‘A really holy moment’: Celebrating a bris at Chabad synagogue

About 100 people attended a bris ceremony Wednesday morning at the Chabad of Snohomish County synagogue in Lynnwood’s Perrinville neighborhood.

A little background: It is tradition in the Jewish faith for a newborn boy to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth. This is done by a professional mohel.

The ceremony lasted about 15 minutes, and started with the mother handing the baby to others in the ceremony who represent great significance to the family. One by one, they passed the baby forward to the front of the room, finally reaching the father. The baby was then placed on a pillow and held by the sandek, a person of honor who holds and comforts the baby during the circumcision. In this case, the sandek was the baby’s grandfather.

The mohel recited a blessing and proclaimed that a mitzvah, or commandment, would be carried out. This is a tradition that has been performed for thousands of years. The mohel asked the mother, “Mommy, we have 613 mitzvahs. Which is the hardest one to do?” The mother said, “This one.” Those in the room laughed in support.

I asked the mohel how I could act reverently when photographing the event. He said, “No flash photography,” so there are no distractions. Otherwise, I was free to take pictures of the ceremony. I asked the father of the baby what was going on in his mind. He said, “He’s my son. He carries on the tradition.”

The circumcision was performed in only a few seconds. I didn’t even realize it was over. The baby did cry, but not for long. I looked at the mother, who was standing in the back of the room, and she was getting a little teary-eyed.  But the baby was soon calm and sleeping.

Until now, no one knew the baby’s name. The father turned to the mohel and informed him of the name, which the mohel announced to the guests: Menachem Mendel. He is named after the Rebbe (a Yiddish word derived from the Hebrew word rabbi), who was the Jewish leader of the post-Holocaust era and taught unconditional love and acceptance. He inspired millions of people to know their invaluable God-given worth and to make every day meaningful.

The men danced around the baby, and soon thereafter, the guests were invited to partake of food and drinks.

In one of the photographs, the baby’s father, Rabbi Berele Paltiel, puts the baby on the grandfather’s lap.” The mohel is standing beside the rabbi.

“A bris is a really holy moment,” said Rabbi Paltiel. “You don’t invite people to a bris. You notify people about a bris. Because the occasion is so great, and so special, that if you’re invited and you don’t come, it shows great disrespect. The bris is perhaps the most significant part of a Jewish boy’s life. A bris represents the essence of who we are as Jews. Everything else are the garments: You take it off, you put it on. But the bris represents who we are, our identity.

“And there’s times — we all experience this — when we’re so busy with everyday life, with the challenges of the moment, that we stop and we say, ‘What happened? I have no mitzvahs,’” he continued. “But we stop and we realize, ‘You know, what I do have is my soul. That’s who I am at my core. The rest are the building blocks upon that foundation. That’s what the celebration here this morning is about.”

For more information on bris ceremonies, visit:  www.jewishsnohomish.com/library/article_cdo/aid/144122/jewish/Brit-Milah-Circumcision.htm.

You can also view a video of the bris celebration here.

The Chabad of Snohomish County is located at 18717 76th Ave.W., #B, in Lynnwood.

— Story and photos by David Carlos

5 Replies to “‘A really holy moment’: Celebrating a bris at Chabad synagogue”

  1. We shouldn’t be normalizing this stone age barbarism any longer. Look up Metzitzah B’Peh and be prepared to be disgusted.

  2. Not all Jewish people believe in infant circumcision. Brit Shalom is an alternative naming ceremony to celebrate the birth of baby boys (and girls) to Jewish families. There are several sites run by Jewish people opposed to infant circumcision.
    Many of the earliest intactivists, including George Wald, Suzanne Arms, Edward Wallerstein and Paul Fleiss, were Jewish. Other Jewish intactivists include Leonard Glick, Ron Goldman, Rebecca Wald, Mark Reiss, Norm Cohen, and Rob Rasche.

    “It is with the greatest hesitation, since I have no right and know so little, that I should like to suggest to my fellow Jews that perhaps the time has come to redeem the foreskin itself, rather than sacrifice it. Surely some substitute might be found for this rite, perhaps even involving a token drawing of blood from an older child, that would be preferable to this assault upon and mutilation of a newborn infant.”

    “For it is a barbarous thing to meet a newly born infant with the knife, with a deliberate mutilation. And the part that is removed is not negligible; it has clear and valuable functions to perform. Not circumcising a boy will not only spare him a brutal violence as he enters life; it will promise him a richer existence.”
    George Wald (1906-1997), Jewish American scientist and 1962 Nobel Laureate (physiology/medicine)

  3. The traditional bris, is of pivotal importance to traditional Jews.
    But it is not surprising to see people intrude their own belief system on others. If those who are convinced of their (self congratulatory) moral, ethical and intellectual superiority don’t approve of the bris, let them not perform the service. Also, let them stop judging people who didn’t ask and are not interested in their opinions.

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