So after all this Bris talk…what actually happens at a Bris?
At a Bris Milah celebration, the new baby boy is brought in and welcomed by the family and guests with the words, “Baruch Haba!” ברוך הבא – WELCOME!
The baby rests on the lap of the person who will be holding him during the Bris. This person is called a Sandek, and is usually someone special, such as his grandfather or great grandfather. He sits in a chair called Kisei shel Eliyahu, “Eliyahu’s chair.” Tradition has it that the holy prophet Eliyahu is present at every Bris Milah – so there is a special seat in the room dedicated for him.
Not everyone is qualified to perform the actual Bris. In fact, the Bris procedure involves a minor surgical cut, and takes great expertise to be done properly. So, the father and mother hire an expert, called a Mohel, to circumcise, while the Sandek holds the baby.
FYI: Contrary to popular opinion, the Mohel’s expertise has nothing to do with the amount of time the baby cries after the Bris!
Now, one of the guests is honored to recite the baby’s Jewish name which his parents decided upon:
“ViYikaray Shmo Bi’Yisrael…” – “And let his Hebrew name be called…” Often it is a name of a great Jewish personality, or a name of a relative who is no longer living, or a combination of names.
“Mazel tov!” respond the guests, as they all wish the baby to grow up to be learned in Torah, to get married and have a family of his own, and to do many good deeds throughout his lifetime –”L’Torah, L’chuppah, Uli’maasim Tovim!”
After the Bris, everyone joins in a Seudas Mitzvah – a festive meal to celebrate the new baby’s arrival and his official beginning as part of the Jewish people.
In the times of the Mishkan (and later, the Beis HaMikdash), the mother of a newborn boy or girl would show her gratitude to HaShem by bringing a special sacrifice, called a Korban Yoledes – “The Sacrifice of the Childbearing Woman.”
There are two customs regarding naming babies after living relatives, and it all depends on the places your ancestors came from.
Ashkenazic Jews (whose origins are from northern Europe) would never name their kids after living relatives. However, Sephardic Jews (from southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East), consider it a great honor to name after a living relative. So, amongst Sefardim, baby Sarah can have a living grandmother by the same name Sarah!
Whatever Jewish name parents give their children, whether according to the Sefardic custom or the Ashkenaz custom, is exactly the name HaShem wants them to have. In the words of the holy Rabbi, known as the AriZal, “When parents give their children a name, it’s inspired by HaShem – with Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration)!”
In the Tanach, we don’t find many people with more than one name. From Adam and Chavah to Avraham and Sarah; from Moshe and Tzipporah to Mordechai and Esther, it’s always one name. Same thing in the Talmud… it’s Shamai and Hillel; Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon.
Yet nowadays, besides for our family names, it’s quite common for people to have 2 given names, or even 3! Listen carefully when they call someone up to the Torah… “Ya’amod (“Come to the Torah platform”) Aharon Yaakov ben Dovid Moshe HaKohen.”
It seems that this began when Jews first started mixing Hebrew with other languages. For example, during the time of the Second Beis HaMikdash, there was a famous Jewish queen named Shalomtzion Alexandra. Her first name was Hebrew, and the second one was Greek.
When Jews migrated to Europe, this pattern continued, and many Jews gave their children a Hebrew name followed by a Yiddish one. For example: Aryeh Leib – Aryeh is Hebrew and Leib is Yiddish, both translated “lion.” Ze’ev Volf – “wolf.” Tzvi Hersh – “deer.” And for girls, Shoshana Raizel… both meaning rose, Shoshanah is Hebrew and Raizel is Yiddish.
Often, the two names aren’t connected, and parents put them together just because they like the way they sound or because they want to name their child in memory of two different relatives.