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What is a Bris?

A Bris, or Brit Milah, is a Jewish ceremony marking a baby boy's covenant with God through circumcision, typically performed on the eighth day after birth. This ancient rite symbolizes faith and community identity, blending joy with profound spirituality. How does this tradition maintain its significance in modern times? Join us as we explore the enduring impact of this sacred ritual.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A bris is a religious ceremony held on the eighth day of life for male Jewish infants. During the ceremony, the infant is welcomed into the covenant made between the Children of Israel and God. The key event is the circumcision performed on the infant, although the ceremony also includes the announcement of the child's Hebrew name and a ritual meal afterwards to conclude the ceremony.

In Hebrew, the bris is known as the brit milah. The term is Yiddish, derived from the Ashkenazi Jewish bris milah. This ceremony is quite clearly spelled out in the Hebrew Bible: Jewish boys must be circumcised in order to be considered part of the Jewish community. Men who convert to Judaism must also undergo a bris. It is so important that the ceremony will be held on the Sabbath or a Jewish holiday if the appointed day happens to fall on one of these days.

A bris ceremony is held on the eighth day of life for male Jewish infants.
A bris ceremony is held on the eighth day of life for male Jewish infants.

During the ceremony, the child is held by a sandek, a close friend of the child's family who may grow to become a mentor. Many families give this honor to someone who is childless, symbolizing a hope that the sandek will someday have children. Traditionally, the child lies in the lap of the sandek on a ritual bench.

In order to be considered official, a bris must be performed by a mohel, a devout Jewish man who has been trained to perform the ceremony. The circumcision is performed with a surgical knife, as drawing blood is part of the ceremony. Traditionally, the wound was suctioned orally after the bris was completed, although due to concerns about the potential for disease transmission, most Jewish sects permit the use of a glass tube so that oral-genital contact does not occur.

Ritual prayers will be said during a bris ceremony.
Ritual prayers will be said during a bris ceremony.

If a child has already been circumcised, or if circumcision would be dangerous, as in the case of a hemophiliac, a ritual blood stick known as a hatafat dam brit may be used as a stand-in for the bris. The ceremony can also be delayed for health reasons, if the child's doctor or the mohel thinks that the bris would be dangerous, as in the case of premature babies or babies with jaundice.

A bris includes the announcement of the child's Hebrew name.
A bris includes the announcement of the child's Hebrew name.

Being invited to a bris is a great honor, as this ceremony is a major event in the life of a Jewish man. Guests will typically join in the ritual prayers said during the ceremony and the meal which follows. Because Jewish families do not traditionally accept gifts before the birth of a baby, it is not uncommon for gifts to be presented at this time, although this is not required of guests.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Bris and where does it originate from?

A Bris, also known as Brit Milah, is a Jewish religious male circumcision ceremony performed on the eighth day of a baby boy's life, marking his covenant with God as per Jewish tradition. This practice originates from the biblical commandment given to Abraham, as recounted in Genesis 17:10-14, and has been a cornerstone of Jewish identity for millennia. The ritual is deeply embedded in Jewish culture and religious practice, symbolizing the newborn's entry into the Jewish community.

Who performs the Bris and what qualifications do they need?

The Bris is typically performed by a Mohel, a person trained in the practice of circumcision and knowledgeable in Jewish law. A Mohel is often a rabbi, doctor, or another religious figure who has received specialized training in the surgical techniques and religious significance of the Brit Milah. According to Jewish law, the Mohel must be a pious Jew who observes the commandments and is skilled in performing the procedure safely and according to Halacha (Jewish law).

What rituals are involved in a Bris ceremony?

The Bris ceremony involves several key rituals. The baby is brought into the room and placed on the lap of the Sandek, an honored individual who holds the baby during the circumcision. Blessings are recited before and after the circumcision. The actual procedure is quick, and then a special blessing, the 'Blessing of the Children,' is given to the baby. A celebratory meal often follows the ceremony, where the baby's Hebrew name is formally announced.

Is a Bris only a religious ceremony, or does it have cultural significance as well?

While a Bris is fundamentally a religious ceremony, it also holds profound cultural significance for Jewish communities. It serves as a rite of passage, welcoming the infant into the Jewish people and linking him to generations past. The Bris is a communal event, often attended by family and friends, reinforcing the child's connection to his heritage and community. It is a celebration of Jewish identity and continuity.

Are there any health benefits or risks associated with circumcision?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, while there are potential health benefits associated with circumcision, such as a reduced risk of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and the transmission of some sexually transmitted infections, the procedure is not without risks. Complications can include bleeding, infection, and injury to the penis. Parents are advised to weigh the health benefits and risks when deciding on circumcision for their child.

For more information on the health aspects of circumcision, you can visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website: https://www.aap.org/en-us/Documents/circumcision_policy_statement.pdf

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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    • A bris ceremony is held on the eighth day of life for male Jewish infants.
      By: Kuvien
      A bris ceremony is held on the eighth day of life for male Jewish infants.
    • Ritual prayers will be said during a bris ceremony.
      By: GFGREETINGS
      Ritual prayers will be said during a bris ceremony.
    • A bris includes the announcement of the child's Hebrew name.
      By: vitovt
      A bris includes the announcement of the child's Hebrew name.