Friday, May 10, 2019

Who Cries At A Bris? It Depends...

The baby’s mother told me today:

I’ve always cried at a Bris. Both because of the emotion of being part of the Jewish people, and for the mom who can’t console her baby during the Bris.
But TODAY I didn’t cry. Even though it was MY baby. Because all the information you sent me, all the things you gave me to read, helped me understand what is going on, and helped me know my baby is in the right hands.

(Now *I* am crying. 😅)

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Why do I love being a mohel? Read THIS

Let me count the ways.

While I've answered this question in the past, I am now going to elaborate on reason #2

It is because of stories like what I heard at today's bris.

The parents of the baby are not American-born. Spanish? Russian? I got a mix of different cultures - all of which led me to give a different kind of speech than the one I usually give while explaining the ceremony... about Jewish strength and survival, and doing what we do because we are proud to be Jews... and about the strength God should give parents who are given the enormous task of raising a baby.

As I was about to leave - bris was great, baby resting peacefully - the baby's grandmother walks into the room where her daughter is holding the baby, and she essentially tells me that she's riding on top of the world.

I asked her why? This is her daughter's first child, but she seems even more elated than other parents of first-time parents.

So she tells me her story.

"Five years ago, my daughter had an autoimmune reaction. She was dead on a ventilator. DEAD."

I did not ask for details. A coma? Dead? I don't know what that means.

"She had just gotten engaged. We told her fiance, 'You don't need to wait for her. You are free to go and move on.' And he said, 'Where am I going to go?'"

You guessed it. Her husband is the fiance who stuck with her - through her 3 months bout with death.

"She lost two babies" (This baby was her 3rd pregnancy)

"And now she has a healthy child. This baby is a miracle like you have no idea. My daughter is a living miracle."

And I. Had the PRIVILEGE. To be brought. Into the inner circle. Of this family. And this story.

And I had no idea. Until it (the bris) was all over.

Before leaving I sought out the daddy. I gave him a huge hug (which I never do). And I told him, "Your mother in law just told me your wife's story. You are an incredible man. God bless you. God bless your wife, your baby, your family."

(Crying as I write this. So honored to play the role I played. And Baruch She'kivanti)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Common Questions to uncommon situations

Some of the more common questions that come up have been addressed before. I'm providing some old links to help you navigate these issues.

What happens when the baby is jaundiced/yellow?

What happens if the baby has a weird foreskin or no foreskin?

What kinds of problems should I anticipate after the bris? (there are a few links here as well)

Do you have any really bad stories that you care to share? (see the bottom link "Vindicated" on this page)

How do I get over the nervousness I feel at the prospect of the bris?
Knowledge is power -

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Mark(er) of the Mohel

Sometimes the stories just write themselves.

At today's bris, I had set up everything at the place where the circumcision would take place, then I went to prepare the baby for the bris in the Private Room.

While I don't think of myself as absent-minded, sometimes I forget an item. Today I had left my marker, an essential "tool" that I use, on the table where the bris would be taking place.

Speaking more to myself than anyone in particular, I said, "Oops. I forgot my pen!"

The baby's dad said, "Don't worry. I got one for you."


"No. I think I'll get mine."

(He's thinking. Puts two and two together.) "Oh man! Your surgical pen!"

And he falls down in convulsive laughter.

Good times. 😂

Thursday, November 22, 2018

When the Baby Missed His Bris

It doesn't happen often, but every now and then a baby misses his bris.


Either his parents are just not thinking about it (fairly uncommon), or some medical conditions arise which cause the bris to be necessarily delayed. He could be a preemie, it could be a systemic issue, or things keep popping up (fever, cough, cold, etc) (we do NOT circumcise a baby who is not completely healthy).

Mohels have certain quirks - we don't do a bris on a baby who is under 5 pounds. We are hesitant to have some people play certain roles at brisses (depending on the venue, this reservation may change). And we really really don't like doing a bris on a baby who is over a month old (unless he was a preemie), who is past being a "new newborn."

