The Brit Milah ceremony is a beautiful life cycle event; a circumcision is a surgical procedure. A Mohel is a traditionally observant Jewish individual, specifically trained in both the religious and medical aspects of this ceremony; a doctor is a medical professional. In hospitals, circumcisions are usually done in the nursery, and parents often do not even know when the surgery takes place. Once parents learn how hospital circumcisions are performed, they often will call upon a Mohel to perform their son's Bris or circumcision. Pediatricians, obstetricians and urologists routinely call upon me to perform brisses or circumcisions for their children or their patients' children. Indeed, many of my referrals come from the medical community.
When a circumcision is performed by a doctor or a non-traditional Mohel, the baby may be strapped to a cold, molded plastic body board placed on a table, and the procedure can take ten to twenty minutes or longer, depending upon the skill of the individual performing the circumcision. Frequently the device used with this method is the Gomco circumcision clamp. In addition to increasing the baby's discomfort significantly, there are many who consider the use of the Gomco clamp unacceptable according to Jewish law.
The method that I (and other traditional Mohels) use is very different. The baby is not strapped down. Instead, he rests on a double pillow on his grandfather's lap, held steady by warm, loving hands. The circumcision technique that I utilize takes approximately forty seconds, or less. The device I use is called the Mogen circumcision clamp. While my surgical technique may be different, I nonetheless adhere to the same sterilization techniques used by physicians, including heat-steam autoclaving my instruments, and wearing surgical gloves during the procedure.
If there is no traditional Mohel living in the area, and one cannot be "imported" in time to perform your son's Bris on the eighth day, it may be better to delay the event until a traditional Mohel can be located to perform the Bris. (I would advise you to consult an Orthodox rabbi for further information and referrals.) In order to ensure that the Bris is performed properly according to Jewish law, it is critical that the person chosen to perform the ritual should be a practicing, observant Jew. For example, if the correct and proper day for the Bris is the Shabbat (Sabbath), and someone offers to ride or drive on the Sabbath to perform the Bris, please turn down the offer. Regardless of the family's background or affiliation, it is religiously preferable to delay that Bris to a Sunday or a weekday rather than set up many unnecessary religious conflicts. If the only person available is an observant Jewish doctor who possesses the necessary skills, then he (or she) may perform the Bris (please check with the rabbi). In such cases, that may be the preferred religious approach.
The Mohel is a super-specialist, an expert at his profession, who probably possesses more experience at performing circumcisions than most doctors. A Mohel may have the opportunity to perform more Brisses in a month than some doctors do in an entire year.
Doctors may be called away on medical emergencies and have to cancel their participation in your child's circumcision at the last minute. There have been occasions when I have been called in to perform brisses on behalf of doctors who've had to cancel due to a sudden medical emergency.
Knowledge of Jewish Law and Custom
Doctors, not familiar with the religious requirements of Brit Milah, and dealing with the demands of their own busy schedules, may inadvertently schedule Brisses at religiously inappropriate times: on the incorrect day, for example, or at night. A Bris should be scheduled to take place during the daylight hours of the eighth day of life (which can be tricky to calculate at times, since the Jewish day begins at sunset), and never at night. A Mohel who is properly trained in the Jewish laws and customs of Brit Milah will know how to avoid such mistakes in scheduling and ensure that your son's Bris takes place at the religiously correct time.
Brit Milah is an ancient Jewish ritual, and practicing as a Mohel is a time- honored profession. If doctors were routinely to perform a Mohel's function, a spiritually rich and important Jewish tradition might eventually be lost.
When a circumcision is performed by a doctor or a non-traditional Mohel, the baby is strapped down to a cold, molded plastic bodyboard, placed on a table and the procedure can take ten, fifteen, twenty minutes or longer, depending on the ability of the individual doing the circumcision. The device that is used is called the Gomco circumcision clamp. It is very clinical and very difficult for the baby.
The technique that I (and other traditional Mohels) use is very different. The baby is not strapped down. Instead he is placed on a double pillow, on the lap of his grandfather held by warm, loving hands. The technique that I use takes forty seconds or less. The device I use is called the Mogen circumcision clamp. I autoclave (heat-steam sterilize) my instruments, wear gloves and follow the same techniques of sterilization that doctors use.
If you are adopting a child and the birth mother is Jewish, the Brit Milah ceremony should be scheduled for the eighth day, if possible. (Some families may not return with the baby until after the eighth day.) Check with the Mohel to determine when the ceremony should be performed. If the birth mother is not Jewish, and the adoptive parents do not want to convert the child but do want to circumcise their child, the Mohel can perform the circumcision in the home. (See: "Why should I use a Mohel instead of a doctor?") In any event, please make sure you have full legal clearance to have the baby circumcised and make sure the hospital does not circumcise the baby if you are planning a conversion.
