Who’s Involved in a Jewish Bris

Although rabbis are almost always involved during major Jewish transitions it’s completely optional to have a rabbi at a bris, although many of those who traditionally perform circumcisions are specially trained rabbis. Jewish tradition says that if the father of the boy knows how to perform a circumcision, he is duty-bound to do it though few fathers know how. The task is handed to a proxy, called a mohel.

The mohel is usually a rabbi or a physician; in less traditional settings, the mohel may even be a woman. In fact, because most mohels are specially trained, they have significantly more experience and skill performing circumcisions than do regular doctors. The mohel generally conducts the entire ceremony, though if a family rabbi is present, he or she may help, too.

Choose a mohel whom you trust and feel completely comfortable with; ask your friends for personal recommendations, and interview more than one mohel if you have several to choose from.

The sandek (godparent) is the most honored participant at the brit milah, and is traditionally the grandfather or great-grandfather (though it could be a grandmother or someone else). The sandek holds the child throughout the ritual — usually with the boy on a pillow or a special brit milah tray during the short circumcision procedure.

Although the translation “godparent” is used for the word sandek, Judaism doesn’t really have a tradition of godparents the way Christianity does. If the child becomes an orphan, it’s incumbent on the whole Jewish community, not just the godparents, to take care of him or her.

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