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Circumcisions in Judaism

In Judaism, a baby's circumcision is much more than surgery. A Jewish baby's circumcision marks his entrance into the covenant with God.

Three Signs of the Covenant

The Hebrew word brit means covenant. In Judaism there are three signs which signify the covenant between God and the Jewish People.
  1. Sabbath (Shabbat)
    "The Israelite people shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel" (Exodus 31:16-17).
  2. Rainbow (Keshet)
    After Noah's flood ended and mankind was renewed, God said "This is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come. I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh" (Genesis 9:12-15).
  3. Covenant of Circumcision (Brit Mila)
    God said to Abraham, "Such shall be the covenant between Me and you and your offspring to follow which you shall keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you" (Genesis 17:10-11).

Thus, circumcision is not simply a medical procedure in Judaism. Circumcision in Judaism is a sign of the covenant between God and Israel. Jewish boys, shortly after birth and upon getting their Hebrew name, are marked on their generative" organ as having joined the covenant with God, a covenant that links generation to generation.

 

A Jewish baby boy's bris ceremony (ritual circumcision) is held during the eighth day after the child is born, even if the eighth day occurs on Shabbat or a holiday. A baby born on Monday morning or afternoon will have his brit on the next Monday. But a baby born on Monday night will have his brit on the following Tuesday since, according to the Hebrew calendar, a new day begins after sundown.

Judaism views circumcision as a religious ceremony, rather than just as surgery. Thus, it is recommended that a Mohel perform the circumcision. A Mohel is a Jew who has been trained in the physical procedures of circumcision and understands the religious signficance of the ritual. If a mohel is not available, then a Jewish physician can perform the circumcision. It is customary to invite a rabbi to conduct the service.

Honored Roles

It is considered an honor to be given a special role in the circumcision ceremony.

  • Sandak holds the baby on his lap while the baby is circumcised.
  • Kvatterin is the "godmother" who takes the baby from the mother to the Kvatter.
  • Kvatter is the "godfather" who takes the baby from the Kvatterin to the Mohel.
  • Mohel is the ritual circumciser who has been trained in the physical procedures of circumcision and who understands the religious significance of the circumcision.
The Bris Ceremony

Mohel calls "Kvatter"

The service begins when the Mohel calls out "Kvatter." The mother hands the baby to the Kvatterin (godmother). The Kvatterin (godmother) brings the baby into the room in which he will be circumcised and hands him to the Kvatter (godfather).

When the baby enters the room in which he will be circumcised, people stand and say "Baruch HaBa" (May he who cometh be blessed). And the Mohel recites a prayer which mentions the covenant with Abraham.

Elijah's Chair

The Mohel takes the baby from the Kvatter and places him on the Sandak's lap. The Sandak sits on a special chair called the Chair of Elijah (Keesay shel Eliahu). Elijah is considered the guardian of the child at the circumcision, and thus there is a special chair in his honor. The Mohel then says, "This chair is devoted to Elijah the prophet, may his remembrance be for the good."

Prayers and the Circumcision

The Mohel recites the blessing "Praised by Thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who hast sanctified us with Thy commandments, and commanded us concerning the rite of circumcision."

The circumcision is then performed.

The father recites a blessing, "Praised by Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by Thy commandments, and hast bidden us to make him enter into the covenant of Abraham our father."

Those present respond, "As he has entered into the covenant, so may he be introduced to the study of Torah, to the wedding canopy, and to good deeds."

Naming

The wine is blessed, and a little wine is put on the mouth of the baby. A prayer for the well-being of the child and family is recited.

The baby is given his Hebrew name in this prayer:
Creator of the universe. May it be Thy gracious will to regard and accept this (performance of circumcision), as if I had brought this baby before Thy glorious throne. And Thou, in Thy abundant mercy, through Thy holy angels, give a pure and holy heart to ________, the son of ________, who was just now circumcised in honor of Thy great Name. May his heart be wide open to comprehend Thy holy Law, that he may learn and teach, keep and fulfill Thy laws.

Festive Meal (Seudat Mitzvah)

The ceremony is followed by a festive meal. Grace after the meal includes special prayers for the welfare of the child, parents, and Mohel.

 

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