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The Circumcision Ceremony in a Nutshell

The Circumcision Ceremony in a Nutshell

The Brit Milah ceremony Step by Step

Photo: Marc Asnin
Photo: Marc Asnin

The Commandment

G‑d commanded the Jewish people (Leviticus 12:2), “On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” The act of circumcision, marking the completion of the body, is a human act. This teaches us that our spiritual, emotional, moral and ethical perfection requires human effort. G‑d cannot do it for us.

There are many partnerships into which a person will enter during his or her lifetime. Most of them, at some point, will come to a natural end, or will be broken by one of the parties. The brit, ritual circumcision, is a symbol of our partnership with G‑d. Etched in the flesh of our physical bodies, the covenant will never end or be forgotten.

For more information see Why Circumcise?

Time and Location

The brit is performed anytime between sunrise and sunset on the eighth day from when the child was born.

If health complications delay the circumcision, it is performed immediately after the stable health of the child is confirmed.

Traditionally, it is preferable to perform the circumcision at the synagogue, following morning prayers.

For more information see The Day and Time of the Circumcision

The Messengers – Kvatters

The mother brings the infant to the location where the circumcision will be performed.

Then, a designated female and male serve as messengers to bring the baby from the mother’s arms to the side of the room where the circumcision will be performed. These messengers are called kvatters.

The kvatters are usually a husband-and-wife team.

The mother hands her baby to the female messenger, who is dressed in her finest clothing. She in turn hands him over to the male messenger, who, wearing his tallit (prayer shawl) carries the child to where the circumcision will take place.

When the circumcision is complete, the kvatters return the infant to his mother in the same manner.

For more information see The Parents’ Messengers – The “Kvatter”

Chair of Elijah

The tradition is to designate a chair for Elijah, the “Angel of the Covenant,” at every circumcision. Many synagogues have a designated ornamental chair for this purpose.

One of the attendees is given the honor of placing the baby on the chair of Elijah as the mohel, ritual circumciser, chants, “This is the seat of Elijah…” He also asks that Elijah stand to his right and protect him, so nothing will go wrong during the circumcision.

For more information see The Chair of Elijah and Welcoming the Baby

Father’s Representative – The Sandek

One of the participants at the brit is honored with lifting the infant from the chair of Elijah and handing him to the father. The father, in turn, places the baby on the lap of the sandek, his representative, who will hold the baby during the circumcision.

After the sandek sits down, his hands are sanitized with alcohol. He is shown by the mohel, ritual circumciser, how to sit, and is instructed to refrain from any movement during the circumcision.

For more information see The One Who Holds the Baby – The “Sandek”

The Circumcision—Brit

The father of the infant stands next to the mohel. The father picks up the surgical knife and hands it to the mohel, stating that he appoints the mohel as his messenger to perform the circumcision. The knife is extremely sharp, and double edged, in order to cause the least pain possible.

The mohel recites the 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.”

Then he begins the circumcision.

The father recites the 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 Abraham our father.”

Those present respond, “Just as he has entered into the Covenant, so may he enter into Torah, into marriage, and into good deeds.”

For more information see The Circumcision Procedure and Blessings

Naming the Child

There is a second sandek, called the “standing sandek,” who holds the infant as mohel recites the blessings and names the child. The blessings are recited over a cup of wine, and twice during the naming, the mohel will dip his pinky into the wine, and place tiny drops in the baby’s mouth.

For more information see Naming the Newly Circumcised Baby

Festive Meal

The community attends a festive meal in honor of the circumcision. The meal is held in order to extend the joyous occasion.

It is traditional that all who participate in the festive meal should wash their hands and eat bread. The meal may consist of meat, fish, or dairy, and wine should always be served.

At the festive meal, it is customary to give charity and sing spiritual melodies. The father of the infant gives a short talk about the significance of ritual circumcision.

At the end of the Grace After Meals is recited, including six blessings specifically for the brit, bestowing good health and good wishes upon baby, parents, sandek and mohel.

For more information see The Festive Meal Following the Circumcision

This is a concise basic guide of what transpires at a circumcision (though some details may vary from community to community). For more details, and many more customs and their sources, see The Brit Milah Handbook. In addition, please see Additional Sephardic Brit Milah Customs.

By Staff
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Circumcision is the first commandment given by G-d to Abraham, the first Jew, and is central to Judaism.
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