The brit milah (Hebrew: בְּרִית מִילָה,
pronounced [bʁit miˈla]; Ashkenazi pronunciation: [bʁis
ˈmilə], "covenant of circumcision";
Yiddish pronunciation: bris
[bʀɪs]) is a Jewish religious male circumcision ceremony performed
by a mohel ("circumciser") on the eighth day of the infant's life. The
brit milah is followed by a celebratory meal (seudat mitzvah).
1 Biblical references
2.2 Time and place
2.2.1 Postponement for health reasons
2.2.2 Adult circumcision
2.5 Seudat mitzvah
3 Ritual components
3.1 Uncovering, priah
3.2.1 Metzitzah B'Peh (oral suction)
3.3 Hatafat dam brit
4 Milah l'shem giur
5 Reasons for circumcision
6 Reform Judaism
7 The anti-circumcision movement and brit shalom
8 See also
10 External links
Main article: Religious male circumcision
See also: Covenant (biblical) § Abrahamic covenant
See also: Feast of the
Circumcision of Christ
"Isaac's Circumcision", Regensburg Pentateuch, c1300
According to the
Hebrew Bible (Genesis 17:10-14) God commanded the
Abraham to be circumcised, an act to be followed by
10 This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and
thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 And
ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be
a token of a covenant betwixt Me and you. 12 And he that is eight days
old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your
generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any
foreigner, that is not of thy seed. 13 He that is born in thy house,
and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and
My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 And
the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his
foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken
Leviticus 12:3 provides: "And in the eighth day the flesh of his
foreskin shall be circumcised."
According to the Hebrew Bible, it was "a reproach" for an
be uncircumcised (Joshua 5:9.) The term arelim ("uncircumcised"
[plural]) is used opprobriously, denoting the
Philistines and other
Israelites (I Samuel 14:6, 31:4; II Samuel 1:20) and used in
conjunction with tameh (unpure) for heathen (Isaiah 52:1). The word
arel ("uncircumcised" [singular]) is also employed for "impermeable"
Leviticus 26:41, "their uncircumcised hearts"; compare Jeremiah 9:25;
Ezekiel 44:7,9); it is also applied to the first three years' fruit of
a tree, which is forbidden (
Israelites born in the wilderness after the Exodus from
Egypt were not circumcised. Joshua 5:2-9, explains, "all the people
that came out" of Egypt were circumcised, but those "born in the
wilderness" were not. Therefore, Joshua, before the celebration of the
Passover, had them circumcised at
Gilgal specifically before they
entered Canaan. Abraham, too, was circumcised when he moved into
The prophetic tradition emphasizes that God expects people to be good
as well as pious, and that non-
Jews will be judged based on their
ethical behavior, see Noahide Law. Thus, Jeremiah 9:25-26 says that
circumcised and uncircumcised will be punished alike by the Lord; for
"all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of
uncircumcised in heart."
The penalty of non-observance is kareth (spiritual excision from the
Jewish nation), as noted in Genesis 17:1-14. Conversion to
Israelites in Biblical times necessitated circumcision, otherwise
one could not partake in the
Passover offering (Exodus 12:48). Today,
as in the time of Abraham, it is required of converts in Orthodox,
Conservative and Reform Judaism. (Genesis 34:14-16).
As found in Genesis 17:1-14, brit milah is considered to be so
important that should the eighth day fall on the Sabbath, actions that
would normally be forbidden because of the sanctity of the day are
permitted in order to fulfill the requirement to circumcise. The
Talmud, when discussing the importance of Milah, compares it to being
equal to all other mitzvot (commandments) based on the gematria for
brit of 612 (Tractate Nedarim 32a).
Covenants in ancient times were sometimes sealed by severing an
animal, with the implication that the party who breaks the covenant
will suffer a similar fate. In Hebrew, the verb meaning "to seal a
covenant" translates literally as "to cut". It is presumed by Jewish
scholars that the removal of the foreskin symbolically represents such
a sealing of the covenant.
Memory of this tradition has been preserved in traditional Christian
churches according to the Gospel of Luke. The Feast of the
Circumcision of Christ is kept as a feast eight days after Nativity in
a number of churches including the Eastern Orthodox Church, Catholic
Lutheran and some
Anglican Communion churches. In Orthodox
Christian tradition, children are officially named on the eighth day
after birth with special naming prayers.
Significantly, the tradition of baptism universally replaced
circumcision amongst Christians as the primary rite of passage as
found in Paul's
Epistle to the Colossians
Epistle to the Colossians and in Acts of the
Apostles.[non-primary source needed]
Jewish circumcision in Venice around 1780 Musée d'Art et d'Histoire
A mohel is a Jew trained in the practice of brit milah, the "covenant
of circumcision." According to traditional Jewish law, in the absence
of a grown free Jewish male expert, anyone who has the required skills
is also authorized to perform the circumcision, provided that he or
she is Jewish. However, most streams of non-Orthodox
female mohels, called mohalot (Hebrew: מוֹהֲלוֹת, plural
of מוֹהֶלֶת mohelet, feminine of mohel), without restriction.
In 1984, Deborah Cohen became the first certified Reform mohelet; she
was certified by the Berit Mila program of Reform Judaism.
