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.

What?

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.

Oy.

"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.

ADOPTION AND SURROGATE

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

PARENTS DECIDE
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.

DIFFERENT METHODS OF CIRCUMCISION
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.

HASHKAFIC DIFFERENCES
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.

STANDARDS

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."

FINAL THOUGHTS

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 Travelingmohel.com

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 travelingmohel.com, 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!

GOOD TIMES.

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
OOboy.

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.

MY TAKE HOME LESSONS:
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

Precision

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.

MARK THE FORESKIN!!!!!

AND FOLLOW THE MARK!!!

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

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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)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Vigilant Parent

Vigilant. Not vigilante.

Last week I received from a phone call from a somewhat reluctant father, who was calling more because his wife was concerned about how their son's circumcision looks.

The following is my recollection of what he said, though it is not an exact quote.

"We had a friend of mine fly in from New York to do the bris 5 months ago. It was a little weird because he did something afterwards, and he followed up with us a lot, but eventually - he lives in NY and we are in Florida - I can't bother him to come down to look at it. But I found what you wrote on your website and so I'm calling you."

Not having been at the bris, not having seen the baby before or afterwards, not having witnessed the actual circumcision, I told the father that I could not comment on the job without seeing it. And so we made arrangements for me to visit, and sure enough, the mommy's instinct was correct and there was a(n easily) correctable problem, which I have called the Fusion Challenge. Basically the remains of the Periah skin (membrane) had gotten stuck to the back of the glans.

I separated the skin with a little pressure, the baby did not bleed, and I showed the parents very simply how they could avoid this concern in the future.

And then I told them this story. Which, as usual, had its desired effect.

The point is, if you, the parents, are vigilant about how to care for your baby's circumcision after the bris, you'll never have these problems or concerns. So be sure to know what you need to do, and follow through with it for your baby's sake!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Periah

The second stage of Brit Milah, which is sometimes accomplished along with the first, is the one that is often used by anti-circumcision people as being "anti-traditional." 

They'll often claim that it wasn't originally instructed to Abraham, and therefore doing it is "not what God intended."

I love how they have a hold on "what God intended."

The truth is, they have no blessed idea of what they're talking about, and no business chiming in on Jewish practice, when they are anti-Jewish practice. 

The same Talmud that debates and discusses whether Abraham did Periah dictates that there are three stages to a bris procedure: Milah (excising the foreskin), Periah (revealing the glans - either through removal or folding back of the mucosal membrane), and Metzitzah (drawing out blood from the wound).

I bring this up here because in advance of a class I'm giving next week, I came across this comment from the Haktav V'hakabbalah (a commentary on the Torah) on the verse in Vayikra 12:3 which states that when a woman gives birth to a son, on the 8th day of his life he is to be circumcised. 

הכתב והקבלה ויקרא פרק יב
(ג) בשר ערלתו. יש לפרשו באחד משני פנים, הא' בשר הוא כנוי לאותו אבר, כמו זב בשרו, החתים בשרו, וערלה הוא שם לעור המכסה את העטרה, והיה ראוי להסמיך ערלה לבשר ולומר ערלת בשר, כמו ונמלתם ערלת לבבכם, והב' בשר הוא עור החופה את הגיד, כי העור נקרא בשר, כמו דבקה עצמי לבשרי שטעמו לרד"ק דבקה עצמי לעורי, ויהיה טעם בשר ערלתו, בשרו הערל. וההבדל שבין הפירושים האלה הוא, אם ניתנה פריעת מילה לא"א אם לא. והענין מבואר יותר ס"פ לך לך.

Rabbi Mecklenburg's comment here discusses how the reading of the verse in question would determine whether Periah was given as an instruction to Abraham.

However, as I've noted before, we don't circumcise because Abraham circumcised. He may have started a family tradition! But we circumcise because we were commanded to at Sinai, in a different covenant which has kept the Jewish people a distinct unit for thousands of years.

Therefore, while the historical debate of Abraham's periah makes for interesting dinner-talk it is completely irrelevant to our practice.

On top of that, I can certainly add that if asthetics are the least bit of a concern to anyone who is either circumcising a child or having oneself circumcised (as an adult, etc), the status of periah's having been done will actually have a significant impact in whether one "looks" circumcised. 

I'll leave the pro-con benefit vs no-benefit argument to others to tackle. We circumcise because of our mitzvah and our Covenant. But once we're doing it right (i.e. with periah) it should also look right.

