What Is an Appropriate Gift for a Bris?
Before you can decide whether to buy a gift, you need to know what a bris is. Bris, or brit milah (pronounced BREET mee-LAH), is the name for the circumcision ceremony that is performed on an eight-day-old Jewish boy.
The ceremony has three parts:
- the milah (circumcision),
- the baby's naming,
- and a seudat mitzvah (celebratory meal).
The circumcision itself takes less than five minutes; blessings and the speeches during the naming add a little more time, but you can expect the action to conclude within twenty minutes or so. Then, as with so many Jewish customs, it's time to eat and celebrate with the family.
Will the family send out formal invitations to the bris?
Because a bris happens so soon after the baby is born, do not expect a formal invitation; you may get a phone call or an email with the details, or you may hear about it through word of mouth. A bris usually takes place at the family's home, but can also be held in a synagogue. The traditional time of day for a bris is in the morning, and the meal served is usually breakfast or brunch.
If you are family or friends with the new parents, you should be there to help celebrate this joyous lifecycle event.
Should you bring a gift to a bris?
Yes. Most Jewish couples do not have baby showers, because it is customary to wait until after a baby is actually born to bring any baby-related things into the house. Therefore, a bris is usually the first good opportunity to bring a gift for the newborn, unless you are close enough to the family to have visited in the hospital. If you aren't close to the family at but will be attending the bris anyway, it is definitely polite to bring a gift, but it doesn't have to be large or expensive.
One exception to this rule is if the bris is being held on Shabbat in the synagogue. In that case, you should not bring gifts with you, as carrying is not allowed on the Sabbath. The best course of action is then to visit the family at home sometime during the baby's first month to give your gift, if you can. (If you just happen to be at the synagogue for services and are not a guest of the family, you do not need to give a gift.) If the family is religiously observant but you are not, and you cannot think of another way to get your present to them, ask a synagogue administrator if there's a secure place you can leave your gift for the family to pick up after Shabbat ends.
What kind of gift should you bring to a bris (brit milah)?
You do not have to bring a Jewish gift. Any gift that you might bring to a baby shower is appropriate for a bris. That means you can take a look at the family's baby registry if they have one, and get them something they actually need. (I had a friend buy me a Diaper Genie for my son's bris, and it was one of the best presents ever!) Other practical gifts for newborns include clothing (not just in newborn size; some babies grow fast!), toys, and books to read to the baby.
If you want to bring a Jewish gift, consider Jewish-themed wall décor or novelty onesies with Jewish phrases. Jewish children's books are another good choice, because the parents will be able to read them to their son for many years. Ritual items such as kiddush cups don't make very good bris gifts, because the baby won't be able to use them for many years.
Note: Try to include gift receipts for whatever you buy, because babies grow at different rates and have different needs, and a gift receipt will allow the new parents to exchange some of the onesies they receive for waterproof mattress pads or hospital-type pacifiers or whatever odd thing they actually need.
How much should you spend on a gift for a bris?
Let your relationship to the new family and the circumstances of your wallet be your guides. A coworker might bring a cute outfit or two (and no one will notice if he got it on sale), while the mom's best friend from college might put together a whole basket of baby goodies including toys, books, clothes, and feeding accessories. A well-off friend of the family might give a less-personal but generous present such as a large gift card to spend on diapers, while an underemployed friend might decide to crochet a baby blanket by hand to make a special gift. Good wishes and thoughtfulness go a long way toward making any present special.
Novelty Gift Idea: A Bris Survival Kit
If the new parents have a sense of humor, and you have more creativity than money, why not put together a "bris survival kit"? The parents will already have the medical supplies they need to take care of the baby's incision while it heals, but they probably won't have thought of their own needs. Include some funny items and some useful ones, like:
- A bottle of wine for Mom to calm her down before the procedure
- A bottle of Scotch for Dad afterwards to stop his hands from shaking
- A book about brit milah for an older sibling of the baby
- Heavy-duty nursing pads so Mom doesn't squirt like a fountain in front of the guests when the baby cries
- Peepee TeePees for after the baby's incision heals