Traditions and Customs of the Jewish Circumcision


The Brit Milah, the Bris, Jewish Circumcision


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Brit Milah, the bris

By Eliezer Cohen

Having a baby? If it is a boy, mazel tov, if it is a girl, mazel tov. Even if you aren't having a baby, a "bris" - the circumcision of the boy baby on the eighth day is a very important event.

In other societies, the Jews were looked down upon for clipping off that little piece of foreskin that covers the head of the penis. Considered downright barbaric! Sometimes it was downright forbidden to make a circumcision! That was one of the decrees that the ancient Greeks tried to force upon us that eventually led to the miracle of Chanukah. In Stalin controlled Russia, many Jews would risk their lives just to find a "mohel", (a Rabbi who is capable of performing the ritual circumcision) to have their sons circumcised properly.

No matter how competent a doctor may be in performing hospital circumcisions, the circumcision must be done by a qualified "mohel" or the circumcision is invalid. There are differences between the hospital circumcision and the "bris", which for technical reasons, we are not able to elaborate, but these differences meant that the hospital circumcision performed by a competent doctor render the baby Jewish-wise, uncircumcised!

Many Russian emigrants who had circumcisions performed in hospital for health reasons, as well as many converts to Judaism, who had hospital circumcisions, must undergo a traditional circumcision. What is there left to cut, you may ask! No problem, a qualified "mohel" will find something and take care of the problem with out much (ouch) pain!

None the less, circumcision is considered a very important "mitzvah", (a commandment from G-d). So much so, that it is always accompanied by a festive meal attended by the entire family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

When a child is circumcised, he is accepted into the "Covenant of Abraham, our patriarch", no small accomplishment. A Jew who is not properly circumcised is not considered a full Jew.

Generally, the father will give honor to someone and request that he be the "sandek". The sandek is the fellow on whose lap the young infant is held during the circumcision. Being a sandek is a great honor since he is compared to the altar that existed in the holy Temple and the child is likened to the sacrifice.

The "bris" is performed on the eighth day (health of the baby permitting). The mitzvah is so important that even the eight day falls done on the holy Sabbath, the bris still will take place.

It is customary for those attending the "bris" to remain standing during the circumcision. In most places, a couple is honored to bring in the baby. The honored woman passes the baby to the honored man who brings the baby in. He passes the infant to a special chair which is set up for Elijah, the prophet. According to our tradition, Elijah the prophet comes to every bris. Many times the person who brings in the infant, instead of placing it on the chair reserved for Elijah, will hand the infant to the father. The father will then recite the traditional declaration of G-d's unity, the "Shma": Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One." After this the father may say other verses declaring G-d's greatness and a prayer for divine help. The child will then be placed in the chair of Elijah.

The baby is now passed to the "sandek" who is seated in a raised chair. The sandek holds the baby on his lap, and the mohel unwraps the infant and quickly prepares him for the bris.

It is important that the father should seek out a mohel that is not only an expert in surgical skills, but also very well versed in Jewish law and respected for his piety. Once a father has requested one mohel to perform the bris, he should not cancel this request for another mohel.

The father stands next to the mohel. Before the mohel cuts, he recites the following blessing:

"Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning the circumcision."

After the mohel cuts the father recites the following blessing(s):

"Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to enter him into the Covenant of Abraham our father."

"Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion."

The second blessing is not recited by all. Why? This blessing is made when one is entering into a time of joy. Many feel that it is not proper to recite it at a time when another (the baby) must experience pain.

The people assembled all wish the father and baby well by saying the traditional blessing: "Just as he as entered into the Covenant of Abraham, so may he enter into Torah, into marriage and into good deeds."

At this point the mohel takes a cup of wine and makes the blessing on the wine:

"Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has creates the fruit of the vine." Wine is always partaken at all festive meals to recall the goodness of our Creator.

Then the following blessing is made:

"Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who sanctified the beloved one from the womb, set His statue in his flesh, and sealed his descendants with the sign of the holy Covenant. Therefore, as a reward of this circumcision, the living G-d, our Portion, our Rock, has ordained that the beloved of our flesh be saved from the abyss, for the sake of the Covenant which He has set in our flesh. Blessed are You, Lord, who makes the Covenant."

At this point the child is now being held, and the name is to be given. The following is the blessing made when the child's name is given:

"Our G-d, and the G-d of our fathers, preserve this child for his father and mother, and his name in Israel shall be called ------- the son of --------. May the father rejoice in his child and the mother be joyous with the fruit of her womb as it is written: May your father and mother rejoice, and she who bore you be glad. And it is said: I passed by you and saw you weltering in your blood and I said to you: You shall live through your blood, and I said to you: You shall live through your blood. And it is said, He has remembered his Covenant forever, the word which He has commanded to a thousand generations; the Covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, He established it for Jacob as a statute for Israel as an everlasting Covenant. And it is said: Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as G-d had commanded him. Give thanks to G-d for He is good, for His kindness is eternal. Give thanks to G-d for He is good, for His kindness is eternal. This small infant (insert the name of the child here) grow and become great. As you have come into the Covenant of Abraham, so may you come into Torah, into marriage and into good deeds."

A drop of wine is now given to the newly circumcised baby, and those who have come, wish the father and mother mazel tov.

Afterwards a festive meal is arranged. Some make the meal immediately after the bris inviting all to participate, for the meal is considered part of the mitzvah. Others have the meal later in the day and instead provide some cakes and drinks for those who have come to be with the father and mother on this festive occasion.

from the January 2000 Edition of the Jewish Magazine




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