I had it again this week. The baby's mother called me. "We had 2 and a half months of his getting sick, getting better. He has an older brother in pre-school who kept getting him sick. But he's finally finally good. And we need to have a bris done!"

How much does he weigh?

11 pounds.


"OK. This is the deal. Your baby is no longer a newborn. The bris will be the same - everything will be OK. But his awareness of it will be very different from that of a new newborn, who kind of falls asleep when it's over and has a pretty good day afterwards."

I needed to tell her all this because her older son was 8 days old at his bris, and she needed to know the experience was likely going to be different.

And it was. But it also was amazing.

Yes, the baby was a little more aware. Yes he was stronger than a typical newborn.

BUT, the bris was actually quicker than usual. (For his safety I had him held on a flat surface rather than on the sandak's lap), and when it was all over, he was as chilled out as could be.

To top it off, he actually APPRECIATED THE MANSCHEWITZ wine in the way a newborn never does. He kept asking for a refill!

All told, I certainly find doing the bris on day 8 (or thereabouts for the occasional 1-10 day delay) much easier. And I certainly do NOT recommend pushing off a bris for an inordinate amount of time.

But if every 11 pound baby's bris went as smoothly as this little guy's did, that will be just fine.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Name Given to Baby When the Father is Not Jewish

When a baby is born to a Jewish woman who has no man in her life (ie through IVF), or to a Jewish woman who is in a union with a non-Jewish man, the child is Jewish and is required to have a Bris Milah.

At the Bris, he is given a Jewish name - which is often a Hebrew or Yiddish name - and that name might be the same as (or very similar to) the name put on his birth certificate.

However, there is an added component when it comes to the Jewish name, and that is - as made quite famous from the Dwarves in "The Lord of the Rings" - a Jewish person is called by name, son of his father, on Jewish documents (such as a marriage Ketubah) and when called to the Torah. He is referred to as name, son of his mother, when we pray for him for whatever reason or purpose.

In an IVF case, the baby's father's identity is not known (it might be known within certain files, but his identity will likely never be known to "his" child). When the father is present, but not Jewish, he does not pass on Jewishness to his son. (For ADOPTION and SURROGATE cases, see the end)

So what "fatherly" name is given to this Jewish child?

Here are a few options (please note the Hebrew word "ben" means "son of":
1. None. He will be known as the son of his mother for all matters Jewish.
2. Sefer Minhagei Fiorda (quoted in Otzar HaBris Volume 1, in the footnote on page 360) - he can be called ____ ben Avraham, or ____ ben Yitzchak, or ____ ben Yaakov.  (A convert is typically referred to as "____ ben Avraham" or "____ ben Avraham Avinu" - but this child is not a convert, so he can be referred to as the son of any of the forefathers)
3. Alternatively (same source) he can be called ____ ben (his Jewish grandfather) - if the grandfather agrees.
4. The first time I did a bris on an IVF baby, the rabbi who was present told the mom she could give the baby a name from her ancestry - so she named him _____ son of (her deceased grandfather)

In Judaism we have a principle that "bnei banim harei hem k'banim" - that grandchildren are like children. Being an ancestor means you are like a "father" to this child.


In the case of surrogacy, if it is the father's genetic material, I don't think anyone would argue against the child being named with his genetic father's name.

There is a principle in Judaism that the (Jewish) father who raises a child who is not his natural child is considered as if he had fathered the child.

Therefore in both cases - adoption and surrogacy - the Jewish father who is raising the child can be the fatherly name given to the child at the time of his bris.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Including Non-Jews in the Bris Ceremony?

Being one who only accepts the view of matrilineal descent determining Jewishness, I follow the view that when the baby's mother is not Jewish, the baby is not Jewish and is not required to have a bris. 

However, it happens often enough that the mother IS Jewish, and the father is not a Jew. Which means that the baby needs a bris, and I am brought into the situation.

In the email I send to parents pre-bris, I include the line that "All participants in the ceremony should be Jewish." That instruction is both for those who want to include their non-Jewish friends in the ceremony, or their non-Jewish relatives.

How could I be so exclusionary?

