Jewish Practices and Rituals: Circumcision – Brit Milah

Traditions are a wonderful way to connect generations, especially when it comes to religious practices and rituals. In Jewish communities, one such religious practice is Brit Milah. Also referred to as the bris, the ceremony is seen as a way for a newborn male to receive blessings. In this article, we’ll be looking at one of the Jewish practices and rituals known as Brit Milah, what it involves, and how to plan one.

What is Brit Milah?

A common ritual among Jewish people, Brit Milah is a traditional way to welcome a newborn baby boy to the world. According to Leviticus 12:2, the circumcision ritual represents a covenant that signifies the newborn baby boy’s unconditional and complete devotion to God. Post-birth circumcision is a commandment given to Jewish people by God, and is seen as a way to make our imperfect bodies perfect and complete through human effort.

Because the ritual involves a circumcision in flesh, it serves as a lifelong reminder of the boy’s unbreakable bond with God. This unchallengeable partnership with God is something that’s beyond what humans can comprehend. Hence why the ritual takes place at a rather young age, although uncircumcised men can have one arranged easily these days.

When and where to hold a Brit Milah?

The circumcision typically occurs eight days after birth. In cases where the child’s health condition does not allow for it, it is possible to postpone the ceremony. When it comes to the location where the Jewish circumcision ritual takes place, it is common to hold the ceremony at a synagogue. The circumcision is usually performed after the morning prayers.

Jewish Practices and Rituals: Circumcision

While this is a preferable choice, some parents choose to hold the ceremony at home while others take care of the circumcision soon at the hospital and host the ceremony outdoors. Generally speaking, there are guidelines one should stick to, but nothing is mandatory. The same goes for adults who decide to convert to Judaism. Because circumcision signifies the membership in the Jewish community and the condition they need to meet in order to become its full member, many converts decide to have a Brit Milah and get circumcised as well, although it is not required.

How is the circumcision performed?

Although it does involve a medical procedure, Brit Milah is a religious ceremony. It’s about sanctifying the organ that exists to create new life, with the scar representing an everlasting symbol of the baby boy’s partnership with God. As such, it is important that it’s performed the right way.

In the past, it was a common thing for fathers to perform circumcision on their male children. Nowadays, it is a task of a skilled and trained circumciser known as a mohel or mohelet. In some cases, only male mohels are allowed to perform the circumcision (e.g. Orthodox Jews). Sometimes, the mohel or mohelet will also have other professions, such as midwife, a rabbi, or a physician. While performing the circumcision, they will carry out the necessary tasks regarding surgical hygiene while also following all the Jewish laws related to circumcision. Furthermore, they can offer some useful tips and advice when it comes to helping the circumcision scar heal faster.

‌What does the ceremony look like?

First, the mother will bring the baby boy to the location where the circumcision is taking place. Then, she will give the baby to the messengers or kvatters (designated man and woman, typically husband and wife). They’ll carry the baby to the place where the mohel will perform the circumcision, after which the messengers will return the circumcised infant to his mother.

The baby boy is then placed on the chair of Elijah while the mohel chants. Then, the baby will be handed to his father, who then places the infant on sandek’s lap. The sandek is the person who holds the baby as circumcision takes place. During the procedure, the mohel and father recite blessings over a cup of wine and the baby gets his Jewish name, after which they celebrate with a festive meal.

How do you plan a Brit Milah?

Like any other event, planning a Brit Milah takes time, effort, and some good organization. Parents will decide on everything from choosing who to invite to the Brit Milah (link) to selecting what to serve. Typically, the dishes that are served will include fish, meat, bread, and dairy. Wine will be served as well.

During the meal, the father of the circumcised infant will explain why the circumcision is important. The blessings are recited and the spiritual melodies are sung. With special prayers, everyone from the infant and his parents to sandek and mohel are blessed. And while there is no equivalent ceremony that is thrown for female newborns, some parents may decide to throw a covenant ceremony on their 8th day in order to celebrate their baby girls’ arrival.

Wrapping up

Fulfilling customs is a wonderful way to preserve tradition and continue what’s been passed down from one generation to another. By choosing to have Brit Milah, not only can parents connect their son with those who came before him, but they can also help him form the most important partnership of all – the one with God.

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A wonderful way to connect with God and with previous generations, Brit Milah is an important Jewish tradition, a symbolic ritual, and a never-ending covenant.

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