Is a Jewish Boy Who Was Circumcised in the Hospital Rather Than in a Religious Bris Ceremony Considered a Jew?

Answered by
Rabbi Don Rossoff

We are an interfaith couple anticipating the birth of our son. We are thinking about choosing a hospital circumcision rather than a bris at home. Will our son still be considered a Jew?

"Bris" comes from the word covenant. At a bris, the boy is brought into the covenant between God and the Jewish people, in fulfillment of the command given by God to Abraham in the Torah:

"On your part, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep between Me and you and your children after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be sign of the covenant between Me and you. He that is eight days old shall be circumcised, every male throughout your generations…" Genesis 17:9-12.

The circumcision is a sign of the covenant, a "membership badge," if you will. As a member of the covenant community, the boy is given a Hebrew name, linking him to his Jewish family and to Jewish history.

If your son has not yet been born, then I would recommend scheduling a bris on the eighth day. Having said that, I have learned that for some families, especially when family members do not have a Jewish background, the idea of a community party for the circumcision can feel strange, even bizarre. For those families suggest they focus on the religious part of the bris ceremony (circumcision and naming) and downplay the social aspect.

If the mohel mohelמוֹהֵלRitual circumciser; plural: mohelim. or mohelet, the one who performs the circumcision and leads the religious ceremony, is not Reform, its a good idea to share that your family is interfaith and ascertain in advance that they will officiate in a sensitive and inclusive way. If the mother is not Jewish, there are some traditional mohels (ritual circumciser) who would perform this ceremony and would consider the circumcision as part of a formal conversion of the boy. In many communities throughout North America there are Reform mohels and mohalot available, and they would consider the child a Jew.

It is not uncommon for Jewish families choose to circumcise their sons in the hospital and then have a baby naming and brit ceremony later. Most Reform rabbis and cantors would recommend a ritual to celebrate your child, bring him into the covenant, and give him a Hebrew name.

By the way, when a girl is born, we do a bris as well, a ceremony in which she is brought into the covenant community and given a Hebrew name. The ceremony which I do uses the Shabbat as her sign of the covenant, so we begin the ceremony by lighting Shabbat candles. Read more here:

For further information and sample ceremonies, I would recommend picking up some or all of these books:

  • The Jewish Home by Daniel Syme (UAHC) - an easily accessible guide to Jewish life cycle events, holidays, and home observances written from a Reform perspective
  • On the Doorposts of Your House (CCAR Press, revised 2010)
  • The New Jewish Baby Book: Names, Ceremonies and Customs: A Guide for Today's Families by Anita Diamant, (Jewish Lights, 2005)