Time and place
Chair of Elijah used during the brit milah ceremony - Musée d'Art et
d'Histoire du Judaïsme
It is customary for the brit to be held in a synagogue, but it can
also be held at home or any other suitable location. The brit is
performed on the eighth day from the baby's birth, taking into
consideration that according to the Jewish calendar, the day begins at
the sunset of the day before. If the baby is born on Sunday before
sunset, the Brit will be held the following Sunday. However, if the
baby is born on Sunday night after sunset, the Brit is on the
following Monday. The brit takes place on the eighth day following
birth even if that day is
Shabbat or a holiday. A brit is
traditionally performed in the morning, but it may be performed any
time during daylight hours.
Postponement for health reasons
Family circumcision set and trunk, ca. eighteenth century Wooden box
covered in cow hide with silver implements: silver trays, clip,
pointer, silver flask, spice vessel.
Talmud explicitly instructs that a boy must not be circumcised if
he had two brothers who died due to complications arising from their
Maimonides says that this excluded paternal
half-brothers. This may be due to a concern about hemophilia.
An Israeli study found a high rate of urinary tract infections if the
bandage is left on too long.
If the child is born prematurely or has other serious medical
problems, the brit milah will be postponed until the doctors and mohel
deem the child strong enough.
In recent years, the circumcision of adult
Jews who were not
circumcised as infants has become more common than previously
thought. In such cases, the brit milah will be done at the
earliest date that can be arranged. The actual circumcision will be
private, and other elements of the ceremony (e.g., the celebratory
meal) may be modified to accommodate the desires of the one being
Most prominent acharonim rule that the mitzvah of brit milah lies in
the pain it causes, and anesthetic, sedation, or ointment should
generally not be used. However, it is traditionally common to feed
the infant a drop of wine or other sweet liquid to soothe him.
Eliezer Waldenberg, Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, Shmuel Wosner, Moshe
Feinstein and others agree that the child should not be sedated,
although pain relieving ointment may be used under certain conditions;
Shmuel Wosner particularly asserts that the act ought to be painful,
Regarding an adult circumcision, pain is ideal, but not mandatory.
In a letter to the editor published in
The New York Times
The New York Times on January
David Tendler disagrees with the above and
writes, "It is a biblical prohibition to cause anyone unnecessary
Rabbi Tendler recommends the use of an analgesic cream.
Lidocaine should not be used, however, because
Lidocaine has been
linked to several pediatric near-death episodes.
The title of kvater among Ashkenazi
Jews is for the person who carries
the baby from the mother to the father, who in turn carries him to the
mohel. This honor is usually given to a couple without children, as a
merit or segula (efficacious remedy) that they should have children of
their own. The origin of the term is
Middle High German
Middle High German gevater(e)
After the ceremony, a celebratory meal takes place. At the birkat
hamazon, additional introductory lines, known as Nodeh Leshimcha, are
added. These lines praise God and request the permission of God, the
Torah, Kohanim and distinguished people present to proceed with the
grace. When the four main blessings are concluded, special ha-Rachaman
prayers are recited. They request various blessings by God that
the parents of the baby, to help them raise him wisely;
the sandek (companion of child);
the baby boy to have strength and grow up to trust in God and perceive
Him three times a year;
the mohel for unhesitatingly performing the ritual;
to send the
Jewish Messiah speedily in the merit of this mitzvah;
to send Elijah the prophet, known as "The Righteous Kohen", so that
God's covenant can be fulfilled with the re-establishment of the
throne of King David.
Infant after brit
At the neonatal stage, the inner preputial epithelium is still linked
with the surface of the glans. The mitzvah is executed only when
this epithelium is either removed, or permanently peeled back to
uncover the glans. On medical circumcisions performed by surgeons,
the epithelium is removed along with the foreskin, to prevent post
operative penile adhesion and its complications. However, on
ritual circumcisions performed by a mohel, the epithelium is most
commonly peeled off only after the foreskin has been amputated. This
procedure is called priah (Hebrew: פריעה), which means:
'uncovering'. The main goal of "priah" (also known as "bris periah"),
is to remove as much of the inner layer of the foreskin as possible
and prevent the movement of the shaft skin, what creates the look and
function of what is known as a "low and tight" circumcision.
According to Rabbinic interpretation of traditional Jewish
sources, the 'priah' has been performed as part of the Jewish
circumcision since the
Israelites first inhabited the Land of
Israel. However, the Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion,
states that many Hellenistic
Jews attempted to restore their
foreskins, and that similar action was taken during the Hadrianic
persecution, a period in which a prohibition against circumcision was
issued. Thus, the writers of the dictionary hypothesize that the more
severe method practiced today was probably begun in order to prevent
the possibility of restoring the foreskin after circumcision, and
therefore the rabbis added the requirement of cutting the foreskin in
periah. The frenulum may also be cut away at the same time, in a
procedure called frenectomy. According to Shaye J. D. Cohen, in
Why Aren't Jewish Women Circumcised?: Gender and Covenant in Judaism,
pg 25, the
Torah only commands circumcision (milah.) David
Gollaher has written that the rabbis added the procedure of priah to
discourage men from trying to restore their foreskins: ‘Once
established, priah was deemed essential to circumcision; if the mohel
failed to cut away enough tissue, the operation was deemed
insufficient to comply with God's covenant’ and ‘Depending on the
strictness of individual rabbis, boys (or men thought to have been
inadequately cut) were subjected to additional operations.’
The guard (top center) is slid over the foreskin as close to the glans
as possible to allow for maximum removal of the former without any
injury to the latter. The scalpel is used to detach the foreskin, and
the underlying blue bag is a sterilization pouch for the metal tools.
