A Jew is commanded to circumcise his son on the eighth day after
his birth, when his faculty of reason is not yet developed. This aspect
signifies that a Jew is bound and committed to G-d at the earliest opportunity,
in an absolute and all comprehensive way that transcends his reason and
By bringing a child into the covenant in the proper way, we are
giving him an excellent start. Circumcision is the eternal symbol of the Jew's
willingness to overcome the desires of his physical body to the will of G-d. It
is meant to elevate him to the level of a G-d loving, G-d fearing human being -
one who places morality above the yearnings of the flesh. Through Bris
Milah, a boy identifies as a Jew at the source of life, forever linked to
the source of all life.
The second mitzvah in the Torah is: "...every male among
you shall be circumcised...it shall be sign of the covenant between Me and you.
He that is eight days old among you shall be circumcised". (Genesis
The performance of Bris Milah is one of the most sacred
rituals in Jewish life. Bris Milah is the tie that forever binds a
Jewish boy to his Creator. This special sign has distinguished the Jew from
among the nations ever since our father Abraham circumcised himself and his
household - at G-d's command - when he was ninety nine years old. (Ibid.
When Ishmael, Abraham's son, entered the covenant, he has already
reached the age of thirteen (ibid. 17:25) - fully capable of understanding the
divine command. He was proud of his decision to submit rationally to G-d's
command. Therefore, his acceptance of Bris Milah was limited to his own
reason. Isaac, on the other hand, was born later and was circumcised when he was
eight days old (ibid. 21:14), an infant with no understanding whatsoever.
Postponing a Bris:
The Mohel (trained person performing the circumcision)
should determine that the child is in perfect health. Extreme care must be taken
not to circumcise a child if there is even a remote possibility that the child
is not strong enough, for danger to human life overrides all other
considerations. Moreoever, circumcision can be performed later, but it is
impossible to restore life.
We know the ruling of the Tzemach Tzedek (third Rebbe in
the Chabad dynasty) regarding a child whose skin is too red - even when in
doubt, we must wait until seven days after he returns to his normal color. The
Rebbe instructed that when a child is jaundiced, we must wait until seven days
after he returns to his normal skin complexion. He added: "It is possible to
postpone a Bris; it is not possible to bring even one Jewish soul back
If the infant is in good health, it is forbidden to defer the
mitzvah for any consideration, even to have the Bris on a more
auspicious day and the like.
In the case of twins, the Bris must be done for even one
child as soon as he reaches full health and for the second child whenever he
becomes healthy and strong, even if they will not be at the same time.
Vach Nacht - Awake Night:
It is customary for the father to stay awake the night before the
Bris - in close proximity to the infant - and learn Torah. This night
is called "Vach Nacht" (awake night).
Young children are brought to the infant the night before the
Bris, to recite the Shema and other prayers. This serves as a
protection for the infant.
Day of the Bris:
On the eighth day following the child's birth, the Bris
is performed. For example, if a child is born Sunday (from Saturday Sunset
through Sunday until sunset) the Bris is held the following Sunday.
This applies even if the eighth day occurs on Shabbat or a major
festival (providing the birth is not by caesarean section). If the Bris
is delayed (due to any reason), then one is not allowed to circumcise on Shabbat
or Yom Tov and it should take place at the first opportunity on any other
day (Talmud, Shabbat, 132a).
One should not invite people to a Bris; merely inform
them of the time and place. This is because it would be improper for someone to
decline an invitation to an event where Elijah the Prophet is present.
The day of the Bris is regarded as an extra joyous day,
not just for the parents, but also for the Sandek and
Time of the Bris:
"Speedy people hasten to perform mitzvot" (Talmud,
Pesachim 4a). The circumcision should be held in the early morning as a
sign of our eagerness to do G-d's will. However, it can take place any time
during the daytime and must never take place before sunrise or at nightime.
Since milah is best accompanied by rejoicing (as cited in
several places regarding the rejoicing at a Bris), this supercedes the
requirement that "speedy people hasten to perform mitzvot". As we see
from experience that the degree of rejoicing depends upon the number of people
attending and sometimes there is even sadness whe some are unable to attend.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe in Igros Kodesh, Vol 4, p 144).
Whenever the Bris takes place, it is a very special
occasion and at the appointed times family and friends joyfully gather - in the
presence of a minyan (ten men over bar mitzvah) if possible.
The assembled at a Bris should stand - if possible -
during the circumcision.
For Kvater (those who bring the child to the room where
the Bris is held) usually a married or engaged couple is chosen. The
woman takes the child from his mother's arms and in turn hands him to the man
who brings the child into the room. The child is then placed on the special
chair designated for Elijah.
It is a Jewish custom to refrain from having a pregnant woman as
Kvatterin. On the other hand, tradition has it that giving the
Kvater to a childless couple confers upon them a special blessing that
they conceive and have children of their own.
Elijah the Prophet:
At every Bris, Elijah the Prophet is an honored guest.
Long ago a king of Israel - under treacherous influences - abolished
circumcision. Elijah cried out to G-d that Israel had forsaken His precious
covenant. G-d thereupon instructed him to be present and to witness all
circumcisions. Elijah refused to attend any Bris unless G-d forgave all
who were present for their transgressions. G-d promised to do so. For this
reason at every Bris we designate the chair in honor of Elijah by
placing the child on the chair and the Mohel reciting: "This is the
chair of Elijah the Prophet".
