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Monday, January 30, 2012

The BrIs Certificate

I have had mixed feelings about the bris certificate over the years. When I was living in NY, most of the brisses I presided over were for Orthodox Jews.

Not to judge or compare, but Orthodox Jews generally pay a lot more attention to their children's Hebrew/Jewish names in the formative years after the bris than unaffiliated or minimally affiliated Jews do for their children. The likelihood of their forgetting the baby's Hebrew name is slim to none.

There are, of course, other reasons why people might want a certificate, but I see that as being the most important reason (from my perspective) as to why to give one.

Living in Florida, I have found a very different reality on the ground. The benefits of providing at least the option for a certificate far outweigh the hassle of putting one together. As a result I now offer a certificate for those who want one.

I have chosen to include the baby's birth date, the date of his bris, (both the Jewish and secular calendar dates), his English name(s) and his Hebrew name. I include the parents' Hebrew names as well.

And I send it to parents via email in PDF form so they can choose to print it on whatever paper in whatever size and to frame it how they like. Most importantly, since each certificate now has a digital copy in my email and in the email of the parents, the likelihood of it getting lost forever is also minimized.

If I did your son's bris and never offered you a certificate AND if you want one, please be in touch and I will be happy to try to help rectify the outstanding "debt."

Saturday, January 28, 2012


I am not in the habit of telling bad stories about myself. 
You must read this entry until the end to understand the title and why this merited a blog post.

Ask any mohel this question: What was your worst bris experience?

Some will talk about a family that may have been pushy or impatient
Some will talk about a hostile environment
Some will talk about a less than perfect circumcision
Some might even mention how once "a long time ago" a baby needed to go to the hospital to get stitches.

Truth is, those who have experienced the latter case, will probably not be willing to admit it.

I thank God every day that I have never had a baby who required any medical care beyond that which I provide for him.

But, were you to ask me the question, I would tell you about the time (6 years ago) the baby, a first boy in a wonderfully special family circumstance (can't give away more details... to protect the innocent), wouldn't clot after the bris. Back in his home, I literally bandaged and rebandaged him 8 or 9 times, to no avail.

Of course, he was crying the whole time. And while he was never in danger - he did not lose a significant amount of blood, because when I put pressure (without a bandage wrapped around), the bleeding is under control - things just did not seem right.

Meanwhile, the baby's parents and grandparents (who were also present) were giving me funny looks:
Is this normal? (No it isn't)
Why is it taking so long? (I don't know)
Is this your first bris? (no. I have done this hundreds of times)
Should we call a doctor? (If you feel it necessary, call the doctor).

I told them, "I am doing everything I normally do. I am using the bandages that promote hemostasis. I am wrapping them correctly. I am putting ample pressure, for more than the necessary length of time."

Then I spoke with the doctor, who had been briefed by the family. He told me, "How bad is it? If you think I need to suture him up, bring him over and I'll take care of it."

I said, "I don't think it's bad. The bris was done properly. He just isn't clotting. Here's what I'll do: I'll try it one more time, and if it doesn't work, we'll bring him to you."


I tried it one more time, accompanying the effort with a sincere and heartfelt prayer, and the next bandaging did the trick. No medical intervention required.

So why do I tell this story? Because over the weekend I happened to see the mother from this story - and when she saw me she said "OMG. You did his bris. I'll bet you remember it."

Yes. I remember it very clearly.

"You should know," she said, "a little while after the bris we had him tested. He does have a minor clotting problem."


I am sure I asked in those days if there was any history of hemophilia. I must have been told "No." Armed with the information I had, we proceeded with the bris in the proper time.

For me, this is a story that has waited a long time to come full circle. I am grateful for the vindication.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Inquiries Welcome

Travels, multiple-bris days, and certain areas in FL come in spurts. There are busy times as a mohel, and there are slower times.

