Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Dear Grandparents

A few years ago I wrote this note to the new father. This is Part II, if you will, in that series.

One of the most difficult challenges parents of a newborn face is how to deal with their own parents (baby's grandparents) who suffocate them (the new parents) with love, help, advice, and over-presence post baby's arrival. I know the word "suffocate" is a little harsh, but the truth is I have seen this scenario play out time and time again. Add natural tension, add doses of stress, add hormonal imbalances, and the patience sometimes wears very thin very quickly.

Of course there are parents/grandparents who have incredible relationships with their adult children, who also know how to be there when needed, be helpful as needed, and when to withdraw when it's too much. Their presence seems to be an incredible blessing to their children (the new parents) and it is inspirational to behold. To these people, I only have to say "God Bless you, and the following letter is not for you."

A lot of this difficult balance can be attributed to personalities, whether that of the grandparents or that of the new parents, and also may change based on if it's their daughter who had the baby, or their son who had the baby.

At the same time, in the case of some new grandparents (even when they are seasoned grandparents), they just don't see what they're doing to their kids, and so, as someone who has counseled parents dealing with this situation, I offer this perspective, hoping to help avoid some stress and tension and keep relationships more than civil, but as wonderful as possible. 

Dear New Grandparents

Mazal tov! Your kids just had a baby! This is the most wonderful kind of feeling you get to experience - that you have a new grandchild!

I know you want to help them in every way, and I know you are going to do everything you can for them. But. I want you to realize, because you may have forgotten, that your role as parent has changed a bit, and that your role as grandparent is an entirely different role than you might think.

You are a GRANDparent - Not a parent (of course you are a parent - but your kids are also adults!)

You trusted your kids enough to get married. Knowing what typically follows marriage (with the right blessing and in the right time), your kids are now PARENTS, which means that even if you view them as kids and as children, they are adults - AND YOU MUST MUST MUST SEE THAT. They have an awesome responsibility. They have to love, nurture, feed, teach, raise, protect this little child. They also have to learn, as you did back in the day, how to do that.

And they will make mistakes. And that's OK. They'll also learn quickly. And the mistakes will be their best teacher.

But they really want to do this their way. To which they are entitled. That's why they married each other - to go through these kinds of experiences their way, the way they discussed, the way they planned, the way they need to. And that way may be very different from your way.

Your role as grandparent is to support your kids' needs. And to be happy. And to not add stress.

Your kids have a lot of decisions to make for the bris. They may ask you for your advice. If they ask, by all means - give advice! Some grandparents think the suggestions they make are harmless as "I'm only giving ideas! They don't have to listen!" But out of respect for you, they may go against their wishes because they perceive you as imposing your will. Perhaps if you say, "I would like to discuss a few items with you" and give them an out saying, "You don't have to listen to any of it" then come back to "But I am your father/mother/father-in-law/mother-in-law and I have opinions I want to share" then perhaps you'll set yourself for success. But always give them an out - they don't need to follow through with your ideas!

Here are a few areas in which I've seen this go sour.

I know Sefardic Jews have a custom to honor a living relative through giving their baby that relative's name. Ashkenazic Jews have a custom to perpetuate the memory of a loved one through naming a baby after someone who has died. These are wonderful customs. HOWEVER, they do not work for everyone. And they are not binding on new parents.

If they want to choose the name for their child, I am sorry to say this, but stay out of it. It's not your business. If they honor your dead mother or father, or your brother who died in that terrible accident, you can express your gratitude and appreciation. If they choose to give the baby a different name, swallow it and move on. Love your grandson. Love your kids. This is their choice. He is their baby.

Definitely don't express your disappointment in their name choice. Honestly, that is an emotional response you will only regret in the long run. Are you going to love your grandson any less because he doesn't carry your dead father's name? Of course you won't. So check your emotions at the door and be prepared for whatever is coming.
  • Finances 
Some people get married very young, many are financially not well off in the early years of their marriage. Of course people should use good judgment when it comes to spending money on a bris, and that means you have one role, if you want to participate financially. Tell your kids how much you would like to offer to contribute - towards catering, towards mohel's honorarium, and let them choose if they want to accept your set amount. Don't budge on it if your kids are making bad decisions.

