Contact Us

The Mitzvah of Circumcision (Part II)

The Mitzvah of Circumcision (Part II)

Parshat Vayeira

Advanced Advanced
 Email

The Timing and the Preparations

Click here for Part I of this article—The Reasons, the Significance, the Reward.

The Date

The brit (circumcision) should be performed on the eighth day of the baby's life1 (remember, the Jewish date begins and ends at nightfall!) unless the baby is unwell—in which case it is performed at the first possible opportunity. One should consult with one's doctor and with the mohel (circumciser) in this regard.

If the baby was born in the evening, during the period between sunset and the emergence of three stars, we do not perform the brit until the eighth day counting from the following morning. This is because we are not sure whether that time period (known as bein hashmashot) is considered part of the preceding day or if it is the beginning of the night.

Brit on Shabbat

If the eighth day is a Shabbat, the brit is performed on Shabbat.2

Exceptions:

  • A brit that was delayed for whatever reason.3
  • A baby born via C-section.4
  • A baby that is undergoing conversion.5
  • Some say that a baby that was conceived via modern reproductive techniques such as artificial insemination or IVF6 is not circumcised on Shabbat.7

As explained above, if the baby was born after sunset but before the emergence of three stars, the brit is performed on the eighth day following the next morning. Nevertheless, such a brit does not override the Shabbat; i.e., if a baby is born between sunset and the emergence of stars on Friday evening, the brit is postponed to the following Sunday, nine days later. This is because on the chance that the time of birth is still considered to be part of Friday, the following Shabbat would be the ninth day. And, as explained, a brit which is postponed doesn't override the Shabbat.

The Time

A brit must be performed during the daytime hours. Although any time from sunrise to sunset is acceptable, it is preferable to perform the brit in the morning in order to show enthusiasm for the mitzvah.8 If a larger crowd will come to a brit later in the day, some say it is preferable to postpone it, especially if as a result of the delay one will also have an opportunity to inspire the assembled crowd towards greater devotion to G‑d.9

Before the Brit – To-Do Checklist

  • Find a qualified mohel who will perform a traditional brit with skill and professionalism. Make sure that the mohel will not use a clamp. This device causes unnecessary pain to the baby, and its use is forbidden according to many halachic authorities.10
  • Make a shalom zachor. This is a feast on the baby's first Friday night in this world which celebrates his safe arrival.11
  • Let friends and family know about the brit. It is proper to have a least a minyan (ten Jewish males above the age of Bar Mitzvah) present.12
  • Prepare a post-brit feast. This celebrates the induction of this newest member into the Jewish people.13 The feast should include bread. Some say that it should also include meat and wine.14
  • Decide on the honorees (see below).
  • Decide on the baby's Jewish name.
  • Prepare nice clothes for the baby. It is customary to dress the baby in nice clothes in honor of this mitzvah. Similarly, the parents, mohel, and all those receiving important honors should dress in fine clothes.15
  • Make a vach nacht. The custom is that on the night before a brit, young children come to recite Torah verses by the baby's bedside. In addition, the father stays up the entire night studying Torah (certain parts of the Zohar are recited). Sephardim serve a meal on this night and study these passages in a group; this is called brit Yitzchak. This custom gives the baby extra (spiritual) protection at this auspicious time.16

The Honorees17

  • The sandek holds the baby during the brit. His feet upon which the baby lies are considered to be like an altar of G‑d.18 This is the greatest honor at the ceremony and should preferably be given to a person of extraordinarily good character19 (it is said that the baby has a good chance of growing up to be like his sandek!20). Close relatives may also be honored.21
    a. It is customary for the sandek to immerse in the mikvah before the brit,22 and to receive an aliyah on the Shabbat before the brit and/or on the day of the brit. (The same applies to the father of the baby and the mohel.23)
    b. It is traditional for the sandek to give a substantial gift to the parents and/or the baby.24 In fact, when G‑d was the sandek for Abraham, He gave him the land of Israel as a gift!25
  • The standing sandek holds the baby during the blessing that follows the circumcision and during the naming of the baby.26
  • Mevarech v'notein et hashem—this person recites the blessing that follows the circumcision and gives the baby his name.27
  • Kiseh shel Eliyahu—this person places the baby on the chair which is designated as the "Chair of Elijah the Prophet."
  • Me'al hakiseh—this person picks up the baby from the chair of Elijah.28
  • Kvatterthis is an honor given to a couple. The wife takes the baby from the mother (or from other women who are honored with passing the baby on) and gives him to her husband. He then brings the baby to the mohel. (Other people may pass the baby in between for extra honors.) It is traditional for a woman not to be a kvatter if she is pregnant or if she is a niddah (ritually impure). Some say that the reason for this is that the pregnant woman might be jarred by the sight of the brit ceremony which might harm her (unborn) baby.29 Others say that the reason is that there is only supposed to be one kvatterin (female kvatter) and a pregnant woman is considered to be "two."30
Footnotes
1.

