Bracing for the Bris

I received an email from a reader asking me my advice. She is currently towards the end of her pregnancy with a baby boy, and is preparing herself for his bris (circumcision). Seeing as she knows I have been through a bris four times, she wanted to know my “tips” (I know, groan) to help her son heal from his welcome into the faith. Her whole family is populated with girls, so she welcomes any and all advice to help her chart this unfamiliar territory.

I emailed her back with my advice, which basically boils down to “Polysporin is your friend” and some of my experience. I wanted to open the subject to you my readers, so we can help her emotionally and physically on this important day.

We all know that our baby boys must be circumcised. It’s a rite of passage for every Jewish baby boy. But even though we know this has to happen it’s tough for the mommies who have just given birth. The baby will have to go through some pain, and as a mother that really hurts, it brings fear to our hearts. It does get easier with each subsequent boy, I will say that. With the first I was loathe to give him over to the men to carry into the shul. I wouldn’t let him go. I huddled with a girlfriend in the back of the library in the shul during the bris so that I wouldn’t have to hear anything. I think I cried the whole time. (Before I get bashed for not saying that it hurts the fathers too, I am not a man, cannot see the whole thing through a male perspective). By the time the fourth bris rolled around, I was as close as I could be to the action. I won’t say his cries didn’t bother me, but I knew he would be ok as his brothers had been. I dosed each one of my babies up with Tylenol beforehand, so that the pain would be minimized, and we chose experienced mohels who knew what they were doing.

It is indeed a very emotional moment. Welcoming your child into your religion, into your community, into your family. Seeing him become one of us in front of all the community. Having the members of the family and the rabbis bless him and heap good wishes onto him and all the family. For me, the most awesome moment, indeed very spiritual for me, was Kriat Shem, the calling of the name. When the actual bris itself is over one of the community/family members is given the honour of calling out the new baby’s name. There have been so many stories about a couple deciding on the boy’s name, and when it came for the father to whisper it to the honoree, something different came out. Not a name they had thought of, but one that fit perfectly. A name is a holy label. Much thought needs to go into it. Many have the tradition not to mention the name they have chosen for their son until he is circumcised. All of our sons were named after family members who had passed on. Both grandfathers’ names were given; one was name for my favourite man in the whole world – my Saba, my grandfather, the baby’s great-grandfather; and one was named for a great-grandfather and a dear friend.

The recovery time depends, in my experience, on whether or not a clamp was used during the procedure or not. I had 3 sons circumcised using a clamp, the last was not. Some rabbis permit it, some don’t. I really do not understand all the issues involved, but I know my own experience. The 3 boys who were circumcised using a clamp healed faster and bled less. The other one seemed to bleed a lot more, and take a lot longer to heal. I will say, however, that other than sleeping more than they had been used to, they didn’t seem to be too much in pain. I kept giving the Tylenol every 4 hours for the first 24 hours, but they didn’t seem to need it after that. They just needed warmth and snuggles and to be fed and changed regularly, like any newborn.

So, parents of boys, can you give my friend any suggestions how to handle the emotional and physical sides of the bris?

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43 responses to “Bracing for the Bris

  1. Don’t go crazy
    whatever mohel puts on leave on but that gauze will fall off

    just put A&D (or other brands) on front of diaper (as you would spread butter)

    that is ALL

    mazal tov

  2. “Welcoming your child into your religion”

    just a technical note. a bris for a baby born to a jewish mother is not a rite of initiation (say like baptism). the child is jewish regardless of whether or not there is a bris. (although there are halakhic ramifications for not having a bris.)


  4. We have been through this four times, with an excellent Mohel. I still think it’s barbaric, and it did not get easier for me each time. Have support and tissues handy!

    Make sure to change the diaper every few hours after the circumcision, *even at night*. This is very important!

    • i don’t know that i see it as barbaric, but if you see it that way, how did you reconcile yourself to doing it?

      • My own feeling was that it’s too basic a Mitzvah to ignore or violate — even though I really don’t like it. And this is one Mitzvah that my husband felt very strongly about.

    • “Barbaric” or not, it is still a mitzvah. I don’t think that something “barbaric” would have been commanded. I think that is a modern projection on the situation. Yes, it is uncomfortable to think about, but ultimately the “pain” is gone quickly and the boy becomes a member of the Jewish people.

      • I shouldn’t answer for Ilana, but I’m sure there must have been a lot of family and societal pressure to cut.

        Sheldan: I’m glad you think everything in the Bible is moral. I imagine you’ve never read it and this never heard of god-sanctioned genocides, Moses ordering the nation to kill all Midianites except LITTLE GIRLS, exhortations to kill honosexuals and heretics. Personally, I think Mein Kampf is far less offensive.