But the inquiries come ALL the time. Just to share a few snippets from the last few days:

  • Our baby's bilirubin count shot up to 21 the afternoon before his bris, which is scheduled for tomorrow morning. What should we do? Do the bris on time, or delay it?
  • My parents are Jewish. But I am a Messianic Jew (who believes Jesus is the Messiah). Will you do the bris on my son?
  • Our twins were born at 34 weeks and weigh in the 3.5-pound zone. When would the bris take place?
  • Do all participants in the bris ceremony have to be Jewish? What if the baby's father is not Jewish?
  • Why should I use you (or any mohel) instead of a doctor?

Every one's circumstance is unique. Everyone has a personal story. Every child is a miracle. And every tale is one step in a special journey of life. Thank you for bringing me in to playing a small part in your life - whether the inquiry is in Florida, Connecticut, Illinois, Nebraska, Puerto Rico, Washington (state). I am glad you found my website and called me to chat. Cheers!

When the Mother is Not Jewish

I have addressed questions of the baby's "maternity" in the past.
See here for the question regarding level of observance
See my thought on the 'definition of what makes someone a Jew'
And most relevant to the topic at hand, this discussion of the different pairings of parents looking for a bris or circumcision

I am not judging you, if you and your spouse (or 'significant other') are an example of the statistic under discussion. What I am doing is explaining where I'm coming from when these situations come my way, and why I choose to act in the manner that will be described.

Living in Florida, I have become acutely sensitive to the statistic that America is the home of more than 50% intermarriage rates. I know that even the word "intermarriage" is a taboo and politically insensitive word. But it is a word found in a dictionary, and the Oxford online definition explains it to mean "marriage between people of different races, castes, or religions."

The races or castes definitions are irrelevant to me. This melting pot society doesn't/shouldn't care so much about them anyway. But the "religions" concern - that's a different story.

Other religions (Christianity, Islam) view marriages to non-coreligionist partners as intermarriages. So does Judaism.

What a bunch of insensitive bigots!

Not really. Religion (opium of the masses and all that) is either transmitted by birth or by choice (and education, of course), and only has a real fighting chance to sustain itself in future generations if children are given one message from their parents. And, I am sorry to say, "We will give our child doses of both so s/he can choose what to be when s/he is older" will do more damage and cause more confusion for the child than if you make the choice for your child yourselves.

For example, those who say (and this usually happens in a similar-to-'My-Big-Fat-Greek-Wedding' manner), "We are raising the child Jewish," who plan to introduce the child to ZERO nuances of a different religion simply because the non-Jewish spouse is completely areligious are doing a very different job (to their credit!) than the family who will be celebrating December with a "Hanukkah Bush."

To The Point

An "intermarriage" that I deal with either has (drum roll) the mother as the Jewish partner or the father as the Jewish partner. Jewish law passes Judaism to a child through birth from a Jewish mother. Also known as "Matrilineal Descent." A Jewish woman is either Jewish through her own birth from a Jewish mother, or through conversion. [Conversion these days is unfortunately a complicated discussion. Suffice it to say there are a number of conversion programs that do more for the rabbi and synagogue "sponsoring" the conversion than for the convert.]  It is not determined by a feeling or by a self-identification with the Jewish people. Nor by her having a Jewish father. You may ask, "Why is Judaism passed automatically through the mother?" I'll answer "I don't know. But it's a Tradition." JUST KIDDING! (thank you, Tevye).

One reason is because when a child emerges from his mother, we can be certain of one thing: this woman is his mother. (though nowadays with surrogates... hmmm... let's not go there). While we are very confident as to who the father is (and nowadays we can test with a paternity test) the moment of birth does not prove his paternity in the same way it proves her maternity.

Translation: If the mother is Jewish, her baby is Jewish, and if her baby is a boy, he needs a bris on the 8th day of his life, assuming he is healthy and there is no need for it to be delayed.