AMEN.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

When the Mohel is also a Synagogue Rabbi

In old Jewish towns there was often one person who was a Jewish know-it-all. He was the sofer (Scribe), Shochet (ritual slaughterer), and Mohel. 

Despite the fact that this person held several positions, there is actually indication in Jewish law that the shochet shouldn't also be a mohel. Why? Not because anyone is afraid he'd do anything wrong to the child! It's actually something which is a serious concern to devout Jews, but not because of whatever you might be thinking.

The assumption is that any shochet will be busier than any mohel. Every family needs to eat daily, while even if a family might have had a baby once a year, it's not always a boy. And of course some have babies far less frequently than that.

So here's the reason: When a shochet finds himself in a situation where he has a knife in his hand (even though it's a much smaller knife than usual, and he is looking at a baby and not a bird or animal slated for slaughter), he might accidentally say the wrong blessing before commencing the job.

You read right. The wrong blessing. Now the blessing a shochet makes (Blessed are You God... Who has commanded us to slaughter animals) might not sound good before circumcising a baby. But no one thinks he'd go and slaughter the baby. Everyone is moi confident that the bris will go just fine.

I finally understood this on a very deep level this week. As I am also a rabbi of a synagogue, this time of year is somewhat dedicated to people appointing me to be their agent to sell their chametz in advance of Pesach. When we meet, I always tell them, "Please appoint me to be your shaliach/agent to sell your chametz."

As I do brisses a lot more often than I sell chametz, you can probably guess what happened. 

One night this week, I was a little distracted as a person came to make the transaction with me, and I told him, "Please appoint me to be the shaliach to do your son's bris!"

Like in the example above, I did not circumcise anyone at that time, and the error was quickly corrected and our transaction went without a hitch. But it just goes to show how we can train ourselves to say things. After all, every time the father is not doing the circumcision himself - which is his mitzvah - I remind him "You have to appoint me to be your shaliach to fulfill this mitzvah on your behalf."

AND THAT is an honor that I cherish anew every time I receive the call!

Thank you, as always, for your trusting your baby's bris needs to my hands. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Best and the Worst of Times (2 Topics: Jaundice/Shabbos and Non-Jewish Mothers)

This blog post has two anecdotes from this week, each followed by the method of procedure I utilize in these circumstances. Like any religious milestone and lifecycle event, the only thing that gives it that flavor is when the rules are being followed. I didn't make the rules, so please (if your circumstance is described below) don't cast aspersions against things which have defined the Jewish people for millennia.

Shabbos Bris and Bilirubin/Jaundice
I got a call last night (Thursday night after Purim) from a couple whose son was born last Saturday morning. A baby born on Shabbos is supposed to have his bris on Shabbos.

Owing to a very mild case of jaundice (bilirubin count 15.3), their mohel told them that they could not have the bris on Shabbos, and it will be Sunday. Wanting to do things right, they found my blog post on the subject online and called me to see if I'm available. I'm not, which is fine. But there are two things going on here which, to me are a cause for concern.

1. As noted in the article recounted in that blog post, the craze over jaundice, and the fact that some mohels will delay brisses on account of it, is mostly based on a misunderstanding of halakha. Also, the medical concern is unfounded as most doctors will tell you that normal physiological jaundice (which is the most common type) need not delay a bris. Mohels need to drop the arbitrary bilirubin number of 12 and have brisses take place on time when the number is higher. I have never had a problem with babies who had a bilirubin count of 16 (or even lower than 18 when the numbers were descending).

2. To do a bris at the right time is a mitzvah. A Shabbos bris provides added stress to parents if the mohel they want to hire does not live in their neighborhood, as he needs to be housed for Shabbos, with all the arrangements that entails. Of course it's inconvenient for the mohel as well. But it is important to the family to do the bris on the 8th day. This is why I find the mohel jumping at excuses to delay the bris - for his own convenience - to be wrong.

Instead of saying "bilirubin is too high, so I'll do the bris on Sunday," the mohel should be honest and say this: "Your baby should have his bris on time. I am not available to come for Shabbos. If you find someone to do the bris that day, wonderful! Mazal tov! If not, I am happy to be available at the next opportunity, Sunday morning."

