Sunday, June 9, 2013

Brit Milah - Welcome to the Covenant Little One!

Dear Tanta Golda,
A young couple in our Temple recently had a baby boy. I’ve been invited to the Bris or Brit, but I don’t know quite what to expect. Is there something I will be asked to do?
Bashfully Baffled

Dear Bashful,
What a blessing, a new life!

A bris or brit is short for berit milah (covenant of circumcision) and refers to the religious ritual through which boy babies are formally welcomed into the Jewish community. It is pronounced bris by many Ashkenazi Jews, and brit by Sephardic Jews, and in eretz Israel. 

Brit milah is the oldest Jewish ritual, established nearly 4,000 years ago. However, Jews were not the first people to engage in the rite of circumcision, many ancient cultures practiced it. Even today, a number of tribal people in Africa and elsewhere practice it, as do many Muslims. Remember, Abraham circumcised his son Ishmael once HaShem told him of the commandment.

In Genesis 17 God says to 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. And throughout the generations, every male among you shall be circumcised at the age of eight days. (For a brief history of the Reform view of circumcision click here)

Now to answer your question about what happens, etc.
Brit milah is performed on the 8th day after birth - even if it falls on Yom Kippur or Shabbat! That should tell you how important this ritual is. Only health of the newborn would delay this mitzvah. A minyan of ten Jews is desirable, but not essential.

Traditionally, the ceremony begins with a processional, where the baby is carried in on a pillow by the kvater* or kvaterin*. Those present say: Baruch haba (Blessed be he who comes). They child is then handed off to the sandak* who is seated at the chair of Elijah. The child is either placed on a table, or held on the pillow in the sandek’s lap and the sandek holds him while the mohel performs the circumcision.  Brit Milah Pillows

The mohel says a blessing before performing the circumcision - Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al hamilah - Blessed are you Adodai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvah commanding us concerning circumcision.

Following the circumcision the parents say: Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu l’hachniso biv’rito shel Avraham avinu - Blessed are you Adodai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvah and commanding us to enter our son into the covenant of Abraham our father.

All present respond: Just as he has entered the covenant, may he likewise embark upon a life blessed with Torah, marriage, and good deeds.

The mohel or parents then say the kiddush and a the baby’s is given his Hebrew name. The person reciting the kiddush drinks the wine, as does the baby. How is this possible Tanta Golda, you ask.  A small piece of cloth is dipped in the wine and given to the child to suck on. Alternatively, a few drops of wine are placed on the child’s lips. The New Jewish Baby Book: Names, Ceremonies & Customs-A Guide for Today's Families

Traditionally a seudat mitzvah - festive meal follows, and the parents and child are cooed over. Okay, that last bit is Tanta Golda’s minhag, but really, who wouldn’t coo?

*Kvater, kvaterin, & sandek all translate as godfather/godmother. The kvater/kvaterin is a ceremonial position, while the sandek is the one who is considered by many to be the one who promises the parents to raise the child in the Jewish faith if some ill should befall them.

Thank you for your excellent question. Many the family enjoy much mazel!
Tanta Golda

For rituals surrounding the birth of a daughter, please check out Naming Ritual for Girls by clicking the blue link.