On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Yeshua. Luke 2:21

Circumcision - - Brith Millah

The Chair of Elijah

All, healthy, Jewish males are circumcised on the eighth day.   It marks their entry into the covenant.   Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day and given the name Yeshua  (God saves) as his parents had been instructed by the angel.      ( see Matt 1 v21 for the instruction and Luke 2 v21 for the occasion when it was carried out)

 

This was not the occasion when Simeon and Anna saw him, as was previously stated here.  Luke 2 v22 is separate and refers to both Redemption of the Firstborn after thirty days, and the Purification of a mother forty days after childbirth.   (See Jewish New Testament Commentary by David Stern)

Circumcision is the ceremony whereby a Jewish male infant enters into a sacred relationship with God and the Jewish community.   This occurs on his eighth day.

The Milah is one of the two symbols of the covenant; Shabbat being the other (Genesis 17 v11-12). It is one of the first rites attacked in times of persecution and its neglect in history was a sign of the abandonment of the faith.

The Ceremony

Brith Milah or Bris Milah is covenant of circumcision – often just referred to as Bris.

Some families will invite the neighbouring children round the night before to see the baby, say the "Shema" and sing some songs.   Sweets are given out. (This is a joyous event and food plays its part)

There must be a minyan (ten adult men) present.   The circumcision is performed by a mohel  (pronounced moyle), who will very likely be both a doctor and a rabbi.

The boy is welcomed, "Baruch haba" - blessed is he who comes. (See Psalm 118)    Elijah the Prophet is included in this welcome as rabbinical tradition holds that the prophet participates in every milah as witness and protector.

The Sandek (Godfather) hands the baby to the mohel, who may put the boy on "the chair of Elijah" before handing him back to the sendek who then holds him firmly.  The mohel, the boy’s father and those present join in blessings and prayers while the circumcision is carried out.   The prayers ask that all will go well, acknowledging how much we all need God’s help.   After dressing the wound, the mohel says the blessing for wine and gives the boy a drop or two with his finger.   Remember the symbolic use of wine to represent blood and blood covenants.   The mohel stresses the sanctity of this covenant before saying the final prayer, during which the lad is given his Hebrew name. " . . . . Just as this little one has entered the covenant, so too may he grow up to attain the Torah, marriage and good deeds."   This Hebrew name is more than just a label – it is an adjective – it says something about the boy – like the names in he Tanakh.

The medical side of Circumcision

Circumcision is the cutting off of the foreskin from the penis.   As this skin covers the head of the penis it can be difficult to keep clean and thus a breeding ground for infection.   The removal of the foreskin is thus of benefit in terms of hygiene.    For this reason Cervical cancer, venereal disease etc are much rarer among the wives of circumcised men. For this reason, among others, circumcision is not exclusively a Jewish practice.  The lack of a foreskin will have no detrimental effect on sexual intercourse when the lad is grown up and married.

The mohel performs the procedure by stretching the foreskin past the head and then sliding it into a slot in a stainless steel plate, similar to one used by a soldier so he can polish his brass buttons without polishing the fabric of his uniform. The foreskin can then quickly and safely be sliced off.

One might think that trauma and bleeding would be a problem for one so young, but medical science shows that the eighth day is the ideal time.   The blood of the newborn infant has a very high level of infection fighting antibodies, which it gets from its mother.   Also in the blood there are clotting agents prothrombin and vitamin K, that prevent bleeding which might otherwise be a problem with a procedure like circumcision.  While the level of antibodies starts very high and falls off, the level of anti-bleeding agents rises from a very low level (to 110% of normal for prothrombin by the eighth day).   On the eighth day the level of both is at the optimum level for a minor surgical procedure.

The above is the standard view of the medical side of circumcision.  The author is not qualified to hold a position on medical questions, and since there is a body of opinion that disputes these views those wishing to pursue the matter are advised to carry out their own enquiries.  www.norm-uk.org is suggested as a source of the "intactivist" viewpoint.

It is a principle of Jewish life that performing mitzvot is not done for practical benefits.  However the mitzvot often have positive benefits.  This is true of circumcision as well as the hygiene instructions. 

The spiritual side of circumcision

When Abram circumcised himself aged 99, God added the letter heh to his name making it Abraham.  Heh is part of God's name, so giving it to Abraham indicates a covenant through which the human has an added dimension of spirituality - has entered into a covenant relation with God.

It is said that circumcision is a sign for a Jewish man of who he is and the covenant to which he belongs.   It is not a sign for the world to see, but a personal sign.   It is a sign or identity, which cannot be laid aside to allow a Jew to act in a way that is not Jewish.   There is a lesson that we are not born perfect, but you can change that.   You can be disciplined and cut off those wrong things – don’t let them rule your life.   This is particularly true of sex drive, making the milah a particularly appropriate sign in the flesh of the self control that must be exercised in life.

Scripture refers to having our hearts circumcised.   The parallel here is that our hearts should have "flesh" cut off taking with it the contaminating influences of "self".

Information and comments from     .   .  The Jewish Kitchen by Judy Jackson   (Books),    "I am a mohel"  by BBC TV featuring Rabbi Lionel Solomon and a feature by Rabbi Shraga Simmons on www.aish.com.

Note

Female circumcision or female genital mutilation is not comparable to Jewish male circumcision. It is practiced in some African and Islamic countries but not among Jews.   Female genital mutilation can have severe effects for the woman in terms of sexual satisfaction and even passing urine.

However, there are arguments on the issue of circumcision, even in Jewish circles.   See article on www.aish.com

Click the banner below to go to the site map and choose another page