Rav Hayim Leiter
Frequently Asked Questions
What you might be thinking
01 When does a Bris have to be delayed?
There are many reasons why a Brit Milah cannot be on the eighth day, some examples: Jaundice, premature birth, the baby is underweight (generally under 2.5 kilograms), as well as the baby, being born in the twilight hours just after sunset before Shabbat. When it comes to Jaundice, these calculations are technical and, before any plans are made for the Bris, one needs to consult with a mohel or rabbi (or both) to make sure the Bris is done at the proper time. There are many times where parents call the caterer before the mohel and find they have to reschedule everything because they miscalculated the day.
02 Can a Bris be done at night?
A Brit Milah cannot be done at night. The Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 262:1, states that the Brit Milah must be done after sunrise. The Rammah adds that if it’s done after first light, it still counts. But both agree that if the Bris is done at night, it does not count and *Hatafat Dam Brit needs to be done.
* After a non-religious circumcision or a non-halachically permissible circumcision is done, if the cut was done in the same way that a mohel would do it, for religious purposes a drop of blood is taken in place of the actual Brit. The process is akin to an iron test one receives when donating blood. If you have any questions as to whether or not someone needs Hatafat Dam Brit, you should consult a mohel or rabbi.
03 Is it permissible to do a Brit on Shabbat?
It is not only permissible, but it is actually commanded. But this is only when the Brit Milah is done on the eighth day. The command to do the Bris on the eighth day pushes off Shabbat and holidays. But there are exceptions to this rule, some of those being: a baby born during dusk, just at the beginning or end of Shabbat; a baby who, for whatever reason, has passed the eighth day; and a baby who was born by C-section, just to name a few. If you have any questions about whether or not your baby should be circumcised on Shabbat, please consult a mohel or a rabbi.
04 When should I inform my guests about the Bris?
It is wise to wait until the baby has been checked by a pediatrician because jaundice can develop a few days after leaving the hospital and that may require delaying the event. Better to send just one message when all the details are squared away.
05 Is a Minyan (a quorum of 10) required for a Brit Milah?
A Minyan is preferred, but not required for a Bris.
06 How does one become a mohel?
I apprenticed with Dr. Ari Greenspan for close to three years, both observing and assisting him throughout the time I was learning. At the end of my stint of learning, I performed a number of solo Britot under Dr. Greenspan’s guidance, until the time came that he decided I was qualified to perform Britot on my own. At that time, he certified me as a mohel.
07 Why should one use a mohel over a doctor?
The first and most important reason is the specific training a mohel receives. Mohelim are trained to be experts in their craft. From the ins and outs of the Brit Milah itself to the different medical issues surrounding a Brit, mohelim are the most knowledgeable, adept, and experienced in the issues that can protect your child. In fact, many times doctors consult with mohelim on issues of Jaundice and the like, because we are the ones that deal with it day in and day out. We know best. Also, a doctor’s number one priority may not be the Brit Milah he’s been asked to do. If he gets an emergency call, the doctor may cancel the Bris last minute. Also, the intricacies of calculating the correct date for the Brit Milah are challenging. Many doctors, due to lack of training, miscalculate and do the Brit on the wrong day. Due to our training and ability, mohalim overwhelmingly do the Bris in a much quicker manner than doctors. When I perform the actual circumcision, it takes a matter of minutes, whereas a doctor, without this training, can take upwards of a half-hour. This is a very long time for a child to withstand any procedure, let alone a Brit Milah. The goal of any good mohel is to do the halachically correct procedure in the safest and shortest amount of time possible, while inflicting the least amount of discomfort possible.
08 How much discomfort will my child feel?
The first thing that needs to be stated is: There is no way to do a Brit Milah without the child feeling some level of discomfort. But a good mohel will do his best to make the child as comfortable as possible throughout the experience. As we all know, even removing a child’s diaper can cause him to cry from the cold. But there are two things we will do to reduce the baby's pain. Dr. Rabbi Avraham Shteinberg of Shaarei Tzedek Hospital, the leading researcher of medicine and halachah, states that some of the best pain management for an eight-day-old child is a combination of sugar water and topical anesthetic. For this reason, the first thing we're going to do is apply a topical anesthetic know as Emla one hour before the Bris is meant to take place (instructions are at the bottom of this page). The second form of pain relief is that I will be administering sugar water throughout the Bris. The question I hear more often than not is: “Why don’t you use wine? Isn’t that what most mohalim use?” The reason I use sugar water is that, as displayed by Dr. Rabbi Shteinberg's recommendation, this is all the child needs.
