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Definition: Brit Milah from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(ca. 1902) : bris


Summary Article: brit milah from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

In Judaism, the covenant of male circumcision (removal of all or part of the foreskin of the penis). It is a sign of God's covenant with the Jewish people, made through Abraham (Genesis 17:9–14). Brit milah is usually performed on a baby eight days' old by a mohel, an expert trained in the ritual and medical technique, and in the presence of a minyan (a quorum of ten adult Jewish men), including the father. The mother, godparents, and other relatives may attend. The ceremony used to take place in a synagogue, but is now more likely to take place at home or in a hospital.

The baby is taken from his mother by a female godparent, who passes the infant on a cushion to his father. The baby is placed in the ‘throne of Elijah’, a chair that symbolizes the presence of the prophet Elijah, who emphasized the importance of maintaining God's covenant to the Jews. He is then passed to the sandek (representative), who holds the baby on his cushion during the circumcision; the honour for this often goes to the grandfather.

Prayers are recited and, after the circumcision, the father will say the blessing that acknowledges the child's entry into the covenant. The mohel then takes the child and blesses him, and gives him the name chosen by his parents, while putting some wine to the baby's lips. The child will also be given a Hebrew name during the prayers, which is later used in religious ceremonies, such as the bar mitzvah or marriage, and is inscribed on his gravestone. At the end of the ceremony the baby is passed back to his mother for feeding and comforting if necessary. A family celebration usually follows.

Some Radical Jews do not practise ritual circumcision, believing that spiritual obedience does not require this outward sign. Girls are not circumcised.

© RM, 2016. All rights reserved.

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