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Monday, January 18, 2010

The Ceremony and the Honors

The baby starts off with his mother in a private room. The room changes depending on the venue - it could be a bedroom in an apartment or house, an office or bridal room in a synagogue or catering facility - any place which gives the baby breathing room and an intimate environment where baby’s mother can nurse or otherwise feed him after the bris.

The mohel may or may not prepare the baby prior to the bris. If the baby is “prep”ed by the mohel, the baby can be brought out when he is ready. Otherwise he should be brought out when the mohel calls for him.

For information on how to choose people for the following honors, see the end of this section.

The baby is brought into the room where the bris will take place by a “kvatter” couple. The couple consists of a male and female who are either married to one another or are mother/son or father/daughter or brother/sister. Their role is to be the medium passing the baby from his mother to his father.

After he is passed to kvatter, the mother can go to her “spot” for the bris. Some mothers prefer to stay in the back or in a different room. Some like to be right up front. If you have a rabbi, speak with him about what is best for you based on your tradition. There also tend to be different protocols for home circumcisions versus synagogue circumcisions.

In many traditions, the baby is next placed on the chair of Elijah, the “kisei shel Eliyahu.” Some verses are recited, paying tribute to a staunch defender of the covenant of Bris Milah, Elijah the prophet. Note how he makes an appearance here, similar to the one he makes at the Passover Seder.

The baby is handed to the father who first appoints the mohel to be his messenger to do the bris. This helps the father fulfill his obligation to be the actual person performing the circumcision.

(In Jewish law, a person can appoint a messenger, a “shaliach,” to perform certain commandments on one’s behalf. Other examples include sending someone to donate your charity money, or giving and accepting Jewish legal documents.)

Depending on the family custom, the father’s blessing might be recited now (Sephardic or Middle Eastern tradition).

The father places the baby on the sandak’s lap, where he will be held during the actual circumcision. The sandak honor is considered the highest one can bestow upon a person at the bris.

At the moment of circumcision the mohel recites a blessing and then the father recites a blessing (Ashkenazic tradition), and the congregation responds accordingly.

After the circumcision is over and the baby is bandaged and wrapped up, he is held by another honoree, who is sometimes called the “standing sandak.”

While the baby is held, two blessings are recited by the rabbi, mohel or an honoree, who is holding a cup of wine. After that another paragraph is recited in which the baby is officially given his Hebrew name.

Mazal Tov!


The rules: All participants in the bris ceremony should be Jewish.

Every other absolute rule is in bold. Anything else is a suggestion or might change based on the venue - ie home versus synagogue. Usually the honorees are all male, save in the kvatter component.

The kvatter: The kvatter is a married couple unless they are a male/female team as described above. Some people have the custom to give this honor to a couple who as yet do not have children, with the hope that in the merit of participating in this event they will be blessed to have a child. If all your married friends and relatives have children, then the honor can be given to any married couple. Some people give it to a great aunt and uncle.

What about having more than one “kvatter”?

No problem. Some people have unmarried siblings (aunts and uncles to baby) or other friends they’d like to get involved. My rule is simple: “Women first, then men. Let the last woman hand the baby to her husband (the first man).”

Elijah’s Chair: This honor can be given to anyone. Some give it to a rabbi, some to an uncle, some to a dear friend. If this is not your first son, many people try to give honors to individuals who were not honored at the previous bris.

Sandak: The sandak must be male. He is usually the baby’s grandfather or great-grandfather. There is a custom, once past the first bris, to use a different sandak for every subsequent bris of your children. A person may be sandak many times – but for only one of your sons. Some Sephardic traditions re-use sandaks.

Blessings and Naming: Should be read by someone who reads Hebrew fluently. In a traditional ceremony, the one who recites the blessings is an observant Jew. In many cases, the rabbi or the mohel will recite the blessings as the default honoree.

Holding the baby/Standing Sandak: This honor can be given to anyone. It is often split - one person for the blessings, and one for the naming. When there are two grandfathers, this is usually when one or both get involved. If one was the regular sandak, the other will typically fill this role. If a great-grandfather was the regular sandak, the grandfathers might split the baby-holding.

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