The way that I put it is this: In the hypothetical case where I am invited to a baptism (it has never happened and probably will never happen, not that I would go), I would be happy to watch a ceremony/service of a different faith, one which I do not understand, nor wish to participate in. Watch? Sure. But I would feel wholly out of place participating in the ritual.

Now, I understand that people who are not Jewish often love to participate in Jewish rituals, whether it's attending a Passover Seder or a public event of lighting Chanukah candles. In these cases, however, the roles are exactly as I described. As a bystander, watching, albeit close by.

The same thing applies at a bris, with one exception. Non-Jews are welcome at a bris. They can watch, they can listen, they can ask questions. But the ritualistic components of the bris are for Jews. Even the baby's father, who plays a significant role when he is Jewish (which is the case, thank God, most of the time), does not have any requirement or real role in the ceremony when he is not Jewish!

HE is not commanded, HE does not say blessings, he can't appoint the mohel to be his agent to fulfill a mitzvah he does not have. 

So here it is:
Non Jews are welcome to be present. 

Non-Jewish relatives should be mindful that the ceremony takes 5 minutes (or so). They'll have a lifetime to be in this child's life and to take all the pictures they want. 

Non-Jewish friends - in most cases they are more than happy to be on the sidelines, even if baby's parents feel very close to them. They need not actively participate in the bris. 

As for the baby's non-Jewish father, I do not deny a father the opportunity to hold his baby. As soon as the bris is over, unless the baby's mother wants to hold her son immediately, I give the baby to his father to hold (assuming of course that he is supportive and present - in some cases the father is in reluctant agreement and is not present).

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Rabbinic Standards, Synagogue Standards, Mohel Standards

This post will explore a few topics:
1. That parents decide who their son's mohel will be
2. There are different methods employed when circumcising
3. There are hashkafic (worldview) differences employed by some religious camps in their preference for method
4. While there are halakhic differences associated with the worldviews, and while people may have a preference for how things ought to be done, with extremely rare exception, no one will say the brisses as described below are invalid. (When they ARE invalid, assuming the correct amount of foreskin has been removed, the method of fixing a bris is called "Hatafat Dam Brit")
5. The Standards that some rabbis and synagogues have employed in determining how they want a bris performed under their influence/oversight

You brought this baby into this world? He is your responsibility. You must do your research. You must learn about bris, you must know what will be happening to your baby, and you must ask the right questions so that you know the person you will be hiring to perform the circumcision/bris conforms to your sensibilities, sensitivities, and the way you live your life.
For example:
If you are worried about the pain your baby will experience, you should be asking about what numbing options the mohel offers, how fast he works, whether he uses a clamp.
If you are concerned about sterility, you must ask whether the mohel wears gloves, how he sterilizes his instruments, whether he does metzitzah with his mouth, with a tube, or with a sponge
If you are concerned about methods and safety, you have to ask about clamps, freehand, whether the mohel marks the foreskin with a marker

Baby's grandparents, your rabbi, your friends are certainly allowed to make recommendations to you. But the decision of whom to hire (unless YOU CHOOSE TO DELEGATE IT) is your decision to make. The choice you make might come in conflict with the standards delineated below (in the STANDARDS section), but don't balk if you are confident in your decision that the mohel you've chosen is right for you and your baby.

As I have noted here, while there are a number of ways people can go about circumcising, mohels typically fall into one of three methods. Clamp, Shield, Freehand.

Within those groups, there are different styles.
Clamp-using mohels (NOTE: I DO NOT USE A CLAMP) will most often use a Bronstein/Mogen Clamp, and very rarely use a Gomco Clamp. In all likelihood, someone who uses a clamp will also employ the use of  a hemostat in order to achieve "Milah U'Priah B'Vas Achas."

Within the shield style, some will grab the foreskin with a hemostat, some will grab it with their fingers alone, sans-any other instrument.

The freehand mohel uses no instruments other than a knife, and does so because he thinks his method is least painful to the baby, and most reflective of the method utilized by mohels from over 1000 years ago.

And then there's metzitzah. Which is either accomplished through a sterile tube, through the mouth of the father (or mohel), or sidestepped completely.