09 Since it is the father’s Mitzvah, does the father have to do the Brit Milah?
The Mitzvah of Milah does fall on the father, but that does not mean he’s obligated to do it himself. It is halachically permissible to designate a Shaliach (agent), usually the mohel, to perform the Brit in his stead. The only case where a father may be obligated to do the Bris is if he knows how, or is a mohel himself. This is the reason I performed the Britot for both of my sons – because I’m halachically obligated and I’m able to it. For those who are not mohelim, there is a mid-ground, if you are interested. The mohel can do everything except the cut, and the father can do the cut alone. In some ways, this is the best possible scenario because there is no need for establishing agency. The father is performing the Bris. If anyone is interested in this option, you can even tell the mohel just before the Brit Milah begins. But I would also advise that the couple come to a consensus well before this point.
10 Can you recommend locations for the Bris?
There are quite a few good places to have your Simcha in the Jerusalem area. Here is a list of a sizable number of them.
11 What are the honors and whom can they be given to?
The honors for the Brit Milah can be given to almost anyone, but there are few stipulations that need to be mentioned. First, all of the honors must be performed by Jews. For details on how to organize the honors during the COVID Era click here.
Kevaterim - The pillow bearers. Usually, the honor is given to a couple, of which the woman takes the baby from the mother, gives it to her husband, and her husband then gives the baby to the father. But the honor need not only be limited to two people. Some families choose to add many other friends and family members in between. There are many iterations of this part of the service, the technicalities of which can be worked out with the mohel before the Bris.
Kesei Eliyahu - Once the father has taken the baby and said the Shemah and other Tefilot he is meant to say, an honor is given to someone to take the baby from him and place him on the Chair of Elijah. At this point, the mohel recites a prayer for strength during the Brit Milah.
Mei’Kesei Eliyahu - This honor is given to someone to take the baby from the chair and then place him on the lap of the Sandak for the actual Bris. This honor is available for the family to use, but it is not necessary to give this to an additional person. The person who was honored with Kesei Eliyahu can be the person to take the child from the chair. But if you are having troubling finding enough honors for all your family members, this is a possible solution.
Sandak - This is the person who has the baby on his lap for the actual Brit Milah. The first person in line to receive this honor is the Grandfather on the father’s side, but it not always the case. The Sandak can be the father or even a close friend. And the same people can perform this Mitzvah multiple times for the same family. The only stipulation is that the same person not be the Sandak multiple times in the same year.
Amidah La’Brachot - This person holds the baby for the Brachot and naming ceremony at the end of the Bris. This can be given to anyone.
Ha’Mivarech - This is the person who blesses the child and bestows his name upon him. This too can be given to anyone, but there is a lot of Hebrew involved, so the person should be ready and able to read the required Hebrew and be familiar with the tune. Click here to download the text of the entire service.
12 When you do *Metzitzah, do you use a tube or do you do it with your mouth?
**For details on Metzitzah and Coronavirus click here.
This is an excellent question. Whenever I do Metzitzah I always use a tube so that my mouth does not come into contact with the affected area. I do this for one reason and one reason alone: the safety of your child. It has been known for over a century now that there is a direct link between the practice of Metzitzah B’Peh (orally) and the transfer of infectious diseases. There was a massive outbreak of Hepatitis B in the New York area in the 1980s due to mohalim not using a tube. Although in adults, Hepatitis is not life-threatening, in the case of newborns, it is a matter of life and death. There is even one case of a mohel who graduated from my Yeshiva during the same time period who moved to the New York area and performed Metzitzah B’Peh, contracted HIV from the child and died. Unfortunately, the controversy continues today. There are cases of a childern dying from contracting Herpes every year. Thankfully, some of the major Poskim are speaking out against the practice of Metzitzah without a tube. But, as you can see from these examples, the tube protects both your child and the mohel. And there is no halachic reason not to use it. Using a tube is a halachically equivalent form of Metzitzah. But it’s not just the job of the mohel to use the tube; it is also your job, the parents, to ask your mohel to use it. Many mohalim have a tube and would use it if they were simply asked to do so. So, be an advocate for your child and make sure that your mohel uses a Metzitzah tube. And if your mohel is unwilling to use it, get another mohel.
*Metzitzah is the practice of drawing out some blood from the wound for health reasons. It was believed by the Rabbis to be for the protection of the child, so much so, that one who did not do it was to be removed from his position. For more information on the practice click here.
13 Why do you use gloves?
It is well known in modern medicine that one of the ways germs transfer, which can ultimately lead to infection, is by non-sterile contact to an open wound. We’ve all watched medical television shows and seen the doctors “scrubbing in.” I attempt to “scrub in” for every Bris I perform. I spend 3-5 minutes before the Bris sterilizing my hands with medical soap. I then lay out my tools which have all been sterilized in an *Autoclave while wearing latex gloves. Then, just before the procedure, I change into surgical gloves, which haven’t come into contact with anything, making it the most sterile environment outside of an operating room. There is no doubt that this is the safest way to perform a Brit Milah and that’s why I use it.
*Autoclave is a machine that all doctors and dentists use to sterilize their instruments. It uses high-pressure steam to eliminate 100% of germs and it is the most effective form of sterilization on the market.