The tradition is to designate a chair for Elijah the Prophet, the “Angel of the Covenant,” at every circumcision. Many synagogues have an ornamental chair for this purpose. Some have the custom that the sandek, the one holding the child on his lap during the circumcision, sits on this chair. Others use a chair that is wide enough for both the sandek and Elijah.
The custom in most communities is for the chair to be positioned from east to west, with the sandek , the one holding the child on his lap during the circumcision, facing west.
For thousands of years, the Jewish nation has been oppressed in many ways. When tyrannical monarchies and governments wished to attack Judaism, one of the first Divine commandments they banned was ritual circumcision. For example, edicts against circumcision were in effect under the rule of the Syrian Greeks in the Hanukkah story, and more recently, under the Soviets.
Earlier, during the regime of King Ahab (740 BCE), the Jews were also forbidden from circumcising their newborn sons. Elijah the Prophet beseeched G‑d, with fervent zeal, that no rain should fall until the decree was abolished.
G‑d said to the prophet, “You always display zeal, and you have displayed zeal now… from now on, Jews will never perform a circumcision without your participation.”
For this reason, at every circumcision, we designate a chair for Elijah the Prophet.
When the child is brought into the area where the circumcision will be performed, the mohel, the ritual circumciser, announces “kvatter,” calling the parents’ messengers to bring the infant from the mother to where the circumcision will be performed. Together, the participants welcome the child with the words, “baruch haba”-“Blessed is he who comes.”
The mohel proclaims:
Happy is the man You choose and bring near to dwell in Your courtyards; we will be satiated with the goodness of Your House, Your Holy Temple.
He continues with several verses describing Elijah’s zeal for G‑d and his reward.
The L‑rd spoke to Moses, saying: Pinehas, the son of Elazar [the High Priest], the son of Aaron the [High] Priest, has turned My wrath away from the children of Israel when he displayed anger among them in My behalf, so that I did not wipe out the children of Israel in My anger. Therefore say: I grant him My covenant of peace.
One of the attendees is given the honor of placing the baby on the chair of Elijah as the mohel chants, “This is the seat of Elijah…” The mohel also asks that Elijah stand to his right and protect him, so nothing will go wrong during the circumcision:
This is the Seat of Elijah the Prophet, may he be remembered for good. For Your deliverance I hope, O L‑rd. I have hoped for Your deliverance, L‑rd, and I have performed Your commandments. Elijah, angel of the Covenant, here is yours before you; stand at my right and support me. I rejoice in Your word, like one who finds great spoil. Those who love Your Torah have abounding peace, and there is no stumbling for them. Happy is the man You choose and bring near to dwell in Your courtyards; we will be satiated with the goodness of Your House, Your Holy Temple.