You can plan for a lot of things in pregnancy: You can decorate a nursery, stash food in your freezer, pack a hospital bag, pick out a name…but planning a bris is a bit more open-ended. First, you might not know if your child is a boy or a girl until he or she actually arrives. And once you discover that you indeed have a boy, you’ll need to call a mohel. Many prefer not to hear from parents until the baby arrives, which makes sense (planning an exact day of arrival is tough!), but it’s also nerve-racking. What if nobody’s available? What if you really don’t want tons of people in your house? What if you’re tired?
I talked to parents and Chestnut Hill mohel Dr. Keith Merlin, an OB-GYN at Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital and faculty member at Tufts and Harvard universities (and a soon-to-be grandfather!), for snip tips.
Know the specs
The actual procedure takes two to three minutes, usually on a kitchen or dining room table. Often, an older family member will hold a baby’s legs. The mohel will often administer lidocaine to numb the baby and will bring all necessary circumcision equipment.
Ask about tradition
Do you want lots of Hebrew? Do you prefer a more inclusive ceremony with plenty of English, for non-Jews to participate? “When you have lots of people of different backgrounds, some of whom may be Jewish and others may not be, I leave it to the family. You tell me what roles you want people to have. There’s very little prescribed that someone can’t do,” Merlin says. “It’s individual.”
Inquire about fees
Most mohels charge between $600 to $1,000, Merlin says. “But truly, if a family were in need, I don’t think anyone would refuse to do it,” he says.
Use word of mouth
Ask friends whom they’ve used and what kind of atmosphere they created. “Our mohel really created a community in the room, which is a hard thing to ask during an interview,” says mom Rebecca Smerling Marcus. “Don’t wait to find someone until the week of postpartum: Have two to three people lined up so you don’t find yourself trying to be sane and human right after having a baby,” she says. Merlin suggests calling around a month or two in advance to discuss general availability, then getting in touch right after the baby is born.
Ask about follow-up policies
Most mohels will check in a day or so later, and then a week later, to ensure the baby has healed.
Marcus had her husband take care of food and invitations, and she went upstairs to rest after the event. Dad Todd Spivak had a list of mohels and asked family members to call and coordinate (a difficult task since his son was born near Christmas, and many doctors were on call for Christian colleagues). “Get someone you know and trust to do it for you,” he says.
Plan for a bigger celebration later
She also had a naming ceremony at her synagogue five weeks later for a bigger celebration. “If the bris feels like too much for you, having so many people in your house, we had a naming ceremony at our synagogue at five weeks, which felt way more sane,” she says.
“I was exhausted, I was emotional. It was overwhelming,” says mom Rebecca Mahoney. “During the actual bris I sat in the other room and cried. Afterward I went to [my son’s] room and didn’t come back down. People stayed a while, had a piece of penis cake (my friend made one!) and they left. It doesn’t have to be a big party.”
Go with your gut
Do you have a rapport with your mohel? Do you know other people who have used and liked the mohel? “Parents and family may do well to make a distinction between ‘technical chops’ and bedside manner,” says dad Marc Lavine. “I can think of a couple local people who are exceptionally expert but don’t necessarily excel at the public ritual aspect of the job. So, to the extent that people have options, it’s probably worth thinking that there are two somewhat independent skills sets (all people locally that I’m aware of are physicians, so I imagine the baseline skill level is, in all cases, quite high, but some would argue that a urologist is preferable to a pediatrician), and some mohels are more experienced than others and some certainly have better ‘public ritual’ chops,” he says.
Jamie Perelman’s son was born right around Thanksgiving, adding an element of holiday stress and scheduling to the proceedings. “My advice to parents is: Don’t worry about finding someone and don’t worry about what other people’s schedules are. It’s definitely an added stress to Jewish families, especially trying to find someone [especially] around a holiday, but there is always someone available who will do a fantastic job. I concerned myself so much the first time around with trying to plan everything in advance, plan Thanksgiving and a bris and hosting family, when people would be available to be here and when they planned to leave. But in the end, you and your child are all that matter. And those who care for you will be here no matter what!”
Need a starter list of mohels? We’re here to help!