Bris Milah, ritual circumcision,
is one of the most fundamental precepts of the Jewish religion. It is referred
to in the Torah as the covenant of Abraham, since our forefather Abraham
was the first to receive the commandment concerning circumcision from G-d.
“And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male
throughout your generations” (Genesis 17:12). More than any other Jewish
ritual, Bris Milah is an expression of Jewish identity. Its fulfillment
symbolizes an affirmation of faith in Abraham’s ancient, and still vibrant,
covenant with G-d. Through ritual circumcision, parents create with their
precious child yet another link in the continuing chain of our people that
has proudly survived the challenges to its physical and spiritual existence
for thousands of years.
Traditionally, the parents engage
a mohel to perform the Bris. A mohel is a person who is specially trained
in the medical and surgical techniques of circumcision. In addition to
being an expert in his field, the mohel is also an expert in the Jewish
laws pertaining to Bris Milah. A doctor’s medical circumcision, usually
performed in the hospital within the first few days after birth, does not
fulfill the requirements of a Bris Milah and is not considered valid according
to Jewish law. The Bris must be performed by a Jewish person who understands,
upholds and practices the tenets of the Jewish religion and is specially
trained to function as a mohel.
THE BRIS CEREMONY
The Bris of a healthy baby is done
on the eighth day of life (counting the day of birth). This is so even
if the eighth day falls on Shabbos, Yom Kippur or any other Jewish festival.
However, in the case of a baby born by Caesarean section, the Bris is not
performed on Shabbos or on a festival, but on the day following. Bris Milah
may not be performed before the eighth day or at night. In the event that
a baby is not in perfect health — even if not seriously ill — the Bris
is delayed until both the doctor and the mohel are in agreement as to the
healthy status of the baby. A common example of this situation is newborn
jaundice. However, in the case of serious illness, a delay of one week
following full recovery is required.
The Bris ceremony is a very special
occasion and is accompanied by much happiness and rejoicing. The ceremony
usually takes place at home, in a synagogue or at a catering hall. There
are several honors to be conferred during the ceremony, usually bestowed
upon the relatives and close friends of the baby’s family. A brief description
of the ceremony is as follows: A couple enters with the baby and the baby
is placed on a chair designated as the Chair of Elijah. The baby is then
placed upon the lap of the Sandek (most often a grandfather) who holds
the baby during the circumcision procedure. After the appropriate blessing
is recited, the circumcision is performed by the mohel. Immediately following
the Bris, another blessing is said over a cup of wine, and the baby receives
his official Hebrew name, which he will proudly carry throughout his life.
The newborn child is often named after departed relatives, a symbolic source
of continued life for those no longer with us. The ceremony ends with the
resounding wish of “Mazel Tov!” followed bythe serving of refreshments
or a light meal.
A JOYOUS BEGINNING
A Bris Milah performed according
to Jewish tradition is a wonderful beginning for a newborn child. It is
a memorable experience, replete with significance and meaning for all those
involved——the first of many milestones and happy occasions to be joyously
celebrated during the child’s life, as he grows to be a source of nachas
and satisfaction to all those close to him. Mazel Tov!
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