Brit Milah literally means “Covenant of Circumcision”. The Jewish community has practiced it for more than 3500 years. This ceremony began as a covenant between G-D and Abraham (who was 99 years old at the time) to circumcise himself and all of his offspring as a physical representation that they would forever be devoted to G-D. In return, G-D promised Abraham that he would become exceedingly fertile and be the “father of a multitude of nations” and that G-D would continue to be the G-D of Abraham’s offspring.

Brit Milah is the first commandment G-D gave Abraham and can be considered the foundation stone of Judaism. Although one is traditionally considered Jewish if his or her mother is Jewish, the act of circumcision became an outwardly identifying sign of a boy’s attachment to the Jewish people. According to tradition, if a male is not circumcised he is still Jewish but he is spiritually “karet-cut off’ from the Jewish people in the world to come.

The Brit Milah ceremony is properly performed on the eighth day of a Jewish male’s life. As written in Genesis 17:12:

And throughout the generations every male among you shall be circumcised at the age of eight days.

It is important to note that in biblical times there was no concept of “zero” and that the Hebrew calendar considers the day a child is born as the first day. Therefore the eighth day is one week following the birth of the child according to the modern secular calendar. Additionally, in the Hebrew calendar, a day begins at sundown. A child born in the evening would therefore be circumcised eight days later according to the secular calendar.

It is the father’s obligation to fulfill the circumcision commandment for his son. If this is not done then tradition holds that the community (through a rabbinical court called the beit din) is responsible to fulfill this commandment. The child would ultimately have the responsibility, if not done earlier, once he turns 13 and traditionally becomes a man.

Certified Mohel-Howard Weinberg MD