I have given that speech to many people. Some have found someone else. Others could not find someone for Shabbos. Others chose on their own to delay to Sunday because they wanted me to be their son's mohel, based on all the research they had done. Let us understand bilirubin and jaundice better, getting out of old-school methods of delaying brisses. And let us (mohels) be honest about what we can and can't do, and not delay a bris due to our (mohels') inconvenience. 

Non-Jewish Mother
I do feel badly every time this happens. But this is one place where the kind of Judaism I live draws a clear line. By birth, only a child born of a Jewish mother is Jewish. If his mother is not Jewish at the time of birth, he is not Jewish and needs at the very least to undergo some form of conversion. 

As I like to say, I'm not judging anyone. Heaven forfend I would ever suggest anyone is not a good person. All I'm saying is that a non-Jewish woman is not a Jewish personWhich, of course, has ramifications for her child.

While there might be a financial incentive, I made a decision a long time ago not to do "brisses" on babies born from non-Jewish women, even if the father is Jewish (because they usually want a Bris, and the baby doesn't even need to get circumcised! and is certainly exempt from a Bris!). I am not supervising a conversion in these cases. And I certainly don't want to mislead anyone into thinking all is good and kosher when it is not. The child would still need a conversion as the circ would not turn him into a Jew.

I don't know the rabbi who called me on their behalf earlier this week. But he certainly thinks differently. When I told him "The baby is not Jewish and doesn't need a bris," he said, "Now I know where we stand." [For what I sometimes offer people in these circumstances - which very few people have taken me up on - see the second half of this post. under "The Cases I Will Take."]

The continuation of the Jewish people is most possible through Jewish marriage, Jewish education, and a commitment from both parents to raise their children as Jews. While to the modern eye matrilineal descent might seem to be anachronistic, and the concept of "Jewish DNA" only passing through the mother might seem to be bigoted, the fact remains that that is the core definition of Jewish peoplehood (outside of proper conversion) which has defined us almost forever. 

I look forward to continuing to service Jewish babies in this holy mitzvah. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Oy Oy Oy. Let's Understand Priorities

In addition to being a mohel, I am the rabbi of a synagogue. On a daily basis, after morning services (on days when I don't have an early morning bris), we learn some Jewish law. It's amazing how much can be covered over the course of a year learning just 2-3 minutes a day.

We are currently learning the laws of Shabbos, and have arrived at the segment related to what is done differently when there is a Bris on Shabbos!

The Talmud says clearly (it's actually a Mishnah).
תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף קלג עמוד א
עושין כל צרכי מילה בשבת 
All needs of the circumcision can be performed on Shabbos.

The reason this is important is because circumcision, mitzvah (commandment) that it may be, is elective surgery. And while the elective surgery is required, we do not violate or desecrate the Sabbath through having elective surgery on the Holy Day. Therefore, such a procedure should take place on any other day of the week.

Why is there an exception for Shabbos? Because the verse says that when a woman gives birth to a boy, on the 8th day he is to be circumcised. (Vayikra 12:3)  [This means only if she gives birth through birth canal and the 8th day is absolutely Shabbos, meaning the child had to have been born after the stars came out Friday night, and before the sun set on Saturday.] This 8th day business is so serious, that when it is clear that the baby's 8th day is Shabbos, his required 'elective' surgery takes precedence over the Holy Day.

In the context of addressing what are "צרכי מילה" I mentioned two things that I heard from my rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Tendler.

1. Metzitzah, which is a tradition Rav Tendler supports for it to be done in a sterile way, using a tube, as a vestige to a requirement of the Talmud, but which clearly has no necessity today as the Talmud clearly mentioned it as an act which had medicinal purposes, whose merit is clearly not supported by today's medical understanding - in his view, performing Metzitzah on Shabbos is a violation of Shabbos! [See here where Rabbi Moshe Feinstein noted that, in general, if Metzitzah were not done (accidentally, for example) there would be no need to revisit the wound, and the bris is kosher]

2. Using a marker - I have noted here - Magic of a Marker and here - Getting the Percentages Right (and much more critically here) of the IMPORTANCE of using a marker when circumcising, for the baby's sake, to get the circumcision as precise and even as possible. There is no question, in my mind, that marking the foreskin is the most important thing I do in preparation for a bris, because once the foreskin is pulled forward to apply the shield, it is impossible to know exactly where the edge of the foreskin is without that mark. Particularly since we don't want to remove more skin from the ventral side, I maintain that any mohel who scoffs at marking the baby is being foolish and is doing a disservice to the baby.  Rabbi Tendler is of the opinion that marking the baby is a necessity of milah, and that just as the circumcision (a Shabbos violation of cutting, causing a wound, etc.) pushes aside Shabbos, marking the baby (a Shabbos violation of writing) pushes aside Shabbos.

