The Brit Milah is the oldest ritual in our nearly 4,000 year history thus, it is rich with many beautiful customs.
Prior to the ceremony, I will examine your son, and review the ceremony with you. I normally arrive 30 to 60 minutes prior to the ceremony to do this.
The ceremony itself consists of three different parts.
- The first part comprises the ceremonial aspect of the Brit as well as the actual circumcision. This part lasts twenty to thirty 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 usually an emotional event as parents are encouraged to talk about the person the baby is being named for or after, and the characteristics they hope their baby will have in common with the honored individual who previously bore this name. (please refer to our Baby Naming section for a full dressing on this topic)
- The third part of the ceremony is the customary festive meal for all of your guests.
The ceremony itself starts with a friend or family member lighting the candles. The origin of lighting candles is not clear. The Talmud refers to the practice during a time when circumcision was prohibited, a lit candle in a window signaled the community where and when a Brit was to take place. On a more spiritual note a lit candle represents a spark of life, with a new soul getting ready to enter into the Jewish covenant of our forefather Abraham.
Following the lighting of the candles, the Mohel or family Rabbi will make a couple of short remarks and will call for the baby.
The baby is generally brought in by one of the grandmothers or another female relative, customarily this honor is specifically given to a woman who is looking to have children. This is considered a great blessing and omen for her, and we pray that just as she is gracious in bringing another woman’s son to his Brit, may she merit that God grant her the pleasure and honor of bringing her own son to his Brit.
The baby is then handed to the grandfather or another male relative who is usually the husband of the Godmother especially when these honors are being given to a couple who is not yet blessed with children. As the baby enters the Mohel or Rabbi will lead, those congregated in standing and greeting the baby with the words, Baruch Haba, (Blessed is he who enters).
If difficult it is not necessary to fill both roles of Godparents.
CHAIR OF ELIJAH
The one carrying the baby then places the baby on a chair, which has been set aside as the throne of Eliyahu Hanavi (Prophet Elijah). The chair for Elijah is in recognition of his honor to be at each Brit. Elijah the prophet is considered to be the guardian angel of children[i]. Elijah also rallied the Jewish nation to perform the holy commandment of Brit Milah.[ii] Finally, according to tradition, at the end time Elijah will return to announce the coming of the messianic era. Elijah’s chair thus represents our heartfelt prayers 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 during the life of the child or even in our own lifetime. For these reasons, it is customary to decorate this chair and call it a throne.
The father then takes the baby from Elijah‘s chair and hands him to the Sandak, who will hold the baby during the circumcision. The Sandak will place the baby on the pillow placed on the table on which the circumcision will be performed. The table on which the Brit will be performed is considered an altar. It is the custom to beautify it by covering it with a nice blue or white cloth, placing flowers or pictures of relatives (especially the person your son will be named after) on it and the presence of your Kiddush cup.
The Sandak is the most honored role of the Brit ceremony. The Sandak holds the baby while the Brit is performed. The high esteem in which the Sandak is held is manifested by a position of honor standing next to the chair of Elijah. Traditionally, this role is usually given to a grandfather or a well-respected Rabbi it is brought down that whoever is Sandak will have an effect on the temperament of the baby some suggest that the father of the child should himself be the Sandak; it is highly not recommended due the tensions and high levels of emotional feeling watching ones son enter into the holy covenant.
The father recites the first blessing of bringing the child to the covenant of our forefather Abraham.
The Mohel then recites the blessing of ritual circumcision and perform the circumcision.
While the Mohel is working the father of the baby then recites the blessing of Shehiyanu thanking god for the great opportunity.
The blessing on the wine of Bore Pri Hagefen is then recited.
The second and main blessing of the covenant and special love that God has for the Jewish people is then recited and we ask that God give his nation eternal protection.
The baby is then swaddled and somebody is given the honor of performing the naming ceremony. Usually at this time either the mother or father, will speak about why this specific name was chosen.
If requested any other suitable short readings (poetry or prose) may be selected for reading or recitation by parents, relatives or honored guests either at this time or just prior to the circumcision.
Following this, we normally sing and then celebrate with the festive meal.
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 Huppa ceremony at the time of the child’s wedding. 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 dispose of it in an appropriate manner.
[i] because G-d allowed him to miraculously revive the lifeless son of a widow in the town of Zarepeth
[ii] Elijah lived in the time of Ahab, king of the ten tribes of Israel. Under the influence of Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, people 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.