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Why Wait Eight Days for the Circumcision?

Why Wait Eight Days for the Circumcision?

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On a fundamental level, we circumcise a Jewish baby boy at eight days because that is what G‑d instructs us to do: “And on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.”1

Although the verse itself does not reveal why we are instructed to circumcise specifically on the eighth day, many possible explanations are offered:

The Power of Shabbat Queen

Having the circumcision at eight days guarantees that the baby will experience at least one Shabbat before the circumcision.

The Midrash explains that this is analogous to a king who decreed that any who wish to visit him must first pay their respects to the queen. Shabbat is commonly referred to by the sages and mystics as “the Shabbat queen,” and before entering the covenant with G‑d, the baby needs to first greet the Shabbat queen by experiencing the holiness of at least one Shabbat. This is also the reason why any offerings brought in the Temple needed to be at least eight days old.2

Guaranteeing at least one Shabbat also brings healing to the soul, which has just entered this physical, material world.3

Atonement

Others explain that just as the blood of the offering brings atonement, so too does circumcision. Therefore, just as an animal brought for an offering needs to be at least eight days old,4 at the time of the circumcision, the baby needs to be at least eight days old.5

Health of the Baby

Maimonides explains that we wait eight days so that the child will be strong enough for the circumcision.6

Parents Can Share in the Joy

The Talmud explains that since a woman is considered ritually impure for at least seven days after giving birth to a boy, during which time the couple cannot be physically intimate with each other, we wait eight days in order that the parents not be “mired in sadness” during the joyous occasion.7

Mourning Over Learning

The Talmud tells us that while the baby is in the mother's womb, he is taught the entire Torah. As he enters into the world, an angel causes him to forget all that he learned.8

Based on this, some explain that we wait eight days for the circumcision since in the first seven days the soul is mourning its loss.9

Natural vs. Supernatural

The brit milah (circumcision) is a sign of the eternal covenant and bond between the Jewish people and G‑d, our Creator. Our covenant is suprarational; it does not dissipate in moments when we don’t comprehend why we do what we do. Therefore, the brit milah is a matter of faith; it signifies a bond that is higher than intellect. It is for this reason that we don’t wait to circumcise a child until he is old enough to make his own decisions, but instead circumcise him when his relationship with G‑d transcends intellect.

And it is for this reason, the mystics explain, that the baby is specifically circumcised on the eighth day.

Since G‑d created the world in seven days, there are many matters of Torah and mitzvahs which reflect the number seven. There are seven weeks of the Counting of the Omer, seven years of the Shemittah (Sabbatical year) cycle, and seven shemittot of Yovel (the Jubilee).10 Thus, the natural world is represented by the number seven.

Eight, on the other hand, represents the suprarational and the infinite, that which is beyond the natural order of this world. Therefore, the child is circumcised specifically at eight days, for the child is entering a religion founded upon faith, whose survival is miraculous, and whose potential in the world is infinite.11

Ultimately, we don’t know the true reason why the brit milah is done specifically at eight days. In not telling us the reason, the Torah is showing us that just like the brit milah itself, the eighth day is suprarational.

Footnotes
2.
Opinion of Rabbi Levi in the Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 27.
3.
See Zohar 3:44a;Ohr Hachaim Breishis 2:2 and Vayikra 12:3
5.
See Pirkei D’Rabbi Elzazar 29 and Rabeinu Bechaye on Genesis 17:13
6.
See Midrash Devarim Rabah 6:1; Guide for the Perplexed 3:49.
7.
Talmud, Niddah 31b.
8.
Talmud, Niddah 30b.
9.
Derisha, cited in Taz, Yoreh Deah 265:13.
10.
On the significance of this, see letter by the Lubavitcher Rebbe Is There Any Significance to the Number Seven?
11.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Likkutei Sichot vol. 3, p. 834
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Ralph Arizona April 28, 2017

I don't think anyone knew about the vitamin K or any of the medical things that happen to our bodies in the days of Moshe. All these medical things are absurd. No-one was circumcised while the Hebrew people wandered in the desert for 40 years so all the males had to be circumcised before they could inter into the "Promise land" Let us stay with the Torah and the Mitzvot Reply

jim dallas April 26, 2017

i think maybe the coming-arrival of moshiach is the circumcision of the natural world, we will see! Reply

Perele Shifer Brooklyn April 25, 2017

the body starts to utilize Vitamin K on the 8th day which helps with clotting that helps with healing Reply

Ralph Arizona April 25, 2017

Sun down is the days end and the morrow starts. We go from dark into the light just as G-d started in the dark then created light. Why we are circumcised on the eight day is simple G-d worked for 6 days and rested on the 7th He also ordered us to do the same. Your are born from darkness of the womb to the light of the world you then struggle with life, everything is new, breathing, eating, hearing, smelling, seeing light, recognizing your mother her voice, her smell and you also learn to have waste products and by the 7th day your body is fully functional so on the 8th day you learn one more (pain) and the loving reassurance that the one that brought you into this world will always be there for you just as G-d is always there for us. Reply

