I am a mom and a priest: This is the deal with Jewish circumcision

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My home life is filled with many rituals. We try everything. We offer blessings and celebrate Shabbat. My husband and I decided when I was pregnant that we wouldn’t want to perform a public circumcision. This is a Jewish tradition. While we didn’t find out the gender of our baby during our pregnancy, we did discuss having him circumcised medically.

We chose to name our baby girl within the first week after her birth. We didn’t share her name with any family members or friends until she was officially welcomed into the community during the naming ceremony. Now that I am pregnant with our second child, we will hold a naming ceremony in the same manner so that the entire community can attend. We don’t want our child’s sexuality to be part of the welcoming and naming ceremony. After many years of training in LGBTQ issues, I believe that gender is a construct of society. Children should have the freedom to make their own decisions as they grow up in the world. No matter what sex or gender, I want all of our children to be honored at birth.

In the past, circumcision was a commandment from G-d.

The Book of Genesis 17.9-14 first mentions circumcision. It is written that all males in a tribe are to be circumcised by the Jewish people. In exchange for Abraham’s family and tribe being protected in the land Canaan, G-d promised them peace and protection. To distinguish them, they were required to place a physical sign on the people. The sign is 8-days-old circumcision. It is written that Abraham and his 13 year-old son Ishmael were circumcised at the same time. Any male born after this point would have his circumcision done at eight days old.

Brit milah, or bris, is a Jewish circumcision ceremony.

It was once an obligation that the father circumcised his child. However, the practice has changed to include a mohel (or mohelette) who has been trained to perform this ritual. Mohels, who are trained doctors with medical experience and use anesthetic during circumcision ceremonies in the Reform Judaism movement, are frequently physicians. A “Kvatterr” brings the baby into the ceremony, and a Sandik holds the baby while the circumcision takes place. These roles are usually performed by a godparent or grandparent.

At his bris, the baby also gets his name.

The mohel recites a blessing that G-d has sanctified to perform this circumcision, while the father recites a blessing that he is taking over the responsibility of bringing his child into the covenant. This is the “brit” portion of brit-milah. After the circumcision, all present recite a blessing to thank G-d for their commitment to ensure that this child lives a life of good deeds, study, marriage, and gratitude.

Following the prayer, a healing process is performed for the baby. The baby is given his Hebrew name by the “Mi Sheberach”, a prayer that is said on behalf of someone suffering or sick. A specific prayer, “birkath’gomel”, can be recited by a mother who has recently given birth to express gratitude for having reached safety on the other side.

8 days is the Jewish circumcision age.

Traditionally, baby boys are circumcised when they turn eight days old. The ritual is continued until the child is ready to undergo the procedure. Pikuah Nefesh is a Jewish concept that saves a life. Safety and health are more important than religious traditions.

Following the circumcision ceremony, there is a Seudat Mitzvah.

Every celebration in Judaism includes a meal to celebrate the occasion. To fulfill the mitzvah commandment, a celebratory meal is required. Brunch is a common type of food at a Britmilah, as they are often served in the morning.

Some Jewish families do not have a brit-milah ceremony for their sons.

Many of the families that I work with want their sons circumcised, but they don’t want it to be the main focus of the ritual welcoming. They will perform it at the hospital before leaving, and may also choose to pray and be present. Some will still perform the circumcision at 8 days old. However, it will be done privately before a large public celebration. Many families are not planning to circumcise their sons.

Even if you’re not Jewish, you can still attend a Bris.

A bris is a ceremony to welcome a new baby into the family’s wider community. Parents want all who are involved in the child’s life, regardless of their religion, to be there. People of all faiths are welcome to our communities and families.

Many Jewish families believe it is superstitious for a child to be invited to a party before birth to ensure that he or she is well and able to join the community. Instead of hosting a baby shower, the family may host a large bris party to celebrate their healthy birth and acknowledge their involvement in their community. Parents who have a girl may hold a similar celebration to announce their child’s name. This is called a “b’rit bat”–daughter-of-the commandment.

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