FAQ'S ABOUT

BRIT MILAH

WHY?

Question:

 

A friend asked the other day why we have a bris (circumcision). I rambled on about health, tradition, old people, eight days, pain and a whole lot of other nonsense before leaving this one to you.

 

Answer:

 

The bris is a physical symbol of the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. It is a constant reminder of what the Jewish mission entails (a reminder which men need more than women). Let's look at its details:

If circumcision is what G-d wants, why aren't we born circumcised? G-d created the world imperfect, and gave us the mission to perfect it. G-d created wheat, humans make bread. G-d created a jungle, humans create civilization. The raw materials are given to us, and we are to use our ingenuity to improve on the world that we were born into. This is symbolized by the bris -- we are born uncircumcised, and it is up to us to "finish the job". This is also true metaphorically. We each have instincts and natural tendencies that are inborn, but need to be refined. "I was born that way" does not excuse immoral behavior -- we are to cut away any negative traits, no matter how innate they may seem.

Why on earth would G-d choose circumcision to represent something sacred? Jewish spirituality is about making the physical world holy. The way we eat, sleep, work and procreate should be imbued with the same holiness as the way we pray; our homes should be as sanctified as our synagogues. We find G-d on earth just as much (and perhaps more) than in the heavens. So we put a sign on the most physical and potentially lowly organ, to say that it can and should be used in a holy way. In fact, it is in sexuality that we can touch the deepest part of our soul, when we approach it with holiness.

Why circumcise a baby? Wouldn't the statement be more powerful if it were made by a mature adult? 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.

Why specifically on the eighth day? The number seven represents nature - seven days of the week, seven colors of the rainbow, seven musical notes (doh re mi etc); the number eight is the number that surpasses seven, and thus represents the miraculous, what is beyond nature. We do the bris on the eighth day because the Jewish people survive on miracles. Our history defies the laws of nature. We welcome a new Jewish child into this miraculous existence on the eighth day of his life, as if to say, "Expect miracles!"

WHY AT 8 DAYS?

Question:

 

A friend asked the other day why we have a bris (circumcision). I rambled on about health, tradition, old people, eight days, pain and a whole lot of other nonsense before leaving this one to you.

 

Answer:

 

The bris is a physical symbol of the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. It is a constant reminder of what the Jewish mission entails (a reminder which men need more than women). Let's look at its details:

If circumcision is what G-d wants, why aren't we born circumcised? G-d created the world imperfect, and gave us the mission to perfect it. G-d created wheat, humans make bread. G-d created a jungle, humans create civilization. The raw materials are given to us, and we are to use our ingenuity to improve on the world that we were born into. This is symbolized by the bris -- we are born uncircumcised, and it is up to us to "finish the job". This is also true metaphorically. We each have instincts and natural tendencies that are inborn, but need to be refined. "I was born that way" does not excuse immoral behavior -- we are to cut away any negative traits, no matter how innate they may seem.

Why on earth would G-d choose circumcision to represent something sacred? Jewish spirituality is about making the physical world holy. The way we eat, sleep, work and procreate should be imbued with the same holiness as the way we pray; our homes should be as sanctified as our synagogues. We find G-d on earth just as much (and perhaps more) than in the heavens. So we put a sign on the most physical and potentially lowly organ, to say that it can and should be used in a holy way. In fact, it is in sexuality that we can touch the deepest part of our soul, when we approach it with holiness.

Why circumcise a baby? Wouldn't the statement be more powerful if it were made by a mature adult? 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.

Why specifically on the eighth day? The number seven represents nature - seven days of the week, seven colors of the rainbow, seven musical notes (doh re mi etc); the number eight is the number that surpasses seven, and thus represents the miraculous, what is beyond nature. We do the bris on the eighth day because the Jewish people survive on miracles. Our history defies the laws of nature. We welcome a new Jewish child into this miraculous existence on the eighth day of his life, as if to say, "Expect miracles!"

 

 

Why do we circumcise?

 

 

 

 

In stereotypical Jewish fashion, allow me please to answer your question through asking yet another question.

Why can't the brit (circumcision) wait until the child grows older? Wouldn't it be that much greater if a mature person, using his own intelligence, would choose to make the big decision himself?

But that's the beauty of a brit. We are born Jews. It is not a project we rationally decide to undertake. Our covenant with Gd is super-rational. It does not go away in moments when our minds tell us otherwise. We do not always comprehend the reasons behind the mitzvot.

According to Kabbala, the number seven represents nature and that which is finite. Seven days in the week, seven days of creation, and seven human faculties.

Eight represents the super-rational and the infinite. The miraculous as opposed to natural. Belief as opposed to comprehension.

And so, a baby is given is brit on the eighth day. He is entering a religion founded upon faith, whose survival is miraculous, and whose potential in the world is infinite.

 

Yours truly,

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar

IS IT NECESARY?

Question:


We had a baby boy, and we are very excited. But we are still undecided about the Brit. I have issues with it. I am aware of the spiritual significance of circumcision, but I have much more practical concerns:

Is it not barbaric to put my baby through the pain of a medically unnecessary operation?
He was born uncircumcised, why should I mess with his natural state?
My son has no say in this, and can never reverse it. Shouldn't I let him choose later on in life if he wants this done to him?
Do you have any rational answers?

 

Answer:

 

Imagine the following scenario. Your baby is born healthy and well. But there's something unusual. He has six fingers on each hand. An extra little growth protrudes right next to each pinkie.

Can you think of anything more barbaric than chopping someone's fingers off?What would you do about it? Have the extra fingers surgically removed? Or leave them? After all, he was born that way. And he can live with twelve fingers. Maybe the child should be allowed to choose whether or not he wants his extra fingers later in life. Can you think of anything more barbaric than chopping someone's fingers off?

And yet I suspect you would do what most parents have done in such circumstances. Better remove the extra fingers now, when it is relatively painless and quick to heal, than subject the child to feeling like an anomaly in his future life. He has no use for them anyway, and would later resent the fact that his parents didn't remove them for him.

And so, kind and loving parents will unflinchingly put their babies under the surgeon's knife. The short term pain is worth it to avoid the long term discomfort. All other concerns would quickly dissolve. What is called barbaric in one context is quite humane in another.

If this logic works for removing extra fingers, a purely cosmetic operation, how much more should it work in favor of the infinitely more meaningful act of circumcision. I am not suggesting that being uncircumcised is the same as being twelve-fingered. But for a Jewish child, there are several similarities.

An uncircumcised Jew often feels like an outsider among his own people. He will always be a Jew, but may come to feel ambivalent about it, knowing that to actively embrace his Jewishness entails undergoing an operation - one that is minor at eight days old, but quite a bit more daunting in adulthood. I have attended adult circumcisions, and it is inspiring when someone makes that choice. The actual operation is not such a big deal. But the decision to do it is. You are, in fact, limiting his choices by not circumcising him.

Diamonds must be cut and polished to reveal their inner beauty. Many things in our world were created unfinished, and need our input to be complete. Wheat must be ground into flour and kneaded into dough; diamonds must be cut and polished to reveal their inner beauty. This is the nature of the human experience.

So putting all spiritual considerations aside, from a practical perspective, here's the equation: Leave your son uncircumcised, and you leave him with a psychological barrier to exploring his own identity. Give your son a Brit, and he loses nothing more than a bit of skin, but he gains immediate entry into the four-thousand-year-old covenant of Abraham. That is a gift you will not regret giving.

© 2019 by Miami Mohel.