chacham.

  33. Hello RC,
    You make some valid points. However, I do not think there is any chiyuv to listen to one’s father about these things. If my father tells me that I must drive a Toyota instead of a Honda, am I required to listen to him? In this story, there is also the factor that the kibud was already offered to the Chazon Ish and accepted before the father made his hakpada known. When our second son was born, out Rav was out of the country. So I asked Rabbi Moshe Heinemann (who was the mohel) about who to ask to be sandek. Rabbi Heinemann is a major Rav in the US. He told me very explicitely that I should not ask someone who is not mitzvah observant (including my father) to be sandek. He may give a different answer to someone else.

  34. Michoel, I’m not sure what to make of your story with the Chazon Ish. I am not a Rav, but it seems to me that if the grandfather expressly requests that he be the “sandek”, “halachah” requires that his wishes be honored. “Kibbud av v’eim” is a halachic obligation, and I would think that it overrides the “inyan” of having a great “talmid chacham” serve as “sandek”. Besides, can there be a greater “z’chus” for the baby than marking this milestone by fulfilling a “mitzvah” in choosing his “sandek”, not to mention the “chessed” of making the grandfather happy? It is certainly better than having the baby start off life with a “hakpadah”.

  35. There are easy to understand sefarim concerning name-giving; Rabbi Wilhelm’s “What’s in a name” is a summary of halacha & minhagim, in which he states “the name by which a person is called constitutes his soul and his vital force……when the soul inhabits the body, it draws life into it by means of the name”.
    I have personally found davening for the needs of others to be more easily communicated when it is expressed through the meanings of their names.
    There are also books of Hebrew names with translations and contexts.

  36. Thank God we just had our first baby, and the bris was great, everything went well, B”YH.

    As far as the name goes, It depends where you are holding. If you feel comfortable giving him a hebrew name that you will use everyday, I think that is the right thing to do. In todays business world, it is easy to go by a different name. I know plenty of frum business men who go by Jake, instead it Yitzi, and Mark instead of Yehiel. If the guy at the DMV soesnt know who to spell Yeruchum thats his problem!

  37. A way around the sandek issue might be to ask a Rabbi to be the sandek. We did this at our youngest son’s bris not out of any disrespect for my FIL, but because his hands were no longer steady, and therefore, it presented a danger to our son.

    One of my MIL’s last wishes (she was nifter while I was pregnant with our youngest), was that we name him for her father. Since neither my husband nor I were crazy about that name, we made it his middle name (my husband took his great uncle, who was his grandfather’s brother) name as the first name.

    There was a great sigh of relief when this baby was born and we were off the hook of having to choose a girl’s name, since we had both lost our mother’s. Admitedly, my MIL has the prettier name, but as an only child, I’m the only one who can carry on my mother’s name. Oh well, now the problem will be on the our children when someday, I”H, they are choosing names themselves!

  38. A few thoughts on this great topic. BTW, I am a bit reluctant to say what I actually think since some have expressed a concern about the blog being overly right-wing and unfreindly. Please forgive me. That is not my intent but I think it is important to have a broad discussion about importatn topics and have “even” fanatical views expressed.

    One should call the mohel as soon as the baby is born so that they can schedule your bris as well as check for jaundice etc.

    Choosing a Sandek: There is story told of the Chazon Ish. Someone (not a BT) had a baby boy and asked the Chazon Ish to be sandek and he agreed. A day later, the baby’s grandfather expressed his extreme hakpada that he (the grandfather) recive the honor of being sandek. The baby’s father awkwardly went back to the Chazon Ish to tell him that he needed to give the kibud to his father. The Chazon Ish said (so the maaseh goes) that for himself, of course he is mochel. But for the baby, he cannot be mochel. Apparently, the Chazon Ish new that he was a tremendous talmid chacham (not a contradiction to true humility) and he wanted the baby to have to z’chus and hashpah (influence) of having a gadol as his sandek.
    At the 3 brisim that we have been blessed to make, I have asked a talmid chacham that I am close to, to be sandek and my father has done sandek d’amidah (holding the baby for the naming and brachos).

    Another point. It is very important to discuss the name with your rav before the bris (unless you are a truly learned person yourself). I was recently at a bris (Ashkenazi) where the baby was given the Yiddish equivalent of the father’s Hebrew name. The parents (fine BT people) just didn’t realize. There are a lot of minhagim that one may not be aware of. Naming a boy for woman, woman for a boy, etc. etc.

  39. 1. We’re “out-of-town” so there aren’t nearly so many mohel choices. For our first, we might have asked our Rav, but at any event, the mohel was contacted before we left the hospital.
    2. It is customary to “inform” people of the bris, but NOT to actually invite them. (Something about turning down an invitation to a seudas mitzvah being problematic, and we don’t put them in that situation)
    3. We have two boys. We picked my father-in-law to be Sandek for the first and my father for the second. Not sure what we’d do next time. (Or what to do if your father isn’t Jewish)
    4. Don’t get me started! I hate family politics! Expect to possibly be told what name(s) to use, and then expect trouble if you don’t follow their “advice!” Hopefully your family is better about this than mine.
    5. Only Hebrew or Hebrew/English names is totally up to the parents. We went with only Hebrew because we planned to call the kids by the Hebrew ones anyway, and we figured that they’d be less confused that way. Also, if even the Jews in Egypt used Hebrew names, we (who certainly don’t speak Hebrew or dress so differently, even if more tzniusly, from the surrounding nations) could certainly do so. And with the current trend for cultural names among, for example, African-Americans, well, if they can use unpronounceable names, why can’t I?

    As for anti-circ friends, didn’t have any, but I’d tell them that in theory I agree with them. It’s just that when The Master of the Universe tells you to do something… you do.

  40. You forgot another one: how do I handle the anti-circumcision activist among my friends/family?

  41. I would be interested in hearing how people have handled (or opinions on how it should be handled) a bris when their father is not Jewish. In all of my brothers and cousins’ britot my maternal grandfather (who is Jewish) was the sandek. My husband and I have very little contact with his parents but are very close to my parents (and my dad is not Jewish). It seems that my dad probably can’t or shouldn’t be the sandek? Is there some other way to include him or honor him? He is very supportive of me being Jewish/observant and of raising my children as Jews.

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