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Does the Baby Feel Excruciating Pain During the Circumcision?

Does the Baby Feel Excruciating Pain During the Circumcision?

The traditional Jewish brit milah, the clamp and the baby

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Photo: Marc Asnin
Photo: Marc Asnin

Hi Rabbi,

It’s the night before my son’s circumcision and I cannot sleep. I know my child is not the first to be circumcised, but I am worried about the lack of anesthesia. Will he feel much pain? Will he be traumatized?

Answer:

I can relate to your worries. It is normal for a mother to worry! In fact, I would be quite disconcerted if you were not worried about your newborn’s health and wellbeing.

Perhaps you can take comfort in the knowledge that circumcision, known as brit milah, has been performed in this manner for over 3700 years, and that it is incumbent upon the mohel, the expert Jewish circumciser, to perform the procedure in a way that will minimize your son’s pain and discomfort.

The Traditional Circumcision

When the mohel performs the circumcision he makes a swift motion with an izmel – a traditional scalpel used for brit milah – which is intended to minimize the pain and discomfort.

Those who stand close to the mohel will notice that the infant usually starts to cry as soon as the diaper is opened, and stops crying as soon as it’s closed. In fact, during the newborn stage, many infants cry anytime they are changed or bathed. The cry is not necessarily pain-related. Typically the infant is calm as the blessings are made over a cup of wine and his Jewish name is announced.

It’s interesting to note that the traditional circumcision is performed on the eighth day of the child’s life when his clotting factor has fully developed, which is optimal for healing. At the same time, the nerve endings are not completely developed which lessens the infant’s discomfort.

The traditional brit milah does not involve anesthesia, as we do not want to cause the possibility of additional complications. Ansthesia can also have negative side effects in such young children.

All said, the brit milah is performed at the healthiest time, using the best method, and it has been documented that complications from a traditional circumcision are extremely rare.1

The Painful Way

Hospital and non-traditional circumcisions often involve use of a clamp. This method is extremely painful and traumatic to the child as the clamp actually crushes the skin tissue prior to severing it. This painful method is prohibited by Jewish law and does not fulfill the Biblical requirement of circumcision.

The FDA has also issued a warning in regards to using a clamp for circumcision as it can lead to laceration, hemorrhage, penile amputation, or urethral damage.

The Eternal Covenant

Think about the importance of the brit milah which has been observed faithfully for thousands of years, ever since our forefather Abraham circumcised himself at the age of 99.

I am sure when the circumcision is over, and you hold your dear son, you will realize the discomfort is short lived but the results are forever: your child will have entered an eternal covenant with G‑d.

Mazal Tov! May we share only joyous occasions!

See The Ritual Circumciser - The “Mohel” from The Handbook to Circumcision - Brit Milah.

Footnotes
1.

See studies from Lander J, Brady-Fryer B, Metcalfe JB, Nazarali S, S. M.; and Shechet J, Fried SM, Tanenbaum B. J Am Med Assoc 1998; 279: 1170.

Rabbi Levi Heber is a certified mohel.
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Anonymous Topanga, CA January 29, 2016

just one swift motion with an izmel? I am wondering if the frenulum of prepuce of penis is affected by circumcision. That's the elastic band of tissue on the ventral side that is similar to the band of skin under one's tongue. Is the "swift motion with an izmel" done to the side without the frenulum? Is there another swift motion that cuts the frenulum? If the frenulum is not affected, then it is not included in "healthy part of their body" mentioned by Tal in Toronto. Since there is a lot going on in the frenulum, whether it is affected would affect one's definition of "healthy." My guess is that the frenulum is not cut by the ritual of circumcision, since after all it is a ritual, and Rabbi Moshe David Tendler is quoted in Wikipedia, saying, "It is a biblical prohibition to cause anyone unnecessary pain". Reply

Tal Toronto May 9, 2013

To Chana and Eliezer Your point of view is entirely arbitrary and based on belief, not fact. I did not choose nor do I want to be one with god or the jewish faith. That is my choice. All that has happened is that I have lost a very erogenous part of my genitals that I did not want to have cut off! It's my body, it's my choice. And vaccines are NOT the same as circumcision. A vaccine is a biological preparation that improves immunity to a particular disease. A disease that can and does kill infants globally such as the flu. Circumcision in no way improves one's immunity to any disease. Vaccines and circumcision are not comparable. Ask yourself this question; If you were to be vaccinated, and part of the vaccine was to remove a part of your body, would you go through with it? No, you would not. Do you know why? Because no one wants to have healthy parts of their body removed. You have no right to remove parts of someone else's body. Circumcision is sickening and I resent my parents and the jewish faith. Reply

Nora Monroe, NJ April 30, 2017
in response to Tal:

Sorry to say, but you sound like someone with a giant chip on his shoulder. You seem to have a lot of anger in you, and I'd bet hugely that it involves events in your life other than circumcision. Hair is a healthy part of your body and it is regularly clipped off. So are nails. Maybe you should read some of the articles here explaining the roots of the practice, and read with an open mind. And as far as the vaccine comparison, it has been proven, that although not the reason for it, circumcision does prevent getting some terrible viruses such as HIV and STD's.
Sincerely hope you do more research into the practice, and that it inspires some spiritual growth and peace for your soul.
Hanna Reply

Jocelyn Ruth Krieger Boca raton, Fl May 24, 2012

BRIS MILAH FOR MY SON
Did you feel pain upon your bris, my son?
Then sweet was the taste of wine upon your tongue
filling your entire being with warmth.
Learn the lesson well, my son.
Should any mitzvah give you pain upon its inception
When it is complete your entire being will be filled with joy and peace
Because you are a Jew, my son.
Because du bist ein Yid! Reply

Chana brooklyn, ny February 2, 2012

To Heather, You don't wait for him to choose to get immunizations. You do what's good for him, even if he feels discomfort during and even after the injection. A bris milah is essential for his soul and his connection to G-d. It helps him choose the correct path when he's able to choose. Why deprive him of that connection and protection? Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for Chabad.org February 1, 2012

To Heather The circumcision is performed when a child is still not aware of what is happening. This is because the Jewish connection to G-d is intrinsic -- whether our minds believe in G-d or not, whether our hearts love G-d or not, our souls know G-d. We can join the covenant with G-d even without being consciously aware of Him, because subconsciously we already know Him.

See Why Wait Eight Days for Circumcision, for more about this. Reply

Heather Clegg Austin, TX February 1, 2012

A follow up question Since Abraham was circumcised at the age of 99 and entered into eternal covenant with G-D, can't the baby wait until he's old enough to choose? Why do it when he's a baby? It's his body, shouldn't he be allowed to enter into the covenant of his own free will? Reply

Anonymous Smith October 19, 2017
in response to Heather Clegg:

Because Abraham was commanded to circumcise himself and all males in his household eight days old and older. He just happened to be 99 at the time. getting circumcised as an adult is difficult, requires general anethesia and six weeks of recovery. a newborn it takes 1-3 minutes, they heal in a few days. Reply

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