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Rabbi Zachary Hepner

Frequently Asked Questions (Continued)

Adoptions & Conversions

If you are adopting a child and the birth mother is Jewish, the Brit Milah ceremony should be scheduled for the eighth day, if possible. (Some families may not return with the baby until after the eighth day.) Check with the Mohel to determine when the ceremony should be performed. If the birth mother is not Jewish, and the adoptive parents do not want to convert the child but do want to circumcise their child, the Mohel can perform the circumcision in the home. (See: “Why should I use a Mohel instead of a doctor?” above.) In any event, please make sure you have full legal clearance to have the baby circumcised and make sure the hospital does not circumcise the baby if you are planning a conversion.

In the case of adoptive parents or an interfaith couple where the mother of the baby is not Jewish and the family does want to convert the child to Judaism, it would be best to contact a rabbi who will take charge of the entire conversion process. Circumcising a baby does not make him Jewish. Depending on the affiliation of the rabbi (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist) one may get many different answers as to the requirements for conversion.

If the child has already been circumcised, then a Hatafat Dam Brit may be required. A Hatafat Dam Brit is the drawing of a drop of blood from the penis to formalize the covenental aspect of the conversion process. Depending on the age, weight and development of the adopted baby, a Mohel may not be able to do the circumcision and a pediatric urologist may be needed to perform the circumcision in the hospital (usually under general anesthetic) with the Mohel participating to fulfill the religious requirements.

The standards of conversion between the various movements (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist) are very different and subject to many interpretations. This has resulted in a great deal of tension and discord between the various denominations in Judaism and confusion for those trying to figure out how to proceed. For example, if a woman underwent a Reform conversion without going to the mikvah (ritual bath), this conversion would most likely not be accepted by a Conservative or Orthodox rabbi and therefore, a child born of this mother would not be considered Jewish.

In the case where the mother of the baby is not Jewish or underwent a non-Orthodox conversion (prior to the birth of the baby), I would strongly recommend that a “brit milah l’shem gerut” (Bris for the Sake of Conversion) be performed. It is recommended that there be three Orthodox, Sabbath observant male witnesses present at the ceremony. Even though the family is not Orthodox, I encourage this approach to avoid any question about the halakhic (Jewish legal) status of this first step of the conversion process. It will be religiously valid and accepted worldwide. A certificate will be issued indicating the bris was done for the sake of conversion and the witnesses will sign the certificate, as well. (If three Orthodox, Sabbath observant male witnesses are not available, a Bris for the Sake of Conversion can still proceed and a certificate will be provided.)

The four main steps to converting a (male) child are:

  1. Circumcision.
  2. Bringing the child up Jewish (joining a synagogue, sending the child to a Jewish day school, observing the laws of Shabbat and Kashrut, etc.).
  3. Immersion in the mikvah (ritual bath).
  4. Acceptance by the child of his Jewishness at the age of Bar Mitzvah* (age thirteen).

Upon the completion of the conversion process, the rabbi (not the mohel) will provide you with the necessary documentation (letter, certificate, etc.).

(*In traditional Judaism, the age of majority for a girl, or Bat Mitzvah, is twelve.)

Interfaith & Non-Jewish Families

If the mother is Jewish and the father is not, then the child is Jewish and a Brit Milah ceremony should be scheduled. If the father is Jewish and the mother is not, please read the above section (Adoptions and Conversions).

Many non-Jewish families opt for the services of a Mohel once they find out how a circumcision is performed in the hospital or attend a Bris performed by a traditional Mohel. Non-Jewish families are not bound by the eighth day rule and may schedule the circumcision at any time.

Alternative & Non-Traditional Families

Similar guidelines apply to lesbian couples with regard to Brit Milah and circumcision. According to most branches of Judaism, if the mother of the baby is Jewish, then the child is considered Jewish and a Brit Milah ceremony should be scheduled. If the mother is not Jewish, then it would be best to speak to the Mohel to find out what type of ceremony will be performed (Or if the couple is thinking about conversion, they may want to contact a rabbi or speak to the Mohel to determine how to proceed.)

If a gay couple has adopted a baby, please refer to the above section about Adoptions and Conversions.

Single Parents, IVF, Multiple Births and Surrogacy

There are many single women who decide that they want to have a baby. Again, if the birth mother is Jewish, then a Brit Milah may be scheduled. If the baby is adopted, see above. There is a lot of information and the new mother is often overwhelmed with everything that has to be done with the new baby (arranging for the bris is just one of them.). Please make sure there is someone to help the new mother with the preparations and arrangements for the Bris.


In-vitro fertilization, artificial insemination and other methods are available to help conceive a child. Modern methods of conception may affect the Brit Milah. I would recommend speaking to a competent rabbinic authority to determine how to proceed.


If you have a boy and a girl, most families like to have the Baby Naming and Brit Milah at the same time. The Baby Naming for the girl is first, followed immediately by the Brit Milah. This avoids having to make two separate parties. Other families, however, like to follow the traditional approach and name the girl on the first available Torah reading day (Monday or Thursday morning, Saturday morning or afternoon or any Jewish holiday or festival) and then to have the Brit Milah ceremony on the proper day. Or, they may decide to have a separate ceremony for the girl a few weeks or a few months later, either at home or in the synagogue.

Often, when twins are born, one may be healthy, the other may not. One baby may require additional time before he is pronounced ready by the doctor to have a Bris. That can create a quandry for the parents. Religiously, it is best to perform the Bris of the baby who is healthy on the eighth day, and when his brother recovers and is declared healthy, then his Bris can take place. It may mean having two separate ceremonies.

Should the Mohel charge double or give twins a “group rate”? A common practice is for the Mohel to charge one-and-a-half times the regular fee.


Depending on the combination (B-B-B; G-B-B; G-G-B) and the respective health of the babies, the situation of triplets is similar to that of twins. Check with the Mohel about how to proceed. Most doctors like to have the babies weigh at least five pounds (although I have performed Brisses on babies under five pounds). Once the doctor gives the go-ahead, the Bris(ses) can take place. My fee for triplets is the same as for twins–one-and- a-half times the regular amount. The third one is free. If you give birth to three girls, please call me — I have a great list of boys you will want to see someday.


If the genetic matter of two Jewish parents is implanted in the body of a Jewish surrogate, when the baby is born, the baby is Jewish. If the surrogate is a non-Jewish woman, most rabbinic authorities consider the child not to be Jewish and the child will need to be converted. This is a highly charged and emotional area and it is best to consult a competent rabbinic authority. My recommendation in the case of a non-Jewish surrogate is to have the child properly converted so there will be no question about his Jewishness.

[Other Frequently Asked Questions]