Two days later, someone in the synagogue told me that his son is a mohel in Israel, and that his son completely disagrees with these two points. Mostly, he believes that marking the baby is unnecessary EVER, because mohels in Israel don't do it! To which I said, most mohels in Israel don't wear gloves when they operate - does this make their method correct? (It happens to be that his son was trained wearing gloves, so he wears gloves.) By and large, I think I've addressed most of his son's and my differences in this post.

As for metzitzah on Shabbos, it boils down to how we understand necessity, how the Talmud viewed metzitzah (is it a requirement or medical recommendation based on medical knowledge of the time), as well as how we punctuate the Mishnah - most notably the continuation of the Mishnah, the part which I did not provide above.

Bottom line: As Jews we prioritize Shabbos. Absolutely. But Shabbos comes every week, and every week we have an opportunity to experience it better than last week. A bris is a ONE TIME opportunity, and you really only have one shot at getting it right. This is why the rules of Shabbos (for things that could not have been prepared in advance) are suspended for the mohel/caregiver when it comes to the conflict with Shabbos that a bris presents. No one questions that the rules of Shabbos are set aside when it comes to saving a life. Certain rules of Shabbos should also be pushed aside in order not to ruin a life through an imperfect circumcision.

So let us understand priorities, and not have our Hashakafic differences determine what is best for the baby. Let reality determine what is best for baby.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Scare Tactic - Long Term Reminder

Provocative title, I know.

Some of my favorite blog posts concern explaining how things will look after the bris, and long term care reminders. Why? Because I don't post pictures of actual circumcisions, so I need to be quite descriptive, and rely on other images to get the point across.

See for example the following urls.
http://www.mohelinsouthflorida.com/2010/01/what-will-it-look-like-before-and.html
http://www.mohelinsouthflorida.com/2011/01/knowing-what-to-expect-afterwards.html
http://www.mohelinsouthflorida.com/2012/09/chubby-baby-syndrome.html
http://www.mohelinsouthflorida.com/2011/08/fusion-challenge.html

Certainly my most favorite blog post about explaining the anatomy - with pictures! - and what happens during a bris, is here. The only challenge was that I had injured myself at the time. Can you tell?

So what is the scare tactic? How do I get people to understand the concern of Chubby Baby Syndrome, and the reality of the Fusion Challenge, the need to be resilient (in some cases) in pushing back the remains of the membrane (or ha'priah) and making sure it does not fuse to the glans?

Here's the story.

A few years ago I had an incredible bris experience, which actually led to this amazing story. (I wrote up a dvar Torah using the story, which is on my other blog). When I visited the baby at the end of the day, to remove the bandage and see that all was well with the bris, I met one of the father's friends.

Permit a brief pause, but this is actually quite relevant. At many brisses, while most people are respectful, respectable, and honorable, there are some men who make unnecessary (and unfunny) jokes about bris and circumcision. I promise I've heard them all. The most common one is "rabbi, do you do touchups?" As if the person is suggesting he is 'unhappy' with his circumcision or that I have any interest in doing a surgical correction. My thoughts on this kind of humor can be found here. 

The friend of the father had a question about his "bris," and after ignoring him/pushing his 'question' aside a couple of times, I realized he was actually serious. This was very rare. (Like urologists, I examine adults on occasion, to see if their circumcision is kosher, particularly before a conversion, or if someone not circumcised by a mohel wants to make sure his circumcision is adequate and correctable through hatafat dam bris) We went into a room for a consultation, and with a quick look I knew exactly what was wrong.

When circumcised as a baby, this man's caregivers did not separate the membrane, and it had fused to the top edge of the glans (38 years earlier). During erections, instead of the glans going straight, it was being pulled back by the 12-o'clock skin of the shaft. I told the fellow he needed to consult with a urologist and have it surgically corrected. And his friend, the baby's daddy, confirmed for me several months later (when we randomly met in a store) that his friend had things taken care of and was grateful.

Bottom line: Parents, this need not ever be your child's experience if you take heed to what I (or your son's mohel) tell you about aftercare and how things are supposed to look (see all links above for descriptions).

