Q: What is the difference between a bris and a circumcision done in the hospital?
A: There are several ways in which a hospital circumcision differs from a bris. At a hospital circumcision, the baby is secured to a molded plastic board with specially made fasteners called a "circumstraint" that is placed on a table. A traditional mohel will not put the baby in such a device, nor will he place the baby on a table. The Sandek (very often the child's grandfather or another honored person) holds the baby on his lap. This makes for real, warm, human contact. The most common circumcision instrument used in hospitals is called the "Gomco Clamp". The overall procedure takes 10 to 20 minutes. The instruments a mohel uses afford the quickest way for the bris to be performed. It usually takes about 30 seconds. A doctor is trained to perform a generic circumcision. Cosmetically, the result does not have to be such that the entire glans is uncovered; a partial removal of the foreskin may be adequate for medical purposes. A traditional mohel performing a bris has the responsibility to see that the surgical part of the procedure is done the right way (both medically and ritually). This means that the correct amount of foreskin will be excised, not more and not less. A hospital circumcision may be done any time the baby is "cleared" for it, day or night, sometimes even within the first day of the baby's life! A bris may only be performed on the eighth day, or in some cases, afterwards but never before the eighth day and never at night.
Q: Does a mohel sterilize his instruments, as a doctor would?
A: Absolutely. A mohel should use the same technique for sterilization of instruments that hospitals and physicians' offices use. I autoclave (steam-heat) all of my instruments. Drapes and gloves are to be used with proper aseptic technique.
Q: What is the advantage of using a mohel?
A: There are many aspects to this and here are a few points: A mohel is a specialist trained exclusively in one discipline--to perform a bris. By having a religiously observant mohel for your son's bris you will have the benefit of being able to do the first mitzvah for him properly and connect him to his Jewish roots. Remember, "bris" means "covenant". By arranging the bris in the traditional way, you are keeping that covenant alive. Just as his father and grandfather had their respective brises performed by mohalim, your son should be given the same opportunity on the eighth day of his life. A mohel's expertise is necessary in order to schedule the bris at the proper time. When contacting the mohel, please inform him of the exact time of birth so that he will be able to guide you according to Jewish tradition. The mohel will also guide you in the important laws regarding a bris held on the Sabbath or Jewish holiday, should that be appropriate. Your Mohel will be happy to advise you in matters of scheduling the bris as well as relating the customs and traditions involved in the ceremony.
Q: My husband isn't Jewish. I'd like him and his family to feel comfortable at the bris. What are your feelings about this?
A: It is important to make sure that all present at the bris feel welcome. Many people may be attending a bris for the first time. The verbal presentation I offer is for all family and friends to be able to learn about the meaning of the ceremony. Your husband and his family are welcome to take part in the ceremony, should they wish to do so. I will not insist on anyone saying prayers or blessings with which they might be uncomfortable.
Q: We are not Orthodox. I'm afraid that we won't be familiar with any of the Hebrew prayers.
A: Let me preface my answer by saying that being a mohel and seeing the observance of the bris in different circles is a beautiful and special thing. Two aspects are most special to me: The first is that I am able to witness the most basic of Jewish traditions being observed all over. The second is that besides being one of the most important Jewish rituals, the bris is a common bond, uniting Jews of all types. It is a universal mitzvah. For this reason I see no barriers, or differences of denomination when it comes to a bris. If your son is Jewish, he deserves a proper bris. It is very important, especially at this fundamental Jewish rite, to preserve the original text. However, it is equally important to understand the blessings and prayers. Before each part of the service I offer an explanation in English. In that way, everybody can appreciate the true meaning of the ceremony. I've had many guests, both Jewish and non-Jewish, comment to me that they enjoyed hearing what the bris was all about and found it to be a most meaningful event to witness.
Q: The baby usually cries at the bris. Is it very painful?
A: The baby will cry as soon as the diaper is opened and his legs are being held. He will be uncomfortable during the actual procedure. One cannot say for sure how much pain he will feel. I have found that as long as the procedure is performed with the utmost care, both technically, and with an atmosphere of reassurance and tranquility, the baby will cry much less. I've had babies who fell asleep right away. I had to wake them up when I was putting the wine in their mouths!
Q: Is it advisable to use an anesthetic?
Q: How do I care for my son after the bris?
A: I will show you how to treat the area and will provide you with a list of instructions to refer to. I will also leave with you an "aftercare kit" which includes sufficient gauze and ointment. You won't have to go shopping for these items.
Q: What should I say to my older child(ren) about the bris?
A: I recommend that children should be told that it's a party for the new baby and that he will be given his Jewish name. If you must, you can say that the mohel comes to remove a piece of extra skin, without explaining further. Children should not be allowed to watch unless they are old enough and can understand the importance of the bris. Please feel free to discuss this issue with me further.
Q: What do you enjoy most about being a mohel?
A: I thank G-d that I am able to observe the most basic of Jewish traditions being observed by Jews all over. It's a beautiful and special event. The Gemara, or Talmud relates almost prophetically that the mitzvah of bris is one that is held onto throughout the generations. This is because the Jewish people have always practiced this special mitzvah even at the cost of putting their lives in danger. There are documented stories of people risking their lives to be able to give their child a bris. This goes as far back in time as when the story of Chanukah was taking place, or as recently as when Jews were in the concentration camps during World War II. Even closer to our times, many Jews living in Soviet Russia made sure that their sons would have a bris even though it was illegal and those who were caught were subject to severe punishment. The Talmud also relates that the bris is always performed with simcha, with great joy. That is because it has always been done that way. Even the first recorded bris of an eight-day-old child in the Torah, the one of our father Isaac, was accompanied by a festive meal. Another aspect of being a mohel that I enjoy is that I am part of one of the most important Jewish rituals which unites Jews of all types. The bris is a universal mitzvah. It is a common bond uniting us with previous generations in an unbroken chain of tradition.