Rabbi M Gluck 10952 May 19, 2016

The Sages say "Istakel B'Oreisa Boro Olma" G-d created the world when He looked in the Torah, now the world got created according to the Torah so it’s understandable that on the 8th day will the vitamin level rise in a way to make a healthier and quicker healing for the Bris. Reply

Mark Lyndon Schenectady March 20, 2014

There's nothing medically special about the eighth day. There's nothing medically special about the eighth day, and no other surgery would be scheduled for then. There's a huge difference between seven-day-old babies anyway, depending on their general health, and whether or not they were born prematurely. A good mohel will know when the eighth day is too soon. Reply

Tim Martin livingston, tx September 14, 2012

The medical reason is the reason. What I find amazing is that we sit around and think up these theories that revolve around mystical symbolism while overlooking the most amazing parts of the stories in the Bible. The Vitamin K and Thrombocin ( which is a blood clotter) are the highest in a baby on his eigth day of life. There is no way that could have been medically know at the time, therefore, the fact that it was chosen on the healthiest day for the child leads one to have to believe that the one who created the human body had to have been calling the shots. This is what is amazing about that story. Not theories of mystical number. This is why God chose the eighth day. He does what is best for us, not what helps to make numbers look cooler. Reply

Gary Auld Perth, Australia April 28, 2017
in response to Tim Martin:

I’m with you, Tim.
Two clotting elements are necessary to control bleeding.
• Vitamin K is not formed until the 5th to the 7th day.
• Prothrombin (Thrombocin?) is also necessary. It reaches 30% of normal on 3rd day; peaks at 110% on 8th day; then levels off at 100% of normal.
Did Moses Google it? (Like I did.)
I absolutely agree that we stick with the Bible. But is it a surprise that G-d designed things this way? Just as He designed the “feel good” hormones (endorphin, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine) so He could command the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Reply

Anonymous Camarillo, CA via chabadcamarillo.com September 13, 2012

Re: To Shari It actually depends on where the baby is born. Rabbi Posner is correct that the "day" begins at sundown, but incorrect in assuming that 11 pm would necessarily be after sundown. In most places, this is true year-round. However, there are a few places where sundown can occur after 11 pm during part of the year. In that situation, the answer would be Sunday. However, Monday is normally correct. Reply

tim martin Livingston, texas September 10, 2012

Why wait until the 8th day Perhaps it is because God knew that on the 8th day it was safer for the baby. I am doing some research on this subject. There is an antibody that is produced on the 8th day after birth that keeps a baby from getting infections. If this is true, then it is a medical reason. Reply

Perele Shifer Brooklyn April 27, 2017
in response to tim martin:

yes-Vitamin k is utliized on the 8th day that helps with clotting Reply

Rabbi Menachem Posner for Chabad.org January 26, 2012

To Shari The Jewish day begins at Sundown. Thus, 11 pm on Sunday night is considered to be Monday, and the brit would be held the following Monday Reply

Shari M. Marlboro, NJ January 25, 2012

when to have bris If a baby is born around 11pm on a Sunday night, is the 8th day considered to be following Sunday or should the bris be held on Monday? Reply

Fraida January 30, 2008

Did anyone remember about the medical reasons for it? It is the day on which the vitamin K--which is important for blood clotting-- is highest in the baby's blood, so while one may not call this "the reason" it is definitely a good reason as well. Reply

Stephen Weinstein Camarillo, CA via chabadcamarillo.com November 18, 2007

It is the 8th day for us because it was for Isaac Prior to Abraham, there were no Jews. When Abram became Abraham, he was circumcised as an adult. The first child ever born to a Jew was Isaac. (When Ishmael was born, Abram/Abraham was not yet Jewish, as his mother was not Jewish and we know that he had not yet converted, because he was still uncircumcised.) Genesis says that Isaac, the first child ever born Jewish, was circumcised on the eighth day. So, to this day, we circumcise children born to Jews on the 8th day. Reply

Anonymous TX June 23, 2007

This question was posed in an Embracing Judaism class at my Synagogue. The answer came naturally ...I believe that the eighth day symbolizes the covenant in that there were 6 days of creation, rest on the seventh day. The eighth day is when the cycle starts over...it is the first day, first day of covenant. Very symbolic and beautiful. Reply

anonymous NY, NY June 7, 2007

why not before?????????????? i guess that the reason we don't make the brit before the child is 8 days old is because i don't think he will make it... Reply

Gisele Brooklyn, NY June 7, 2007

What an interesting concept to link this to the Kabbalah, I just assumed that to make a Brit Milah was on the 8th day like Hashem created the world in 6 days and rested the seventh that a Brit had to be at the end of 7 complete days. I also assumed it was this time frame that makes the baby stronger enough to go though this procedure.
Thanks for explaining the root of this special mitzvah that we may take for granted. Reply

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