What is a Bris? Judaism 101

What is a Bris? Judaism 101
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About the Author

Stephen Wise

Stephen Wise

Rabbi Wise has focused much of his rabbinate in striving passionately to connect Jews of all ages to their Judaism. Whether its through prayer services, learning or social action, each presents a gateway to stronger Jewish identity. Rabbi Wise has worked recently developing programming for young adults in their 20-30's, starting ongoing successful groups in NYC and Florida, reigniting their connections to Judaism. Rabbi Wise is the spiritual leader for Oakville's Jewish community, and his congregation is Shaarei Beth-El on Morrison Road.

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Imagine you have been invited to a bris, the ritual Jewish custom where a young male infant on exactly the 8th day of life gets circumcised. Understandably you might not know what it is or what to do. The Bris is one of the most powerful and meaningful ceremonies for Jewish newborns.

The word bris means, covenant. It is a reminder that in our holy text the Torah, God says to Abraham that he should circumcise himself and his son in order to make the covenant between God and the Jewish people. It would forever be a sign of the connection between faith and action.

Photo credit: spilltojill

Photo credit: spilltojill

Its not surprising that this marking on the skin is on a sensitive part of the body, which in many ways shows the significance of the covenant. On the other hand, it is a superfluous piece of skin that the body does not need. There has been research documenting its positive effects in reducing disease in this area.

God does not elaborate on why, rather God focuses more on the doing. God makes the covenant and says that in return Abraham and all of his generations will be blessed, and that includes every Jewish person from then on until today and forever into the future, quite a powerful statement.

When you arrive at the bris, you might be surprised that it is a festive occasion, though of course emotional. The Mohel is the person trained to perform circumcisions, and its often a doctor though that is not required. The baby will be brought into the room ceremonially by a family member and will be offered all sorts of blessings. The baby is placed before the mohel and everyone is present, and the baby is held gently but firmly by a family member (often a grandfather as this is a position of honour) while the circumcision takes place.

In most instances there is some sort of local freezing, and always the baby has some wine in his mouth to suckle. While the mohel does everything, this is actually a commandment for the father so he can make the actual cut or give permission for the mohel to do it on his behalf (99% of the time that is what happens). The ceremony is quite quick and there is more blessings after. Then comes the moment when the baby is given his Jewish name, often this is named after a deceased relative or perhaps the Hebrew name is related to the English name.

There are final blessings and then everyone is invited to partake in a festive breakfast. This ceremony typically happens first thing in the morning, as one should not tarry when performing a commandment. This can and often is an emotional but beautiful lifecycle event in Judaism.

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