THE MITZVAH OF BRIT MILAH
The following information has been compiled for prospective parents and those who want to learn more about the Mitzvah of Brit Milah, Ritual Circumcision.
Man's reward is commensurate with the degree of effort
needed to fulfill any given commandment.
"God said to Abraham, 'And as for you, you shall keep My covenant - you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. At the age of eight days every male among you shall be circumcised, throughout your generations - he that is born in the household or purchased with money from any stranger who is not of your offspring. He that is born in your household or purchased with your money shall surely be circumcised. Thus, My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. An uncircumcised male who will not circumcise the flesh of his foreskin - that soul shall be cut off from its people; he has invalidated My covenant.' "
Brit Milah History
Brit Milah Day
Brit Milah Time
Brit Milah, the Covenant of Ritual Circumcision, was commanded
by God to Abraham over 3,700 years ago. It has been carried
out faithfully, from generation to generation, even during
times of religious and ethnic persecution when Jews were
forced to practice their rituals in secret. In fact, the
only time the Jewish people willingly desisted from this
practice was during the 40 years of wandering in the Sinai
wilderness. Before entering Canaan, every male was circumcised
acceptance of this commandment, or Mitzvah, established
an eternal bond between God and the Children of Israel.
Its observance today is testimony to the continuity and
strength of that relationship which requires us to perform
the Mitzvah with adherence to the laws and customs prescribed
in the Torah and interpreted by our sages.
God appeared to Abraham when he was 99 years old and commanded him to circumcise himself, his son, Ishmael, all the males of his household and all his slaves. It is said that Abraham accomplished this on the tenth day of the month of Tishre, later designated as Yom Kippur, when the sins of the Jewish people were forgiven. The following year, when Isaac was born, he was circumcised on the eighth day. In return for his faithfulness, God promised Abraham that his descendants would become a great nation and inherit the land of Canaan for eternity.
Circumcision dates to prehistoric times and is one of the oldest operations performed by mankind, but for the Jewish people, the rite supersedes the surgical component. The rabbis believed it so important they declared, "Were it not for the blood of the covenant, heaven and earth would not exist." (Shabbat 137b) Punishment for failure to obey this commandment was to be karet - cut off from one's kind, more specifically, excised from the community by Divine decree. Gradually, Brit Milah acquired a national identity, making its performance today as mandatory for the modern secularists of Israel as for the traditionally observant.
Brit means covenant and Milah means ritual circumcision. It is an eternal Covenant between God and Israel. It symbolizes the linking of your new son to his past and links him to Jewish loyalty in the future. At the Brit Milah prayers are recited expressing the gratitude of the parents, invoking the blessing of God upon the child, and announcing his given Hebrew name.
By tradition the correct and only person to perform the Brit Milah is the Mohel. Besides being a religious officiate, the Mohel is a specialist in his field. He is thoroughly conversant with the laws of ritual circumcision, carefully and completely trained in the most advanced techniques of hygiene and surgical procedure.
Recognizing that the Mohel is a specialist in his field, an overwhelming majority of physicians call Mohalim to perform the Brit Milah ritual circumcision of their own children. It is noteworthy to mention that, following the tradition of the Royal House of England that requires circumcision of all male children; it was the Jewish Mohel of London rather than the Royal Physician who was called to circumcise the son of Princess Elizabeth. The following news-item, from a British newspaper, may be of interest.
Crown Prince Charles Circumcised by London Mohel
London (JTA) - Crown Prince Charles, son of Princess
Elizabeth and heir to the British throne, was circumcised
in Buckingham Palace by Rev. Jacob Snowman, official Mohel
of the London Jewish community, the Mizrachi News Bureau
reported. Rev. Snowman, who is a noted Jewish scholar specializing
in the poetry of Bialik, has been ritual circumciser in
London for many years. He has published several volumes
on leading Hebrew writers.
Parents should not be persuaded to eliminate this basic act of consecration. In every age, Jews have, at all costs, meticulously observed the precept of Brit Milah. Our history records innumerable instances when enemies of our faith wished to destroy Judaism by forbidding the rite of circumcision. Shall we, through indifference, neglect a sacred rite that our ancestors have so strongly preserved? A layperson, even a physician, is not authorized to interpret or rule on religious matters. Your child should be given the opportunity of beginning life as a Jew in the sacred tradition of his ancestors.
Rashi teaches that it is a Mitzvah in itself to make Brit Milah as beautiful and meaningful as possible. This is accomplished, in part, by careful attention to the details of carrying out the commandment, such as determining the day and choosing the time.
Various explanations are offered for the Torah's specification of the eighth day. There is a Midrash that teaches that God had pity on the child and waited until he had the physical strength to undergo the rite. (Devarim Rabbah 6:1) Also suggested is the fact that one Shabbat must pass between birth and the eighth day, providing the child with spiritual strength from his first Sabbath experience. Finally, classical medical studies have found coagulating factors to be at peak around this time of life.
The day of birth counts as the first day. In Jewish tradition, the day begins with the preceding nightfall. Therefore, the child must be born before sundown for that day to be counted as the first. For example, if a baby is born on Monday during daylight hours, the Brit takes place on the following Monday. However, if the baby is born on Monday night, after sundown the Brit takes place the following Tuesday. A Brit performed before the eighth day is considered invalid. An act, which causes bleeding, is forbidden on Shabbat. However, because the Torah declares the day of Milah as the eighth, the Talmud interprets that the act in its proper time takes precedence provided the laws of Shabbat are upheld by the Mohel as well as by those in the locale where the Brit occurs. There are rabbinic opinions that in instances where this cannot be guaranteed, it is preferable to postpone the ceremony to the following day. Should the Mohel live within walking distance of the family, he must drop off his instruments on Friday, prior to sundown, walk to and from the home and accept no payment until Shabbat has ended. Similar laws apply to certain days of the festival holidays of Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot.
A Brit may not be performed on an ill child and must be postponed until he has fully recovered. The general rule is to schedule a Brit immediately upon recovery from a local disorder (one which affects a specific part of the body) but to wait seven 24-hour periods after recovery from a systemic disorder (one which affects the entire body). The Mohel makes the proper determination in consultation with the child's pediatrician or neonatologist. A Brit delayed for any reason, a Brit for the purpose of conversion or a Brit for a baby born by Caesarean section may not take place on the Sabbath or a festival.
Because the Torah tells us that Abraham circumcised Isaac on the eighth day, we understand this literally to mean day. A Brit can be scheduled any time between sunrise and sunset. Since it is preferable to perform Mitzvot eagerly and speedily, it is customary to schedule a Brit as early in the day as possible. Brit Milah cannot be performed at night and is considered invalid if done so. If a baby is born “Beyn Hashemashot,” “during the period of twilight prior to nightfall,” specific laws apply, especially preceding Shabbat or a festival. In such cases, we will determine the day, with other Rabbinic input, if necessary.