Brit Milah is possibly the oldest ritual in our over 4,000 year history: thus it is rich with many beautiful customs. I will describe the customs I routinely follow, although I am always willing to incorporate other customs, especially family traditions, into the ceremony.

Prior to the ceremony, I will examine your son, use an injected anesthetic block to numb his penis, and review the ceremony with you. I normally arrive 10 to 20 minutes prior to the ceremony to do this. The ceremony itself has three parts. The first part comprises the ceremonial aspect of the Brit as well as the actual circumcision. This part lasts fifteen to twenty minutes. The circumcision itself is very quick, usually no more than a minute. The second part of the ceremony is the baby naming. This is often an emotional event as parents are encouraged to talk about the person(s) the baby is being named after, and the characteristics they hope their baby will have in common with the honored individual(s) who previously (or currently) bore this name. The third part of the ceremony is the customary celebratory meal (se-udat mitzvah) for all of your guests.

ceremonyThe ceremony will sometimes start with a friend or family member lighting the candles. The origin of lit candles is not clear. The Talmud refers to the practice during a time when circumcision was prohibited by the ruling authorities: a lit candle in a window signaled the community where and when a Brit was to take place. A more spiritual origin may be that a lit candle represents a spark of life, G-d’s light, a new soul entering the Jewish community.

After an introductory prayer I signal the honored guests, the Kvatter and the Kvatterin, who bring the baby into the room. As the baby enters the room, everyone stands and greets him with the words Baruch Habah! (Blessed is he who enters!) The Kvatter/Kvatterin then gives the baby to his father (or his representative if the father is unable to attend). There are some blessings and the baby is placed on a chair which has been set aside for the prophet Elijah. The chair for Elijah is in recognition of his honor to be at each Brit. Elijah the prophet is called the guardian angel of children because G-d allowed him to miraculously revive the lifeless son of a widow in the town of Zarepeth. Also, Elijah lived in the time of Ahab, king of the northern kingdom of Israel. Under the influence of Jezebel (Ahab’s wife), the Hebrew people of the time disobeyed G-d's commandments to the extent that they worshiped idols and did not perform Brit Milah. Elijah railed against the people for their false ways, and they eventually returned to worship G-d and perform Brit Milah. G-d then assigns Elijah the task of being present at and witnessing every Brit Milah. Finally, according to tradition, Elijah will return to Earth to announce the coming of the messianic era. Elijah's ‘throne’ thus represents our silent prayer for the baby's safety, a sign of our faithfulness to G-d's law, and an expression of our hope that G-d will bring the Messiah soon. Perhaps that will occur during the life of the child or even in our own lifetime. For these reasons, it is customary to decorate this chair.

I then take the baby from Elijah's throne and hand him to the Sandek, who will hold the baby on a pillow in his lap during the circumcision. The baby’s father then recites the blessing of the commandment prior to the circumcision and gives final permission to the Mohel (me) to act on his behalf. All join in singing Eliahu Ha’Navi. The Sandek holds the baby on the pillow while I recite the blessing of ritual circumcision and perform the circumcision. The father then recites the blessing of the covenant. Your son is dressed and handed to his mother if she is present. I (or the Rabbi, if present) then perform the naming ceremony. Usually at this time either the mother or father (or both) will speak about the person(s) for whom the baby is named. Any other suitable short readings (poetry or prose) may be selected for reading or recitation by parents, relatives, or honored guests at this time. Following this, we normally sing and then celebrate with the festive meal. I customarily stay for 10 - 15 minutes following the ceremony to allow sufficient time to ensure that your baby is not experiencing any complications and has weathered his entry in the Covenant with G-d in fine shape.

Some have asked what is done with the foreskin which is removed. By custom, it is placed in earth or sand. Some will do this in their yard and plant a tree in the same spot. They may then cut a branch of this tree to be used in the huppah when that son marries. If you would like to bury the foreskin after your son's Brit, please let me know and I will give it to you. Otherwise, I will handle it in an appropriate manner.

Below I list the honored roles you may wish your guests to fulfill at the Brit.


Honored Rolesceremony

Sandek — This is the person who holds the baby in their lap during the ceremony. This is the most honored role during the Brit Milah ceremony. Typically a grandparent fills this role. The Sandek should be an observant Jew.

Kvatter/Kvatterin — These are the honored guests (sometimes godparents) who bring the baby in to the room where the Brit Milah ceremony is to be held. These can be friends or family and are customarily a married couple.

Pacifier — This is the person specifically assigned to keep the child content during the Brit Milah ceremony. The Pacifier will stand or sit next to the Sandek to give the child sugared wine as needed.

Father — The father is commanded to perform the circumcision. The Mohel is a trained stand- in for the father for this task. Once the Mohel applies the ceremonial clamp, the father may safely perform the mitzvah of circumcision, if he chooses. Otherwise, the father will assign this responsibility to the Mohel.

Kisei Shel Eliyahu — A special chair which will be decorated or covered with a Tallit and a special pillow will serve as the “throne of Elijah.” This is placed to the right of the Sandek's seat.

Important information

The day of the Brit Milah ceremony, please feed the baby as normal immediately before the ceremony. This prevents the baby from crying simply because he is hungry. You should give infants acetaminophen 2.5ml (80mg), 15 to 20 minutes before the ceremony, or according to your pediatrician’s instructions.

It is a tradition in some families to dress the child in a new outfit.

A head covering or kippah for the baby is not required, but would serve as a beautiful reminder of this day.

It is customary to provide a celebratory feast in honor of the child and his parents called the seudat mitzvah. Due to the sacred nature of this ceremony and its feast, only kosher foods should be served. A meal consisting only of dairy (milk) products avoids the need for a kosher catering service. Please consult with your Rabbi for help in arranging for this feast.

Motzi before and Grace after the feast, should be recited.

It is acceptable, but not required, that your Rabbi attend the brit and co-officiate with the Mohel. It is fine for the Rabbi to preside over the naming of the baby if you would like.

Jewish law does not forbid photography and video tape recording of the Brit Milah ceremony except during Shabbat or other Holy Days. Jewish custom does forbid any photographic record being made of the actual act of cutting the foreskin and will not be allowed.