Certified Mohel Serving NYC & the Tri-State Area Since 1997 || Call or Text 212-316-4784
Scheduling Logistics & Frequently Asked Questions
A Bris is much more than a circumcision. Many have never really experienced the Brit Milah ceremony as a religious and spiritual event and instead focus only on the surgical or social aspects of the bris. My goal is to reach out to all of those families who may not be aware of the history, beauty and holiness of this mitzvah in the hope that the information contained herein will provide them with a new and better understanding of the Brit Milah ceremony. The Brit Milah ceremony is the most wonderful way to celebrate the birth of a Jewish child and to give him the best Jewish start in life.
A minyan is preferred for a Bris, not required and the food is served after the ceremony.
The Brit Milah ceremony usually takes place on the baby’s eighth day of life during the daylight hours. The day of birth counts as the first day, but there are exceptions to the eighth day rule. Please do not call the caterer or notify your guests until you have confirmed the correct date and time with me. The food is served after the ceremony.
While many choose to have a large party for the Bris, others prefer a small, private event with just immediate family present. (You don’t need a minyan for a Bris. It is preferred, not required.) Either is fine as long as it is held on the eighth or proper day. Whether you are Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, unaffiliated or just plain Jewish with no label, if your son’s Bris coincides with the Sabbath or a Jewish holiday but you or your guests might be driving to the Bris, the food for the Bris will be cooked, prepared and/or delivered on the Sabbath or you would like to photograph or videotape the ceremony, it would be religiously preferred to delay that Bris to a Sunday or a weekday. (A baby born by caesarean section will never have his Bris on the Sabbath or Jewish holiday.)
Violating the Sabbath or Jewish Holiday or causing others to violate the Sabbath or Jewish Holiday is much worse than delaying a Bris for a day or two. In the above situation, we avoid many unnecessary religious conflicts and the resulting Bris will be on a much higher level both religiously and spiritually. The same Torah that commands us to perform the Brit Milah on the eighth day is the same Torah that commands us to keep the Sabbath. If one will have a Bris on the Sabbath yet break many of the Sabbath laws in doing so, that does not send the right message or teach the proper Jewish values. While you may have been told that the Bris must take place on the eighth day, there are many exceptions to the eighth day rule. Brisses, however, should not be scheduled or delayed for convenience.
When scheduling a Bris (or a Baby Naming), it is suggested that you invite your guests to arrive about one-half hour prior to the scheduled start of the event. Certain communities need to invite their guests one full hour before the scheduled start of the ceremony. A good discussion to have before the baby is born is what time of day you would like to have the Bris. If it’s a weekday, is the morning* better? Lunchtime? Middle of the afternoon? (If it’s a Sunday, everybody wants 11:00 A.M.) If there is only one parent (i.e. a single mother), please make sure there is someone available to help her with the arrangements and preparations for the bris. In general, new mothers are often overwhelmed with all that has to be done and there is a lot to do. Please check with your family first (husband, wife, parents, out-of-town guests, etc.) before finalizing what time of day you would like the Bris to take place. This is a good discussion to have before the baby is born. Finally, when someone tells you that “Cantor Sherman wasn’t available to perform our son’s Bris,” more often than not, I was available. The family, however, had a specific time that they wanted the Bris and another Bris had been previously scheduled at or near their time. The more flexible you are in scheduling, the greater the chance that I will be able to perform the Bris.
(*Suggested definitions for times: Early morning: 7:00 – 9:00 A.M. Morning: 9:00 – 11:00 A.M. Late morning/Early afternoon: 11:00 A.M. – 1:00 P.M. Mid-afternoon: 1:00 – 4:00 P.M. Early evening [summer only, except Fridays]: 4:00 – 6:00 P.M. Late evening [summer only, except Fridays]: 6:00 – 8:00 P.M.)
Please make sure there is only one person scheduling the Bris with the mohel.
Brisses and Baby Namings may now be scheduled in advance of the birth up until two weeks prior to the scheduled c-section, induction or due date. I won’t know about my availability until your baby has been born. Please remember that other brisses may have already been scheduled depending on when you call. Also, certain conditions can develop after a baby is born resulting in a postponed Bris. For many families, the time or location are more important than the mohel. I wish that weren’t the case, but the reality is otherwise. Occasionally, I do take a day off, go away for a weekend and even take vacation. I’m not available for any reason, I will only recommend a certified Rabbi/Cantor mohel. I will not recommend anyone who tells jokes or does “shtick” at a Bris nor will I recommend anyone who hands out refrigerator magnets or business cards at a Bris. I will also not recommend anyone who straps the baby down to any kind of board or restraining device. Finally, I will do everything I can to direct families to secure the services of a traditional, sensitive, certified rabbi or cantor mohel.
