Bris and circumcision are similar - they both result in the removal of your son's foreskin - but they aren't the same. A bris is performed by a mohel when a baby boy is eight days old (unless there are health complications and the bris needs to be postponed). He's also given a Hebrew name, and if he's lucky, his first taste of Manischewitz. Circumcision is done by a pediatrician, usually in the hospital before the baby goes home. We say go for the mohel if you can. Not only will the ceremony be more like a celebration, but wouldn't you rather have someone who does like 10 of these a week do the job when it comes to your son's penis?

The Bris: Who comes, who does the ceremony and what is that man doing to my son's penis.


Circumcision: The Back Story

Circumcision is one of the oldest Jewish traditions and began with an agreement between Abraham and God some 3,500 years ago. The name bris or brit milah in Hebrew, translates to covenant of circumcision. The short version of the story is that God made some big promises to Abraham, including making him the father of many nations, giving his descendants land, and making Abraham a blessing in the world. In exchange, all Jewish boys were to be circumcised going forward, which became the symbol of the spiritual connection between God and all Jewish people. Yes, we get it… this is a funny trade. Some rabbis say that the crux of it all is that God chose Abraham to spread kindness, and monotheism, throughout the world, and that we have a responsibility to continue that work today, especially the kindness part. Circumcision is considered by many to be the ultimate affirmation of Jewish identity. By the way, Abraham was already an old man when God spoke to him, and he circumcised himself. That seems like a baller move. No pun intended. Like many Jewish traditions, it turns out that there are also health reasons for circumcision, including easier hygiene and a decreased risk of urinary tract and sexually transmitted infections.

Abraham circumcised himself! Talk about a baller move - no pun intended.

Bris Booklet - Just Print Copies!

I Want To Have A Meaningful Bris For My Son, But Are You F*#king Kidding Me?

We know what you’re thinking now… You’re thinking, “Dammit, JewBelong! I just gave birth! I’m a new parent. I’m exhausted. Yes, I want to have a meaningful bris for my son, but seriously? I haven’t even showered in two days and you want me to put together a ceremony?” Not to worry! We’ve got a beautiful booklet of readings ready for you to print, plus easy-to-follow ceremony guidelines below. You can leave the Hebrew and other traditional stuff to the mohel. For overachievers and early planners, there are more choices in the reading section below. Side note: Most Jewish families choose to circumcise their sons, but it can be a sensitive subject for some, no pun intended, so we’re staying away from that one. If you don’t have a bris, you can still have a naming ceremony, and yes, we have an entire baby naming ceremony section.

All you really need to do for a more beautiful bris is to print enough copies of JewBelong's booklet for your guests!

The Mohel And Roles for Loved Ones

Choose Your VIPS

The first step to planning a beautiful bris is to choose the people who will be part of the ceremony: 1. Hire A Mohel Google “mohel” and you’ll probably get a long list. Or, ask your friends or call your local synagogue for recommendations. Choose a mohel who you feel comfortable with, and who will take the time to answer all of your questions. The most common question mohels get is whether they use a topical anesthetic or prefer to give the baby sugar water or wine as a mild form of sedation so you can always start there. Prices for mohels generally start at several hundred dollars and go up from there, especially if the mohel is traveling from out of town. 2. Assign Roles To Loved Ones Assigning roles is a fantastic way to include loved ones during the ceremony. The main roles are:

  • Kvatter or kvatterin (plural): The person/people who carry the baby into the room where the bris will take place and deliver him into the arms of the sandek. If you want to assign two people, go for it! Jewish people generally don’t appoint godparents, so this is a nice substitute.
  • Sandek: The sandek used to be the person who held the baby in his lap (it was usually a man, often a grandfather) while the circumcision was performed. These days it is much more logical and safer for the sandek to place the baby on a sturdy table and stand close by instead.

If you want to include even more VIPs – and we say the more the merrier – assign readings or stories or songs.

Mohels, Sandeks, Kvatters... Say what now?

The Service

Decide On The Kind Of Service You Want

No matter what you decide to do, a bris is a relatively short event. Not only are there tired parents and a newborn to consider, but the main event, the actual circumcision and the traditional blessings that go with it, move along pretty quickly. We say add a little extra and personalize it with some readings because, after all, a circumcision is a once-in-a-lifetime ceremony that fulfills a millennia-old covenant between God and the Jewish people. Just sayin’… A bris is often held in the morning, and can take place just about anywhere… home, the community room in your apartment building, etc. All you really need is a quiet space big enough for your guests. If you belong to a synagogue, you can probably have it there, either as a private event or part of services (talk to your rabbi about the best way to do that). Either way, a summary of a lovely ceremony is below. Your mohel might suggest slight variations, but it’s a relatively standard process. Just be sure to tell the mohel, in advance, that you’re planning to personalize the event and to please try not to be too much of a control freak. Trust us, he/she is used to it.

