Bris: What Is the Jewish Ceremony of Bris?

There are many notable Jewish ceremonies held throughout the year. In the life of a young Jewish male, the bris ceremony is one of the most important. Bris is another name for brit milah, which means a covenant of circumcision in Hebrew. Brit milah is a religious circumcision ceremony that is conducted in a very organized manner.

In this article, you find out about what a bris ceremony looks like:

  • Biblical origins of bris
  • When and where does bris take place
  • What happens at a brit milah

Biblical Origins of Bris

Most Jewish practices have roots in biblical times, and the bris ceremony is one of these. During bris, a Jewish male baby is circumcised when they are eight days old. A mohel or circumciser performs the act, and following this, there is a celebratory meal for the family. This meal is called seudat mitzvah.

The brit milah came out from God’s command to Abraham to be circumcised and to circumcise his offspring. This encounter is recorded in the Hebrew Bible in the book of Genesis 17, verses 10-14. Every male born into his lineage was to be circumcised as a covenant between God and Abraham. Circumcision was specified for the infant’s eighth day and applied not just to offspring but also sons of servants born into this house.

Not being circumcised by the removal of the foreskin meant that that person was cut off from his people. Another biblical text that sheds light on the practice is in Leviticus 12 versus 3. In the Old Testament, biblical times, the uncircumcised or arelim in Hebrew were considered a reproach. Examples of such peoples included the Philistines and other non-Israelites. These people were deemed to be impure.

In the New Testament, Jesus also took part in the ceremony as a Jewish infant. This is according to the Gospel of Luke, and as a result, some traditional Christian churches also follow the practice.

When and Where Does Bris Take Place

As mentioned earlier, bris takes place when a Jewish boy is only 8 days old. In particular cases, the Talmud or Jewish law allows the postponing of the circumcision. If the child was born prematurely or had any other medical problems, the bris ceremony could be postponed until the child was deemed healthy enough for the surgical procedure.

If there are health-related complications, the practice can be skipped altogether. An example of this is when a child has two brothers who died due to complications related to their circumcision. In this case, the Talmud instructs that the boy must not go through brit milah. Maimonides expanded on this law to exclude paternal half-brothers. In the past, there have been high rates of urinary tract infections when the bandage stays on for longer than it should be. This finding came from an Israeli study.

Jewish men who did not go through circumcision as infants can have their brit milah ceremony at the earliest convenience. Today, this is now more common than it was and then was thought in years past. The ritual, in this case, is a private one, and the format depends on what the one being circumcised desires.

As for the venue of the bris, it customarily takes place in the synagogue, the Jewish house of worship. It can also be held at the home of the family or another suitable location. The brit milah usually happens in the morning, but it can also take place at other daylight hours. The eighth day is counted from the day of birth, with each day beginning at sunset of the previous day. If the eighth day falls on Shabbat or a Jewish holiday, the bris ceremony can still continues on that day.

What Happens at a Brit Milah

The circumciser or mohel who conducts the procedure is a Jew who is trained in the brit milah practice. When there is a Jewish male expert, the traditional Jewish law permits anyone else with the necessary skills to carry out the circumcision. The only other requirement is that they are Jew. In non-Orthodox Judaism, there are female mohels known as mohalots. These Jewish ladies can carry out the bris without restriction.

Circumcision is a surgical procedure, but in most cases, it is deemed that Jews must not use an anesthetic during the ceremony. It is believed that the pain from brit milah is an integral part of the tradition. Traditionally, an infant may receive a drop of wine or other liquid to soothe him, but anesthetic, ointment, or sedation are not allowed. There are many different and opposing views about these specific requirements of the law. For adult circumcision, pain is not mandatory, but it is considered ideal.

For Ashkenazi Jews, another individual or couple is given a big responsibility in the bris. The kvater is the person who carries the baby between his mother and father. It is the father who then takes the baby to the mohel. This role is usually reserved for a couple without children, and the act is so that they, too, can have children in time. The term kvater originated from gevater, which is a Middle High German word meaning godfather.

After the circumcision ceremony is complete, the celebratory meal known as the seudat mitzvah is held. Several blessings spoken at this family ceremony are prayers to both praise God and ask for wisdom and grace in the raising of the child. The participants also express Thanksgiving for the mohel’s performance of the ritual. The ha-Rachaman prayers give the text for the bris prayers.

The Jewish ceremony of bris is a significant part of the life of a male child. It sets him apart as a Jew and a descendant of the great patriarch Abraham. It is a symbol of the covenant between God and Abraham. The brit milah is an important family event, and this is followed by a meal to celebrate the successful procedure and to thank God for the life and future of the boychild.

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