        As to the pain, there is no uestion that the pain the baby goes through is excruciating. The fact that they stop crying after a day or so is what you’d expect if you had poked both their eyes out, as well as chopped off all their limbs. That proved circumcision is painless how? And not to mention, it makes “functionality” a lot more difficult later in life.

        • Lady Lock and Load

          How dare you compare our holy Torah to Mein Kampf? CREEEEP!!!!

          • How dare you call me names?I made a point? If all you have is emotional kneejerk crap, to back to kindergarten.

          • How dare you endorse pedophilia (the Torah is full of it)? CREEEPP!!!

            • Lady Lock and Load

              Listen, I don’t know who you are. My grandparents were murdered by Hitler, any comparison to him must be the most evil horrible thing in the world and I find your words very insulting.
              I always find it very interesting that people that are off the derech seem to like to lurk around on blogs that discuss Judiasm in a sincere way. Why is that? feeling guilty about something? unresolved issues? I sincerely would like to know.
              I do think that it is reasonable to show some respect for others who do believe in the authenticity of the Torah. Just like you would not curse Jesus in front of a religious Christians or slaughter a cow in front of a person who views a cow as holy. You can make your point without insulting and high drama comments.

              • I agree any and all comparisons to Hitler are beyond the pale and they should be illegal. Unfortunately, I’ve had more than one religious person pull that one on me, so I guess I’m used to it by now. But I agree all Hitler references should be strictly outlawed.

              • LLL, I’m pretty sure you don’t mean to be offensive, and I know your buttons were pushed by the Mein Kampf reference. However, I find your assumption that formerly frum individuals who read and participate in discussions on religious blogs have feelings of guilt offensive to me. Until you have walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, you should not judge them.

                I was raised orthodox and am not orthodox anymore, however, I still like to learn about and participate in discussions on religion because it is a topic that fascinates me because of my background. I can tell you, with certainty, that I have absolutely no guilt about not living a Torah lifestyle. I live a fulfilling and happy Jewish life without frumkeit and I maintain an open mind about religion just as I do with other topics.

                You are right about having unresolved issues about religion, but really, who doesn’t have some unresolved issues from their childhood? I don’t view that as a bad thing necessarily, but to think that formerly frum individuals have guilt over their current lifestyles is an erroneous conclusion. I invite you to consider that there may just be more than one way of living and it’s up to each individual to choose what is the right way for them.

                • Lady Lock and Load

                  Trust me Chanie I know plenty about being off the derech. More than I care to know. My question is why would someone who is so anti the Jewish religion would want to read and comment on blogs that are pro Jewish. I don’t think you are anti and your comments are respectful and not full of anger.

            • Please. Let’s calm down. We can all disagree respectfully. Let’s not make this personal.

          • I agree that that the comparison to Mein Kampf is heinous, but I think OTD’s point is that the Torah is full of barbaric and horrific events and commandments and that he considers circumcision to be one of them.

        • They stop crying when I nurse them right after the cutting, *not* a day or so later!

        • OTD,

          How the HELL do you know whether I’ve read the Bible?! I have, and do know what’s in it.

          I realize that to modern eyes some of what is in the Bible is offensive. Nevertheless, as a Jew, I still realize that what is there obligates me, even though I may not like it or observe it totally (e.g., kashrut). Therefore, I believe that if Hashem commanded Jews to be circumcised at eight days old, or condemned homosexuality or what the Midianites did, He must have a good reason to do so and that it is for our benefit. You may believe that circumcision is barbaric. I claim that there is NO one (other than possibly someone who suffered a rare injury) who would even remember any pain years later that they suffered at the brit!

          As for “functionality,” that is debatable. I would guess that the loss of the foreskin does NOT make any difference.

          You have a lot of nerve saying the things you did. I respect the fact that you disagree with me, but that does not give you the right to insult me. I have lodged a complaint with the author of the blog. Save your comments about what I have just written. I will ignore them. It is truly unfortunate that some people cannot be civil in this forum, which has up to now been very enjoyable. I refuse to let anyone attempt to silence me through insults about what I do or don’t believe, so I will continue to speak my mind and hope that the posters accept my comments in the spirit that I make them.

  5. I have been to several bris over the past 3 years- Baruch Hashem, and I have found that each child takes to the ritual differently. Some are more upset about being uncovered and cold then they are at having this “barbaric ritual performed” that being said- you must feel the same about EAR PIERCING?!

    • Ear piercing is different because it does not interfere with the functionality of the ears. However, I think it should be done on girls when they want it, not on babies because Mommy wants it ( And this is from a woman who had her daughter’s ears pierced at two months because she looked like a boy. My views have changed so much over the years, I amaze myself sometimes!)

      • Chanief,

        I think that some people react viscerally to brit mila because they “know” what’s going on. They realize that the foreskin is being cut and this makes them queasy. But, again, I doubt seriously that anyone who has had a brit remembers the pain years after the fact. I still say that we may not agree with everything we are commanded to do, but that makes us no less obligated to do them.