The tube (center left) was used for metzitzah In addition to milah
(the actual circumcision) and p'riah, mentioned above, the Talmud
Shabbat 19:2) mentions a third step, metzitzah, translated as
suction, as one of the steps involved in the circumcision rite. The
Talmud writes that a "
Mohel (Circumciser) who does not suck, creates a
danger and should be dismissed from practice".
Rashi on that
Talmudic passage explains that this step is in order to draw some
blood from deep inside the wound to prevent danger to the baby.
There are other modern antiseptic and antibiotic techniques—all used
as part of the brit milah today—which many say accomplish the
intended purpose of metzitzah, however, since metzitzah is one of the
four steps to fulfill Mitzvah, it continues to be practiced by many
Orthodox and Hassidic Jews.
Metzitzah B'Peh (oral suction)
The ancient method of performing metzitzah—metzitzah b'peh, or oral
suction—has become controversial. The process has the mohel
place his mouth directly on the circumcision wound to draw blood away
from the cut. The majority of Jewish circumcision ceremonies do not
use metzitzah b'peh, but some Haredi
Jews use it. It
has been documented that the practice poses a serious risk of
spreading herpes to the infant. Proponents maintain
that there is no conclusive evidence that links herpes to
Metzitza, and that attempts to limit this practice infringe on
The practice has become a controversy in both secular and Jewish
medical ethics. The ritual of metzitzah is found in
19:2, which lists it as one of the four steps involved in the
Moses Sofer (1762–1839) observed that the
Talmud states that the rationale for this part of the ritual was
hygienic — i.e., to protect the health of the child. The Chasam
Sofer issued a leniency (Heter) that some consider to have been
conditional to perform metzitzah with a sponge to be used instead of
oral suction in a letter to his student,
Lazar Horowitz of
Vienna. This letter was never published among
Rabbi Sofer's responsa
but rather in the secular journal Kochvei Yitzchok. along with
letters from Dr. Wertheimer, the chief doctor of the Viennese General
Hospital. It relates the story that a mohel (who was suspected of
transmitting herpes via metzizah to infants) was checked several times
and never found to have signs of the disease and that a ban was
requested because of the "possibility of future infections". Moshe
Schick (1807–1879), a student of
Moses Sofer, states in his book of
Responsa, She’eilos u’teshuvos Maharam Schick (Orach Chaim 152,)
Moses Sofer gave the ruling in that specific instance only
because the mohel refused to step down and had secular Government
connections that prevented his removal in favor of another mohel and
the Heter may not be applied elsewhere. He also states (Yoreh Deah
244) that the practice is possibly a Sinaitic tradition, i.e., Halacha
l'Moshe m'Sinai. Other sources contradict this claim, with copies of
Moses Sofer's responsa making no mention of the legal case or of his
ruling applying in only one situation. Rather, that responsa makes
quite clear that "metzizah" was a health measure and should never be
employed where there is a health risk to the infant.
Chaim Hezekiah Medini, after corresponding with the greatest Jewish
sages of the generation, concluded the practice to be Halacha l'Moshe
m'Sinai and elaborates on what prompted
Moses Sofer to give the above
ruling. He tells the story that a student of
Moses Sofer, Lazar
Rabbi of Vienna at the time and author of the responsa
Yad Elazer, needed the ruling because of a governmental attempt to ban
circumcision completely if it included metztitzah b'peh. He therefore
asked Sofer to give him permission to do brit milah without metzitzah
b’peh. When he presented the defense in secular court, his testimony
was erroneously recorded to mean that Sofer stated it as a general
ruling. The Rabbinical Council of America, (RCA) which claims to
be the largest American organization of Orthodox rabbis, published an
article by mohel Dr Yehudi
Pesach Shields in its summer 1972 issue of
Tradition magazine, calling for the abandonment of Metzitzah
b'peh. Since then the RCA has issued an opinion that advocates
methods that do not involve contact between the mohel's mouth and the
open wound, such as the use of a sterile syringe, thereby eliminating
the risk of infection. According to the Chief Rabbinate of
Israel and the Edah HaChareidis metzitzah b'peh should still
The practice of metzitzah b'peh was alleged to pose a serious risk in
the transfer of herpes from mohelim to eight Israeli infants, one of
whom suffered brain damage. When three New York City infants
contracted herpes after metzizah b'peh by one mohel and one of them
died, New York authorities took out a restraining order against the
mohel requiring use of a sterile glass tube, or pipette. The
mohel's attorney argued that the
New York Department of Health had not
supplied conclusive medical evidence linking his client with the
disease. In September 2005, the city withdrew the restraining
order and turned the matter over to a rabbinical court. Dr. Thomas
Frieden, the Health Commissioner of New York City, wrote, "There
exists no reasonable doubt that ‘metzitzah b'peh’ can and has
caused neonatal herpes infection....The Health Department recommends
that infants being circumcised not undergo metzitzah b'peh." In
May 2006, the Department of Health for New York State issued a
protocol for the performance of metzitzah b'peh. Dr. Antonia C.
