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The Brit Milah

Last updated: 2003-08-22

The Brit Milah (or Bris) is the circumcision and naming ceremony for a newborn Jewish male. The Bris is performed on the eighth day after birth (unless there is a medical reason for it to be delayed). The person who performs the circumcision is known as a Mohel (or Moyhil), who is specially trained to perform the ceremony. It is traditional to announce the baby's name for the first time at his Bris. Traditions
Although the Bris inflicts pain on the newborn, it is nonetheless traditionally a festive event because it marks the baby's joining of the Jewish people. During the ceremony, it is traditional to prepare two chairs, one in which the Sandak, the person who has the honor of holding the baby during the ceremony, sits, and a second chair for Elijah the Prophet. It is also traditional to give the baby a drop of wine when he starts crying. Baby Naming
A baby naming is the female equivalent of a Bris. Traditionally held on the first Shabbat after her birth, the baby is named in a special ceremony, often in synagogue with a minyan present. Usually, the parents are honored with an aliyah. After the Torah portion is read, the baby girl is named. It is traditional to throw candy and other sweet things to wish a sweet life for the baby and her parents. Because the naming ceremony is a more recent tradition, new ceremonies continue to develop to celebrate the birth of a girl. One such celebration is called Brit Ha-Hayim - or covenant of life. Pidyon HaBen
Pidyon HaBen is the ceremony known as the redemption of the first born son. Recalling the sparing of the first born Jewish males during the tenth plague in Egypt, the Bible commands the dedication of Jewish first born sons to perform religious services for the priests (the Kohanim). As a result, in order to free sons from this obligation, parents traditionally pay a Kohen five shekels. By this payment, the firstborn son is relieved of any such duties. The Pidyon Ha Ben ceremony is traditionally held on the 31st day after the child's birth, to the ensure that the child is healthy. Halacha
The Bris is one of the most ancient of Jewish laws, referenced in connection with the circumcision of Abraham and Isaac in the Book of Genesis. The first word of the Hebrew phrase for circumcision is Brit, which translates as covenant. The circumcision symbolizes the covenant between God and Israel. The actual ceremony is set forth in Leviticus 12:3, where it is prescribed that the foreskin of the male baby shall be removed when the baby is eight days old. There is speculation as to the significance of eight days. Some reason that they want the baby to experience one Shabbat before the circumcision, whereas others state that eight days is enough time to determine if the baby is healthy.

The Brit Milah guide is produced in association with AllThingsJewish.com