Please consider carefully:
If you are thinking of scheduling your event prior to the birth, please be aware that there are many reasons why the bris might not take place on the date or time you have chosen. Sometimes there are medical conditions which will cause the bris to be delayed. Another reason is that the synagogue/venue you wanted to use isn’t available at the time you wanted even though they told you it would be. The baby can be born early or the baby is born late. A delayed induction might result in a birth after sunset which changes the day of the bris. Sometimes a significant relative is unable to get a flight. Severe weather (i.e. a snowstorm) can also be a factor. Please remember, all deposits and payments are non-refundable. I schedule brisses directly and never through the web site. Do not proceed to the “Confirm” link on my web site until we have spoken and confirmed a specific date and time.
Finally, I schedule brisses very carefully so I can arrive on time as often as possible. I will lose brisses because I am unwilling to overbook (and therefore arrive constantly late). Bad traffic (accidents) and inclement weather (rain or snow) are two major reasons that my schedule gets disrupted. The other major reason I will be delayed is when someone significant is late to an earlier Bris and the family insists on waiting until that person arrives. In that situation, I will inform the family that I have to begin the ceremony by a certain time whether or not that person has arrived. If I think I’m going to be more than ten or fifteen minutes late to any Bris, I will call the family right away to let them know. I do everything I can to allow myself enough time so I do not have to rush to or from anyone’s simcha.
Do you perform Metzitzah B’peh?
I do not publish my fees on my website. If you would like to know the cost of a Bris or a Baby Naming ceremony, please complete my Bris form. Please include your due date, your phone number and any additional questions you may have.
One of the most popular questions is: 1) Will you be available when I am due? or 2) Are you planning to be away when I am due? or 3) What if you are not available when I call you? The answer is that I won’t know about my availability for any specific day or time until your baby has been born. Please remember, although I can perform many brisses in one day, other brisses may already be scheduled depending on when you call. I schedule on a first-come, first-served basis. The more flexible one is in scheduling, the greater the chance that I will be able to perform the Bris. I have been known to take a day or a weekend off or even take a vacation once in a while. If I am not available for any reason, I will only recommend a certified rabbi or cantor mohel who maintains and follows the same high standards that I do.
By confirming an event with me, you are committing to have the Bris (or Circumcision or Naming) performed by me on the specific date and time selected by you that we will have agreed upon. In the event of a cancellation (not a postponement), there is a $450.00 cancellation fee. If you cancel within 24 hours of the event, the cancellation fee is $900.00. When your event is confirmed by phone or email, the Cancellation Policy goes into effect immediately. Make sure that only one person is making arrangements with only one mohel. Please verify the time with your family and the venue before making a final commitment with me.
The baby’s Jewish name.
The actual naming of a Jewish child takes place when the parents agree on the baby’s Jewish name. Traditionally, the baby girl’s name is announced on the first available Torah reading day following the birth (i.e. Monday morning, Thursday morning, Shabbat morning or afternoon or any Jewish holiday, festival or fast day when the Torah is read.). A Baby Naming ceremony for a girl can be scheduled at any time. The baby boy’s name is announced during the Brit Milah ceremony.
There is a great deal of misinformation out there about Naming customs. Please read the Naming Guide section of my website carefully. If you have questions, please call or email me before making a final decision about your child’s English or Jewish names. For example:
- The English and Jewish names do not have to correspond in any way.
- If you want to honor the memory of someone by naming your child after them, it is the Jewish name that must be used.
- Jewish names are made up of many languages including Yiddish, Persian, Aramaic, Greek and Hebrew. Using the first letter of the English name (or the entire English name) doesn’t fulfill the Jewish tradition.
- If someone else in your family used a Jewish name for their child and you are under the impression that because that name was already used, you can’t or shouldn’t use that name for your child – that is incorrect. It is quite common for first cousins to have the exact same Jewish name as they are named after the same person.
- A Jewish child may be named after more than one person and therefore may have one, two or three Jewish names.
- Parents, children and siblings should not have the same Jewish name or be named after the same people.