Most importantly, your offer to help financially should come with NO STRINGS ATTACHED. If you have conditions you intend to insist upon, don't offer your money. It is the wrong time. This is their son's bris. She is hormonal, he is stressed out, she is frustrated in trying to figure out nursing, neither of them are sleeping. Your demands are ill-timed.
  • Telling your daughter or daughter-in-law how to be a mother

Let me make this clear. If the new mommy wants help with the nursing, if she is happy to have you change every poopy diaper, if she wants you to show her how to do everything you are an expert at - by all means. Take over, with her blessing.

But if you are imposing your self - you have to open your eyes and ears. I have seen new moms have their hair stand on end, their antennas blazing at how much their own mom (new grandma), and certainly the mother-in-law, is in their face. And it's not that they don't love their mothers! It's that this is a very new things for them, and new-Grandma is getting on new-mommy's nerves. It is so clear to me EVERY TIME when the new mom says, "OK, Mom. We got it. I know what I need to do. Thanks. No. Thanks, Mom. I got it. Etc etc etc" that she is extremely frustrated with the fact that she feels she is being treated like a 12 year old who just (irresponsibly) had a baby, even though she might be in her 30s, married with a profession! These new moms do their best to control themselves out of respect for their own moms. But there's a limit to how thin the layer of patience is.

This last section has been more for the grandparents who don't "get it;" they need to see that sometimes too much is too much.

I could go on and on. But I'll stop with a few parting thoughts.
  • Use your eyes and sense to see the difference between what is needed and helpful and what is overimposing.
  • Be happy. The emotional whirlwind is only exacerbated by family-induced stress. Just be happy.
  • Be helpful with the baby most directly either when you've been asked, or if your offer to help comes with an out, such as "I don't want to impose. Would you like me to change the baby's diaper? I'll also accept a 'No.'"
  • Offer to run errands that will get you out of the house - the shopping, the dry cleaning, getting pizza for baby's older siblings, or take older siblings out of the house so the parents can be alone with the new baby.
  • Be prepared to have an open wallet for the errands you will run and the shopping you'll do - for the diapers, the baby blankets, the baby detergent, the formula, etc. Hey - if you don't want to, don't offer. But if you offer, do it with a smile and expect nothing in return (though hopefully the new parents will express gratitude and appreciation)

This is a big transition period - moving from parent to grandparent. With the right balance of love, care, concern, advice, help, presence, etc you'll do great!

Mazal tov. May you have much nachat and joy from all your children and grandchildren!

Most sincerely,
Avi Billet

Monday, September 3, 2018

How to Explain the Bris to Younger Children

Of course children can attend a bris. While I don't recommend they watch the procedure, I am of the belief that if they are curious enough to ask what it's all about, then they deserve an answer that is age-appropriate. Depending on the age, while they certainly don't need to be told all the details of how a mohel operates, the Jewish perspective on why we do this is certainly an explanation they deserve to be told.

So, if the baby has a 3 to 6 year old sibling who is unaware of what happens at a bris, I feel it is the parents duty to
a. Prepare this child
b. If it's a girl, explain that she did not have this because we only do it with boys; if it is a boy, tell him he had one too, though he surely doesn't remember it.

The conversation might include questions from the child, but I think the following bullet points might be helpful in guiding the child appropriately:

  • Many things we do as Jewish people are done because Hashem (God) told us to
  • We love Hashem, and He loves us. He especially loves when we do mitzvot (fulfill commandments)
  • He gave a special mitzvah to Avraham (Abraham) which we call Brit Milah - it was an agreement of a connection between the Jewish people and Hashem forever.
  • To mark that connection, Hashem asked Jewish men and boys to cut off a small piece of skin from the penis (yes, you may use the word "penis")
  • Because Abba/Daddy is not trained to do this, we hire someone who is called "a mohel" (kind of like a doctor for this mitzvah) who will make the baby cry, but will also help the baby have his bris, and will make sure that the baby is fine afterwards. 
  • As you know from when you cut yourself, you bleed. When the baby has his bris, he also bleeds. The mohel takes care of that so the baby has his bris and is OK afterwards
  • (To a girl: It's only done with a boy, because only boys have that piece of skin)
  • Every baby who has this done cries a little today, but he'll be OK in a little while. The mohel is doing his job. 
  • Mommy and Daddy love the baby very much too and we know everything will be good very very soon!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Blessings of Summer - With Compliments to the Mohel!