  • Welcome: A few words of welcome to the loving group that has joined you, usually done by Mom or Dad. Unless you’re in the middle of Jerusalem, there are probably some newbies who would love to hear what a bris is all about, so this is a good time to explain. You can also ask the mohel to do the explaining part.
  • The baby is placed on a pillow and carried into the room by the kvatter/kvatterin.
  • The mohel and guests welcome baby with the Hebrew words: Baruch Ha-Ba, which means blessed is the one who has arrived.
  • The baby is handed to the sandek, who stays close to the baby during the circumcision.
  • The mohel says a blessing, probably in Hebrew (it basically says that the circumcision fulfills a Holy Commandment) and then a parent, hands the mohel a surgical knife, which indicates that he is appointing the mohel to fulfill the covenant of circumcision.
  • The parents say the following blessing as the mohel begins the procedure. “Blessed are You, God, Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Their commandments and commanded us to enter him into the covenant of Abraham our father.” Those present respond, “Just as he has entered into the covenant, so may he enter into Torah, into marriage, and into good deeds.” (Try not to worry too much – this part literally takes seconds.)
  • The mohel, or sometimes loved ones, say Kiddush and the Shehecheyanu.
  • The kvatter returns the infant to his parents.
  • Phew! Now that the baby is back with his parents, and most likely calm already, it’s a great time for a reading or two. (See our booklet for our favorites.)
  • Announcement of the baby’s Hebrew name. The mohel often does this, but we love when a parent or loved one takes the wheel. If you’re naming your baby after a loved one, this can be one of the highlights of the ceremony. It’s a great time to honor the person he’s named after with stories, a few words about why the name was chosen, and photos if you have them. If you just chose the name because you liked it, that’s cool too! (We have a whole section on choosing a Hebrew name so start there.)
  • Another reading or two.
  • Thank you and goodbye! It’s nice to end with thanks to everyone for helping to welcome your baby and for being part of her life. We especially love this blessing to thank family members of other faiths for their love and support.


Cut, carat, color, clarity... in this case, just cut.

Choosing A Hebrew Name

What's In A Name? Plenty!

You probably love your son’s English name, or else you would have chosen something different. Choosing a Hebrew name is another chance to choose a name you love. With one caveat… If you were wondering why you’ve never met a Joshua Schwartz Junior or Harold Mandelbaum III, it’s because most Jews don’t name their baby after someone who is living. (Side note: This is only true for Ashkenazi Jews. Sephardic Jews do name their children after living relatives, but we digress…) The reasons not to name a baby after someone who is alive, come from superstitions and ideas about being respectful to the living, but honestly, it’s also less confusing than having three Harolds in the same family. On the other hand, it’s considered an honor to name your baby after a loved one who is deceased so that the name lives on. Plenty of families choose two names — one from each side of the family. Others choose the Hebrew version of the baby’s first or middle name (e.g. Yosef for Joseph or Benyamin for Benjamin). There are also plenty of beautiful biblical and Israeli names to choose from.

Throw your mother-in-law a bone. Grandpa Hyman's name actually sounds pretty good in Hebrew.

Things To Have On Hand

More Than Just A Mohel

Although the mohel will give you more precise instructions, you’ll likely need the following:

  • Baby wipes.
  • Diapers.
  • Sturdy waist-high table that won’t wobble, plus another table or area for the Mohel’s instruments.
  • A pillow.
  • Antibacterial ointment.
  • A pacifier if you use one.
  • Grape wine or grape juice and a kiddush cup or wine glass, as the Kiddush is typically part of the ceremony.
  • Extra lamps if there isn’t already good lighting in the room!
  • A kippah for baby, and an outfit for him that allows easy, um, access.

Optional but a nice touch:

  • Copies of the ceremony so that your guests can follow along, or copies of the readings that they will be asked to recite.
  • Chairs for guests who may need to sit.
  • Food (bagels and lox are a staple) for after the ceremony, as is a challah to say HaMotzi.
  • Yarmulkes (kippot) for the participants and a teeny tiny one for the baby… No, we are not kidding. But ask your mohel, he will probably bring one.
  • Photographs of the person or people being remembered, if you are naming your son after a loved one.
  • Elijah’s chair: Set aside a chair for the prophet Elijah (Yup, the same one we welcome on Passover. He’s also known to be a special protector of children). This chair can be decorated by simply draping a tallit over it, or it can be decorated with flowers, ribbons and ornamental pillows (a fun job for an older sibling).
  • A small blank journal on hand for guests to write notes and good wishes to the baby. Makes a wonderful keepsake!

Don't think of it as losing a foreskin as much as gaining a Hebrew name.

Attending As A Guest

Don't Wait For An Invite

When a Jewish boy is born, it’s likely that there will be a bris eight days later, probably in the morning, although it may be postponed if the baby isn’t well enough. Like so many Jewish traditions, it’s a mitzvah to attend. If it’s a close friend, don’t wait for an invitation. The parents can’t exactly plan it in advance so just do your best to get there. Call or email someone in the family (ideally not the parents who probably have their hands full) and ask for the details and if you can bring something or be of help.

Pro tip: When you're invited to a bris the correct response isn't, "Great, is it a boy or a girl?"

Bris Prayers And Blessings

Kiddush (Blessing Over The Wine)

-Author Unknown

The blessing recited over wine or grape juice. Some families just do the first line (up to “Amen”) and others do the full blessing. As always, do whatever feels right to you!

