The following is a series of abbreviated laws
pertaining to circumcision: (For full details, or if you have any questions, please
contact your local orthodox Mohel rabbi, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be glad to assist
A brit is performed on the eighth day
following the birth of the child. If he was born before the twilight period, then the day
on which he was born is included in the eight days. If he was born after the twilight
period, the next day begins the eight-day counting.
A circumcision carried out prior to the eighth day
A brit that had been postponed until after
the eighth day, for any reason whatsoever, may not take place on Shabbat or Jewish
Holidays. Only the brit of a baby born by normal delivery overrides Shabbat or
Holidays. Therefore, a child born by Caesarian section may not have his brit performed
on Shabbat or Holidays. (In such an instance, it would be postponed until Sunday.)
A brit may not be performed on an ill child
until he is fully recovered. The slightest ailment or the least pain, as determined by a Mohel,
doctor or rabbi may be reason enough to postpone the brit until the child is
The above applies only to an ailment affecting the
entire body, in which case we must wait seven days before doing the brit. However,
if the disease is one that affects only a certain part of the body, there is no waiting
period and the brit can be carried out immediately upon full recovery.
The most common cause for delaying circumcision is a
condition known as jaundice, in which the childs skin is a shade of yellow. The
generally accepted view is that as soon as this clears up, the circumcision can be carried
out. However, if the condition is serious enough to warrant a blood transfusion, the brit
then can only be carried out after seven full days after recovery.
An underweight child cannot be circumcised. However,
once the necessary weight is achieved, the brit can be performed immediately
without a waiting period.
A brit may not be postponed simply for the
sake of convenience.
If a brit must be postponed, the Hebrew name
is given to the baby when the brit does actually take place.
The brit may be performed any time of the day
until sunset. However, since it is preferable to fulfill a mitzvah as quickly as
possible, it should better be done in the morning. One should, at least, not postpone a brit
later than midday.
One should not use a less-qualified Mohel in
order to have the brit take place earlier in the morning. Rather, he can delay the brit
to later in the afternoon when a more-qualified Mohel will be available.
On the first Friday night after the child is bon, it
is customary to gather in the house of the baby to celebrate in honor of the newborn. This
is called the "Shalom Zachar" welcoming the male newborn. At this
celebration which, incidentally, is a seudas mitzvah, (a meal honoring the
fulfillment of a Divine commandment) -- it is customary to serve lentils along with other
beans (such as chickpeas), as well as nuts and wine.
- If the child is born Friday after sundown, thereby
causing there to be two Fridays between birth and the brit, most people follow the
opinion which holds that the shalom zachar should take place on the second Friday
night. The practical reason for this is that there is not enough time before the first
Friday night to inform people of the shalom zachar.
- In addition, the second Friday night, in this case,
would be "vach nacht" (see below) which, in most communities, is
customarily a night for celebration.
- Even if it is definite that the brit will not
be held that week (for reasons such as premature birth, or the like), the shalom zachar
is nevertheless held.
- The Midrash states that the merit of brit
milah is so great that it safeguards Jews from Gehinom (hell). The Satan,
therefore, attempts to see to it that the brit is not performed. For this reason,
the custom is that the men of the family and some colleagues should remain awake in the
childs home to recite various portions of Torah and discuss the laws of milah
throughout the night. Thus, they watch over the baby and ward off anything that may
attempt to interfere with the brit.
- Children are brought to the crib of the child to
recite the shema and the verse "Hamalach HaGoel" ("The
angel who redeems me..."). They are given sweets in reward for their blessing the
- Two people one male, the other female --
usually a married couple -- are customarily given the honor of bringing the child to the
room in which the brit will be taking place, and then returning it to the mother
after the brit. They are called the Kvatter and Kvatterin.
- Some do not allow a pregnant woman to be the kavatterin
as she might become frightened by the brit, and cause harm to her unborn child.
- Elijah the Prophet, according to Jewish tradition,
attends all circumcisions in order to protect and bless the child. It is customary to
honor him by preparing a chair for him to the right of the sandeks chair. The
reason the sandeks chair is to the left of Elijahs is based on the
Talmudic saying that a student walks on his teachers left.
- One of the assembled is honored with placing the
child upon Elijahs chair, so that Elijah should bless the child.
- Elijah does not attend a brit unless he is
summoned. For that reason, there are various prayers and blessings to summon and
acknowledge his presence.
- A male should perform the brit. Similarly, it must
be performed by a G-d-fearing, observant Jew. If a non-Jew performs the circumcision, the brit
is rendered invalid. The reason for this, is that since the brit is to imprint
the "act of the covenant", it, therefore, must be performed by a member of the
The way to rectify an invalid circumcision is to do
hatafat dam brit releasing a speck of blood.
- Once a Mohel has been appointed to perform a brit,
one should not afterwards reject him and hire a second Mohel in his place. However,
if the second Mohel is a close friend of the family or if he is an exceptionally
righteous person, (and it is, therefore, obvious that he would have been chosen in the
first place had the family known that he was available), the family may then go ahead and
reject its original choice.
- It is important to stress that brit milah is
a religious observance and not a medical procedure. For this reason, one should not use a
doctor who is a qualified Mohel to do the brit. Some hold, however, that if
the doctors expertise as a Mohel is apart from his being a doctor, then it
would be okay. There are those authorities, however, who have expressed the view that
religious doctors should refrain from performing brit milah.
- The metal knife used to perform the circumcision is
usually referred to as izmail. The traditional izmail is sharp on both edges
in order to eliminate the possibility of hurting the child by cutting with a blunt edge
- Being that the actual mitzvah of brit
milah is incumbent upon the father, it is, therefore, customary for the father should
stand near the Mohel and to verbally appoint him to act in his behalf in
performing the brit. The father, for this reason, also hands the knife to the Mohel.
- It is preferable, though not mandatory, that
there be a minyan (ten males above the age of 13) present at the brit milah.
The reason for this is because it is more respectful for G-d as it is for a king
when there is a large presence of people at a religious ceremony.
The milah itself involves three parts: a)
cutting away the foreskin, b) Revealing the glans, and c) Orally extracting the blood from
- The excised foreskin is customarily covered with
sand or earth.
- Candles are lit during the brit.
When twins are being circumcised in one
ceremony, each child is brought in separately to insure that each one receives the honor
due to it. Hamalach Hagoel is recited between the two circumcisions to make
an obvious separation between the two. Because of this separation, the blessings from the
first circumcision are not valid for the second and must, therefore, be repeated.
- It is customary to make a festive meal after the
circumcision, at which bread and wine should be served, being that this is a seudas
- It is customary not to explicitly invite people to
this meal, rather to publicize when and where the meal will be held, leaving the
- Various liturgical poems are recited at this meal
May it be the will of our Father in
Heaven that in the merit of the mitzvah of milah performed by Jews
everywhere, correct in every detail, willingly and joyfully, that He protect and save us
from all travails and anguish at all times. And may the sanctity of this great mitzvah cause
us all to emerge from servitude to freedom, from the darkness of exile to the great light
of redemption, in accordance with G-ds promise (Zechariah, 9:11): "For
you, as well, through the blood of your covenant, I set free your imprisoned."