I don't know what it is about summer that makes it a time when more babies seem to be born, or maybe I'm just more established in Florida, having now been here 10 years, but I was a very busy mohel in June, July and August.

I am grateful to those who called me, including the repeat customers, as it is always an honor and privilege to serve in this capacity for families.

The greatest compliments I received over the summer addressed the time I spend explaining everything to the parents, and the speed at which I work with the baby when he is on the Sandak's lap

Of course every mohel should provide expert service in the circumcision realm, giving the baby the most comfortable experience possible under the circumstances, while also making the circumcision as aesthetically pleasing as one can.

But beyond that these two arenas that were complimented just go to show that they are not always "givens," even though they should be!

1. Explaining to the parents
Most parents go into the bris relatively blind as to what will be happening to their son. This is not their fault! While they may understand and be very in tune to the concept of the bris/Covenant, the anatomy of the foreskin and the penis in general may be a little foreign. Most parents having their first son have never seen a foreskin before!
And so I do a LOT of talking. Explaining the process, explaining what I am doing - from prep to post-bris check - to what has happened to the baby, to how the parents need to care for the circumcision, what to look for in the coming days, what is normal, what is not normal... all this is part of the package.
And in every case, the more information I give, the more helpful it seems to be!

2. Speed at which I work
While I am in no rush to get it over with, the precautions and set up I take in advance allow for the baby to be handled for a minimal amount of time. Since I don't use a circumstraint or tie the baby down, the only thing that restricts the baby's movements is the Sandak's hands holding his legs (and the Sandak is usually the baby's grandfather - as loving as you can get), and I tell him to release his hands as soon as I am done.
The speed of the work and the less exposing the baby to discomfort both go a long way in making his overall experience a good one.

Thank God, I haven't met a young man (or older man) who remembers the bris he had when he was a baby. But avoiding contributing to parental trauma is also part of the game!

Blessed to play a pivotal role in that for so many people.

MAZAL TOV.  And Shana Tova to all (Rosh Hashana is in less than two weeks!)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Circumcising the... Dead?

Two and a half years ago, I shared a story of meeting a Jew from the former Soviet Union who was concerned about undergoing circumcision at an advanced age. See the link here.

Last night, the words I shared with him came true for a different Jew from that time and place, who had been living in South Florida for some time. I was called to circumcise a man who had passed, because he wanted to be buried looking like a Jewish man, circumcised, but for whatever reason he did not take care of this when he got through the Iron Curtain.

Of course, I have sadly done this before for babies who did not survive birth (lo aleinu, rachmana litzlan, etc). But this was a new one for me.

While I am very happy to participate in a family's bris, with all that joy and under-the-surface tension that comes with it, this experience brought home a very different feeling.

There is certainly more than one way to live as a Jew. But as much as possible we've tried to universalize what it means to die and be buried as a Jew.

I am grateful to have played a small part in helping this man's final wish for himself be fulfilled

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Bris During the Nine Days... But is it Joyous?

Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein (1829-1908) is arguably most famous for writing the "Arukh HaShulchan," a contemporary work based on the format of the Shulchan Arukh and Tur.

In the laws of pre-Tisha B'Av, he drops a number of comments about how people conduct themselves during the Nine Days leading up to Tisha B'Av, a traditionally negative/ bad-luck time for the Jewish people, during which we minimize our joy and withdraw from certain pleasures and celebrations, such as eating meat and conducting weddings.

In 551:8-9 (and 27) he has a number of insights about Bris Milah, a mitzvah which is time-dependent, based on when the baby is born, which necessarily overrides other restrictions. We may eat meat at such an event, and we do not push off the celebration, as we might a wedding, because the bris MUST take place on the 8th day (assuming the baby is healthy). 