First line: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen. Amen. Last line: Blessed are You, God, Spirit of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine. Amen…

HaMotzi (Blessing Over The Bread)

-Author Unknown

This blessing is traditionally made over a challah, a sweet braided bread. If you don’t have a challah, use different bread, or even a cracker or pizza crust. Making the blessing is more important than the actual bread.

First line: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz. Amen. Last line: Blessed are You, God, Spirit of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. Amen…

The Shehecheyanu - Generic Prayer Of Gratitude

-Author Unknown

The Shehecheyanu is a great generic catch all prayer that’s basically saying, “Wow! We are really happy we got to this moment!” Like for example, after we have been working our asses off for months, when the new release of the JewBelong website goes live and doesn’t crash with all the high-fiving, we will say the Shehecheyanu.

First line: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, shehecheyanu v’key’manu v’higiyanu lazman hazeh. Amen. Last line: Praised are You, Spirit of the Universe, who keeps us alive, sustains us, and brings us to this moment. Amen…

See All 3 Bris Prayers And Blessings

These are the traditional blessings that you've gotta include. But don't stop there!

Bris Readings

A Blessing For Our Newborn

-Author Unknown

The only thing we find slightly annoying about this ancient Jewish prayer is that it ends with the marriage canopy. Not that there is anything wrong with marriage, but it’s not for everyone and it seems like an odd culmination for the tiny baby. But when you think that procreation is a mitzvah, it’s more understandable.

First line: May the one who blessed our mothers, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel, and our fathers, Abraham, Issac and Jacob, bless these parents and their newborn daughter. Her name shall be (insert English or Hebrew name here). Last line: Let us say Amen…

Blessing For Anyone Who Isn't Jewish ('Cause We Know This Is A Lot)

-Inspired by Rabbi Janet Marder

So here is the thing, half of the Jewish families that we know are headed by a couple where one of them is not Jewish. And we think eureka! That is great! Why isn’t there a blessing for that person who is not Jewish but participating in a Jewish home/life! And… there is! And we love it and hope you do too!

First line: May everyone who shares in a Jewish life feel welcome and integrated. Last line: With all our hearts, we want to thank you for your love and willingness in giving the ultimate gift to the Jewish people. Amen…

I Wish You The Strength To Face Challenges

-Patsy Gaut

We used this reading at our own simchas (Hebrew for celebrations) and we know you’ll love it, too. It’s short, and beautiful.

First line: Dearest one, I wish you the strength to face challenges with confidence along with the wisdom to choose your battles carefully. Last line: I am so proud of you!…

A Blessing For The Intermarried

-Rabbi Daniel Zemel

David Gregory from CNN, NBC, MSNBC, etc. wrote a book called How’s Your Faith? where he writes about finding his. Gregory’s wife, Beth, is not Jewish, but they are raising their kids as Jews. Anyway, the point of all this is that this relevant blessing is in his book and you are gonna love it!

First line: Many of you have made the historic and unprecedented decision to raise Jewish children. Last line: Your presence here makes us stronger and wiser…

See All 27 Bris Readings

Choose a reading or two. Or take our advice and print out copies of JewBelong's Bris booklet.

Bris Adoption Readings

Prayer For An Adopted Child

-Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso

Oh, this is soo beautiful! Hard to explain beauty…suffice it to say that anyone adopting a baby should take a look!

First line: We have been blessed with the precious gift of this child. Last line: Bless all of us together beneath your shelter of shalom (peace), and grant our new family, always, the harmony and love we feel today…

You First Came To Us In An Envelope

-Author Unknown

Best Sex and the City memory…when Charlotte and Harry got the picture of Lily, who they adopted. This reading is like that!

First line: You first came to us in an envelope with letters, forms and such. Last line: Our child of chance, of plan, of will you’re now our very own…

The Gift

-Author Unknown

You know how most poems don’t actually rhyme? Well, this one about adoption does, and it’s adorable.

First line: I didn’t give you the gift of life, but in my heart I know. Last line: No, I didn’t give you the gift of life, life gave me the gift of you…

The Chosen Heart

-Teri Harrison

This is one of the sweetest readings about adoption we could find.

First line: Longing for a child to love, I’d wish upon the stars above. Last line: In my heart I always knew, a part of me belonged to you…

See All 5 Bris Adoption Readings

Nice Jewish boys and girls are made, not born.

Bris Songs

L'chi Lach

-Debbie Friedman

This song is the perfect tearjerker to share at any happy Jewish occasion. L’chi Lach essentially means “go into yourself” in Hebrew. The lyrics tell those that are being celebrated to go begin the life journey they are meant to have, and to be a blessing in the world, which is essentially the journey all Jewish people are meant to have.

First line: L’chi lach, to a land that I will show you. Last line: L’chi lach…

What A Wonderful World

-Robert Thiele and George David Weiss

This popular song is always a crowd hit (especially for those of us born after 1960). It’s been re-recorded many times since then. A beautiful addition for your celebration.

First line: I see trees of green, red roses too. Last line: What a wonderful world…

See Both Bris Songs

If you have friends with a guitar or other instrument, be sure to hit them up!

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