That is my "scare tactic." I hope the message comes across loud and clear.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Table of Contents - Symbolism

Symbolism
Beauty of the Bris
Inspiration of Bris
Covenants in the Torah
Why We Name the Baby at the Bris
Elijah the Prophet
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch on Bris Symbolism
What's in a Name?
Saying וכרות עמו הברית Together at the bris
Significance of Bris [audio class]
The Shalom Zachar - sources of the Friday night celebration
Why We Circumcise - the Footnote
What is the Covenant of Circumcision?
Achieving Perfection

Table of Contents - Stories

Stories that are Inspiring or just Nice
Bris Where the 3 Boys Were Killed
A Promise Fulfilled
Best Line - Great Story
AMAZING STORY ABOUT A NAME
First Bris of 2016 - WOWZA
The Infertility Miracle Twins

For FUNNY stories, click here and look for "Stories"

For RANDOM stories, click here and look for "Stories"

Table of Contents - Sterility

Sterility
Cleanliness and Efficiency
Sterilize and Reuse vs. Disposable
Sterility and Cleanliness - Can't Overemphasize
Gloves   and Gloves Part II
On Creating Standards for Sterility
In the Florida News

Table of Contents - Mohels

Mohels
Putting Your Mind At Ease
The Color White
Hollywood mohel will travel
Different Types (Levels) of Mohels
Mohel's Role in the Ceremony
How to Find a Mohel
Doctor Vs Mohel
Special Role of Being a Mohel
Sensitivity Factor

When 2 mohels are involved

Table of Contents - Questions to Consider and Ask

Questions to Ask
Good Questions to Ask ANY Mohel
Prioritizing Our Questions
Wrong Attitude is NOT to Ask
FAQ - Summary (links to answers to the questions) - Shorter Answers Appear in a Link at the top of the page
Inquiries Welcome
CONCERNS - SUMMARY OF IMPORTANT LINKS

Table of Contents - Miscellaneous

Miscellaneous

Delaying and Figuring Out When the Bris Will Take Place
When Baby is REALLY Small 
Timing the Bris - Figuring out when the bris will take place
DELAYING a Bris - when and under what circumstances?
JAUNDICE
C-Section differences
What happens when 8th day is Shabbos or Yom Tov and the bris has been delayed?

Stories
AMAZING bris experience
Amazing story attached to baby's name
MohelinSouthFlorida Goes Intergenerational
Historical - portrayal of adult circumcision for conversion
Historical - a list of circumcisions from the 1700s
Scare Tactics - An Experience I had which highlights why parents MUST listen to aftercare instructions

Before and After
When to call the mohel
Calling the mohel does not equal booking the mohel
What to Prepare for the Bris
BEFORE AND AFTER - What it Looks Like

General Qs
Lighting
Foreskin - how is it disposed of?

Twins
The joy of TWINS - with a photo!    
Another TWINS photo

Proper Attitude of Mohel = Confident Parents
The Importance of Trust
It's All About the Baby

Fun Stuff
How do you spell MOIL, MOHEL
Bris Humor
Source for the Bris Party
Are there BOOKS about Bris? [Not too many in English - you'll find much more information in this website!]

Table of Contents - Preparations

Preparations
Family and Friends Focused
When to Call the Mohel
What Kind of Party
Supplies List page    (earlier blog post = What to Prepare for the Bris)
Private Room
Kippah for baby?
Bris at Night?

Table of Contents - Problems

Problems

Anatomical
When There is NO BRIS due to a baby's anatomical reality
What problems with the baby would cause the bris to not take place on time - ie to be delayed?

Corrections needed?
Most Common Issues After the Bris
What Will it Look Like Before and After
news out of Israel
What Happens in Circumcision
What I Learned in the Operating Room

Dealing With A Delayed Bris
When DOES the DELAYED BRIS take place?

Expectations
What Can Go Wrong at the Bris
The Part No One Talks About (relates to previous)
The One-Two Stage Process (a positive twist on previous)
MYTHBUSTER: The Bleeding Vein

Long Term Care
Knowing What to Expect Afterwards
The Fusion Challenge (related to previous)

SAFETY = TOP PRIORITY
This should NEVER happen - a tale told to me by a baby nurse
Denuding the Shaft
Safety Precautions EVERY MOHEL AND PARENT SHOULD BE DOING

My Worst Story
Vindicated!- a story of a not as great bris experience, with a satisfying (for me) conclusion