What follows is a summary of the insights about Bris Milah. I left the Hebrew (untranslated) at the end, in case you are inclined to read it inside.

8. "Weddings (which are forbidden during this time" are not comparable to Bris Milah and Pidyon Haben, which are permitted because they are time-dependent. Additionally, you don't really have "Simcha" (joy), for real joy is only in matches (for matrimony) at which we declare "שהשמחה במעונו".  Therefore anything related to marriage is considered to be joyous. But that is not the case for circumcision and redeeming of the first born.

9. When a Bris takes place any day from Rosh Chodesh (Av) through Tisha B'Av, the custom is for the mohel, sandak and the father to wear Shabbos clothes. All of the honorees, including the kvatter, do not wear Shabbos clothes. However, women do have the practice to wear Shabbos clothes, because this is their main observance of the mitzvah - their wearing fancier clothes in honor of the Milah.  

27. For a circumcision and a redemption of firstborn..., people may eat meat and drink wine if they are participants in the Simcha.  [Hosts]  need that ahead and extend invitations to people with whom they have no connection, just for the sake of the Bris.  One who normally would not be there should not take advantage of the opportunity to eat meat even if it is it legitimately special occasion.

1. The Simcha at a joy is emotionally subjective. Objectively, Halakha only defines real Simcha as the kind you have at a wedding. Certainly there is a joy at a wedding unlike at any other occasion, with a band and with music and dancing, which you simply don't have at a bris. Also, we note the reality that - albeit for a very short time - the baby experiences pain, and that takes away from the full Simcha we might otherwise experience. Though we skip tachanun on bris days, we don't skip Lamnatzeach, which includes the words יענך ה' ביום צרה, for precisely this reason!

2. Women and men have different ways of celebrating special occasions. Men more actively participate in the mitzvah, while women dress nicer (much nicer) than men tend to!

3. Specifically looking to manufacture reasons to eat meat during the Nine Days is generally frowned upon.

ערוך השולחן אורח חיים סימן תקנא
סעיף ח
וכן אין נושאין נשים מר"ח ואפילו בלא סעודה... דכל מין שמחה אסור פשיטא דגם בכה"ג הוי שמחה ואסור ואפילו שמחת מריעות נראה דאסור וה"ה שידוכין אצלינו מותר להתקשר מר"ח ולהלן אבל בלא סעודה וכ"ש בלא ריקודין ומחולות ואפילו בשבת אסור לעשות סעודה בשביל זה ואפילו מי"ז בתמוז אסור ריקודין ומחולות כמו שאנו נוהגין לבלי לעשות נשואין מי"ז בתמוז עד אחר ת"ב ולא דמי לסעודת מילה ופדיון הבן שמותר דהזמן גרמא וגם אין בזה שמחה דאין שמחה אלא בענייני זיווגים שעליהם מברכין שהשמחה במעונו ולכן כל השייך לזה האירוסין והקישורי תנאים הוי שמחה ולא מילה ופדה"ב
סעיף ט
אמרו חז"ל בתענית שם האי בר ישראל דאית ליה דינא בהדי א"י לישתמיט מיניה כל החדש דריע מזלא בכל החדש מילה שהיא מר"ח עד ט"ב נוהגין שהמוהל והבעל ברית שהוא הסנדק ואבי הבן לובשין בגדי שבת אבל שארי בעלי הכיבודים אפילו הקוואטי"ר אין לובשין בגדי שבת אך הנשים נוהגות ללבוש לפי שזהו עיקר מצוה שלהן במה שלובשות בגדים יקרים לכבוד המילה [מג"א סק"ג]:
סעיף כז
עוד כתבו דבמילה ופדיון הבן וסיום מסכת וסעודת אירוסין אוכלין בשר ושותין יין כל השייכים לסעודה אבל יש לצמצם שלא להוסיף ובשבוע שחל ת"ב בתוכה אין לאכול בשר ולשתות יין רק מניין מצומצם וזה אפילו בערב תשעה באב שרי ובלבד שלא יהיה בסעודה המפסיק בה וכל מי שאוכל בשר במקום שנוהגים בו איסור פורץ גדר הוא וינשכנו נחש ומותר לשתות כל שכר אפילו של דבר שקורין מע"ד עכ"ל וחילקו בין מן ר"ח לבין שבוע שחל ט"ב בתוכה דבשבוע זו יראו שלא יהיה יותר ממניין מצומצם ומן ר"ח יכול להיות יותר ורק לבלי להוסיף קרואים שאין להם שייכות להברית מילה ואלולי האכילת בשר לא היו קוראים אותם בוודאי יש לאסור

