A New Baby
A new baby. For boys, this means organising his brit milah (circumcision). For girls we have a ceremony of Simchat Bat – celebrating the birth of a daughter. For both boys and girls there is also the option of a naming or blessing ceremony in the synagogue.
For details about naming / blessing ceremonies please contact the Rabbis (please click here) who will be pleased to discuss this further. There is no time limit for this, but it is usually arranged in the first three to four months or so after the baby’s birth and is held at the end of the Shabbat morning service
Brit Milah is the Jewish religious ceremony of circumcision. The Hebrew term means "covenant of circumcision", for circumcision is the symbol of the covenant made between God and Abraham in the Bible. It is a very ancient symbol of the special relationship between God and the Jewish people.
Traditionally Brit Milah is carried out on the eighth day after birth – even if it is Shabbat – and in daylight hours. Sometimes the ceremony is delayed – for example if the baby doesn’t regain birth weight in this time, or is jaundiced, but it is done as soon after the eighth day as possible – barring Shabbat or festival days. Most religious circumcisions will be performed in the family home, though synagogues and hospital rooms are sometimes used. Some make a large celebration, others are small family affairs. It is up to you and what feels the most comfortable.
In the ceremony the baby is carried into the room by the kvatter and kvatterin (godparents). Two chairs are already prepared in the room – the one for the Sandek (godparent) and the other for Elijah the prophet who is said to attend every brit. The baby is placed first on the chair of Elijah while the mohel recites a special prayer, and then on the knees of the Sandak who holds him during the brit. After the circumcision there is a special blessing recited over wine and then the baby is given his Hebrew name. As soon as possible the baby is fed and comforted by his mother.
At Reform circumcisions men, women and children are generally welcome, as they wish, as long as there is some elbow room for the mohel to work!
When you contact the mohel, have a pen and paper to hand. The mohel will explain about the medical aspects of circumcision, consent for the operation, what is needed on the day in terms of equipment, the religious requirements, pain-relief, and any expenses, costs or donations to good causes. Most mohalim would like your Rabbi to be present, if possible. The minimum requirements are:
1. Agreement on the Jewish name for your son!
2. A warm, clean, well illuminated room.
3. Two, upright, wooden chairs with no arms, best placed near to the good light.
4. One small, coffee type table for medical instruments
5. One Sandek, or equivalent.
6. At least one parent to join in the service.
7. Candles (lighted) and kosher red wine.
8. Most mohalim carry some service texts, though you should ensure there are enough for the size of gathering.
9. Any medical supplies e.g. cotton wool, as discussed with the mohel.
Who May Be Circumcised?
Circumcision does not confer Jewish status. According to the halacha a child is Jewish at birth if the mother is Jewish. If there is any question about Jewish status, your local rabbi should be consulted. All men and women who have undergone conversion to Judaism under any reputable authority are considered by the Reform and Liberal Movements fully Jewish.
Sons who are not Jewish according to the above definitions can also be circumcised. Indeed, this may be helpful since it removes what could later be an impediment to becoming Jewish. However, this will not take the form of a religious ceremony. Moreover, it is of the utmost importance that both parents give serious consideration as to why they wish to bring up their son religiously and recognise the reality of his present status. It is equally important that both parents are sure that they wish their child to be circumcised. The key to the occasion is that it should be a positive introduction to the possibility of future Jewish life both for the baby and for the parents. The mohel (the person who performs the circumcision) will be delighted to put you in touch with your local Progressive (Reform or Liberal) rabbi and community if you are not already a member.
Costs vary and will depend on the mohel, the distance travelled, the day of the week and whether the mohel has to engage another doctor to cover regular medical work. Some mohalim prefer a donation to be given to a suitable charity. It is not possible to give firm costs here but the mohel will quickly clarify the situation for you. In cases of genuine financial hardship, all mohalim are prepared to officiate for as little as nothing.
A list of members of the Association of Reform and Liberal Mohalim can be obtained from the Association’s office at the Sternberg Centre for Judaism, 80 East End Road, London N3 2SY (tel: 020 8349 2568; fax: 020 8349 5699). All the mohalim in the Association are medically trained as well as being trained in ritual circumcision. Our local mohel is Dr Howard Cohen and you can visit his web site by clicking here.
Simchat Bat is a modern ceremony of celebration for the birth of a daughter, also held on the eighth day of a baby’s life. There are a number of liturgies for this, and the Rabbi will be delighted to talk to you about them.