The differences in these approaches are largely "hashkafic," and with the exception of the use of the clamp (where there are significant halakhic objections), no one I know of actually disputes or questions the validity of the circumcision performed using a different method of grabbing the foreskin, doing metzitzah, or using a shield.


Like any trade skill, a mohel develops a routine and system that works for him. When a mohel is asked to do a bris in the manner he is not comfortable doing, he can try to comply or he can say "I work best using the method I am used to. If you want me, this is the bris you get. You don't like that style, by all means, please call someone else."

When a rabbi is asked for a recommendation of a mohel, the rabbi (or his congregation) might have a set of standards for what they allow/don't allow. In my experience, some shuls use any or all of the following standards of operations:
A. Metzitzah may not be done with direct oral contact (out of concern for the transmission of any kind of disease), and may only be done with a sterile pipette (usually glass or one-time disposable sterile back of a syringe)
B. Do not allow a clamp (for Halakhic reasons)
C. Insist the mohel wear gloves.
D. Orthodox synagogues will likely insist on the mohel being an Orthodox Jew.

Hashkafically, some communities do not like the hemostat and they prefer metzitzah with direct-oral contact, but they do not call into question the validity of a bris performed with a hemostat (it is not viewed the same way that a clamp is viewed) or the metzitzah performed with a pipette. If they insist that the bris be performed without a hemostat (which most mohels use), they are essentially telling their constituents, "We have a very limited number of mohels we allow to perform a bris here. If these mohels work for you, great. If not, enjoy doing your bris elsewhere."


Most people will certainly agree that standards which protect the baby should be unquestioned.

This is why I think that the institutions/rabbis which insist there is ONLY ONE ACCEPTABLE METHOD OF PERFORMING BRIS MILAH do their constituents a disservice, as they are basically dictating to parents, "We don't trust your judgment about the mohel you've picked. You have to trust our judgment." Meaning, if the parents want a certain method, which happens to hashkafically differ from the rabbi's perspective (even while halakhically being extremely mainstream and acceptable), that IS OK. And the rabbi needs to be a little flexible. And a little more humble. Especially if he is not a mohel himself and does not know everything about Bris Milah. Preach all you want, but allow people to come to Judaism and decisions on their own terms.

My Standard Recommendation
On the rare case when I am unavailable, or when people from out of state ask me for a recommendation of a mohel closer to them, my own standard of recommendation and endorsement is for mohels who wear gloves. There's an element of hygiene and cleanliness that accompanies a glove-wearer (metzitzah with a tube, a standard of sterilizing) which I simply admire and support. But I do not invalidate mohels who do not fit my standards! If they do a good (or even great) job and people are happy with how they operate, and of course are pleased with the results, then blessings upon everybody!

Yes. There are some places where I feel it is important to draw a line (I think, for example, that the Gomco clamp is a torture device, and should never make an appearance at a bris). But there should also be a little bit of flexibility, especially when the bris is halakhically valid "lechatchila" according to virtually everyone, and the baby emerges with a fine circumcision and without danger of infection from the method employed on him.

In short, those who make standards for their institutions need to be very careful to be consistent, and must also be ready to explain to their constituents why certain mohels that everyone else hires might not be acceptable in their own synagogue.

There is an element of risk as well, because the family might opt to not do the bris in that facility altogether, and might be turned off from the institution which dictates to them how to live their lives.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Check out

I have a few URLs that are bris-related, each with its own special focus.

For now, I just want to call your attention to, where I log the brisses that I travel a more significant distance to get to. Sometimes it's a long drive in Florida, but more often it's a plane ride away.

For example, I recently went to Curacao for a bris, only to discover the bris was the FIRST BRIS IN CURACAO IN TWELVE YEARS.

Now, THAT is cool (for me). There have been girls born in Curacao, and some families with little boys who have moved to Curacao. But everyone at the bris knew exactly which boy was the until-that-point most recent bris in Curacao.

And, as it turns out, I am going back! Imagine... two weeks apart, two baby boys born. And their brisses will both be performed by the same traveling mohel!


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