Cost for the bris

>>Do you have any tips for how to make a low cost bris?<<

Well, everyone has a different idea of what they consider low cost, but I’ll share what we’ve done. 

Generally, an important principle in saving money is to look ahead and plan in advance.  If you know you’re having a boy, you can think about what kind of menu you’ll want to serve, and take advantage of sales to buy the non perishables.  You can do the same with paper goods and any decorations. 

But we don’t know what we’re having until the baby is born, so planning ahead isn’t something I can do.  I mentioned a few weeks ago taking advantage of a sale on turkey and commented at the time that if we had a boy, we would use it for the seuda.  We had talked about making a late afternoon bris if it was a boy, and serving fleishigs.  But you know the saying – ‘man plans, and G-d laughs’ – since our bris was on erev yom tov, the late afternoon idea was changed to the typical morning dairy spread and the turkeys stayed in the freezer. 

But what you can do is minimize your costs by doing whatever you can yourself.  If you hire a caterer to do the set up, food preparation, serving, and clean up, it’s going to cost you a lot more than if you do any or all of those yourself.  We do all of the preparations ourselves, and can serve foods comparable to what the caterers serve for a lot less.

 What do we serve?   We had bagels, rice cakes, and whole wheat matza (dh and I don’t eat bread and we have friends who also don’t), egg salad, tuna salad,  hard boiled eggs, cheddar and muenster cheese slices, sliced tomatoes and purple onions, salad, cream cheese, butter, fruit salad, and a bowl of whole fruit.  We put out orange juice, milk, coffee, and herbal teas.  We decided against cake and cookies this time, though in the past we’ve also put out a variety of danishes and cookies.  I considered serving scrambled eggs, but it decided to keep it simple and not worry about how to keep the eggs hot without getting rubbery if they sat in the warmer for a while.  Basically, it’s your typical bris morning spread. 

Food preparation for us was making the egg and tuna salads, cutting up the fruit (pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew) for the fruit salad and slicing the veggies for the platters.  The biggest expense was the chalav yisroel butter and cream cheese – we bought way more than we needed and I usually wouldn’t spend more than $2 a pound for either of them.  Because there was a sale last week, the sliced cheese at the take out counter happened to be less than buying a block and slicing it ourselves, but I would have bought it sliced even if it was more.  There are times when it’s worth it to pay a little more and have a little less to do! 

Setting up the room and cleaning up take a solid chunk of time, but it’s not hard and generally it’s the kind of thing our family enjoys doing together.  Because there was a non family member there who was involved and very, um, instructive towards my kids, it made it a lot less enjoyable for them than it would usually be.  But as far as the money saving aspect, that was another way to keep costs down.

We bought paper goods at the local dollar store, so that wasn’t very expensive.  My mother in law took my girls shopping for those items, though, and covered the costs, so I can’t include that in what we ourselves paid for. 

Since my dh did the shopping for the food and I haven’t seen the receipts, I can’t share the breakdown of how much we spent.  It was around $200 for the food, and less than $100 for the rental of the room from the shul (less expensive because we’re members).  We set up for 50 people but could have easily fed double that number (except for the cheese, which was almost finished).  These milchig leftovers came in handy on Shavuos, since people sent food for two of the four yom tov meals, and when an hour before yom tov we realized that’s all there would be, we didn’t have any last minute pressure because we were able to supplement for the other meals with what I had in the freezer and what we had from the bris.  I don’t know whether to consider the extra food costs for the bris as bris costs or my food budget costs, but either way, it all evens out.

We considered having the bris in our house, but felt that space constraints would make it less comfortable for everyone, and therefore the cost of renting the shul space was worthwhile.  But if someone had a large enough home, they could save on that cost by having it all in their home.

The rav/mohel who performed the bris doesn’t charge and refused to take money when we tried to get him to accept payment.  Since we’ve asked the same rav for all of our brissim since living in this city, I don’t have personal experience with other mohelim.  Just last night a Christian women at the homeschool curriculum sale asked me about mohelim and their costs; she was asking for a friend with who wants to circumcise their son ritually though they aren’t Jewish, who had gotten quotes of $600.  I have no idea if that’s standard, though it seems expensive to me.  If that’s actually the going rate, then using the mohel we did obviously was a big money saver, though that wasn’t our primary motivation.


13 thoughts on “Cost for the bris

  1. I think mohelim who do non-religious brissim tend to charge a bit more since it usually involves more travel time, explanation, etc — and they feel they usually can afford it. If it’s right or wrong, that’s not my business.

    I used our rav as our mohel and he doesn’t have a charge, per se, but we gave the going “kollel” rate for the well known mohel in town (Rabbi Rappaport) to our rav. We didn’t feel it was right not to pay him since he B”H has a lot of expenses, and his salary isn’t that big, and he takes a lot of time for us. I think we paid about $300.

    I do want to mention you had it easier than a younger couple in terms of setup. You have older kids who can really help. Not everyone has that available.

    My family traveled in for both of my brisim, and they really helped with set up, etc but it would have been too much for them to do all the food preps. Everyone has to find where it’s worth it to spend money, as you mentioned, and for us, this is where it was. We skipped lox to cut down on expenses and just did bagels, cheese, CC, cukes, tomatoes, tuna, and egg salad and then danishes I think — not sure, the Bistro did platters…but we didn’t spend money on renting…it all works out somehow :) (We could have done it in yeshiva if we so desired, but we didn’t).

    And for anyone getting tips, please, please, please serve water!! A lot of times there is only orange juice on tables…water is free and most people really enjoy it. Not everyone cares for OJ…buy half the amount of juice, and fill pitchers with water :)

  2. I think LN is right about the mohel costs.

    If the mohel declines payment, I think it’s appropriate to make a donation of about $300 to their yeshiva etc., assuming the family can afford to do so.

