All Jewish parents have the obligation (and the mitzvah) to circumcise their children in the 8th. Day after his birth, as it is written in the Torah, in Genesis, or appoint a representative to do it in his name. This is what happens during the ceremony known as Brit Milah – the Covenant, usually held by a mohel, a duly trained professional. The Brit Milah is perhaps the most important ritual of Judaism. An equivalent ceremony also exists for girls and is known as Brit Bat. For obvious reasons, a Brit Bat does not involve any associated surgical procedure.
The Brit Milah is described as the promise made by God that guarantees the continuity of the Jewish people. Thus, this ceremony is centered on the part of the body responsible for new generations. On the other hand, Brit Bat is focused on naming the newborn girl.
Brit Mila should happen on the eighth day after the baby’s birth, even if it occurs on a Shabbath or even on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. So if a child is born on a Tuesday, until 6:00 pm, for example, his Brit Milah should take place on the following Tuesday and so on. There are specific cases for C-section births: if this happens for example on a Shabbath, the Brit Milah will be on the following Sunday and not on the next Shabbat. The Brit Bat in turn does not have a stipulated date to happen.
In addition, why the eighth day? Here we find different interpretations: some rabbis believe that when a child is born, he must experience the 7 days of the creation of the world and therefore his Brit Milah would occur on the eighth day after his birth; others believe that every child should know the “sweetness” of a Shabbath. There are some medical theories regarding the presence of larger amounts of blood coagulants around the eighth day of a child’s birth, which would explain the rapid recovery after surgery, but none of them has been scientifically proven. When for medical reasons the child cannot undergo circumcision, Brit MIlah will be delayed until the baby’s full recovery.
The ceremony of the Brit Milah includes two parts: circumcision, a surgical act usually performed by a mohel, trained for this purpose, and the moment when the baby receives his name in Hebrew, when prayers and blessings are made for him and all his family. The mohel is not necessarily a rabbi. Currently, many mohalim are doctors, which greatly helps in the performance of the surgical procedure. The presence of a rabbi is dispensable but if the family chooses to have their rabbi present, he is always very welcome.
Two thousand years ago, Jews began to name their children not only based on great biblical figures but also to honor family members who had died and who they wanted to honor, a custom perhaps acquired from Egyptian or Greek traditions. It was believed that upon dying, the soul of the person wandered in the “limbo” until his name was given to a newborn child. Only then, could his soul find eternal rest. This is part of the Ashkenazi tradition. The Sephardic custom, however, is to give names of living relatives and relatives. the fact remains that there are no clear rules pre-defined rules as to the baby’s name and each family follows its own traditions.
Two (or more) people are honored during the Brit Milah: they are the godfather and the godmother. In the past, the godparents had a responsibility to raise the child in the Jewish tradition, in the event of their parents’ absence. Today, it is only a tribute to the godparents who, being present to the Brit Milah, will take the baby to the place where the ceremony will be held. They (godparents) don´t need to be married or even be related to one another and they don´t need to be Jews.
Another custom is to include a chair for the Prophet Elijah at the ceremony site. Elijah, according to the Torah, is the prophet who will announce the coming of the Messiah. As any Jewish child can be the Messiah, Eliahu must always be present not to lose any birth.
Another person who participates in the Brit Milah and is honored is the Sandik or Sandak, word of Greek origin, comes from “suntekos” which means “child’s mate”, not necessarily the oldest person in the family but rather someone who maintains close ties with the baby and their relatives. The Sandik holds the baby at a certain point in the ceremony, usually at the time of circumcision itself.
The Minian (group of 10 Jews over 13 years old) is definitely dispensable for the realization of the Brit Milah but all presents should wear a kippah. The Brit Milah ceremony usually ends with the Seudat Mitzvah, a festive meal. The Talmud says that so important – it is almost a commandment – how much the Brit Milah’s performance is their festive celebration with a meal, which can be just cake and wine or a grand feast for 100 or more people.