Questions to ask the mohel
There is so much that happens the week a baby is born that it is advisable to touch base with the mohel before your child is born. This will alleviate the need to make decisions after your son is born and to make sure the mohel plans to be in town. If you find that the mohel doesn't seem to have time for you or is not answering your questions to your satisfaction, it may be advisable to search for another mohel.
Some of the questions you may want to discuss with the mohel include: (click on a question to see the answer)
Why shouldn't I have my son circumcised by a doctor?
A circumcision not done as part of a religious ceremony is not a bris — it's simply a medical procedure. When done as part of a bris, the circumcision is a religious ritual sanctified with blessings and great spiritual meaning. Doctors are trained to perform circumcisions — not ritual circumcisions. A mohel is trained not only in the medical aspects of the circumcision but in all the ritual aspects as well. In addition, the method used in most hospitals to circumcise infants can take up to ten minutes while the baby is strapped down. In contrast, a bris will usually take less than a minute while the baby is lovingly held by someone.
When should we call a mohel?
Call as soon as possible after the baby is born. Rabbi Ariel Asa has two numbers where he can be reached — a primary number and a cell phone (Rabbi Asa can be reached at 800-96-MOHEL or (404) 271-8672). If you get a voice mail, leave all numbers where you can be reached. If the baby arrives in the middle of the night, wait until morning. If the baby is born on Friday night or Saturday, wait until Saturday night. If you are being induced or having a planned c-section, you can call before to reserve a time and date.
Can we do the bris before the eighth day or postpone the bris?
This question often comes up when close family members are coming in from out of town and can only make it on the weekend. The Torah is very clear — The bris is to take place on the eighth day, not before and not after. The only reason to delay the bris is if the baby is not well or if the baby is born through a ceasearean on Shabbat or a Jewish Festival.
Where should the bris take place?
Below his waist, of course! On a more serious note, there is no proscribed place for the bris to take place. There are pros and cons to any place. The advantages of it taking place at home are the coziness and the ability for the mom to immediately go and relax with the baby in her own room.
Some questions to keep in mind: is your house big enough for all the guests? Do you feel up to setting up before the bris and cleaning up afterwards?
Since it's a religious ceremony, a logical option for the bris is a synagogue. Make sure that it has a private room for mom and baby after the bris. The last option is a friend's/relative's house or a hall. Consider your options.
Where and when did you train as a Mohel?
Rabbi Asa was trained in 1990 under the national supervisor of Mohels for the State of Israel, Rabbi Yosef D. Weisberg of blessed memory. He also received advanced medical training at Hadassah and Shaaire Tzedek hospitals in Jerusalem. In the course of his training he participated in hundreds of bris ceremonies both on newborns and adults and performed his first ten under the supervision of Rabbi Weisberg.
From where did you receive your certification?
Rabbi Weisberg and the national board of Mohels for the State of Israel granted certification.
What part of the country do you cover?
Schedule permitting, Rabbi Asa will travel anywhere to perform a bris. Since 1990 he has been primarily serving the southeast as a traveling mohel in over nine states and dozens of cities. He is based in Atlanta, a convenient hub to almost anywhere.
Can you provide references from rabbis, doctors, and parents?
Will you work with our rabbi at the bris?
Yes. If you want your rabbi to participate with the baby naming or any other part of the ceremony, Rabbi Asa would be happy to cooperate.
What kind of pre- and post-bris care do you provide?
If the family lives in the Atlanta area, Rabbi Asa makes it a point to meet with them a few days before the bris. All the details of the ceremony can be discussed at that time and he can also check the baby. After the bris, he will give post-op care instructions and will not leave until the parents feel comfortable with the aftercare.
Several days following the bris, Rabbi Asa will return to your house to check up on your baby. These two visits are often skipped by other Mohels but definitely help reassure parents and make the ceremony flow smoothly.
If the family does not live in the Atlanta area, much of the preliminary planning can be accomplished over the phone. Rabbi Asa will arrive at the bris early enough to go over any other details and of course stay until the parents are confident of how to take care of the circumcision.
How much explanation is given at the bris?
The answer to that question is very much dependant on the parents. If they want many explanations and extra readings, that can be arranged. If they prefer a shorter ceremony with a minimum of elucidations, that is also not a problem.
What items do I need to purchase or supply for the bris?
The most important one is a male baby. Besides that, please have a table, two chairs, a sleeping pillow, a talis (prayer shawl), a spare diaper and wipes, and a bottle of Manischewitz grape wine ready. If you will be lighting candles, have them set up with matches nearby. Rabbi Asa will provide all medical supplies. If there is a special bris outfit, talis, kiddush cup, or other family memento, consider using it or displaying it at the bris and include a few remarks about it. An optional requirement is for two calm parents — at least one calm one is an absolute requirement.
What is the customary compensation?
The compensation is based on distance and travel expenses. It is best to discuss this issue with the mohel directly. Keep in mind that for many mohels this is their primary source of livelihood and they dedicate their schedules to performing this service.
Many insurance companies will cover a certain cost of a circumcision (even if performed by a mohel).
What happens with the foreskin after the bris?
There is a custom to bury it in some dirt or sand.
Are we allowed to use anesthesia?
There is no prohibition of using a topical anesthesia such as EMLA. The vast majority of medical doctors that I have consulted were not of the opinion that it should be used due to possible side affects. The baby does receive some sweet wine or some sugar water before and after the bris which helps calm him. Keep in mind that the bris in the hands of an experienced mohel takes less than a minute whereas a circumcision in the hospital can take over 10 minutes.
What is considered the greatest honor at the bris?
The sandek who holds the baby during the bris is considered to be the greatest honor often given to a grandfather. However, any honor given at the bris is special and no one should take offense at getting one particular honor over another.
What happens to an adult male who wants to convert to Judaism?
Conversion to Judaism involves three steps for a male, the first one being the bris. Many mohels have been trained to perform the bris on adults and it is usually done in a doctor's office or operating room. If the convert was circumcised as an infant, then in place of the bris a small amount of blood is pricked from the area of the circumcision.
What different customs are there among Sephardic Jewry? (Jews who originate from Spain and the middle east)
The night before the brit, people gather in the house of the newborn for the Brit Yitzchak (prayers and celebrations).
In many communities, the father bestows upon his son the following blessing: May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe (Genesis 48:20).
During the actual brit the sandek sits on the chair of Elijah. (The custom among Ashkenazim is to have two separate chairs).
The women ululate in high staccato sounds that sound like “lelelelelelelele,” a chant of joy in many Middle Eastern countries.
The ceremony begins with the singing of one or more of a number of beautiful pizmonim (liturgical poems)
It is customary to smell fragrant spices following the blessing over the wine.
What happens in case of Twins?
When twins are to be circumcised, each ceremony is conducted separately. The older child is brought in first, the honors are given to the various guests, and the bris and baby naming take place.
The second baby is then brought in to the room and the same procedure takes place. Generally, different people are honored for each bris.