Berit Mila: A Brief History
More commonly known as a Bris, “Berit Mila” is interpreted as “The Act or Covenant of Circumcision.” This covenant, referred to as early as Genesis 17, was commanded by G-d to Abraham over 4,000 years ago. This mitzvah represents not only a bond between G-d and Abraham but between G–d and all the people of Israel.
There is no other mitzvah or commandment that has withstood the test of time and has survived to this day. Berit Mila is not only a mitzvah but a confirmation of our strength and a tribute to the continued commitment of the Jewish people to survive and prosper through the ages.
At 99 years, Abraham was commanded by G-d to be circumcised, and at age 13, his son, Ishmael, was circumcised. The covenant that began with Abraham was subsequently forged with all Jewish males. And so it was to be that to enter into the Covenant of G-d and Abraham, Jewish males would be circumcised on the eighth day of life:
“And he who is eight days old shall be circumcised among you . . .” (Genesis 17:12)
“And in the eighth day (u-va-yom: on the day) the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” (Lev 12:3)
The Significance of the Eighth Day
Many ask why Berit Mila is performed on the eighth day of the boy’s life. The answer is not a simple one. No one specific statement has been found to explain the timing, although the Torah makes reference to several possible reasons. One was to allow the infant to experience one Shabbat prior to entering the covenant. Another, from a medical consideration, has to do with the maturity of clotting factors and coagulation that occurs around the eighth day of life.
Regardless of the specific reason, Berit Mila, to be valued and recognized, must be done during the daylight hours of the eighth day of the newborn’s life. No circumcision should be done prior to the eighth day. However, there are reasons why a circumcision might need to be postponed beyond the eighth day.
Dr. Rawdin would be happy to discuss further the issue of the eighth day, along with other conditions that affect when an infant may be circumcised. Medical conditions, Shabbat, and Jewish holidays all play a role in the decision as to when the male may be circumcised. It is best to speak with Dr. Rawdin or your rabbi for guidance and to do this as early as possible.