Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
September 27, 2004 – Number 5765-1
Brit Milah I – Introduction.
There are only three Mitzvot recorded in the book of Berayshit/Genesis. The first is the commandment to have children. The second is the commandment to circumcise our children and the third is the command that forbids the sciatic nerve in an animal for human consumption. This is from the story of Jacob wresting with the angel. We see that Brit Milah is one of the oldest rituals that exist in the Torah. After Abraham circumcises himself and his thirteen-year-old son, Ishmael, Abraham is told to circumcise all male children on the eighth day after birth. This is a Mitzvah that has been observed from that time until our own. Circumcision remains the most basic connection we have to G-d and to our faith.Circumcision is called “Milah” in Hebrew. A Jewish ritual circumcision is called a “Brit Milah” that is, a Circumcision that is connected to a covenant, the earliest connection we have with G-d. It is said that Israelite women circumcised their children in Egypt, before the exodus, even though they knew the baby would soon be thrown into the Nile. No matter how far a family may stray from the Jewish path, circumcision remains as the ritual that binds us all. There has been much written in recent years about the benefits of circumcision versus the complications. The arguments have been serious on both sides. As far as Judaism is concerned, the reason we perform the surgery has little to do with medical advise. We circumcise our male children because it is the command of our Creator. It is the sign of the two relationships we have with G-d, the first is the promise made with Abraham, and the second is the promise our ancestor’s made at Sinai. It is also important to know that it is not the surgery that is important. The surgery can be performed on any male child. Brit Milah, the circumcision that is the sign of the Covenant has to be performed in a proper manner for the purpose of bringing that child into the Covenant. Brit Milah does not make a child Jewish. A child is Jewish because of their birth. Brit Milah testifies that the person lives under the obligations that come with the Covenant. It is done to the organ of generation to symbolize that just as life goes on from one generation to another, so too is the covenant passed down from one generation to the next. Brit Milah is not just a cut made on the outer flesh of a child, but it is symbolic of the change in heart that goes with it. It represents the commitment of the child, and the parents of the child to be educated and raised according to Jewish Tradition. It is this symbolism of commitment to Torah and faith that separates the Circumcision from a Brit Milah.A Brit Milah always takes place on the eighth day after birth. The day of the birth counts as the first day (remember a Jewish “day” begins at sunset the night before). The ritual is done during the day and not at night. This was probably due to the better light that was available during the day rather than to rely on oil light or candles. A Brit Milah is never done prior to the eighth day. The ceremony can be delayed after the eighth day for medical reasons or if we have to wait for an expert to perform the surgery. It is the responsibility of the father of the baby to arrange for the Brit Milah, but if, for any reason, he will not fulfil the obligation, than any other family member can step in. If the child is not circumcised at all, than it becomes the child’s responsibility after the child turns 13 years-old. Brit Milah is for male children only. There is no “female circumcision” in Judaism.There are three parts to the Brit Milah ceremony. The surgery. The naming and the celebration afterwards.
Next week: Brit Milah II – The surgery