Novello, Commissioner of Health for New York State, together with a
board of rabbis and doctors, worked, she said, to "allow the practice
of metzizah b'peh to continue while still meeting the Department of
Health's responsibility to protect the public health." Later in
New York City in 2012 a 2-week-old baby died of herpes because of
In three medical papers done in Israel, Canada, and the USA, oral
suction following circumcision was suggested as a cause in 11 cases of
neonatal herpes. Researchers noted that prior to 1997,
neonatal herpes reports in
Israel were rare, and that the late
incidences were correlated with the mothers carrying the virus
Mordechai Halperin implicates the "better
hygiene and living conditions that prevail among the younger
generation", which lowered to 60% the rate of young Israeli Chareidi
mothers who carry the virus. He explains that an "absence of
antibodies in the mothers’ blood means that their newborn sons
received no such antibodies through the placenta, and therefore are
vulnerable to infection by HSV-1."
Because of the risk of infection, some rabbinical authorities have
ruled that the traditional practice of direct contact should be
replaced by using a glass tube between the wound and the mohel's
mouth, so there is no direct oral contact. The Rabbinical Council of
America, the largest group of
Modern Orthodox rabbis, endorses this
method. The RCA paper states: "
Rabbi Schachter even reports that
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik reports that his father, Rav Moshe
Soloveitchik, would not permit a mohel to perform metzitza be’peh
with direct oral contact, and that his grandfather, Rav Chaim
Soloveitchik, instructed mohelim in Brisk not to do metzitza be’peh
with direct oral contact. However, although Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik
also generally prohibited metzitza be’peh with direct oral contact,
he did not ban it by those who insisted upon it,...". The sefer
Mitzvas Hametzitzah by
Rabbi Sinai Schiffer of Baden, Germany,
states that he is in possession of letters from 36 major Russian
(Lithuanian) rabbis that categorically prohibit Metzitzah with a
sponge and require it to be done orally. Among them is
Halevi Soloveitchik of Brisk.
In September 2012, the
New York Department of Health unanimously ruled
that the practice of metztizah b'peh should require informed consent
from the parent or guardian of the child undergoing the ritual.
Prior to the ruling, several hundred rabbis, including
Neiderman, the executive director of the United Jewish Organization of
Williamsburg, signed a declaration stating that they would not inform
parents of the potential dangers that came with metzitzah b'peh, even
if informed consent became law.
In a motion for preliminary injunction with intent to sue, filed
against New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene,
affidavits by Awi Federgruen, Brenda Breuer,  and
Daniel S. Berman,  argued that the study on which the
department passed its conclusions is flawed. 
The “informed consent” regulation was challenged in court. In
January 2013 the U.S. District court ruled that the law did not
specifically target religion and therefore must not pass strict
The ruling was appealed to the Court of Appeals.
On August 15, 2014 the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the
decision by the lower court, and ruled that the regulation does have
to be reviewed under strict scrutiny to determine whether it infringes
on Orthodox Jews' freedom of religion.
On September 9, 2015 after coming to an agreement with the community
The New York City Board of Health voted to repeal the informed consent
Hatafat dam brit
A brit milah is more than circumcision, it is a sacred ritual in
Judaism, as distinguished from its non-ritual requirement in Islam.
One ramification is that the brit is not considered complete unless a
drop of blood is actually drawn. The standard medical methods of
circumcision through constriction do not meet the requirements of the
halakhah for brit milah, because they cause hemostasis, i.e., they
stop the flow of blood. Moreover, circumcision alone, in the absence
of the brit milah ceremony, does not fulfill the requirements of the
mitzvah. Therefore, in cases where a Jew who was circumcised outside
of a brit milah, an already-circumcised convert, or an aposthetic
(born without a foreskin) individual, the mohel draws a symbolic drop
of blood (Hebrew: הטפת דם, hatafat-dam) from the penis at the
point where the foreskin would have been or was attached.
Milah l'shem giur
Set of brit milah implements,
Göttingen city museum
A Milah L'shem giur is a "
Circumcision for the purpose of conversion".
In Orthodox Judaism, this procedure is usually done by adoptive
parents for adopted boys who are being converted as part of the
adoption or by families with young children converting together. It is
also required for adult converts who were not previously circumcised,
e.g. those born in countries where circumcision at birth is not
common. The conversion of a minor is valid in both Orthodox and
Judaism until a child reaches the age of majority (13 for
a boy, 12 for a girl); at that time the child has the option of
renouncing his conversion and Judaism, and the conversion will then be
considered retroactively invalid. He must be informed of his right to
renounce his conversion if he wishes. If he does not make such a
statement, it is accepted that the boy is halakhically Jewish.
Orthodox rabbis will generally not convert a non-Jewish child raised
by a mother who has not converted to Judaism.
The laws of conversion and conversion-related circumcision in Orthodox
Judaism have numerous complications, and authorities recommend that a
rabbi be consulted well in advance.
In Conservative Judaism, the Milah l'Shem giur procedure is also
performed for a boy whose mother has not converted, but with the
intention that the child be raised Jewish. This conversion of a child
Judaism without the conversion of the mother is allowed by
Conservative interpretations of halakha. Conservative Rabbis will
authorize it only under the condition that the child be raised as a
Jew in a single-faith household. Should the mother convert, and if the
boy has not yet reached his third birthday, the child may be immersed
in the mikveh with the mother, after the mother has already immersed,
to become Jewish. If the mother does not convert, the child may be
immersed in a mikveh, or body of natural waters, to complete the
child's conversion to Judaism. This can be done before the child is
even one year old. If the child did not immerse in the mikveh, or the
boy was too old, then the child may choose of their own accord to
become Jewish at age 13 as a Bar Mitzvah, and complete the conversion
The ceremony, when performed l'Shem giur, does not have to be
performed on a particular day, and does not override
In Orthodox Judaism, there is a split of authorities on whether the
child receives a
Hebrew name at the Brit ceremony or upon immersion in
the Mikvah. According to Zichron Brit LeRishonim, naming occurs at the
Brit with a different formula than the standard Brit Milah. The more
common practice among
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein,
with naming occurring at immersion.
