Brit Milah (Circumcision)

  • Throughout the generations, at the age of eight days, every male child must be circumcised. The Jewish ceremony of circumcision is known as a brit milah, or ‘brit’ or ‘briss’ for short. “At the age of eight days every male among you shall be circumcised, throughout your generations …” (Genesis 17:12) From this passage comes the source of the ritual of circumcising a Jewish boy on his eighth day of life. This date is only altered in circumstances of sickness, in which case the circumcision is postponed until the baby is fit enough to endure the operation withou ill effect.
  • A Jewish boy is circumcised by a person called a mohel, a ritual circumciser. This man may also be a physician who is acquainted with the Jewish laws of circumcision. The ceremony usually takes place in the baby boy’s home, and should be done in the presence of at least ten Jewish men. This enables prayers to be recited, as a group of ten men, called a minyan, is the minimum requirement for the commencement of most Jewish religious services.
  • The mother of the baby holds her son in another room of the house until it is time for the circumcision to commence. The baby is brought into the room where room where the circumcision by the kvatterin, who then passes the baby to her husband, the kvatter, who then passes the baby to the mohel. In strictly Orthodox Jewish circles, only men surround the baby, the father, the sandek and the mohel during the act.
  • The kvatter and kvatterin are friends of the parents of the baby; often a as-yet childless couple are chosen for the role in the hope that they, too, will soon become parents.
  • The mohel takes the baby from the kvatter and all present rise, with the exception of the godfather. The mohel says “Blessed be he who comes,” and then places the baby on a chair, termed the Chair of the Prophet Elijah. Elijah, according to Judaism, will be the one to announce the arrival of the Messiah, thus he is symbolically present at all Jewish functions.
  • The mohel then gives the child to his father, who then hands him to the sandek (sometimes called the godfather in English). The sandek sits on a chair with the child on his lap for the rest of the ceremony. Once the mohel has recited another blessing, the circumcision is carried out. It has become common in some circles for a table to be used for the operation instead of the lap of the godfather, however this practice is discouraged in Orthodox circles.
  • The mohel then proceeds to completely uncover the head of the penis, which he then wraps in bandages, making sure that the glans is exposed. This final wrapping ensures that the circumcision is valid.
  • Immediately after the cutting of the foreskin, the father recites a blessing, thanking God for receiving his son into the covenant. All those present then say, “Just as he has entered into the covenant, so may he enter into the Torah, marriage and good deeds.”
  • The mohel then recites a blessing over a cup of wine, signifying the moment when the boy’s name, which has thus far been undisclosed, will be announced. It is customary for the father and mother to be the only ones to decide upon their son’s name, which they reveal to the mohel just moments before the announcement. The mohel then pours some wine into the baby’s mouth, followed by the final blessings of the ceremony.
  • Male circumcision in Judaism is taken extremely seriously, the brit being one of the highest honours for a family to undertake. However, it is not carried out if the child’s life is at risk, and all precautions are taken to ensure the child’s safety.
A baby boy about to have his his brit milah.
A baby boy about to have his his brit milah.