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What is Circumcision?

What is Circumcision?

Brit Milah: How a simple mitzvah makes a worldwide, eternal impact on the entire Jewish people.


Brit Milah, or circumcision, is performed on a Jewish male eight days after he is born.

The procedure is performed by a mohel – a person who has mastered the set of Jewish laws regarding circumcision and received extensive practical training.

At a Brit Milah, the mohel removes the baby's foreskin and draws blood from the reproductive organ, after which the baby is given a Jewish name.

Why Brit Milah?

Brit Milah literally means "covenant of circumcision." Abraham, Judaism's founding father, was the first person in history to have a Brit Milah. In fact, he circumcised himself.

God assured Abraham that as long as human beings are in the world, there will always be Jews.

Abraham vowed that he would teach his descendents to serve God with perfect devotion. In return, God promised to guarantee the survival of Abraham's progeny – the family of Hebrews that became the nation of Israel that have since been known as the Jews.

As long as there would be human beings in the world, God assured Abraham, there would always be Jews. This covenant or pact between God and Abraham was sealed through the act of circumcision.

Today, by performing the act circumcision, Jews perpetuate the covenant and make their children a part of that eternal promise.

The Deeper Meaning

The fact that the Brit Milah is performed on the eighth day after a boy is born hints to this idea of eternal Jewish continuity.

In the Torah, all references to the numbers have great significance.For example, the number six represent the physical world which has four directions (north, south, east and west) plus up and down. The six days of creation, the six days of the work-week, also allude to the physical world.

Seven adds a spiritual element to the physical; eight transcends.

Seven adds a spiritual element to the physical. The seventh day, Shabbat, adds spirituality to our lives though it is still within the realm of the physical world.Eight, on the other hand, transcends the physical altogether. For example, the eight-day miracle of Chanukah is beyond nature, surpassing the physical constraints of natural laws and standards. Eight represents a higher dimension of reality.

God's guarantee that Abraham's children would survive forever as a nation defies the laws of nature. History has proven time and again that even the most powerful nations on earth are bound eventually to vanish into extinction – e.g., the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. And yet the Jews, a numerically insignificant people, are still here, alive and well.

The Brit Milah, performed on the eighth day, reminds us that Jewish survival is not a natural phenomenon, but a supernatural one. Jewish survival defies the laws of nature. This explains why the mark of circumcision is made on the reproductive organ – it symbolizes the idea that the Jewish People's seed will never be destroyed.

In addition, Brit Milah is done specifically on the site that is identified with our greatest physical desires, thus empowering us to rise above the demands of our bodies.

The Objective of the Ritual Circumcision

Translating Brit Milah as simply "circumcision" rather than "covenant circumcision," erroneously implies that the removal of the foreskin is the most important element of the mitzvah.

Circumcision is coupled with the intent to forge a covenant between God and the Jewish people.

In truth, however, the circumcision must be coupled with the intention to forge a blood pact between God and the Jewish people.

For this reason a person who underwent a medical circumcision, without intent to fulfill this commandment, should undergo a subsequent procedure performed with specific intent to fulfill this mitzvah. This subsequent procedure is relatively painless, involving only the drawing of blood from the reproductive organ, but done in the name of Brit Milah.

Personal Commitment

The secret to Jewish continuity lies in the Brit Milah, which strengthens one's personal commitment to God. Once this is achieved, the communal commitment will emerge on its own.

In his covenant of circumcision, Abraham vowed to teach his descendants to serve God with perfect devotion. This is the essence of Brit Milah – it represents the individual's personal commitment to God.One's communal identification with Judaism is indeed a positive thing.But the mitzvah of Brit Milah teaches us that unless there is also a personal commitment, it will not endure.

May we all merit to bring our children into the Covenant of Abraham and see their Jewish identity flourish and grow.

January 17, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 9

(6) Ruth Wagner, October 2, 2009 11:08 PM

Look around you...

Circumcision is barbaric? How about I give you some "real" barbaric. A few days ago, an honor student was beaten to death at school with a railroad tie. How's that for barbaric? Problem as I see it, is that anything "God" has been weeded out of our society. No prayer in school, let's take the ten commandments off of federal buildings, oh yes...I know all the aruguments, however, in light of what's going on in our world today, which by the way is nothing short of "barbaric," these arguments hold no water. How about babies thrown in dumpsters? Barbaric you say? No? Not good enough for you yet? What have we become? Who are we now? Try Godless pagans who believe that this world is spinning for no reason, whirling on to a destiny of nothingness. We the people were nothing more than a single cell "thing" that climbed out of an "ooz" and began to develope. We are "fate," "luck," "an accident," nothing means anything, nothing is important, and this world needs no God to explain it. So let's leave barbarism for a moment, shall we? Let's go to the most serious lack of empathy to hit the world since Adolf Hitler found a reason to hate Jews. "Talk to the hand," is what our kids say. Thats your problem...not mine...(wisdom from our kids?) Yep, we're so smart, and cool, and hip, we've just made a mess out of our lives and our kids life. I'll tell you...someone call the Mohel, or grab me a knife...because I'm going to circumcise my boy, and raise him in the Synagogue...both against his wishes. He can do as he pleases when he grows up...but until then, make no mistake at all, I intend on giving him some training in morals and ethics, and a little foreskin is a small price to pay.

Michael, January 8, 2012 7:01 PM

words without action are just words

If fulfillment of a mitzvah requires personal commitment then why force a child to undergo something he may not be ready to fulfill in the long run? It's not about foreskin. It's not about mom or dad. It's about connecting personally and committing personally - to God. You can not commit someone else to God. It has to be done personally.

Avi, October 2, 2013 7:29 PM

So do you give your kids shots?

Are parents who give shots to their kids against diseases barbaric and horrible? No. Maybe the Brit Milah has to be followed by commitment, but the parent knows that the Mila is best for the kid, and anyways God commited the child and even so, the child had free will so of course he must commit himself

(5) Chloe Lancaster, December 3, 2008 8:00 AM

Can see where the idea came from but ...

I can see where our ancestors got this idea from but I also believe that technology and knowledge has come a long way since this ritual was created. The Romans, the Greeks, the Egyptians, they all still exist, you can holiday there for a fair amount of money, they havent died out at all, their culture has just evolved, thats all, and what is wrong with that? I am in full agreement with Matthew Keal, it is an individuals right to choose thier own beliefs and not have them forced upon them, and that is true of all religions. I think to have the Brit Milah at the age of 13 does signify a much greater devotion as an 8day old baby cant commit to anything. It is also my understanding that you are not a true Jew unless you were born from the tummy of a Jew, if this is so then the Jewish people will never die out, so there is no need for this barbaric form of bullying. I say wait and let the poor boys decide for themselves at the age of becoming an adult.

Anonymous, October 2, 2013 7:31 PM

You are wrong, to put it simply

The Egyptians and Greekd and all the other died out, just there are arabs who live in Egytp t and call themselves Egyptians. And this is not some ritual, it is not barbaric and not connected to technology or any other thing you said, and if it is bullying, how dare you give your kids shots?

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