- If you are naming your son after a woman, the name needs to be transposed to a male name either by sound or meaning.
- Finally, make sure you know your Jewish name. That would be the name that you were given as a child. If you had a Jewish name that was changed by some rabbi or Hebrew school teacher who insisted that you had to have a Hebrew name, please reclaim your original name. Jewish names, once they are given, should not be changed.
The Brit Milah ceremony is a beautiful, religious life-cycle event which is meant to be celebrated publicly amid a congregation of family and friends. It is not meant to be hidden away in a back room. The customs and traditions of the Brit Milah or Baby Naming ceremony are explained (without any inappropriate humor) so that those who may not be familiar with them will feel comfortable and included. The entire ceremony lasts approximately 10–15 minutes.
Pain Relief for Brit Milah
(Disclaimer: The following information is provided for parents who are investigating the use of topical anesthetics or other pain relief options. I am neither pro nor con. That is a decision for the parents in consultation with their pediatrician. I am deeply concerned that many parents have opted to use some of these products without doing their due diligence to determine if they are safe, effective, etc. If you do decide to use a topical anesthetic, kindly inform me prior to the Brit Milah.)
Although the proper technique used by myself and other traditional mohalim takes approximately 20-30 seconds to perform (as compared with a hospital circumcision or one performed by a doctor/mohel that can take anywhere from 10-40 minutes), understandably, parents are still concerned about their baby feeling pain during a bris and often ask me what I can do to reduce discomfort to their baby during the procedure.
What about topical anesthetics?
Many families today tell me their doctor has recommended using a numbing cream (topical anesthetic) before the bris. As a mohel who has successfully been performing circumcisions for over 30 years without such methods, I am concerned that doctors are making this recommendation. Current and readily available information on using topical anesthetics yields the following warnings:
- Topical creams are to be used only on normal, unbroken skin. They are not to be applied to damaged skin or open wounds.
- Possible side effects include: abnormal skin sensations; burning; change in hot or cold sensation; pale skin; redness or swelling at the application site.
- Caution is advised when using a topical anesthetic in children younger than 3 months old; they may be more sensitive to its effects, especially blood problems.
- A child may become dizzy, excessively sleepy or develop duskiness of the face or lips after applying the cream. If this happens, the cream should be removed and the child’s physician contacted at once.
- There have been reports of significant methemoglobinemia (20%-30%) in infants and children following excessive applications of the cream.
- These products have not been formulated, tested or approved for use on newborns.
- The most extreme reaction to a topical anesthetic cream resulted in the death of an adult.
My own personal experience in performing brisses or circumcisions where the parents have decided to use topical anesthetic creams has shown:
- There is always much more bleeding after the bris when a topical cream was used.
- There have been several brisses that had to be postponed because the circumcision site was severely distorted by swelling caused by the cream.
- The baby cries equally whether a topical anesthetic has been used or not. He cries when his diaper is removed and he is exposed to the cold air, and he also cries when his legs are briefly held or restrained. No anesthetic will prevent that.
- Topical creams need to be applied about 1 hour prior to the bris. Practically speaking, the mohel generally arrives between 15-20 minutes before the beginning of the ceremony, which means the family has to apply the topical anesthetic ahead of time, and they may be unsure how to do it correctly.
- If a family does choose to use an anesthetic cream, the mohel has to make sure it is completely removed from the circumcision area immediately before he performs the bris. Otherwise, the area is too slippery and may affect the mohel’s ability to grasp the skin properly.
- The head of the Anesthesiology Department of a major New York hospital stopped the neonatology unit from using the topical cream before circumcisions. The reason she gave, and I quote, “It is dangerous and inappropriate.”
What other options for pain relief are available?
Some doctor/mohels will administer a penile block–multiple injections in and around the base of the penis. The pain of these injections is greater than the pain of the bris itself. And again, as with topical anesthetics, the potential for side effects or extreme reactions–especially in newborns–is substantial.
What about Infant Tylenol?
Tylenol can mask a fever. While fever after a bris is very rare, the one thing parents need to know about their infant at any time is if he has a fever so I do not recommend the use of Tylenol. In my observation, giving the baby Tylenol does not have that much affect on pain relief at all.
