I have a bris to go to next week, and I'm not sure what an appropriate gift is for the occasion. Should I give money? If so, how much, and if not, what do I give instead?
A bris, or brit milah, is the ritual circumcision for a Jewish baby boy that takes place on the eighth day of life. It's also an opportunity for family and friends to meet the baby, share a celebratory meal and, yes, bring gifts. But just because it's a bris, the gift doesn't need to be any different from any other gift you would buy for a new baby.
Based on some informal polling, money seems not to be a typical gift for a new baby unless it's a pretty substantial sum or in the form of a savings bond. First you should find out if the parents are registered anywhere, and if they are, take a look at the registry. Unlike a wedding, though, if there's nothing on the registry that you want to purchase, feel free to buy something you like or, if you're a parent yourself, something you found especially useful. My own recommendations for things I found especially useful are as follows: a pacifier clip, plastic rings for clipping toys to a stroller, indestructible books and pajamas that don't require snapping (seriously, whoever though that subjecting new parents to a series of 12 snaps that don't line up was cruel indeed).
For a casual acquaintance, I think $20-30 is a reasonable amount to spend on a baby gift. For someone with whom you are closer, $30-50 is a generous gift. For family, go back into your spreadsheets and figure out what the family member gave you for your last big occasion and plan accordingly. Remember, though, this isn't a wedding, and you don't need to go overboard, especially since whatever you're buying will get pooped on, stained and then outgrown, all within a very short amount of time. Also, these price points are based on the fact that at this stage in my life, I seem to know someone around my age who's giving birth every other week or so. If your children's friends are the ones having the babies, I'm assuming you spend a little more (but feel free to comment and tell me otherwise).
Another monetized option that can feel a little more personal than a check is a gift card. I happen to be a big proponent of gift cards for baby gifts, in part because new parents have no idea what they'll actually need when they fill out their registry. Also, people tend to buy babies newborn-sized clothes, which will be obsolete very quickly (see above). Gift cards let the parents go shopping for what they need when the baby is a little bigger or (gasp) lets them buy diapers, which, in the short term, are the only thing the parents can really think about anyway.
Also, if you can stomach it, one of the best gifts you can give a new parent is to write in the card, "Please enjoy this gift and don't feel the need to take time away from your little one to send me a thank you card."
Finally, to make this post bris-specific in some way, here's a little tidbit I find really interesting: Attending a bris is considered a mitzvah, an obligation. Because Jewish tradition encourages us to enable others to participate in mitzvot (the plural) but never to put someone in a position to have to turn down the opportunity to do a mitzvah, a bris is typically announced in such a way that people know it's happening and can attend but don't have to decline an invitation.
Have fun oo-ing and ah-ing over little baby booties, and be well,