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What Is a Bris?

A bris includes the announcement of the child's Hebrew name.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 June 2014
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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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