Where the procedure was performed but not followed by immersion or
other requirements of the conversion procedure (e.g., in Conservative
Judaism, where the mother has not converted), if the boy chooses to
complete the conversion at Bar Mitzvah, a Milah l'shem giur performed
when the boy was an infant removes the obligation to undergo either a
full brit milah or hatafat dam brit.
Reasons for circumcision
Nowadays it is generally assumed that
Judaism adopted the practice of
circumcision from neighboring cultures; their reasons for performing
the act remain to be studied.
In Of the
Special Laws, Book 1, the Jewish philosopher
Philo (20 BCE
– CE 50) gives six reasons for the practice of circumcision. He
attributes four of the reasons to "men of divine spirit and wisdom."
These include the idea that circumcision:
protects against disease,
secures cleanliness "in a way that is suited to the people consecrated
causes the circumcised portion of the penis to resemble a heart,
thereby representing a physical connection between the "breath
contained within the heart [that] is generative of thoughts, and the
generative organ itself [that] is productive of living beings," and
promotes prolificness by removing impediments to the flow of semen.
Philo added two of his own reasons, including the idea that
"signified figuratively the excision of all superfluous and excessive
"is a symbol of a man's knowing himself."
Saadia Gaon considers something to be "complete," if it lacks
nothing, but also has nothing that is unneeded. He regards the
foreskin an unneeded organ that God created in man, and so by
amputating it, the man is completed.
Moses ben Maimon "Rambam", CE 1135–1204), who apart from
being a great
Torah scholar was also a physician and philosopher,
argued that circumcision serves as a common bodily sign to members of
the same faith. He also asserted that the main purpose of the act is
to repress sexual pleasure, with the strongest reason being that it is
difficult for a woman to separate from an uncircumcised man with whom
she has had sex.
The author of Sefer ha-Chinuch provides three reasons for the
practice of circumcision:
To complete the form of man, by removing what he claims to be a
To mark the chosen people, so that their bodies will be different as
their souls are. The organ chosen for the mark is the one responsible
for the sustenance of the species.
The completion effected by circumcision is not congenital, but left to
the man. This implies that as he completes the form of his body, so
can he complete the form of his soul.
Daniel Boyarin offered two explanations for
circumcision. One is that it is a literal inscription on the Jewish
body of the name of God in the form of the letter "yud" (from
"yesod"). The second is that the act of bleeding represents a
feminization of Jewish men, significant in the sense that the covenant
represents a marriage between
Jews and (a symbolically male) God.
The Reform societies established in Frankfurt and Berlin regarded
circumcision as barbaric and wished to abolish it. However, while
prominent rabbis such as
Abraham Geiger believed the ritual to be
barbaric and outdated, they refrained from instituting any change in
this matter. In 1843, when a father in Frankfurt refused to circumcise
his son, rabbis of all shades in Germany stated it was mandated by
Jewish law; even
Samuel Holdheim affirmed this. By 1871, Reform
rabbinic leadership in Germany reasserted "the supreme importance of
circumcision in Judaism", while affirming the traditional viewpoint
that non-circumcised are
Jews nonetheless. Although the issue of
circumcision of converts continues to be debated, the necessity of
Brit Milah for Jewish infant boys has been stressed in every
subsequent Reform rabbis manual or guide. Since 1984 Reform
Judaism has trained and certified over 300 of their own practicing
mohalim in this ritual.
The anti-circumcision movement and brit shalom
Circumcision controversies and Brit shalom (naming
Jews choose not to circumcise their sons.
Among the reasons for their choice are the claims that circumcision is
an act of violence against a helpless infant, that it is painful and
traumatic, and can cause further complications down the road,
including serious disability and even death. They are assisted by a
small number of Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis, and have
developed a welcoming ceremony that they call the brit shalom
("Covenant [of] Peace") for such children, also accepted by Humanistic
This ceremony of brit shalom is not officially approved of by the
Reform or Reconstructionist rabbinical organizations, who make the
recommendation that male infants should be circumcised, though the
issue of converts remains controversial and circumcision of
converts is not mandatory in either movement.
The connection of the Reform movement to an anti-circumcision,
pro-symbolic stance is a historical one. From the early days of the
movement in Germany, some classical Reformers hoped to replace ritual
circumcision "with a symbolic act, as has been done for other bloody
practices, such as the sacrifices". In the US, an official Reform
resolution in 1893 announced converts are no longer mandated to
undergo the ritual, and this ambivalence towards the practice has
carried over to classical-minded Reform
Jews today. In Elyse
Wechterman's essay A Plea for Inclusion, she argues that, even in the
absence of circumcision, committed
Jews should never be turned away,
especially by a movement "where no other ritual observance is
mandated". She goes on to advocate an alternate covenant ceremony,
brit atifah, for both boys and girls as a welcoming ritual into
Judaism. With a continuing negativity towards circumcision still
present within a minority of modern-day Reform, Judaic scholar Jon
Levenson has warned that if they "continue to judge brit milah to be
not only medically unnecessary but also brutalizing and mutilating ...
the abhorrence of it expressed by some early Reform leaders will
return with a vengeance", proclaiming that circumcision will be "the
latest front in the battle over the Jewish future in America".