You knew there had to be a "But." [This section will typically be irrelevant to a Reform Mohel who will likely accept one Jewish parent as enough to "make a child Jewish." But a Conservative, and certainly an Orthodox mohel will more than likely have similar concerns due to the mother's non-Jewishness, as you will now see.]

But if the baby's father is the Jewish partner, the baby boy that emerges from its non-Jewish mother (whatever technicality makes her not Jewish) is not Jewish. As a non-Jewish baby, he does not need a bris. Not on the 8th day. Not ever.

No person who calls a mohel looking to have a bris done on a son, grandson, or great grandson wants to be told "I understand. But according to Jewish law, the baby is not Jewish and does not require a bris." But if it is only the father who is Jewish, that is the baby's reality.

Some mohels will have the baby undergo what is called a "Milah L'Shem Geirus" (Circumcision as the beginning of the Conversion Process). This means that even the mohel does not view the baby as Jewish, as he is doing a "pseudo-bris" (because the baby is not Jewish), taking care of the "bris element" of the baby's conversion. This means that he starts the ball rolling, leaving the baby to undergo the other two steps of his conversion, dunking in a mikveh and acceptance of his Judaism at age 13, to someone else's turf (some other rabbi perhaps) to follow up with. Most mohels who perform this procedure provide documentation that they did the circumcision, but offer no further follow-up in terms of seeing the child through his complete conversion.

Why do Jewish fathers of non-Jewish babies have their children go through with this? I don't know. But it seems to me that any one of these can be true. And maybe I am missing the boat completely.
1. "I am Jewish, so of course my child is Jewish." [he's not]
2. "I have a bris, so my son needs a bris." [he could be circumcised in the hospital if you want to look the same]
3. "I did not consider the repercussions of marrying a non-Jew in so far as children were concerned. We fell in love. Children were not even on the horizon." [Understood. My job, unfortunately, is to deal with the reality I am dealt.]
4. "Now that I am a father, my Judaism is very important to me." [Fair enough. But I am not looking to give an inauthentic experience and lead you to believe something which is not true. There are other mohels who will. But I am a straight shooter, more willing to give up the job than compromise my principles].]


I have recently told some people in this circumstance that if they want me to provide "circumcision services" for the baby of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother (much as I might for the baby of non-Jewish parents), I would be willing to do so if it is made clear that:
1. This is a circumcision, not a bris.
2. The child is not considered Jewish according to Jewish law.
3. I am not even circumcising "for the sake of conversion" because I generally don't do conversions and do not wish to take that responsibility on my head
4. While I will treat every person I meet with dignity and respect, I do not intend to say any blessings or to make a ceremony seem like it is anything other than a circumcision being done at home.

Most people in this circumstance do not like, and are not willing to accept these conditions.

In conclusion, I have two parting thoughts to share:
1. I wish all new parents the very best for themselves and their children. Raising children is not an easy task. Teaching and modeling good values is a life-long challenge. And transmitting a religion is by no means automatic. It takes hard work, dedication, schooling, dedication, education, dedication, commitment, dedication, consistency, dedication, and a lot of good luck from God above. And did I mention dedication?

2. If a non-Jewish spouse would like to consider undergoing conversion (especially if you're not otherwise committed to your birth religion), here is a reading list that will help get you started in exploring Judaism as an option as a way of life. Any book by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin (Jewish Literacy, Jewish Wisdom, Jewish Ethics, Jewish Values) is a good place to start. The books of Hayyim Donin are quite informative. Herman Wouk's "This is My God"  is a must-read.

Online resources that can be helpful include:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bris in Puerto Rico

Living in Florida has its perks.

I went to Puerto Rico last wednesday for a bris, traveling with some members of the baby's family - we really had a nice time. I am sure that were I still living in NY I would not have been tapped to serve as mohel in PR the few times I have been there. I have been warmly embraced and treated royally by those who have brought me there, and I so appreciate, as I have been told over and over, that "I have a home in Puerto Rico, should I ever want to visit."

Thank you M and G. I cherish your trust and friendship.