Everything You Need To Know About The Bris
The birth of your son is a beautiful moment. You have been blessed with the opportunity to share in the mystical process of creation. As responsible Jewish parents, both you and your spouse will be planning his bris milah, the occasion which will usher him into Covenant of Abraham.
Day of Bris
A Brit milah ceremony is performed on the eighth day of the child’s life. His birth day is counted as the first. For example, if your son was born on a Monday, his bris would be on the following Monday. However, if he was born on Monday after sundown, the bris would be on the following Tuesday, because in Jewish tradition evening is part of the following day. An eighth day bris is of such importance that it may be performed on a Sabbath, any Jewish holiday, and even Yom Kippur.
Time of Day
Traditionally, a bris is held in the morning, although it may be performed any time of day until sundown. It may not take place at night.
This being the first religious occasion in your baby’s life, it should be performed at the proper time. However, if there is any question as to the baby’s health, your doctor will advise you when the bris milah can be performed. (Note: usually it is the baby’s health, not his weight, which will determine this.)
The Bris Ceremony
The bris ceremony celebrates life, commemorates family history and accentuates Jewish tradition.
The child is brought to the room where the guests are assembled.
Baruch Haba (Welcome)
Opening remarks are made by the certified mohel or family rabbi who is present.
Kevaterin / Godmother
The child is brought in by someone called the Godmother, also known as the Kvatterin. (She has no legal responsibilities). This woman can be a friend or relative (sister, sister-in-law, aunt, grandmother, etc.). Customarily, this honor is given to a woman who is looking to have children. This is considered a great omen for her, for as she is gracious in entering another woman’s son to his bris, she merits that God grant her the thrill and honor of bringing her own son to his bris.
Kevater / Godfather
The baby is then handed to a male, known as the Godfather or Kvatter. This is usually the husband of the Godmother (Kvatterin), especially when these honors are being bestowed on a couple not yet blessed with children. The Godfather can be a friend or relative (brother, brother-in-law, uncle, or grandfather, etc.). Here, too, there are no legal responsibilities.
The mohel or the rabbi leads everyone in greeting and welcoming the infant to his family and to the Jewish community.
Kisei Shel Eliyahu / The Throne Of Elijah
In some communities a special chair is set aside, on which the baby is placed on an ornate pillow or drapery. This chair is known as the throne of Elijah the Prophet. According to tradition, Elijah is remembered at the bris because he championed the cause of ritual circumcision during his lifetime. Some people consider it a good omen to sit on this chair after the bris takes place.
Sandek / Man of Honor
The baby is then presented by the father to the Sandek. The Sandek is the highest honor bestowed at the bris and it is usually given to the baby’s grandfather or some other prominent member of the family. At times, a prominent rabbi is offered the prestigious honor of Sandek. It is not suggested that the father act as Sandek, as it is quite difficult for him to overcome his emotion at this time.
Following the technical part of the Jewish brit ceremony, blessings are recited. During the blessings it is customary for the child to be held by another honored guest.
A blessing is recited on a cup of wine as wine symbolizes happiness and festivity. A second blessing celebrates the first bris that a father performed on his son, which is the bris our patriarch Abraham performed on his son Isaac. This benediction concludes with a prayer for the welfare of the newborn infant.
The child is then given his Hebrew name. This benediction includes prayers for the wellbeing of the parents, an expression of thanks to God for the arrival of the child and a prayer that the infant boy grow to reach his fulfillment as a Jewish man.
The Festive Meal
A festive meal is held in honor of the occasion. At times there is some singing and speaking done at the meal.
The Meaning of the Name
One of the parents or guests is given the opportunity to explain the reason the particular name of the child is being used. It is appropriate to explain the meaning of the name and, if the child is being named for someone, it is fitting to speak about the personality and wonderful character traits of the individual being named for.It is suggested that the one speaking have his or her thoughts written out. This is because the explanation of the name is unquestionably the most moving and poignant part of the Jewish brit ceremony. Quite often the speaker is overcome with emotion and then finds it difficult to present cohesive thoughts. Being able to refer to notes will make the speech more coherent.