Many European Jewish fathers during the nineteenth century chose not
to circumcise their sons, including Theodor Herzl. However,
unlike many other forms of religious observance, it remained one of
the last rituals Jewish communities could enforce. In most of Europe,
both the government and the unlearned Jewish masses believed
circumcision to be a rite akin to baptism, and the law allowed
communities not to register uncircumcised children as Jewish. This
legal maneuver spurred several debates addressing the advisibility of
its use, since many parents later chose to convert to Christianity. In
early 20th-century Russia,
Chaim Soloveitchik advised his colleagues
to reject this measure, stating that uncircumcised Jewish males are no
less Jewish than
Jews who violate other commandments.
Circumcision of Jesus
^ Tractate Shabbat: Chapter 19, Regulations ordained by R. Eliezer
concerning circumcision on the Sabbath, accessed on 23 April 2016
^ "Circumcision." Mark Popovsky. Encyclopedia of Psychology and
David A. Leeming, Kathryn Madden and Stanton Marlan. New
York: Springer, 2010. pp.153-154.
^ Luke 2:21 (King James Version): "And when eight days were
accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called
JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the
^ In the northern European calculation, which abstracts from the day
from which the count begins, the interval was of seven days.
Circumcision (Obrezanie) of the Lord:".
^ "The Prayer for the Naming of a Child on the Eighth Day".
^ "Saint Luke Orthodox Church - Prayer - Prayer Information - Mother
^ Colossians 2:11-12Acts 15
Talmud Avodah Zarah 26b; Menachot 42a; Maimonides' Mishneh Torah,
Milah, ii. 1; Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah, l.c.
^ Berit Mila Program of Reform
Judaism Retrieved 2 February 2015
Circumcision Procedure and Blessings - Performing the Bris
Milah - The Handbook to Circumcision". Chabad.org. Retrieved
^ a b This article incorporates text from a publication now
in the public domain: Singer, Isidore; et al., eds.
(1901–1906). "Morbidity". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk &
^ Ilani, Ofri (2008-05-12). "Traditional circumcision raises risk of
infection, study shows". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 15 August 2009.
^ Kreimer, Susan (2004-10-22). "In New Trend, Adult Emigrés Seek
Ritual Circumcision". The Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved 24 August
^ a b
Rabbi Yaakov Montrose. Halachic World - Volume 3: Contemporary
Halachic topics based on the Parshah. "Lech Lecha - No Pain, No Bris?"
Feldham Publishers 2011, pp. 29-32
^ Rich, Tracey. "
Judaism 101 - Birth and the First month of Life".
jewfaq.org. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
^ Harris, Patricia (June 11, 1999). "Study confirms that wine drops
soothe boys during circumcision". jweekly.com. J. Retrieved 22 June
^ "Pain and Circumcision". The New York Times. Nytimes.com. January 3,
1998. Retrieved June 11, 2014.
^ Berger, Itai; Steinberg, Avraham (May 2002). "Neonatal mydriasis:
intravenous lidocaine adverse reaction". J Child Neurol. 17 (5):
400–1. doi:10.1177/088307380201700520. PMID 12150593.
^ Rezvani, Massoud; Finkelstein, Yaron (2007). "Generalized seizures
following topical lidocaine administration during circumcision:
establishing causation". Paediatr Drugs. 9 (2): 125–7.
doi:10.2165/00148581-200709020-00006. PMID 17407368.
^ Beider, Alexander (2015). Origins of
Yiddish Dialects. Oxford
University Press. p. 153.
^ Øster, Jakob (April 1968). "Further Fate of the Foreskin". 43.
ARCHIVES OF DISEASE IN CHILDHOOD: 200–202. Retrieved
Shabbat 19:6. circumcised but did not perform priah, it is
as if he did not circumcise. The
Talmud there adds:
"and is punished kareth!"
Circumcision Policy Statement of The American Academy of Pediatrics
notes that "there are three methods of circumcision that are commonly
used in the newborn male," and that all three include "bluntly freeing
the inner preputial epithelium from the epithelium of the glans," to
be later amputated with the foreskin.
^ Gracely-Kilgore, Katharine A. (May 1984). "Further Fate of the
Foreskin". 5 (2). NURSE PRACTITIONER: 4–22. Retrieved
^ Circlist Editor (2014-03-07). "Styles -
Judaism and Islam".
Circlist. Archived from the original on 2014-05-15. Retrieved
2014-06-11. CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
^ Glick, Leonard B (2005-06-30). "Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision
from Ancient Judea to Modern America". ISBN 9780195176742.
Talmud Bavli Tractate Yebamoth 71b: Rabbah b.
Isaac stated in the
name of Rab: The commandment of uncovering the corona at circumcision
was not given to Abraham; for it is said, At that time the Lord said
unto Joshua: 'Make thee knives of flint etc.' But is it not possible
[that this applied to] those who were not previously circumcised; for
it is written, For all the people that came out were circumcised, but
all the people that were born etc.? — If so, why the expression.
'Again!' Consequently it must apply to the uncovering of the corona.