To conclude, I don’t apply topical creams or use other means of pharmaceutical anesthetics when I perform brisses, and I generally advise against their use in the circumcision of newborns. As an observant traditional Jewish mohel, I am religiously obligated not to cause harm in performing the mitzvah (commandment) of circumcision, and I employ an ancient and time-honored technique that has been used successfully for thousands of years. To quote an anesthesiologist whose son’s bris I performed, referring to the baby he said, “He’ll have the bris; he’ll cry a little, and it will be over.” That more or less sums up what typically happens. However, if parents feel strongly that they do want to use a topical anesthetic, they may need a prescription from their doctor (although some of these topical creams are now available over the counter). Application instructions should be followed exactly, and parents should definitely inform the mohel before the circumcision takes place that they have used it.
So finally, what form of pain relief do I recommend?
Before the bris, let the baby suck on a gauze pad soaked in concentrated sugar water. After the bris (during the “naming” portion of the ceremony), let the baby suck on a second gauze pad dipped in sweet kosher wine or grape juice. In my opinion, this is the safest and most effective approach to pain relief in a newborn both before and after the bris. Most of all, be sure to use a certified rabbi or cantor mohel who will perform a circumcision in 20-30 seconds without strapping the baby down to a board. Parents will then be assured of a proper bris experience that will significantly minimize any pain for their son.
Each set of instruments that I use is heat-steam sterilized in an autoclave. I maintain the highest levels of aseptic technique. I do not perform metzitzah b’peh. Other supplies used for the Bris are used only once, and then disposed of. I use a modified Mogen clamp which allows for blood flow and I wear gloves when performing the Bris. During the Bris, the baby rests on a double pillow held by the warm, loving hands of the sandak (usually one of the grandfathers); not on a table or strapped down to a board or restraining device. When I arrive, we will figure out the best place to set up the Bris. If the bris is taking place in a synagogue, country club or restaurant, a cocktail table, two chairs and a wastebasket are needed for the bris set up. Or, if the bris is taking place in the home, a bridge table will do (along with two chairs and a wastebasket). I can also set up my things on one of the corners of the dining room table.
Because I am a traditional mohel, I will encourage all families to try and follow the Jewish laws and customs even if they are not religiously observant. This is done in order to try and achieve the highest religious and spiritual level for their son’s Bris. The families for whom I perform brisses and naming ceremonies range in observance from the most assimilated to Sabbath observant, from less than Reform to Orthodox. The ceremonies I perform transcend denominationalism. It is a traditional, beautiful Jewish ceremony and I try to make each bris a warm, meaningful and inclusive event. I can be very flexible and accommodating but I will not lower my standards nor compromise my principles.
One of the most common requests I receive is from families who wish to schedule the Bris after the eighth day in order to allow various relatives to attend or to make a bigger party. It is now possible to schedule the Bris or Baby Naming in advance. I have heard all sorts of creative reasons as to why the Bris needs to be delayed. Jewish law lists a number of exceptions to the eighth day rule but scheduling for convenience is really not one of them. Because I am a traditional mohel, I will encourage all families to try and follow the Jewish laws and customs even if they are not religiously observant. This is done in order to try and achieve the highest religious and spiritual level for their son’s Bris. Once again, I really appreciate honesty. If you do wish to schedule your son’s Bris for convenience, whatever the reason, please let me know up front. I will work with you. I want your son to have a beautiful and proper Bris, even if it is after the eighth day. I love what I do and I am passionate about it. The Brit Milah ceremony is a beautiful mitzvah whenever it is performed.
If you have additional questions or would like to know the cost of a Bris or Baby Naming ceremony, please contact me with your due date and fee request.
If your baby has been born, DO NOT WAIT! Email me immediately at email@example.com. If your baby has not yet been born, best wishes for an easy delivery and a beautiful, healthy baby. I look forward to sharing your simcha with you.
Rabbi Zachary Hepner
P.S. Once the baby is born, please email me immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org. DO NOT WAIT a day or two to email me. Please include one phone number (not your hospital number) where I can reach you directly or leave a message. If you email me late at night, I will respond the next morning. Please do not make any arrangements until we have spoken. Another reminder: Please make sure only one person is making arrangements with only one mohel for the bris. If I’m not available I will recommend a certified rabbi or cantor mohel. It is always worth waiting to secure the services of a certified rabbi or cantor mohel even if it means delaying the Bris. Emails received on Friday night or Saturday or on a Jewish holiday will be responded to Saturday night or after the Jewish holiday has concluded. Mazel Tov!