Many have the custom not to formally invite people to a brit milah (circumcision). Instead, they simply make the time and place known, without inviting anyone in particular to attend.

This quirk in etiquette is based on the Talmudic teaching that one who does not join a festive meal celebrating a mitzvah is “ostracized by Heaven.”1 Many commentaries (including Rabbi Moshe Isserlis in his glosses on the Code of Jewish Law) explain that the prime example of this is the festive meal that follows the circumcision.2 Now, this only applies to one who actively declines to join. To spare their friends from accidentally falling into this category, people are careful not to issue invites that could possibly be declined.3

Mitigating Factors

Some qualify the concept of being “ostracized by Heaven” as only applying to guests who are actually present at the circumcision but then refuse to take part in the meal, which demonstrates a disdain for the mitzvah. On the other hand, failure to attend is not as problematic.4

According to others, neither is there a problem if there is already a minyan of 10 adult Jewish males attending the festive meal.5 There are also allowances if attending would prevent one from praying with a minyan,6 or if one would incur a significant monetary loss by missing out on work time.7

Yet, if one cannot attend the meal, some opine that he should at least eat some of the food served.8

Weddings and Other Mitzvah Meals

The common custom is only to refrain from inviting to a brit milah, as this is the example cited in the Code of Jewish Law.9 However, the open-ended language of the Talmud implies that this also applies to other celebrations, including weddings.10 And indeed, many are of the opinion that one should also be careful not to invite to a wedding or similar mitzvah meal.11

Yet, most people do send wedding invitations with no compunction. One reason is that wedding invitations, which are issued en masse and delivered by mail, are not necessarily considered a sincere personal invitation that would trigger being “ostracized by Heaven.”12 This is especially so nowadays, when people often send invitations without expecting every person on their mailing list to attend.13

Conversely, invitations to a circumcision, which are last-minute and tend to be only to people who can actually attend, are bona fide invitations.

Mitzvah to Attend

On the positive side, remember that it is a mitzvah to attend weddings and brit milah celebrations, so if you can, go!

Indeed, the rabbis encourage all to attend, even if they weren't invited. For attending a brit is like greeting the Divine Presence.14 One receives an “additional soul,” just like on Shabbat.15 And it is an opportune time to pray for our needs, as all our sins are forgiven.16

Elijah Will Be There

Our sages tell us that Elijah the Prophet comes to every brit milah to testify in favor of the Jewish people, witnessing that we have not abandoned our covenant with G‑d. Think about it. Knowing that Elijah will be in attendance, who would forgo the opportunity to attend as well?

On the subject of Elijah, let us conclude with a prayer that G‑d finally fulfill the verse in Malachi, “Lo, I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the L‑rd,”17 to herald the arrival of Moshiach. May it be speedily in our days!