Mazel Tov. It’s a girl!
Mazel Tov. It’s a boy!
If you are expecting to hear those words in the near future, then you may also want to think about the festivities that follow shortly after the birth. There’s a wealth of online information and advice about the Brit (or Bris) Milah ceremony for boys and the newer Simchat Bat celebrations for girls.
This week, the boys.
In this week’s Torah reading, Isaac becomes the first eight-day old to undergo a Brit Milah. He followed his father, Abraham, who had his procedure at the age of 99 after God told him about this cornerstone commandment. “This is My covenant which you shall keep between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised.” (Genesis 17:10)
Brit Milah: Jewish Traditions for Welcoming a Baby Boy
But why on the eighth day (for healthy boys)? Rabbi Yehuda Lebovics of Los Angeles offers a spiritual explanation: “The Kabbalistic writings teach us that seven days represent the physical world of creation. Thus, when a child has lived for eight days, he has transcended the physical to the metaphysical. The covenant joining body and soul, physical and spiritual, can now take place.”
Of course, preparing for a bris can be stressful. California’s Dr. Fred Kogen provides a helpful checklist. Tips include everything from making sure the Mohel has a parking space, feeding the baby until the Mohel arrives in the house, preparing a pillow for the Chair of Elijah, and be sure to disconnect the telephone during the service.
Advice on Having a Brit Milah
When you attend a bris, all eyes are on the baby, naturally. So you may not have noticed all the Mohel’s tools of the trade. Rob Lehrer has. Dr. Lehrer is a urologist with a keen interest in – and collector of – antique circumcision tools including knives, shields and cups. He has done a marvellous job photographing and documenting them on his site, including a golden shield from 1683 engraved with two lions flanking a crown and Star of David.
Although not an article solely about circumcision, here’s an excerpt from a touching piece by Jeff Jacoby, a columnist for The Boston Globe, with his wishes to his newborn son, Caleb. ”You are so tiny, little one. You have so much growing to do. As I cradle you in my arms or watch you sleep in your crib, I pray that life brings you vigour and health, delight and fortune. Like every parent, I want you to do well. But more than anything else, I want you to do good. Sixteen days ago, you entered this world. One day – far in the future, I hope – you will leave it. If I could wish for only one thing, it would be this: that you leave it better than you found it.”
There is so much more to be said about Brit Milah than could possibly be covered here. For further reading, I recommend the Jewish Virtual Library and Wikipedia entries which deal with the ceremony in detail, metzitzah b’peh (oral suction) and the anti-circumcision movement. iMohel has relevant Biblical and Talmudic texts along with the liturgy recited during the ceremony.
Seinfeld – The Mohel
Although the Brit Milah is a pillar of Judaism, its treatment in western culture is much more uncertain. When you do a search of “Brit Milah,” in addition to the numerous Judaic sites, you are struck by the number of television series that have used the bris as a gimmicky plot device. (I’m surprised – though I guess I shouldn’t be – that the site circumstitions.com has catalogued over 200 TV shows with bris plots or references.)
In an episode of Seinfeld, Jerry, George and co. find themselves, reluctantly, at a Brit, with Jerry holding the baby. In an episode of thirtysomething called “Prelude to a Bris,” an intermarried couple grapples whether to go ahead with the procedure. Brit Milah themes have also been used on Cheers, Sex and the City and even South Park. It’s worth a look if you are interested in popular culture, but don’t expect to learn much about authentic Jewish tradition from a TV show.
Bris inside a Royal Deluxe II from Saturday Night Live
One “TV Brit Milah” stands out mainly because it was funny, ridiculous and inoffensive, at least to me. A few decades ago, there was a television advertisement for a luxury automobile. To prove the car’s superior ride, the ad had a professional diamond cutter go about his work in the back seat. He studies his subject, takes a swing and exclaims “Perfect!”
So along comes Saturday Night Live with its parody. But instead of a diamond cutter, they placed a mohel in a moving car. The mohel studies his subject, takes a swing and exclaims “Poifect!” And poifect, it was.