^ Werblowsky, R.J. Zwi & Wigoder, Geoffrey (1997) The Oxford
Dictionary of the Jewish Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press
^ Stuart, Robin (July 2007). "Male initiation and the phimosis
taboos". APPLIED RESEARCH on CIRCUMCISION (Arc). Archived from the
original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
^ Cohen, Shaye J. D (2005-09-06). "Why Aren't Jewish Women
Circumcised?: Gender and Covenant in Judaism".
David Gollaher. Circumcision: A History of The World’s Most
Controversial Surgery. Basic Books 2000. p. 17.
^ Tractate Shabbos 133b
^ Rambam -
Maimonides in his "book of laws" Laws of Milah Chapter 2,
paragraph 2: "...and afterwards he sucks the circumcision until blood
comes out from far places, in order not to come to danger, and anyone
who does not suck, we remove him from practice."
Rashi and others on Tractate Shabbos 173a and 173b
^ "Denouncing City's Move to Regulate Circumcision". www.nytimes.com.
September 12, 2012. Retrieved 2013-03-01.
^ Nussbaum Cohen, Debra (October 14, 2005). "City Risking Babies'
Lives With Brit Policy: Health Experts". The Jewish Week. Archived
from the original on 2007-05-22.
^ Nussbaum Cohen, Debra; Larry Cohler-Esses (December 23, 2005). "City
Challenged On Ritual Practice". The Jewish Week. Archived from the
original on 2006-11-20. Retrieved 2007-04-19.
^ "N.Y. newborn contracts herpes from controversial circumcision
rite". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. February 2, 2014.
^ a b Eliyahu Fink and Eliyahu Federman (Sep 29, 2013). "Controversial
^ "Metzitza Be'Peh - Halachic Clarification". Rabbinical Council of
America. June 7, 2005. Retrieved 2007-04-06. The poskim consulted by
the RCA agree that the normative halacha permits using a glass tube,
and that it is proper for mohalim to do so given the health issues
^ a b Hartog, Kelly (February 18, 2005). "Death Spotlights Old
Circumcision Rite". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
Retrieved 2006-11-22. Metzizah b’peh — loosely translated as oral
suction — is the part of the circumcision ceremony where the mohel
removes the blood from the baby’s member; these days the removal of
the blood is usually done using a sterilized glass tube, instead of
with the mouth, as the
^ a b c d Gesundheit, B.; et al. (August 2004). "Neonatal Genital
Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 Infection After Jewish Ritual
Circumcision: Modern Medicine and Religious Tradition" (PDF).
Pediatrics. 114 (2): e259–e263. doi:10.1542/peds.114.2.e259.
ISSN 1098-4275. PMID 15286266. Retrieved 2006-06-28.
^ "Another Jewish baby has contracted herpes through bris".
^ Staff (8 June 2012) Should extreme Orthodox Jewish circumcision be
illegal? The Week, Retrieved 30 June 2012
^ "NYC, Orthodox
Jews in talks over ritual after herpes cases".
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-06-17. Retrieved
^ "Lawsuit Unites Jewish Groups". collive.com. Oct 24, 2012. Retrieved
^ "City Urges Requiring Consent for Jewish Rite". nytimes.com. June
12, 2012. Retrieved 2013-02-01.
^ "Assault on Bris Milah Unites Jewish Communities".
CrownHeights.info. October 25, 2012.
^ "Editorial & Opinion". The Jewish Week. Archived from the
original on November 20, 2006. Retrieved 2012-04-25.
^ Divine Law in Human Hands.
^ "The Chasam Sofer's ruling on Metzitzah Be-peh".
onthemainline.blogspot.com. April 16, 2012.
^ Sdei Chemed vol.8 page 238
^ "Kuntres Hamiliuim". Dhengah.org. Archived from the original on
2007-09-27. Retrieved 2012-04-25.
^ "The Making of Metzitzah". Tradition. Retrieved 2014-05-02.
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-02-22. Retrieved
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-02-22. Retrieved
Circumcision Ritual Carries
Herpes Risk". My.webmd.com.
Archived from the original on September 20, 2005. Retrieved
^ a b Newman, Andy (August 26, 2005). "City Questions Circumcision
Ritual After Baby Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved
^ Clarke, Suzan (June 21, 2006). "State offers new guidelines on
oral-suction circumcision". The Journal News. Archived from the
original on 2006-07-06. Retrieved 2006-06-28.
^ Nussbaum Cohen, Debra (September 23, 2005). "City: Brit Case To Bet
Din". The Jewish Week. Archived from the original on 2006-11-20.
^ Nussbaum Cohen, Debra (February 23, 2006). "Controversy rages in New
York over circumcision practice". The Jewish Ledger. Archived from the
original on April 29, 2006. Retrieved 2006-11-23.
Circumcision Protocol Regarding the Prevention of Neonatal Herpes
Transmission". Department of Health, New York State. November 2006.
Archived from the original on February 5, 2007. Retrieved 2006-11-23.
