1. When – The brit milah is on the eighth day of your baby’s life, most often in the morning. The Jewish day begins at nightfall of the previous day. For example, if your son was born late Tuesday night, his brit will be scheduled for the Wednesday of the following week.
2. Choose a mohel – You can ask friends, approach your local synagogue or do a search on the internet. The mohel will examine the baby to make sure that he is healthy enough to undergo the brit at the required time. There may be a need for a medical opinion in case of complications which might lead to a delay until the baby is well. Often people find that the mohel is more cautious than the doctor. Every mohel has his own requirements and guidelines for what happens during the ceremony and it would be wise to be guided by him, however, if you have any questions, requests or expectations you should feel free to share them with him.
4. Where – you will need to decide where to hold the ceremony. For a large gathering you may want to have it in your synagogue or in a hall, however you can also have a more intimate ceremony in your home (and that may be easier in terms of moving your newborn around). Make sure that the room in which the bris will take place has good lighting.
5. The honors – you will need to choose the Kvaterim – a man and a woman who will bring the baby into the ceremony, and the Sandek who is like the spiritual godfather of the baby. He will hold the baby during the ceremony. This is the highest honor and is often given to one of the grandfathers.
6. Chose a Hebrew name – for more guidance on this issue read here.
7. The celebration – traditionally after the Brit Milah there is a festive meal. You may want to decorate the location, and find a caterer for your event. This festive meal is part of the commandment of the Brit therefore you should have bread or challah to give it an important meal status. Bagels, rolls and pita bread are all fine – you should say the blessing over the bread at the beginning of the meal and say Birkat HaMazon (grace after meals) at the end of the meal.
8. Letting people know – because there is not a lot of notice before a Brit, you are not expected to send out invitations – let people know by phone, emails, SMS, etc. it’s a good idea to delegate the job of letting people know to some close friends or family members.
9. Don’t forget – For the blessings during the ceremony you will need kosher wine and a kiddish cup. You may want to provide kippot (head coverings) for those who do not wear them regularly. The mohel will give you specific information about what you will need for the ceremony but as a basic guideline you will need a washcloth, some diapers, a sturdy waist-high table that won’t wobble, another table for the mohel’s instruments, a pillow, Vaseline or other petroleum jelly, disinfectant ointment (as instructed by the mohel), and some type of baby Tylenol. Dress the baby in something that can be easily pulled up above his waist and then lowered again. If your baby takes a pacifier don’t forget to bring it.
10. Something extra – a nice idea is to provide a guide or handout that will explain the ceremony to your visitors who may not be familiar with it. For a free Brit Milah handout, click here .
11. Feeding your baby – ask your Mohel what is his opinion about feeding the baby before the Brit. On the one hand it may help keep him calm, on the other hand a full stomach isn’t the best idea if he screams a lot. At the end of the ceremony when everyone goes to partake in the meal, it is a great time to calm your baby with a feed. Although guests may want to admire the baby, in reality he will often be eating or sleeping after the ceremony.
12. Sharing some meaningful thoughts – during the celebration, parents may want to make a short speech or Dvar Torah. You may want to discuss the meaning of the event, the baby’s name or tie it in to the Parsha. Drop us a line to find out about our brit milah speech and Dvar Torah writing service.
13. Aftercare -Follow your mohel’s instructions for caring for the baby in the days after the circumcision
Finally – a comforting thought – the Brit Milah ceremony is only around 15 minutes and the actual procedure is over in less than a minute. Most importantly, keep in mind that although parts of this ceremony will be difficult for you (not to mention your baby), you are connecting with a Jewish law which is close to 5000 years old. It is a joyous honor to be entering your son into the Covenant of Abraham, so try to enjoy and really live the special moment.
A copy of the Brit Milah ceremony with all the blessings translated into English can be found here.