JEWISH LAWS, CUSTOMS, AND PRACTICES REGARDING
CIRCUMCISION, ITS CEREMONY AND PREPARATIONS
It is a Jewish custom that on the
first Friday evening after the birth of the child, we conduct a shalom zachar, during
which we welcome the child to the world. The shalom zachar is held at that time, even in a
case when the brit had been postponed. At this "party" it is customary to serve
chickpeas, wine and cake. Those who attend, give blessings to the child and its parents.
The night before the brit, it is
customary for the father of the child to remain awake the entire night and to recite
special passages from the kabbalah and Psalms. This custom to stay awake is called
"Vach Nacht" wake night. The purpose of staying awake is to guard the
baby from forces that seek to disrupt the observance of this important mitzvah.
Small children are invited to recite the
"Shema" at the babys bedside. The passage 'HaMalach HaGoel' (The angel who
redeems me..) is recited.
The day on which the brit is to take
place is a very festive occasion. It is mandatory that the brit take place during the
daytime, and preferably in the early morning hours.
It is important that throughout each and every step
of the brit ceremony there should be a minyan a quorum of at least ten Jewish males
above the age of thirteen present. The reason for this is, because it is a greater
honor for G-d and for the mitzvah when a large amount of people is present.
A brit may be carried out on shabbat or even on Yom
Kippur, providing that that is the eighth day from birth. If, however, the brit had to be
postponed (due to medical reasons such as jaundice or sickness), then it can not be done
on shabbat or Jewish holidays. In addition, a baby that was delivered through an unnatural
birth (such as a Caesarian section) has its brit done on the eighth day from birth,
providing that it is not a shabbat or Yom Tov.
The brit is performed by a specially
trained "mohel". He must be an expert in the way he performs this important
mitzvah because if it is not done correctly, the removal of the negative energies is not
properly accomplished. It is, therefore, important to choose an Orthodox, G-d-fearing
mohel in order to insure that the brit is done to perfection.
The sandek is the person given the honor of holding
the child throughout the brit. According to Jewish mysticism, the sandek plays a special
role in protecting the child from negative forces and in preserving positive energy. It
is, therefore, important to choose a righteous person as the sandek. If the sandek is a
righteous man, he can help in drawing down a holy soul for the child. In fact, the child
takes the good character traits from the sandek and shares a spiritual connection with
A special chair is prepared at every
brit in honor of Eliyohu HaNavi, Elijah the Prophet, which is located to the right of the
sandek. The child is placed on this chair while the mohel recites certain blessings. The
father then lifts the child and places it in the lap of the sandek.
Elijah serves a spiritual purpose at the brit: He
is a positive energy force coming to take the place of the Evil Prosecutor. As mentioned
earlier, the greater the mitzvah, the more the unholy forces attempt to place accusations
upon the Jew, and, ultimately to prevent him from fulfilling the mitzvah. Elijah
transforms the prosecutor into a defense attorney, so to speak. The purpose of his arrival
is to remove all negative energy.
However, in order for Elijah to be present, we must
physically summon and announce his presence and designate a special chair for him.
The people chosen as
"Godfather" and "Godmother" are usually a husband and wife. The
childs mother hands the baby to the Godmother, thus signifying her consent to
entrust the child to G-ds care. The Godfather then takes the child and hands him to
a designated individual whose honor it is to place the infant on the Chair of Elijah.
When the child is brought in to the area in which
the brit will take place, all present should rise and remain standing throughout the
duration of the brit. Only the sandek will remain sitting throughout the brit, while
holding the infant on his lap.
After having placed the child on the sandeks
lap, the father then designates the mohel as his emissary to perform the circumcision on
his son. (The reason for this is that according to the Torah, the father himself is
responsible to perform the circumcision on his son. However, since most fathers are
illiterate in these areas, they are permitted to appoint an emissary to take his place. A
concept in Jewish law pertaining to many areas, is that "a mans emissary is
considered to be the sender of that emissary himself.) After the father recites the
appropriate blessings, everyone present says: "Just as he (the child) has entered
into this covenant, so may he enter the covenant of Torah learning, marriage, and of good
As far as pain is concerned, Jewish
law does not permit the use of a Gomco clamp or the like -- tools used in most hospitals
being that it is too traumatic, as it crushes all of the flesh and veins in the
area. A mohel, on the other hand, uses much simpler instruments some using no other
tool than the knife used for the actual cutting of the skin! The mohels method is
the least painful and the most skillful as it is done with an extremely sharp knife and
takes less than half a minute to complete.
According to kabbalah, the few drops of blood that
are discharged during the brit, remove any remaining impurities and completes the task of
removing the negative energy to its maximum.
It is interesting to note that Crown Prince
Charles, son of Queen Elizabeth and heir to the British throne, was circumcised by a
mohel, rather than by a doctor. Apparently, the Royal Family had asked for a mohel,
trusting his expertise over that of the Royal physician.
Once the brit is finished, certain
prayers are recited and the official naming of the baby takes place. We do not name the
child before the brit, being that the Divine soul begins to shine its light only from the
moment of the brit when the body and soul are fully united. Therefore, since the Jewish
name is connected to the soul, the brit is the most appropriate time to give the child its
Jewish name. It is customary to name the child after a righteous person, as the name
influences the character of a child.
After the brit is completed, the
food kosher, of course is served. This meal is called a seudas mitzvah, a
meal honoring a Divine commandment, and everybody should, therefore, wash appropriately
for the consumption of bread and partake of the meal. If the circumcision is performed on
a fast day, the meal is put off until the evening when the fast is broken.
After the meal, the participants recite a special
series of prayers, including a prayer asking that as a reward for properly fulfilling the
mitzvah of circumcision, we should merit to speedily see the coming of the Messiah and the
end of human strife.
After the circumcision, the foreskin must be
buried. The reason for this is that since the foreskin contains within it the maximum
concentration of negative energy, this energy must be transformed into positivity. Earth
causes things to grow; when a seed is buried, it ultimately produces good fruit.
Therefore, when the foreskin is buried, it can then be transformed into positivity. (It is
for this reason that the Jewish religion forbids cremation: In ashes there is no potential
for positivity as nothing can grow from it.)
Another interesting Jewish ceremony
is that of "Pidyon HaBen". The Torah tells us that all firstborn sons that
"open the mothers womb", belong to the Kohen, or High Priest. It is,
therefore, our obligation to redeem our firstborn sons from the Kohen on the 31st
day of the boys life. This ceremony should take place on its appropriate day, unless
the 31st day happens to be shabbat or a Jewish holiday, in which case it should
be postponed until the following day.
Pidyon HaBen applies only to males who are
firstborn; that is, there were no previous miscarriages. In addition, the child must be
born naturally, and not through any unnatural methods such as a C-section. If the mother
is a daughter of a Kohen or a Levite, or if the father is a Kohen or a Levite, the child
does not have to be redeemed. If a grown man was not yet redeemed by his father, he should
then redeem himself from a Kohen.