Birth, Bris Milah & Baby Naming
- Who is Obligated in this Mitzvah?
- Baby Naming
- Shalom Zachor
- Bris Milah: Circumcision
- Why must circumcision be performed on the eighth day?
- What is Circumcision?
- The Ceremony
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The very first commandment in the Torah is the mitzvah of procreation as it is stated,Then G-d blessed them, and G-d said to them: Be fruitful and multiply.(Genesis 1:28)
- “As regards root purposes of this precept, it is in order that the world should be settled, inhabited. For the Eternal Lord, blessed is He, desires its settlement, as it is written:He did not create it a chaos; He formed it to be inhabited(Isaiah 45:18). This is an important mitzvah, by virtue of which all the mitzvos of the world are fulfilled. For to human beings were they given, not to ministering angels.” (Sefer HaChinuch: Book of Mitzvah Education, Mitzvah 1)
- “The reason for this mitzvah is to demonstrate that the existence of the world is dependant on the fulfillment of the Torah; that a person should leave descendants who will fulfill the Torah and the mitzvos in his place, and who will acknowledge that there is an omnipotent Creator Who directs the world… He also becomes a partner with G-d in creation. When he has children he has created the image of G-d, and when his children are good people he has created the likeness of G-d.” (Rabbi Menachem Recanti, Italian Kabbalist)
- “Whatever progress you have made in the fear of G-d, in the love of G-d, in trust in G-d, and in filling your life with G-d, transmit it to the younger generation and perpetuate it in your children and thereby in yourselves… There can be no higher activity than to contribute to the presence on earth of human beings, in order to train them for the perfection of humanity, and there is no greater blessing than to succeed in this endeavor.” (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch)
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Who is Obligated in this Mitzvah?
- “It is not unlikely that the Torah freed the woman from the religious obligation to be fruitful and multiply and imposed it only on the man, because… the woman endangers her life in pregnancy and childbirth [and hence it could not be made her religious duty]… But only for the preservation of the species did He so form her nature that her yearning to have children is stronger than the man’s.” (Meshech Chochmah, Rabbi Meir Simcha HaCohen of D’vinsk)
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Now, Hashem G-d had formed out of the ground every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call each one; and whatever the man called each living creature, that remained its name.(Genesis 2:19)
- “In the Torah’s concept, a name is not simply a convenient method of identification; rather it reflects the very nature of each creature and its role in the total scheme of the universe. Thus, as we find over and over in the Torah, the names of people had a profound significance that expressed their mission. Adam had the power to recognize the essence of every animal and name it accordingly.” (Radak)
- “Tradition tells us that today one of the last remnants of prophecy we retain, is a measure of Divine inspiration when giving a child his/her name.” (Arizal)
- The Sages maintain that a persons name can have a strong impact on his or her development. (Talmud, Tractate Berachos 7b). They cautioned us therefore, to choose thoughtfully, and select a name that is associated with righteousness and good. (Midrash Tanchuma, Haazinu 7). Naming a child after a righteous individual may also serve as an inspiration to emulate his or her ways.
- Ashkenazic Jews generally name children after deceased relatives, while most Sephardic Jews name children after living relatives. Sometimes names may also be an expression of prayer, such as, Chaim which means life, for a boy, or Bracha which means blessing, for a girl.
- Ones Hebrew name reflects a person’s essential, primary identity. At any major life event, such as marriage; or for any religious purpose, such as being called up to the Torah, it is the Hebrew name that is always used.
- “Throughout hundreds of years of slavery and oppression in Egypt, the Jewish people, to their great merit, managed to preserve their national identity. Jewish sources relate that they were able to remain distinct from the Egyptians and avoid assimilation because they did not abandon their Hebrew names, their traditional clothes or their language.” (Midrash Rabbah, Leviticus 32:5)
- A baby girl is named in the synagogue (she does not have to be present) when her father is called up to the Torah, usually on the Shabbos following her birth. A baby boy is named at his Bris Milah: Circumcision ceremony on the eighth day (health permitting) after birth, even if this is on Shabbos. A prayer is also recited for the complete recovery of the mother and for the health of the child.
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The birth of a girl is celebrated with a reception, usually held at the synagogue, but sometimes at home, on a Shabbos around the time after the birth. Since the reception is usually held right after services on Shabbos morning and Kiddush is recited then, the reception is known as aKiddush. In many Sephardic communities, it is customary to have an evening celebration called aZeved Bat, “Gift of the Daughter”. Special prayers for the health of the mother and baby and the spiritual growth of the child are recited at this time.
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In Ashkenazic communities, the celebration of a boy’s birth is held on the first Friday night after his birth and is known as aShalom Zachor, “Welcoming the Boy”. Its origins date back over 1,500 years, to the Talmudic era. (Talmud, Tractate Baba Kama 80a, Tosafos). Spiritually, it is a prelude to the circumcision which will be held on the eighth day after birth, because the child’s soul must experience a Shabbos before the circumcision. (Midrash Rabbah, Leviticus 27:10). The gathering also serves to comfort the child’s soul upon leaving the purely spiritual world with its unlimited perception of Torah, and entering the physical world of confusion and conflict. (Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh Deah, 265, Taz, 13). The words of Torah and songs of joy and prayer on this night provide reassurance that the spiritual can be found here as well.