Monday, July 2, 2018


If you've stumbled across this blog and you are not using my services, I humbly suggest you speak with your mohel about this. I have had quite a few hirings come my way only BECAUSE I DO WHAT IS DESCRIBED BELOW. The people were looking precisely for someone who is precise

Of the recent brisses I have had, in a few cases a grandparent is a pediatrician. In a number of cases, the parents had hired a different mohel for an older son of theirs.

Of course in most most most cases of brisses, everything goes well and everyone is happy.

But a bunch of people have a story. About a bris that did not cosmetically turn out as they had hoped. Of a circumstance under which the baby needed to go to the hospital. Of a less than positively memorable experience. Or a pediatrician sees circumcisions (performed by doctors) and the rare bris performed by a mohel which did not turn out as it perhaps should have.

The parents with these stories probably don't talk too much about it, but they have to tell me because they don't want that experience repeated. Or the pediatrician quietly suggests to parents that they would do well to speak to a pediatric urologist.

It pains me to hear these stories, because they are unnecessary. Honestly, they should never happen.

There is a very simple solution, and a very simple method that mohels MUST train themselves to do, to make for perfect circumcisions - straight, even, cosmetically beautiful, and responsible, while leaving the parents happy and the baby in a good place for all purposes and needs down the road.



I am tired of hearing mohels say "I don't need to do that." This is arrogance of the highest order.

We are dealing with long term ramifications of a person's life!

This is not to suggest I think that circumcision is dangerous. On the contrary. I think that when done correctly and under all the proper conditions, it is not only not dangerous, but a safe procedure which has very many benefits long term (agreed that some of these are not apparent for a long time, but I can't tell you how many babies had a change in their urination immediately after circumcision - able to urinate more freely, and avoid the UTI that even babies could get under certain conditions).

There is no greater satisfaction that I have in this line of work than in being able to tell parents "Your son's circumcision is perfect." And I know that the only reason I can say that so often, noting the precision of the circumcision, is because of the marking of the foreskin with a surgical pen and following the mark.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Summer Time

My son recently commented to me, "Abba, you do realize you're always busier in the summer."

Looking back at some of my old logs, there is truth to this. Though how he would know I can't fathom, because he was away at camp the last few summers.

But I digress.

Was it the aftermath of Hurricane Irma? Was it the High Holiday season?

Is there a trend among teachers to have babies in the summer time so they can have 2-3 months with baby before needing to go back to work? (Yes there is!)

Or do people just plan for summer babies because summer babies are awesome (my wife and I have 4 "summer babies"!)?

Of course not everyone can plan these things. And of course, I am well aware that there are many people who don't care when they have the baby they desperately want to have, but have been unable to have for all the reasons in the world.

So to those who are having babies, congratulations. Feel free to be in touch when you have a boy.
Congratulations to the mommies of the little bundles of pink.

And for those still hoping, I hope God can fulfill your wishes, for good, speedily in the near future.

ה' ימלא משאלות לבכם לטובה אמן

Monday, May 21, 2018

The 3-Bris Day

My mohel teacher would often have multiple brisses in a single day. Rare was it that he had only one bris. Even more rare was when he had not a single bris in any particular day. .

There are many mohels in Florida - some have been working as mohels in Florida for over 30 years. Between their seniority and the fact that many Jews opt for circumcision in hospitals - either for insurance reasons, because they think a doctor does a better job, because they don't know about the significance of the 8th day, or they simply don't care - it is not so common for me to have 3 brisses in a day.

But that is what is lined up for today!

