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Introduction to the Brit Milah

Brit Milah -

Introduction to the Bris Milah

[DISCLAIMER: The following is not intended to be a guide to a "kosher" brit milah (circumcision) ceremony. Please consult with an ordained Rabbi for more information. If you are a Christian, there are profound questions about whether you should circumcise your child, at least in the Rabbinical sense of the rite. Please click here for my own understanding of whether a Christian should undergo circumcision.]

Basics about Jewish Circumcision

The religious life of a Jewish man begins on the eighth day of his birth, marking the first ritual event in the cycle of life.

Brit Milah - or the covenant of circumcision - is a ritual performed on the eighth day of the child's life, during daylight hours. The day the child is born counts as the first day, so if a child is born on a Thursday, he is circumcised on the following Thursday. Keep in mind that a Jewish day begins at sunset, so if the child is born on a Thursday evening, he is circumcised the following Friday. Circumcisions are performed on Shabbat, even though they involve the drawing of blood which is ordinarily forbidden on this day. The commandment to circumcise is found in Genesis 17:10-14 and Leviticus 12:3.

The word b'rit means covenant and the word milah means to cut. Ritual circumcision is the covenant God established with the Jewish people through the commandment of circumcision. Note that according to Jewish halakhah, circumcision performed by a regular physician does not qualify as a valid brit milah, regardless of whether a rabbi says a blessing over it, because the removal of the foreskin is considered a religious ritual that must be performed by someone religiously qualified.

What You'll Need

The following is a list of items which you will need to prepare for the ceremony:

  1. Kosher sweet red wine.
  2. A kiddush cup.
  3. A Pillow and pillow case (for the baby on the sandek's knees).
  4. Two chairs one for the sandek and the other for "Elijah."
  5. A small table next to the chairs (for the mohel's instruments, an extra diaper, some Vaseline and some gauze).

It is ideal have a minyan (ten Jewish men over the age of 13 years) present. It is also a common custom to have kosher meal after the ceremony.

Special Guests

Most cicumcision ceremonies include roles for the following people:

  • Mohel The official who performs the rite of circumcision.
  • Sandek -- The man who holds the baby during the brit milah (i.e., the "godfather").
  • Sandek Sheini -- The man who holds the baby during the naming ceremony.
  • Kisei Eliyahu -- A man to put the baby down on the chair of Elijah before the brit.


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