In the case of adoptive parents or an interfaith couple where the mother of the baby is not Jewish and the family does want to convert the child to Judaism, it would be best to contact a rabbi who will take charge of the entire conversion process. Circumcising a baby does not make him Jewish. Depending on the affiliation of the rabbi (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist) one may get many different answers as to the requirements for conversion. If the child has already been circumcised, then a Hatafat Dam Brit may be required. A Hatafat Dam Brit is the drawing of a drop of blood from the penis to formalize the covenental aspect of the conversion process. Depending on the age, weight and development of the adopted baby, a Mohel may not be able to do the circumcision and a pediatric urologist may be needed to perform the circumcision in the hospital (usually under general anesthetic) with the Mohel participating to fulfill the religious requirements.
The standards of conversion between the various movements (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist) are very different and subject to many interpretations. This has resulted in a great deal of tension and discord between the various denominations in Judaism and confusion for those trying to figure out how to proceed. For example, if a woman underwent a Reform conversion without going to the mikvah (ritual bath), this conversion would most likely not be accepted by a Conservative or Orthodox rabbi and therefore, a child born of this mother would not be considered Jewish.
In the case where the mother of the baby is not Jewish or underwent a non-Orthodox conversion (prior to the birth of the baby), I would strongly recommend that a "brit milah l'shem gerut" (Bris for the Sake of Conversion) be performed. It is recommended that there be three Orthodox, Sabbath observant male witnesses present at the ceremony. Even though the family is not Orthodox, I encourage this approach to avoid any question about the halakhic (Jewish legal) status of this first step of the conversion process. It will be religiously valid and accepted worldwide. A certificate will be issued indicating the bris was done for the sake of conversion and the witnesses will sign the certificate, as well. (If three Orthodox, Sabbath observant male witnesses are not available, a Bris for the Sake of Conversion can still proceed and a certificate will be provided.)
The four main steps to converting a (male) child are:
Upon the completion of the conversion process, the rabbi (not the mohel) will provide you with the necessary documentation (letter, certificate, etc.).
(*In traditional Judaism, the age of majority for a girl, or Bat Mitzvah, is twelve.)
If the mother is Jewish and the father is not, then the child is Jewish and a Brit Milah ceremony should be scheduled. If the father is Jewish and the mother is not, please read the above section (Adoptions and Conversions).
Many non-Jewish families opt for the services of a Mohel once they find out how a circumcision is performed in the hospital or attend a Bris performed by a traditional Mohel. Non-Jewish families are not bound by the eighth day rule and may schedule the circumcision at any time.
Similar guidelines apply to lesbian couples with regard to Brit Milah and circumcision. According to most branches of Judaism, if the mother of the baby is Jewish, then the child is considered Jewish and a Brit Milah ceremony should be scheduled. If the mother is not Jewish, then it would be best to speak to the Mohel to find out what type of ceremony will be performed (Or if the couple is thinking about conversion, they may want to contact a rabbi or speak to the Mohel to determine how to proceed.)
If a gay couple has adopted a baby, please refer to the above section about Adoptions and Conversions.
There are many single women who decide that they want to have a baby. Again, if the birth mother is Jewish, then a Brit Milah may be scheduled. If the baby is adopted, see above. There is a lot of information and the new mother is often overwhelmed with everything that has to be done with the new baby (arranging for the bris is just one of them.). Please make sure there is someone to help the new mother with the preparations and arrangements for the Bris.
In-vitro fertilization, artificial insemination and other methods are available to help conceive a child. Modern methods of conception may affect the Brit Milah. I would recommend speaking to a competent rabbinic authority to determine how to proceed.
If you have a boy and a girl, most families like to have the Baby Naming and Brit Milah at the same time. The Baby Naming for the girl is first, followed immediately by the Brit Milah. This avoids having to make two separate parties. Other families, however, like to follow the traditional approach and name the girl on the first available Torah reading day (Monday or Thursday morning, Saturday morning or afternoon or any Jewish holiday or festival) and then to have the Brit Milah ceremony on the proper day. Or, they may decide to have a separate ceremony for the girl a few weeks or a few months later, either at home or in the synagogue.
Often, when twins are born, one may be healthy, the other may not. One baby may require additional time before he is pronounced ready by the doctor to have a Bris. That can create a quandry for the parents. Religiously, it is best to perform the Bris of the baby who is healthy on the eighth day, and when his brother recovers and is declared healthy, then his Bris can take place. It may mean having two separate ceremonies.
Should the Mohel charge double or give twins a "group rate"? A common practice is for the Mohel to charge one-and-a-half times the regular fee.
Depending on the combination (B-B-B; G-B-B; G-G-B) and the respective health of the babies, the situation of triplets is similar to that of twins. Check with the Mohel about how to proceed. Most doctors like to have the babies weigh at least five pounds (although I have performed Brisses on babies under five pounds). Once the doctor gives the go-ahead, the Bris(ses) can take place. My fee for triplets is the same as for twins--one-and- a-half times the regular amount. The third one is free. If you give birth to three girls, please call me — I have a great list of boys you will want to see someday.
If the genetic matter of two Jewish parents is implanted in the body of a Jewish surrogate, when the baby is born, the baby is Jewish. If the surrogate is a non-Jewish woman, most rabbinic authorities consider the child not to be Jewish and the child will need to be converted. This is a highly charged and emotional area and it is best to consult a competent rabbinic authority. My recommendation in the case of a non-Jewish surrogate is to have the child properly converted so there will be no question about his Jewishness.