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Bris Milah: Circumcision
G-d spoke to Avraham… This is My covenant which you shall keep between Me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. At the age of eight days every male among you shall be circumcised, throughout your generations.(Genesis 17:9-12)
- “One root reason for this precept is that the Eternal Lord, be He blessed, wished to affix in the people that He set apart to be called by His name, a permanent sign in their bodies to differentiate them from the other nations in their bodily form, just as they are differentiated in their spiritual form, their purpose and way in the world not being the same… The Eternal Lord, desired to perfect the character of the Chosen People; and He wished that this perfection be effected by man. He did not create him perfect from the womb, in order to hint to him that just as the perfection of his physical form is by his own hand, so does it lie in his hand to complete his spiritual form by the worthiness of his actions.” (Sefer HaChinuch: Book of Mitzvah Education, Mitzvah 2)
- Other commentaries maintain that circumcision reminds a Jew that he must be in control of his passions and desires, not be controlled by them. The only way for the Jewish people to continue as G-d’s chosen nation, to maintain their allegiance to the Torah through all the vicissitudes of history, is for them to be disciplined masters of self-control. (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, 2 Edoth, Chapter 36, Paragraph 263-265; Maimonidies, Guide to the Perplexed, 3:49). Since sexual urges are among the most powerful of human forces, the sign of Jewish “chosenness” was placed on the reproductive organ. This sign also reminds us to distance ourselves from any type of sexual immorality and to maintain the purity and holiness of the family and marital relations. (Horeb, ibid). This is one reason that this sign is only placed on men, who are more inclined to promiscuity and licentiousness than women.
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Why must circumcision be performed on the eighth day?
- The significance of a number can be understood by the way it is used in the Torah, especially the first time that it occurs in the Biblical text. The number six, which appears first as the six days of creation, symbolizes the creation and expansion of the physical world. Shabbos, which is the spiritual dimension that forms the focus of the physical world, is the seventh day. The physical world expands to the north, south, east, west, up and down. These six points have no center; the seventh day, the Shabbos, is the spiritual center around which the physical world revolves. It is the G-dliness within the world (the sense of meaning and purpose), around which the world revolves. The number eight symbolizes goingbeyondthe natural world; beyond the seven days of creation, into the realm of the supernatural. (Maharal, Chidushei Aggados, Tractate Shabbos 21b). Circumcision is an act which changes and improves on nature, which demonstrates the human ability to go beyond nature into the realm of the supernatural.
- Maimonidies, who was a physician in addition to being a great Torah scholar, explained that on the eighth day, but not before, the child is strong enough to be circumcised. (Maimonidies, Guide for the Perplexed, 3:49). In fact, current medical research regarding blood coagulation suggests that the eighth day is the earliest advisable time to perform circumcision.
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What is Circumcision?
- Circumcision involves three acts: 1.Chituch, or excision, 2.Priah, or uncovering, and 3.Metzitzah, or drawing out.Chituchis the excision of the entire foreskin covering the glans (head of the penis).Priahis peeling back from the glans the thin membrane that usually adheres to it and folding it back so that it remains behind the corona.Metzitzahinvolves extracting blood from the wound, primarily for therapeutic reasons.
- Since the act of circumcision is not merely a medical procedure, but the means of joining G-d’s Covenant with Avraham, it must be performed by one who is part of that covenant, a member of the Jewish people. The person who performs the circumcision is known as amohel. He may be a doctor, but is not necessarily so. Everymohel, however, must undergo intense training in order to be certified.
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The circumcision should be held as soon as possible on the morning of the eighth day, usually right after the morning service. Traditionally, a number of people are honored to play key roles in the ceremony. The child is placed on a special decorated pillow and brought from the mother by another married woman. She hands the baby to her husband, who then gives him to the father. Someone is then honored to take the child from the father and place him on a chair designated as the Chair of Elijah, the prophet who exhorted the Jewish people to keep the covenant of circumcision. The baby (still on the pillow) is then placed on the lap of thesandak, the person whose privilege it is to hold him during the circumcision. Ideally, the father is supposed to perform the circumcision himself. For most fathers (due to a variety of reasons), however, this is impossible, so at this point the father officially appoints themohelas his agent in this task.
The mohel then recites the following blessing and performs the circumcision:
Blessed are You, our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us regarding circumcision.
The father immediately continues:
Blessed are You, our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to bring him into the covenant of Avraham, our forefather.
All present then respond:
Just as he has entered into the covenant, so may he enter into the [study of] Torah, the marriage ceremony, and [the performance of] good deeds.
After the circumcision, which usually takes only a few moments, the child is held by another honoree while someone else raises a cup of wine and recites several blessings, along with a special prayer for naming the child. The infant is then taken back to his mother by the couple who originally brought him in. Themohelusually makes one or two follow-up home visits to check the healing process and change the dressing. In most cases, the baby is healed in about a week.
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