The person performing metzizah b'peh must do the following: Wipe
around the outside of the mouth thoroughly, including the labial folds
at the corners, with a sterile alcohol wipe, and then discard in a
safe place. Wash hands with soap and hot water for 2-6 minutes. Within
5 minutes before metzizah b'peh, rinse mouth thoroughly with a
mouthwash containing greater than 25% alcohol (for example, Listerine)
and hold the rinse in mouth for 30 seconds or more before discarding
^ Novello, Antonia C. (May 8, 2006). "Dear
Rabbi Letter". Department
of Health, New York State. Archived from the original on February 18,
2007. Retrieved 2006-11-23. The meetings have been extremely helpful
to me in understanding the importance of metzizah b'peh to the
continuity of Jewish ritual practice, how the procedure is performed,
and how we might allow the practice of metzizah b'peh to continue
while still meeting the Department of Health's responsibility to
protect the public health. I want to reiterate that the welfare of the
children of your community is our common goal and that it is not our
intent to prohibit metzizah b'peh after circumcision, rather our
intent is to suggest measures that would reduce the risk of harm, if
there is any, for future circumcisions where metzizah b'peh is the
customary procedure and the possibility of an infected mohel may not
be ruled out. I know that successful solutions can and will be based
on our mutual trust and cooperation.
^ Susan Donaldson James (March 12, 2012). "Baby Dies of
Circumcision By Orthodox Jews". abcnews.go.com.
^ Rubin LG, Lanzkowsky P. Cutaneous neonatal herpes simplex infection
associated with ritual circumcision. Pediatric Infectious Diseases
Journal. 2000. 19(3) 266-267.
^ Distel R, Hofer V, Bogger-Goren S, Shalit I, Garty BZ. Primary
genital herpes simplex infection associated with Jewish ritual
Israel Medical Association Journal. 2003 Dec;5(12):893-4
Archived October 21, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
^ Halperin, Mordechai (Winter 2006). Translated by Lavon, Yocheved.
"Metzitzah B'peh Controversy: The View from Israel". Jewish Action.
Orthodox Union. 67 (2): 25, 33–39. Archived from the original on
March 6, 2012. Retrieved February 15, 2007. The mohel brings the
baby’s organ into his mouth immediately after the excision of the
foreskin and sucks blood from it vigorously. This action lowers the
internal pressure in the tissues of the organ, in the blood vessels of
the head of the organ and in the exposed ends of the arterioles that
have just been cut. Thus, the difference between the pressure in the
blood vessels in the base of the organ and the pressure in the blood
vessels at its tip is increased. This requirement has deep religious
significance as well as medical benefits....Immediately after incising
or injuring an artery, the arterial walls contract and obstruct, or at
least reduce, the flow of blood. Since the arterioles of the orlah, or
the foreskin, branch off from the dorsal arteries (the arteries of the
upper side of the organ), cutting away the foreskin can result in a
temporary obstruction in these dorsal arteries. This temporary
obstruction, caused by arterial muscle contraction, continues to
develop into a more enduring blockage as the stationary blood begins
to clot. The tragic result can be severe hypoxia (deprivation of the
supply of blood and oxygen) of the glans penis.28 If the arterial
obstruction becomes more permanent, gangrene follows; the baby may
lose his glans, and it may even become a life-threatening situation.
Such cases have been known to occur. Only by immediately clearing the
blockage can one prevent such clotting from happening. Performing
metzitzah immediately after circumcision lowers the internal pressure
within the tissues and blood vessels of the glans, thus raising the
pressure gradient between the blood vessels at the base of the organ
and the blood vessels at its distal end—the glans as well as the
excised arterioles of the foreskin, which branch off of the dorsal
arteries. This increase in pressure gradient (by a factor of four to
six!) can resolve an acute temporary blockage and restore blood flow
to the glans, thus significantly reducing both the danger of
immediate, acute hypoxia and the danger of developing a permanent
obstruction by means of coagulation. How do we know when a temporary
blockage has successfully been averted? When the “blood in the
further reaches [i.e., the proximal dorsal artery] is extracted,” as
Rambam has stated.
^ "Metzitza Be'Peh - Halachic Clarification Regarding Metzitza Be'Peh,
RCA Clarifies Halachic Background to Statement of March 1, 2005".
Rabbis.org. Retrieved 2012-04-25.
^ The book was originally published in German, Die Ausübung der
Mezizo, Frankfurt a.M. 1906; It was subsequently translated into
Hebrew, reprinted in
Jerusalem in 1966 under the title "Mitzvas
Hametzitzah" and appended to the back of Dvar Sinai, a book written by
the author's grandson, Sinai Adler.
^ New York, NY - City Approves Metzitzah B’Peh Consent Form (full
video NYC DOH debate), Vosizneias.com, Published September 13, 2012
^ New York - Rabbis Say They’ll Defy Law On Metzitzah B’peh,
Vosizneias.com, Published September 2, 2012
^ Grynbaum, Michael M. (9 September 2015). "New York City Health Board
Repeals Rule on Consent Forms for
Circumcision Ritual" – via
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Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn, Bris Milah Mesorah Publications Ltd, 1985,
Israel Reisner, On the conversion of adoptive and
patrilineal children Archived 2010-11-27 at the Wayback Machine.,
Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, 1988
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^ Maimonides, Moses; Pines, Schlomo (trans.) (1963). "Guide to the
Perplexed. Part III. Chapter XLIX". The University of Chicago
^ 2nd commandment
^ Boyarin, Daniel. "'This We Know to Be the Carnal Israel':
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(Spring, 1992), 474-506.
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Chabad.org's Brit Milah: The Covenant of Circumcision
Jewish Encyclopedia's entry for Circumcision
Jewish Virtual Library's
Circumcision - Brit Milah
The Laws of Brit Milah by
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
History and prevalence
Ethical and legal aspects