Columns - 2010

    Bris Mitzvah

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    Having explored and summarily exploited every possible celebratory angle of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah rite, leaving no stone unturned and no lavishity unlavished, some of the most enterprising Jewish parents have sought a new realm in which to exercise their party-planning contractiles.

    These parents' discovery, the Bris Mitzvah, is not as alien as it sounds. Of course, there's the bris itself, the dreaded deed on the eighth day of life in which all boys are scarred for life, by their first taste of Manischevitz.

    The parents quickly focused on melding the bris and bar mitzvah due to their startling number of similarities. First of all, historically the bris and bar mitzvah were both for boys only. Also, both events are preceded by the boy spending close to one year preparing for the big day.

    At a significant number of bar mitzvah ceremonies, the loudest vocals emanating from the bar mitzvah boy are strikingly similar to the howling he first practiced at his bris.

    The speech that the bar mitzvah boy recites is often nearly as coherent as the things he says at the bris. Of course, just as many people understand what the boy says at the bar mitzvah as understood what he was saying at the bris, given how few in attendance actually understand Hebrew. Regardless, the ratio of cheek pinching by relatives and friends is disturbingly similar at both events.

    At both the bris and bar mitzvah, albeit for different reasons, the boy typically does not pay attention to or follow the parts of the service in which he is not directly involved.

    For multiple, yet different, reasons, the boys of honor typically do not want to dance at the celebration afterward. Also, with only rare exception, nothing fleishig is served at the reception afterward, particularly cold cuts.

    (The preceding paragraph fulfills the Talmudic edict that any discussion of a bris must include at least one reference to cold cuts. Really. If you have not read the entire Talmud you are in no position to contradict.)

    And, of course, to parents, the bris and bar mitzvah in retrospect feel like they were only about two weeks apart anyway.

    But these similarities are not the entire story. If they were, the Bris Mitzvah would have taken hold years ago and wouldn't be different enough to be interesting. After all, if parents just wanted to repeat the joy and placidity of planning another bar mitzvah, they could just have another kid.

    The most appealing appeal of the bris to parents, setting it apart from the bar mitzvah, is that the boy cannot complain about any of the plans. Or about not liking any of the food at the reception. Or the color scheme for the party. Or about having to go to training. Of course, these are all preserved intact for the Bris Mitzvah.

    But there's also something in it for the boys. Except for those rare bar mitzvah kids who sneak a drink or two, or are given them by a sly godmother, they never consume remotely as much alcohol per body mass as they did on that much younger, fateful day. And, in truth, boys at a bris are the only people on earth who can legitimately not mind Manischevitz because they haven't had any other real wine yet, so they don't know what they're missing. One assumes, anyway.

    But of what use is the Bris Mitzvah is to the parents of bar and bat mitzvah kids who sought something more? After all, their kids are all likely much older than eight days. A few believe there's no issue because Hebrew is read from right to left, and therefore so is the timeline of their children's celebrations. But the majority of parents, those not drunk on Manischevitz, are really just planning ahead for their next targets: Grandchildren.

    Sadly, in the finest of longstanding Jewish tradition, there are some dissenters. Certain advocates of women's rights complain that the Bris Mitzvah is sexist, claiming that it's just another way for boys to have an aspect of Judaism for themselves that women can't. Other women are just fine with that, and wish that the advocates would be careful what they wish for. And so should they.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who cut several cutting jokes from this column. And... cut. That's a wrap. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit For exclusive online content, become a fan of The Beholder's Eye on Facebook.


    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.