It was late in my third trimester for my second child. I was moving around lugubriously, tired all the time, mildly grumpy, resigned to sleeplessness for most of the next year, and thinking about how I needed to plan for a bris eight days after I transformed from pregnant to mother of a newborn son. Circumcision can be controversial for a lot of families, but thankfully it’s a pretty straightforward non-issue for me and my husband—it’s something we’re both on board with from public health and religious perspectives. It was just a question of figuring out the who, what, where and when.
Who performs this covenant? What type of mohel will incorporate a sense of ritual and clinical expertise while deftly facilitating our congregated family members and my postpartum emotions? I solicited recommendations from friends and looked at the JewishBoston.com list. The biggest difference I noted between the Reform and Conservative mohels is for whom they will perform the ritual, such that the Reform practitioners will include sons of non-Jewish mothers or fathers.
Growing up in a small Jewish community, I didn’t have a strong Conservative or Reform religious identity. My family participated in the one temple we could drive to and that was that. In adulthood, I’ve flirted with Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist congregations, still trying to sort out where our family feels most comfortable. I don’t have any preconceptions about whether a mogen clamp or plastic bell or board should be used during the procedure. In fact, despite my medical training, I’m still hazy on how the circumcision actually works! I don’t have strong feelings about the use of local anesthetic (or lack thereof). I believe that most babies will do fine with the wound healing regardless of the selected technique and that being a naked and cold newborn is way up there with insults to the injury. This meant I could go with whichever mohel spoke to me nicely on the phone when I called about his availability 24 hours after our little one’s arrival.
How many people can we fit into our triple-decker apartment? Do we include only local friends and family? Do we preferentially include our Jewish friends and family members? We needed a minyan to perform the ceremony, but that should be easily doable with grandparents and a handful of friends. I created a draft email invitation for the 25 people I could imagine squeezing into our apartment for a celebratory ritual at an undetermined day and time. One grandma had been steadily baking and freezing in anticipation of this event. The other I tasked with savory meal preparation.
Should the bris be strictly performed on the eighth day, or is there any merit to scheduling it for a weekend day that makes travel more convenient for out-of-town visitors? I did learn from the Jewish Birth Network that a bris is never performed before the eighth day, but it can be delayed if need be, but usually only by a day. I also read that if it is to be delayed for whatever reason, then the bris should not be held on Shabbat. The trump card imperative to holding a bris on the eighth day regardless of overlapping with Yom Kippur or Shabbat is somewhat nullified if you reschedule past the eighth day. So barring any health contraindications, this event will take place on the eighth or ninth day.
The last thing I wanted to sort out was what brit milah literally meant. Until researching this covenant of circumcision for my own child, I’d only ever heard it called a bris, but the World Wide Web and learned friends are well acquainted with its more complete Hebrew appellation, in which brit, or in Yiddish bris, means “covenant,” and milah means “to cut.” Satisfied that I went through the critical decision points, I left the rest of the planning to Future Me.
Elizabeth Russo lives with her family in Jamaica Plain and enjoys collecting new experiences to share with others. Her full-time work combines public health research and clinical care.