Information taken from the web site of Dr Howard Cohen, a member of the Reform & Liberal Association of Mohalim All the members of this association are medically trained practitioners.
Mazel Tov! Congratulations on the birth (or the expected arrival) of your son.
Brit Mila (Covenant of the Word), is a key life cycle observance for a Jewish family. By performing the circumcision we are celebrating and remembering God’s covenant with Abraham and his people.
The Mohel (the ritual circumciser) will gather everyone together and explain the significance of the Brit. The baby will then be carried in to the room by his Kvaterin (or Godmother) and handed to his Kvater (or Godfather), whilst the opening prayers are said. The baby is then passed to the Sandek, who will hold him on his lap whilst the circumcision is performed.
Usually the Sandek has a pillow on his lap, covered by a towel and will sit opposite to the Mohel on two dining room chairs (without arms). A small table next to the chairs for the Mohel’s instruments and the kiddush wine would be useful.
The circumcision usually takes two or three minutes only, including the time to put a small dressing on.
After the circumcision, further prayers are said, including a blessing over wine and the naming of the baby.
Who can do what
The choice of who does what, is that of the baby’s parents. Traditionally, the Sandek is a Jewish male, often a grandfather or uncle of the baby (not the father). The honour should be shared out, if a suitable male has not been a Sandek before, he should be offered the honour before a repeat performance by an experienced holder. (Although many grandfathers will want to hold all of their grandsons).
The Kvater and Kvaterin, are usually a Jewish couple who have not as yet had their own children. Again, grandparents often get in on the act at this point.
An all male affair?
Traditionally, only men attend the ceremony. Reform communities would encourage all to be present regardless of gender, but this would be an individual’s choice. Similarly, mums and dads need to choose if they stay in the room or leave. Most who stay feel that the reality was less distressing than their imagination and were glad that they had stayed.
The baby’s names?
The Hebrew name of the baby will be given at the brit, some thought beforehand would be helpful.
Pros and Cons of neo-natal circumcision.
Circumcision is a straightforward operation undertaken using a well proven and established method. Complication rates are low when compared to other surgical procedures and when they do occur can be sorted out promptly with minimal distress to the child or his parents
In accordance with General Medical Council Guidelines doctors undertaking male circumcisions are now required to gain written consent from the baby’s parents for the procedure. The form confirms that the parents have been informed of the pros and cons of the procedure and appropriate anaesthetic and analgesic methods. Also, that the parents have been made aware of the potential complications of bleeding, infection and a cosmetically unacceptable outcome, including an estimate of their likelihood and consequences.
Below is a summary of the available information of potential complications and their likelihood. The figures are taken from a continuing audit of all circumcisions undertaken by members of the Reform & Liberal Association of Mohalim, these figures are updated annually.
Some bleeding always occurs after circumcision and the mohel will give you clear verbal and written instructions as to when the bleeding may be thought to be excessive. Bleeding of a degree sufficient to need the baby to be seen again in the first 24 hours occurs in between 2 and 3 % of circumcisions that were not stitched at the time of the operation. (14 of 573 (2.4%) in the audit).
Although the wound may occasionally become sticky after circumcision, true infection requiring treatment is rare. One in our audit of 933 circumcisions. You will be told what to watch for.
3. Cosmetic outcome
Circumcision is a cosmetic procedure. Occasionally the final appearance of the penis may give rise to concern. In our audit 1.4% (13 in 933) were felt to be a cause of concern by the participating doctors. Usually these improve over time but occasionally will need to be re-done at a later date, 9 such re-dos out of 933 circumcisions were reported in the audit.
Circumcision is a small operation and what your son needs most after the operation from you are lots of cuddles and tender loving care. Keep him well fed, well winded and all should be well.
You can read more about Brit Milah in this article from Dr Joshua Plaut.