Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Mother v Father : Wife v Husband

It does not happen often, but every now and then the parents of the baby have very different ideas as to what they want their baby's circumcision to look like. And no, I am not talking about the actual aesthetics of how things will turn out and look post-op.

I'm referring to the setting of the bris. Without getting into specifics of what men v women want (because there is honestly no set rule here), let's just give a few examples where different visions can reach very different conclusions.

One wants to make a big party and invite lots of people
One wants to keep things modest. Very modest.

One wants to bring special attention to the mitzvah at hand
One couldn't care less about the mitzvah

One believes circumcision is the right thing to do for religious reasons
One believes circumcision is an important medical procedure

One wants the bris milah
One is very hesitant about the bris altogether

One thinks the only way to do this is through hiring a mohel
One thinks the only way to do this is through hiring a doctor

One thinks we should involve many people in the ceremony
One thinks the mohel is more than enough, thank you very much, and the baby does not to be exposed to every germ under the sun

One thinks the boy should be named after Derek Jeter
One thinks the boy should be named after Great Tante Shprintze
(OK - this last one is a joke)

You see where this can go wrong!

So the first thing I would encourage is "Talk beforehand. WAAAAAAAY beforehand!"
Next: Come up with lists of your desires. See where you are on the same page, and see where you differ. Then have mature conversations about the differences, and compromise as much as possible, while giving in when it's more of a question of "what is more meaningful to you."
These questions may be a good guide for the things you need to learn http://www.mohelinsouthflorida.com/2009/09/good-questions-to-ask-any-mohel.html

Here is an example that comes up for conversation more often than you'd think, though the conclusion is usually the same:

The father (thinks he) wants to do the incision.
The mother (thinks he should have his head examined and) disagrees

As I've noted here - http://www.mohelinsouthflorida.com/2012/10/should-father-do-circumcision.html - it's not a big deal for the father to do it. It's easily set up so that his doing the incision is no different than if I do it. He will fulfill his mitzvah in a greater way. And it may help him feel more involved. 
On the one hand, if he (or his wife) is not comfortable with it, then I advise against it.
On the other hand, I've had many moms/wives say to the husband, "If the rabbi says it's OK, it's fine with me. It's your mitzvah. I don't want to get in your way." And indeed that attitude has prevailed a number of times. It's also testament to a very good and healthy relationship.

The bottom line is this: knowledge is power. The more both of you know, the more both of you can talk through what your visions are for the bris of your dreams - public, private, fancy food, limited food, mohel (my preference!), doctor, the right name for baby, etc.

And, as always, if I can help you through the journey (or navigating this conversation), be in touch! I am happy to help!  http://www.mohelinsouthflorida.com/p/contact.html

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Bris on Tisha B'Av

In the event your baby's bris will be taking place on Tisha B'Av (timely, because that will be observed this coming Sunday), here are a few things to bear in mind.

1. The bris takes place after Kinot, because we can't mix "Simcha" (of the bris) with the sadness of the Kinot. As far as when exactly we do the bris there are three views

  1. After Shacharit, but before Chatzot (midday)
  2. After Chatzot
  3. After Mincha
Ashkenazim typically follow the first view, while Sefardim typically follow the second view. 
Like every other day of the calendar, the main rule is that the bris take place while the sun is out. Those who would like to serve a break the fast meal as a "Seudat Mitzvah" might prefer to have the bris as close to sunset as possible. 

2. The father, mohel and sandak may wear Shabbos clothes in honor of the special day (typically, Tisha B'Av clothes are less fancy than Shabbos clothes). There are differences of opinion as to their allowance to wear leather shoes. However, once the bris is over, they should change back to regular Tisha B'Av garb.

3.The blessing is made over wine, but the wine is given either to children to drink, to the baby to drink, or to the baby's mother, in the event that she is not fasting.  She should be sure to hear the bracha, have in mind to fulfill the bracha for herself with the recitation at the bris, and she should not talk between hearing the bracha and drinking the wine. (This applies if the bris is on time, or taking place while the baby is under 30 days old. If the bris has been significantly delayed, she should also be fasting).

4. For those who bring besamim to a bris (a Sefardic and Middle Eastern tradition), there is a debate as to whether they should be brought to a Tisha B'Av bris, some feeling we avoid making a blessing on spices on Tisha B'Av, with others thinking, "Yes, but it's a brit!!"

5. While we don't cut fingernails on Tisha B'Av, a mohel may cut his fingernails if they are needed for pri'ah. 

6. There are different customs surrounding wearing a tallis at a bris. Those who wear a tallis do not wear it on Tisha B'Av in the morning. As such, there are different views as to whether the "no tallis in the morning" rule also applies to a bris taking place in the morning. 

7. While under typical circumstances we do not allow the eating of meat on the evening that follows Tisha B'Av, but since meat is allowed to be eaten during the Nine Days for a bris, meat can also be eaten at the end of Tisha B'Av, if it is for the meal that is the Seudas Mitzvah of the Tisha B'Av bris. 