    Don’t buy expensive “bris kits”. Send someone to the drug store (or dollar store!) for gauze pads and A&D ointment (or whatever your mohel recommends — get a list in advance). It shouldn’t cost more than a few dollars to put those things together. Also consider getting a prescription from your doc to buy the Emla yourself (if using) — find out if your mohel charges extra for it, or if it’s included in his fee.

    Another thing to consider, if you’re using a location where you can bring in cooked food without a heksher (i.e. from private kosher kitchens) is to have friends bring pot-luck. Our friends did this and it really made things very enjoyable. It’s easy and inexpensive to put together one or two dairy salads (we also had hummus and baba ganouj). This works best in a close-knit community where people know each-other and rely on each-other’s kitchens. I did notice that our mohel (from outside our community) did not eat the food. That’s something you’ll have to give some thought to, whether you can meet everyone’s needs with pot-luck, or if you would be better off getting the food catered (or prepared in the shul kitchen with a mashkiach present).

    One more tip: be sure to ask for the bagels already sliced!

  3. Great tips – thank you for chiming in! I didn’t even know that there were expensive bris kits…I thought everyone got a list and went to buy the few necessary items from the drugstore.

    >>I do want to mention you had it easier than a younger couple in terms of setup. You have older kids who can really help. Not everyone has that available.< < That’s true. However, our family didn’t start off with older kids to help out! :) When our second son was born, we had 4 kids ages 5.5 and under, and no family available to help. We cooked the food ourselves for the fleishig seuda, had the bris in the shul, and then the meal in our home. Our friends helped set the tables and clean up; it was a beautiful simcha and our friends were happy to be involved. With our 3rd bris, we had six children under the age of 9, and again, friends helped set up and clean up.

    I agree with the suggestion to give a donation to an organization that your rav/mohel is affiliated with if he doesn’t accept payment for performing the bris.

  4. Who is the “we” that cooked? I hope not a mother who just gave birth 7 days prior!
    And I don’t think we would have enough room in our tiny kitchen to cook for 50 people 😉

    You did it before the baby was born? What did you serve? Shnitzel type stuff? Was this in Israel where that is common?

  5. The we was me (giving directions, not doing the actual work), my husband, and several friends. I planned a simple menu because hours in the kitchen isn’t realistic right after having a baby. Dh made chicken pieces in white wine sauce (very easy but a very nice dish) and rice, and I think some kind of cooked vegetable. I can’t remember if we bought a couple of salads or if friends made them. We had cake and canned fruit for dessert. It was in EY, where it wasn’t common among my friends to do this – I was the first; the very next person to have a boy did the same thing because everyone thought it was so nice. Doing this was a good lesson that no one wants to be the first to do something different, but once someone else does it, others are glad to follow.

    My kitchen wasn’t big at all, but that seuda was our smallest because it was in our home, and we had 30 people. Also, when a friend asked what they could do to help, it was easy to ask them if they could make a cake (either for the dessert or to put out at the shul where the bris itself was), or if they could cook the ingredients that we had already bought into a specific dish.

  6. Two more thoughts for larger simchas:

    1. If you go with a cost-free location, consider whether you come out ahead after renting tables, chairs, linens, etc. As a general observation, it seems that shul social halls, which already have these things (and sometimes serving pieces, coffee urns, etc.) usually wind up being the best value, even if you must pay for the room. And it’s very convenient not to have to take delivery of rental items, deal with botched orders, etc.

    2. If I had to choose between paying someone to prepare the food/set up and someone to serve and clean up, I would definitely choose the latter. It frees you to enjoy your simcha and visit with friends and family. For our wedding, we placed an ad in the college paper and found students who were experienced, professional waiters. (Be sure to interview them to make sure they will behave professionally, and that they understand all expectations including exactly how they are to dress. We did so and were very happy with them.) This would probably be for a larger simcha, not a bris, where there isn’t much serving, usually.

    The point is to think carefully about exactly which tasks you need to delegate, so you don’t buy more services than you need.

    I’m looking forward to your simcha post!

  7. >>I’m looking forward to your simcha post!<< Do you mean for a wedding? We still have some time until we’re at that stage! (I think I wrote about how we did both bas mitzvas, though I didn’t write about the bar mitzva.)

  8. I’m not trying to get your kids married off just yet :-)

    I think you mentioned previously in your blog that you were planning on doing an overview on your simcha philosophy. I’ll check the archives if I missed it.


  9. Thanks for reminding me, Jennifer! It slipped my mind that I wrote that – I did start writing about my philosopy for this post, but deleted it because I thought it was too lengthy and not directly relevant to the question.

  10. I also made my son’s bris. We had it in our house. Approximately 40 people came, i guess. Men were in the living room/dining room, women were outside in the backyard. It was buffet style and we got chairs from the chair gemach in our area.
    We served pitas (much cheaper than bagels here- at 20 pitas for 10 shekel, it really is the best option), tuna salad, egg salad, chumus, pickles, olives, veggie platters, fruit platters, pretzels, and potato chips. Someone brought drinks, someone brought a cake. We paid the mohel 100 dollars- he is a mohel that does 10 brisses on average a day so told us to pay what we can. We must have spent less than 200 shekel on all the food for the bris, plus 100 dollars for the mohel. Plan on doing the same again next time i have a bris. It was really do-able. My husband cleaned up afterwards, and i was the one who prepared the food with the help of my sister, but it really wasnt too much work at all.

  11. I appreciate how you say that you would want to prepare some food for people at a bris. It would be good to have an idea of what to serve beforehand as well. My sister is preparing for her son’s bris, so in addition to finding someone to perform the ceremony, she’ll have to get the food ready.

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