Brit milah rite starts with finding a good mohel

newton, mass. | Congratulations, it’s a boy! Now you have eight days to plan a brit milah. Actually, this is not as hard as it sounds.

The mohel you choose will tell you almost everything you need to know. Today you can even find one over the Internet — indeed, you can learn enough about planning a brit from the Web sites of various mohelim that by the time your research is done you’ll be ready to do everything but the actual cutting.

The brit milah is held on the eighth day of the baby’s life, and is frequently held in the morning. The Jewish day begins in the evening of the previous day. For example, if your son was born late Tuesday night, his brit will be schedule for the Wednesday of the following week.

A brit milah is one of those rare Jewish lifecycle rituals that can, in fact — on occasion must — be performed on a Shabbat or festival, even Yom Kippur; eight days is eight days. However, if the brit milah needs to be postponed because of the baby’s health, the rescheduled event cannot take place on a Shabbat or festival. If it cannot happen on the eighth day, the timing is no longer considered sufficiently imperative to risk the violations of traditional Shabbat practices that could potentially be involved.

The mohel will examine the baby to certify that he is healthy enough to undergo the procedure. If he isn’t, it will be postponed to a later date. As usual in matters of physical health, Judaism takes a cautious approach, and mohelim are generally more strict on this issue than doctors.

Perhaps the first decision you have to make is where to hold the ceremony. There is ample precedent for having a brit milah in the synagogue, in the context of daily morning services. The main argument against using the synagogue rather than your home is that it involves unnecessarily moving the baby around, which may be unsettling for a newborn (and more work for you). If your home is large enough, you may choose to host it there. The mohel can even do the circumcision in the hospital on the eighth day, should there be health considerations that aren’t serious enough to postpone the circumcision altogether but which would be helped by this setting.

Finding a mohel is both easier and more complicated than it was, say, a century ago. Back then, you would have used the local mohel without too much thought. Today, your options are considerably expanded, with mohelim available from all the major streams of Judaism, including an ever-growing number of doctors who are also trained as mohelim.

While the vast majority of boys in this country — Jewish and non-Jewish — undergo the procedure in the hospital by doctors, any mohel will tell you: When it comes to circumcision, nobody does it better than your neighborhood mohel.

“If people saw how a mohel does it as opposed to a doctor, they’d see there’s a difference in technique and methods,” says Berkeley-based mohel Rabbi Chanan Feld. “It’s easier for the child, more quick.”

Your local rabbi and Jewish friends who have had boys can recommend a mohel to you. The Internet can also jump-start your search with listings of mohelim in your area or nationally.

The Reform movement has become much more active in promoting brit milah as a ritual observance and maintains a directory of both male and female mohels who can perform the circumcision.

Feld has noticed this uptick in interest in brit milah on the part of unaffiliated and/or less observant Jews.

“That’s the nature of the Jewish community in the Bay Area,” he says. “With some families, the grandparents want it. Others do it because they don’t want to do it in a hospital. Some don’t want the son to look different from the father, and for others, the Jewish way is more haimish, even if they’re not spiritually motivated. You’d be amazed at the different reasons why people do this.”

Every mohel has his or her own requirements and guidelines for what happens during the ceremony and it would be wise to be guided by them, but certain elements are standard.

A minyan is customary but is not necessary for a brit milah. The mohel can, if need be, perform the rite with only the presence of the father and the sandek, the person (usually a grandparent) who holds the baby while the circumcision is performed. You may want to have the loose Jewish counterpart to godparents, who carry the baby in. Of course, you can invite as many or as few people as you want (although you won’t have much time to contact them, so e-mail, phone calls and word-of-mouth are usually the way to go).

For Feld, it all comes down to tradition and family. “We have unusual family situations in the Bay Area,” he says. “Singles, gays and lesbians, adoptions, in vitro babies, even Jews for Jesus. Each one is different, but my attitude is: It’s a Jewish baby, and he needs a bris.”

j. staff writer Dan Pine contributed to this article.