8. When Tisha B'Av falls on Saturday and is observed on Sunday there is a debate as to whether the father, mohel and sandak may eat. If they may, it is only after Mincha. All eating on a Sunday Tisha B'Av must be preceded by havdalah. 

9. If the bris has been pushed off, and today is not the 8th day, the father, mohel and sandak must fast. 

10. There is a custom to give the baby whose bris is on Tisha B'Av either the name Menachem or Nechemiah (there is also a custom to give a girl born on Tisha B'Av the name Bat Zion.)

(Source, Otzar HaBris  Volume I, pages 293-297)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

If the father is not present, who recites his blessing?

The father's role at the bris is significant, as he is one of the 3 baalei brit. The blessing he recites is noted as the third bullet-point in the link at the beginning of this paragraph.

While it is uncommon for the father to not be present at the bris, here are a few examples of how it could be that he is not present.

* He is away on business and his wife unexpectedly gave birth early
* He is sick and out of commission
* He has passed away (R"L)
* He is in prison
* He is not Jewish.

In the latter case he might be physically present, but halakha does not recognize his role in the child coming into the Jewish people, as the non-Jewish father does not transfer Jewish-ness to the baby. Certainly, the non-Jewish father has no mitzvah and is not to recite a blessing over a Jewish ritual!

Here are the options of who can recite the blessing in the father's absence (Sefer HaBris p. 254).
1. The sandak
2. The baby's grandfather
3. Anyone present
4. The mohel

The blessing means that we acknowledge God who has sanctified us with His mitzvot and has commanded us 'to enter the child in the covenant of Avraham our forefather.'

The question is what does that mean? Is entering into the covenant a one-time thing? Or is a longer-term commitment? That distinction is what determines whether the mohel may or may not recite the blessing!

The sandak is a baal bris, so he seems the most obvious choice to say the blessing.
The baby's grandfather has a responsibility to help in the child's education in the event that the father is not present (for any of the reasons outlined above), and one can argue that the longer version of the mitzvah is to raise the child within the framework of the covenant. If that is the case, he might be the best candidate. His candidacy grows if he is also serving as the sandak.
Any person who is present may play the role as the community may take the responsibility on itself to help raise the child.
Finally, the mohel. The question is whether it is appropriate for the mohel to say 2 brachot on the same mitzvah. In light of the explanation given above for the grandfather, the argument can be made that if the mohel is the father he can say both blessings. But of course, if that is the case, he is present at the bris! In cases where the mohel is a service provider, one can certainly argue that his mitzvah is the circumcision alone and not the acknowledgment of his role in the child's upbringing into the covenant.

Best option - in my opinion - is the sandak, especially if he is also the grandfather of the baby.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Reciting "Shehechiyanu" At a Bris

Much of the following is from Rabbi Pirutinsky's discussion of the subject in Sefer HaBris, starting page 290. He quotes all the Rishonim and Acharonim. I am making it simple through just giving the opinions. 

One of the more impactful blessings we have in our liturgy is the "Shehechiyanu"

ברוך אתה ה' א-לקינו מלך העולם שהחיינו וקימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה
Blessed are you Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who has had us live, and survive, and brought us to this time.

We say this blessing on holidays and other special occasions, mostly when a special event has not happened for over 30 days. (There is an entire Siman in the Shulchan Arukh - Orach Chaim 225 - dedicated to this blessing!)

Do we say it at a bris?

There are three answers to this question:
1. Yes
2. No
3. It depends

Those who say it are usually Sefardim or of Middle Eastern descent. It is the custom in Israel to say it, even among Ashkenazi Jews. I have seen some Ashkenazic Jews from Israel say it at their son's bris in the United States. The thought process is simple. How often do you have a son? How often do you  have a bris? Say Shehechiyanu!

The reasons to not say it are a little more formal thinking.
1. The child experiences pain at the bris (צערא דינוקא), so it is not a nice time to say Shehechiyanu.
2. Unlike a Pidyon Haben, which takes place after the child's 30th day, in most cases (barring extreme medically required delays) the bris takes place while the baby is under 30 days old. In Halakhic terms, the child is still in the realm of what's called a חשש נפל. While (THANK GOD) most babies survive to 30 days, halakha assigns a status of נפל to a child under 30 days "just in case" the worst happens. Because of that concern, there is hesitation to allow the recitation of Shehechiyanu on the bris.

A special circumstance to allow for Shehechiyanu would be if the father himself is doing the circumcision. Since in most cases the mohel is performing the mitzvah on the father's behalf, and since for the mohel it's a regular occurence, the mohel would not be saying Shehechiyanu. And since the father isn't actually doing the milah he can't say it either!
But if the father is either a mohel himself, or the mohel sets it up for the father to do, then there are opinions which support the father's saying Shehechiyanu in this circumstance.

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?
http://www.mohelinsouthflorida.com/2018/01/the-scare-tactic-long-term-reminder.html (there are a few links here as well)

Do you have any really bad stories that you care to share?
http://www.mohelinsouthflorida.com/2018/01/table-of-contents-problems.html (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 - http://www.mohelinsouthflorida.com/p/welcome.html

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.