  6. Lady Lock and Load

    In 1975, my brother had a son. My brother was not religious but wanted his son to have a bris milah. His friends told him it was cruel and barbaric, etc. etc. But my brother had it done anyway. His son became religious at the age of 13 got married and has two adorable children. Maybe this was because of the zechus of the bris milah? Anyways, the whole story is quite a miracle if I put in all the details.

  7. My son’s bris was pretty traumatic for me but he recovered pretty nicely.

    If I had a baby boy now I’d have to give some serious thought to the bris. I’d probably do it even though it feels wrong, just to prevent any issues later on down the line should that child decide to lead a religious lifestyle, but it would make me feel pretty sick. It is genital mutilation when you come down to it. (Let’s not even go near metzitza b’peh! I had no idea about that when my son had his bris, had I known it would have freaked me out REALLY badly.) There are a lot of practices in the text of the Torah that are no longer done and could be viewed as barbaric, I’d include this one in that category if I had any say in the matter.

    That said, my advice to this new mom is not to be in the room if it makes her squeamish, and in addition, see if the baby’s Daddy or grandma is willing to change the diapers for the first day or two because it looks pretty nasty at the beginning.

    • Lady Lock and Load

      I wonder why non Jews sometimes practise circumcision, if it is genital mutilation. The Torah forbids a person from cutting their bodies. I guess after spending some time training in the OR, bris milah is no big deal to me!

      • There are many reasons people practice circumcision, but it is still genital mutilation. I can imagine it would be no big deal to me either if I spent some time in an OR too, I mean in the grand scheme of things it’s a small cut and it heals pretty quickly.

    • Chanief,

      Dennis Prager had a take on this in his book Think a Second Time. He had talked with a feminist about the fact he was going to do a commentary on clitoridectomies, and the feminist responded that it was sexist because equal time should be given to male circumcision. His response was that the removal of the foreskin (which serves no function) is not the same as the painful removal of the clitioris (which definitely serves a function). He doubted that he would miss the foreskin, unlike the feminist who would definitely miss her clitoris.

      My point is that brit mila (to distinguish it from circumcision) is NOT genital mutilation and certainly cannot be compared to female genital mutilation. As for “practices that are no longer done,” I would be careful about deciding which are to be put into that category. Brit mila is a basic obligation. I may not agree with it, but nevertheless I have to respect that it is a commandment and it is not to be taken lightly.

  8. I’m another one who believes that the whole thing is barbaric – had the Pixie been male, we would not have snipped, even tho the family became irate at that announcement. There are many things sanctioned in the ancient world that are no longer acceptable – I believe that this should be one of them.

    As for the ear piercing – Pixie is now 6 years old, and just had her ears done last week. I don’t believe in any body mods without informed consent. She was informed of aftercare, pain, etc. and now cares for her piercings. (Myself, I have 4 piercings on one ear and 3 on the other)

  9. I do not find brit milah to be barbaric. Bringing our sons into the Covenant were two of the most moving experiences of my life.

    I shared my insight with my congregation a few years ago. Perhaps this will give another perspective.

  10. Do you consider lobbing off a puppy’s tail and clipping it’s ears, as in the case of the Doberman or rottweiller barbaric? Do you consider eating meat to be barbaric? Do you wear leather shoes/belts/jackets? Is it okay to hurt an animal- but not a human? Where do you draw the line for what you deem to be “barbaric”?

    It’s funny- in this man’s world we live in, THEY seem to be okay with this ritual. In that- if they could find a loophole to get around it- they would have absolutely done so by now.

    • Yes, I consider docking tails and ears barbaric, and should be outlawed when done for cosmetic purposes (some dogs have to have their tails docked when they wag them so hard that they bang into walls and cause serious injury, but its rare). I don’t eat meat because I believe that the meat industry is barbaric in its treatment of animals, but when I did, it was meat purchased from a local farm where animals were raised and killed humanely ie not factory raised. I avoid leather where possible – I wish tefillin came in a non leather option. So yes, I do try to be consistent.

    • I absolutely think killing animals is barbaric.

    • I absolutely consider clipping a puppy’s tail and ears barbaric. I have a friend with two dobermans and I was DISGUSTED at his going through with the surgery for purely cosmetic reasons. I am also a vegetarian.

      I do sometimes wear leather shoes but only when they’re REALLY cute. Hey, we all have our lines 😉

  11. Chanief, RubyV, and everyone,

    I think we will all have to agree to disagree here, although it is still a religious obligation and we will have to face it.

    After 42 comments (so far), I don’t think anyone’s mind will be changed. I hope that everyone understands that I hear that some people are uncomfortable with brit mila. Although I don’t agree, I feel that (mostly) people can express their opinions civilly, and as long as we all can do that, there will be no offense taken.

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