It is a special merit of a day! I look forward to bringing these babies into the Sign of the Covenant, and serving their wonderful families in this very special mitzvah.

Image result for 3x

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Naming a Baby Before His Bris

When one studies the Torah's narratives, following the births of the forefathers and the sons of Yaakov (later known as the sons of Israel), we find they are all named before birth (by God, for example) or shortly after birth. There is no indication of their being named at the time of circumcision, as their circumcisions are not talked about (with the exception of Yitzchak, the first baby to be circumcised at on day 8).

In my other blog I wrote about when we name boys and girls, and why we name them at the bris and at a Torah reading, respectively.

Yossele Weisberg z"l, dedicated a chapter of his magnum opus on the laws and practices of the Bris Milah experience, "Otzar Habris," to the customs surrounding when we name both boys and girls. He records 4 reasons for why a boy is named at his bris:

  1. At the time we are involved in blessing the child (ie. we say a "mi sheberach" after the bris), it is appropriate to refer to him by name. This would imply that the bris is the latest we can name a boy. 
  2. Until his bris, he carries the name of an "arel" ערל (uncircumcised), which must be changed to a proper Jewish name as soon as possible after his circumcision. 
  3. When we give the name with the formula of "Kayem" קיים את הילד הזה לאביו ולאמו ויקרא שמו בישראל... (establish this baby to his mother and father with the following Jewish name…), we are asking for the name to carry with it "God's approval," which would surely be most forthcoming once the child is circumcised. 
  4. Once he is circumcised, and has arrived at his personal physical "completion" (shlemut), it is the right time for him to be given his name.
But what happens if the baby is not circumcised right away for health reasons?

What about when this happens, and on account of an anatomical abnormality there will not be a traditional "bris"?

The answer is that we would name the baby! A baby should have a name! In particular if the baby is in need of our prayers, he should have a name. The bris is the absolute last opportunity to name a baby boy - because he should not go past the bris without having a name, as per the 4 points mentioned above - but it is not an absolute that we must wait until the bris, especially when it will clearly be delayed for weeks and certainly months (when a different kind of surgery is required).

May this discussion only be hypothetical, as all babies should have their brisses on time. In the event that it becomes a practical question, I hope the baby in question is named sooner than later.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Bris Milah and Iceland

Iceland has had a bill to criminalize Bris Milah. I don't know how many Jews live in Iceland, but the thought that a basic Jewish practice might be criminalized, sending people into cellars and basements to do it, is frightening.

I know much lobbying has helped turn this decision, and that international pressure has brought about this interim conclusion. Enjoy? the link.

Here is the latest: https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/general/1512993/european-jewish-association-welcomes-iceland-bris-milah-bill-demise-but-urge-continued-vigilance.html

European Jewish Association Welcomes Demise Of Iceland Bris Milah Bill, But Urges Continued Vigilance


The Chairman of the European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menachem Margolin on Sunday welcomed the apparent demise of Iceland’s controversial circumcision bill, that sought to criminalize the act and threatened imprisonment to adherents, regardless of religious practice or obligation.
Rabbi Margolin however cautioned that continued vigilance of contagion was a necessity not only in Iceland but across Europe.
On March 1, the Icelandic parliament sent the bill to the committee on Judicial affairs for comment, where it has been stuck since. The committee has now decided not to let the bill go forward for a vote on the floor.
As the legislative session is drawing to a close it is all but guaranteed that the decision to refer the bill to the cabinet kills its chances of becoming law. Whether the bill will then be re-introduced is still an open question
In a statement from Brussels, Rabbi Margolin said, “I welcome the apparent demise of what was a discriminatory, unnecessary and fundamentally anti-Jewish bill. The European Jewish Association, along with many other groups, Christian, Muslim and Jewish, made repeated and vociferous representations to the Icelandic government, registering our strong opposition to legislation that sought to criminalize an entire faith.
“Whilst we welcome the news, we must remain vigilant. In our experience bills such as this do not come out in isolation but represent an idea that knows no borders. It is sadly often the case that there is contagion where one bill fails in one country, it gets picked up by another.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)