For purposes of ascertaining the date of birth, the baby is considered "born" when his forehead has emerged (Talmud, Niddah 28a). In the case of a breech birth, the key moment is the emergence of a majority of the body (based on Nidah 29a), this means his navel (Otzar Habrit vol. 2, pg. 56, note 17, in the name of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach).

2.

Shabbat 132a, based on the extra word "uvayom" in Leviticus 12:3.

3.

Ibid. 137a. This is because the word "uvayom" is written specifically regarding the eighth day.

4.

Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh De'ah 266:10. The reason for this is that the word "uvayom" is written after the Torah says, "When a woman will conceive and give birth." This is understood to mean that she gives birth via the same route that she conceived.

5.

Based on Code of Jewish Law, ibid. 13. The reason for this is that there is no obligation to circumcise him on the eighth day from birth.

6.

Click here for more information about the halachic permissibility of these procedures.

7.

Otzar Habrit vol. 2, pg. 49.

8.

Code of Jewish Law, ibid. 262:1.

9.

See Sha'arei Halacha U'Minhag vol. 3, pg. 288, and the sources quoted there.

10.

One should not simply have the doctor in the hospital perform the circumcision as a medical procedure, as they do not use halachically acceptable methods, nor is their intention to bring the baby into the covenant of Abraham. Care should be taken to arrange a proper brit, as if it is not done properly it might need to be corrected later.

11.

Rama, Yoreh De'ah 265:12, based on Tosafot d.h. Yeshua Haben, Bava Kamma 80a.

12.

Code of Jewish Law, ibid. 165:6.

13.

Ibid .12. Abraham did this after the brit of his son Isaac (Genesis 21:8 according to Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer 29).

14.

Otzar Habrit vol. 1, pg. 243, based on Magen Avraham 249:6.

15.

See Otzar Habrit vol. 1, pgs. 207, 171, 187, 205.

16.

See Otzar Habrit vol. 1, pg. 163 and on for the sources.

17.

It is possible to add honors by dividing some of the honors below. Consult with the mohel in this regard.

18.

Darkei Moshe, Yoreh De'ah 265:11.

19.

Ibid. 264:3.

20.

Otzar Habrit vol. 1, pg. 198 note 9.

21.

Otzar Habrit vol. 1, pg. 198.

22.

Darkei Moshe ibid.

23.

Levush Orach Chaim, s. 282.

24.

Some say this is to help pay for the expenses of the feast.

25.

Otzar Habrit vol. 1, pg. 206, note 28.

26.

Ibid., pg. 23. See there note 84, that some say that the sitting sandek should also serve as standing sandek.

27.

Ibid. See there that some say that the mohel says these.

28.

Ibid. pg. 212.

29.

Otzar Habrit, vol. 2, pg. 247.

30.

Sha'arei Halacha Uminhag, vol. 3, pg. 281.

Rabbi Aryeh Citron was educated in Chabad yeshivahs in Los Angeles, New York, Israel and Australia. He was the Rosh Kollel of The Shul of Bal Harbour, Florida, and is now an adult Torah teacher in Surfside, Florida. He teaches classes on Talmud, Chassidism, Jewish history and contemporary Jewish law.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
2 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Dan Paris, France October 29, 2012

Thank you for your clarity in explaining this central mitzvah, which has become so controversial and endangered lately. A pleasure to read and follow your articles. Reply

Mark Boca Raton, Fl. November 10, 2011

Mark I would be interested in why God chose the Brit to be done on such a low part of the body? Isn't it almost disrespectful? After all one may not even say God's name in the presence of exposed genitals? Yet the whole ceremony surrounds it? Also since it is covered, how will it remind you of your covenant with God? If it was on a finger or your arm or even a mark on your forehead, it would be a constant reminder? Reply

Related Topics