Subsequently the father places his son on the lap of the
The Sandek - the one who holds the child during the
circumcision - should be a person held in great esteem by the family and the
It is customary not to honor the same individual as
sandek for siblings. Even if a father is the sandek for his
own child, he should do so only once - for one son. This does not apply to the
local rabbi, who can be honored as sandek for more than one child of
the same parents (the Rama).
It was related by Rabbi Moshe Marazov that the previous Rebbe
(1880-1950) served as sandek for two of his brothers. This was after
the Rebbe Rashab (1860-1920) explained to his father "when does this rule apply?
When it is done as an honor for the sandek. But if this would result in
honor for the infant, then the same sandek can serve for two
[Apparently it is likened to offering the incense in the Temple.
Which stipulates that only newcomers may offer the incense. But that rule
applies specifically to ordinary Kohanim (priests); but the Kohen
Gadol (high priest) may offer incense whenever he wishes] (Talmud Yoma
It is proper for the Sandek to wear a Talis
during the Bris. It once happened that the previous Rebbe went to
a bris in order to serve as sandek; he ordered his
tallis to be taken along and then put it on without a blessing (this
was several hours after he had prayed). The Rebbe would do likewise.
The Torah obligates a father to circumcise his son. Most fathers
are not qualified to perform the procedure and a Mohel generally
performs the Bris. The Mohel chosen to perform the Bris
Milah should be competent and a G-d fearing Torah observant Jew. The
practice of having a surgeon circumcise a child is not halachically
sound and such a child still requires the proper Bris performed by a
Mohel. Even a Jewish surgeon needs the appropriate training to qualify
as a Mohel.
It is proper for the Mohel to wear a Talis
during the Bris.
Following the circumcision, blessings are recited, at which time
the child receives his Hebrew name.
The Festive Meal:
A Seudas Mitzvah (festive meal) follows the
It is customary to light candles in honor of this very joyous
There is a Chassidic custom that during the course of the meal,
the father delivers a Chassidic discourse relating to the subject of a
Bris. Today, most recite the discourse "Be'etzem Hayom".
When present at a Bris, the Previous Rebbe would donate
money on behalf of the infant to a yeshiva. He would say that it was a
down payment for the child's tuition (for when he gets older). Based on the
above, in many circles it has become customary to give money to a Jewish school
which the infant will attend when he gets older, as a down payment for
General Laws and Customs
It is a mitzvah for a father to circumcise his son,
(Talmud, Kiddushin, 29a) or to appoint another Jew as his agent. If one
was not circumcised as an infant, he is responsible to have himself circumcised
upon becoming Bar Mitzvah.
An infant who is born without the foreskin is not considered
circumcised until a Mohel draws a drop of blood and says the
If the circumcision was performed at night or before the infant
reached eight days old, or the infant was not in perfect health during the
circumcision, the infant is considered as if he were born without the foreskin
(see above) (Shach on Yoreh Deah 262).
Once one has appointed a Mohel to perform a Bris
it is forbidden to retract and invite another one unless the original one could
not perform the Bris.
The knife that is used for circumcision should have a two edge
blade thus avoiding using the wrong edge in error and thereby putting the infant
in danger (Taamei minhagim 105b).
The father should stand nearby the Mohel during
circumcision, to indicate that he is his agent.
If a Bris is being performed on an older child or an
adult, it should only be performed under localized anesthesia, in a way that it
temporarily removes all sensation of pain, but does not put the patient to sleep
and therefore he remains in full possession of all his faculties (and thus
remains fully obligated in the mitzvah).
When circumcising someone for conversion, since
this Milah is not an independant mitzvah, but merely a
prerequisite to the conversion, all opinions would agree that he may be put to
Procedure at a Bris:
When the child is brought into the synagogue (or room where the
Bris takes place), everyone present recites: "Blessed is he who has
entered." The Mohel then recites: "Happy is the man You choose...and
the L-rd spoke...Pinchas ben Elazar... My covenant of Peace...your Holy
When the child is placed upon the Seat of Eliljah the
Mohel says: "This is the Seat of Elijah..."
Right before the Bris the Mohel recites the following blessing:
"Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with
His commandments and commanded us concerning circumcision."
Upon the foreskin being removed, the father recites the following
blessing: "Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who has
sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to enter him into the
Covenant of Avraham Avinu." Those present respond: "Just as he entered
into the Covenant, so may he enter into Torah, into marriage and into good
After the Bris someone is appointed and takes the cup of
wine and says: "Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who creates
the fruit of the vine."
And he continues: "Our G-d and G-d of our fathers, preserve this
child...and his name is Israel shall be called..."
Many have the custom of dipping a pacifier in the cup of wine (or
any other clean sterile object) and giving it to the baby while saying the
words: "and I said to you: You shall live through your blood; and I say to you:
You shall live through your blood."
A child is given to drink of the wine over which the blessing has
been made or he (who recited the blessings) should drink it himself. Then
the Mohel and the father of the infant recite the following prayer:
"Sovereign of the universe..."
The Mohel then says: "May He who blessed..."
It is customary that toward the end of the "Grace after Meals" we
recite special passages of blessing beginning with Harachamon for