After you successfully pass your interview by the conversion court, all males come to the second step in the conversion ceremony, brit milah. This is a traditional Jewish ceremony, in which a man’s foreskin is removed, as a sign of the covenant between him and his Creator. If your foreskin was removed in the past, not in a Jewish-halachic context, or you were born without a foreskin, you will instead have a hatafat dam brit.
The significance of brit milah
The source for brit milah is the biblical commandment for Abraham to circumcise his son, Isaac and all male offspring throughout the generations. The Jewish people continued to observe this commandment for thousands of years in all lands of their exile. Over time, circumcision has become a most profound symbol of the connection between the Jewish people and their God, a physical sign attesting to a covenant of the heart. Jews throughout history risked their lives to perform this commandment, since it symbolized for them the distinctiveness of the Jewish people.
The commandment of circumcision is incumbent upon Jewish babies on the eighth day after birth, and on converts as part of their conversion process. The first documented circumcision in the Torah, of the patriarch Abraham, was performed when Abraham was already an old man: “And Abraham was ninety nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of the foreskin (Genesis 17:24).” When a baby is circumcised, his parents or guardians decide for him to have him enter into the covenant. When an adult is circumcised, however, it is he personally who chooses to fulfill the covenant out of the desire to become part of the Jewish people who bear the physical mark of brit milah.
Removal of the foreskin has become an accepted medical procedure in many Western countries due to studies which prove it medically advantageous. In the United States, for example, 60.4% of male babies were circumcised immediately after birth. In Israel, circumcision has become the norm i society, widely practiced by the Jewish population. Statistics show that 97% of native Israeli Jewish males are circumcised (Statistics compiled by Amutat Kahal -2000) and approximately 40,000 circumcisions are performed every year in Israel. 87% of those surveyed consider it important to perform the circumcision within a religious ceremony in the presence of their family (Gutman Institute Study for Keren Avichai, 2002). (Muslims also practice circumcision, although under different circumstances.)
The administrative process
Upon completing the necessary procedures in the rabbinic conversion court, a man will be given a referral form for circumcision, signed by the dayanim (judges). On the day of the brit, he will give this form to the mohel (ritual circumcisor) and will be asked to sign a document consenting to the procedure and consenting that the rabbinate pay for your circumcision.
Circumcision can be performed in a number of medical centers throughout the country, if approved by the Chief Rabbinate and function under the aegis of the inter-ministrerial committee that supervises circumcision. The procedure is performed by an experienced physician, responsible for the surgical aspects of the circumcision, and by a mohel, responsible for the traditional-religious aspects (occasionally, one person serves in both capacities), assisted by an anesthesiologist. In addition to the medical staff, three rabbis are present as a religious court to certify the circumcision. At the end of the circumcision, they will sign the brit referral form and certify that the candidate was circumcised in their presence for the “purpose of conversion’. This form will be sent to the bet din handling the conversion and added to the conversion file.
One should contact the medical center directly and well in advance to set a time for the brit. Hospitals, generally, set a ‘circumcision day’ on which several people undergo the procedure, one after another. At the end of the day, the non-surgical rituals are performed in the presence of the families, and refreshments are served. Upon arriving at the hospital on the scheduled day, one should go up to the reception desk in order to complete the preliminary registration. Afterwards, you will be sent to the waiting room that is next to the surgery.
Approximately three weeks after the circumcision, when sure the stitches have been absorbed, one may schedule a date for immersion with the National Scheduling Coordinator for mikveh.
Preparations for circumcision
• Medical authorization: In the week or two before the circumcision, you will need to visit a family doctor for a full physical and referral for blood tests. The blood tests must include a blood count and a measurement of blood clotting. If the results of your physical and blood tests are normal, the family doctor will issue a certificate stating that you are physically able to undergo circumcision.
• Fasting: For six hours prior to surgery (or as your doctor instructs), you must not eat (either liquids or solids). This is particularly important when you are expecting to undergo general anesthesia.
• Bathing: On the morning of circumcision, you should bathe the area of circumcision well. It is advisable to wear comfortable clothing.
• Packing: Remember to pack the following:
A identity card or passport.
A recent doctor’s certificate attesting that you are medically fit to undergo circumcision.
Recent blood test results.
A change of clothing.
A light snack to eat after the circumcision.
Do not bring any valuables – watch or jewelry – with you.
• Escorts: A child under the age of 18 must be accompanied by one of his parents. Adults would also be advised to have someone accompany them, to help them get organized, distract them while they are waiting, and to share the very moving experience of the ritual ceremony at the end of the day. Before anyone may accompany you into surgery, however, permission must be obtained from the medical center where the circumcision will take place. In some places, it is customary that a sandak accompany you, who will sit next you and hold your hand or head. The sandak can be any family member or friend (male) to whom you wish to give this honor. When an infant is circumcised, the sandak is the person who holds the baby on his knees.
The medical procedure
Adult circumcision is a surgical procedure, performed under local anesthesia in an outpatient clinic. It, like all other surgeries, is likely to be accompanied by very natural fears. Jewish tradition attaches utmost value to the health of the person being circumcised, and considers it a religious imperative to perform the circumcision in accordance with all the medical directives required in a surgical procedure.
The surgery: Prior to surgery, the medical staff will disinfect the area of circumcision and an anesthesiologist will administer local anesthetic using a very fine needle. You may feel cold or shaky, but no pain. The mohel doctor performs the circumcision according to halacha, and then closes the blood vessels that were cut, stitching up the sides of the cut. The stitches are sewn with thread that dissolves on its own within two to three weeks, so there is no need to have the stitches removed. The physician generally wraps a bandage around the wound, which can be removed after a day or two either at your Kupat Cholim or by your surgeon at a follow-up visit. After the operation, you will remain under observation for several hours, first in the recovery room and then in the waiting room. When you are released from the medical center, you will be given an official release form and a letter authorizing a week of sick leave. This letter can also be obtained from your family doctor upon presentation of the certificate of circumcision.
After the Brit: Local anesthetic wears off after a few hours, so generally, your doctor will recommend that you take an appropriate dosage of a painkiller. Proper care of the circumcision wound includes daily application of a cream and washing of the area with soap 2-3 times a day for three weeks, once the bandage is removed. Within 24 hours after the brit, you will generally be able to function normally, and you should not feel any excessive pain. You should, nevertheless rest for a week, in accordance with your doctor’s directives. You will probably experience some pain in the area of the circumcision, when you awake in the morning. You can relieve this pain by placing a cold water bottle in the sensitive area. You will probably need to wait a month after your circumcision, before engaging in sexual relations, unless your doctor has directed you otherwise.
Side effects: Common side effects include swelling of the crown of the penis, a yellowish-white discharge (without pus), and slight blood staining. These side effects usually disappear within 2-3 weeks. If the circumcision wound is bleeding heavily or there is a substantial accumulation of blood underneath the stitches, causing significant swelling, you should go to the emergency room or back to the medical center where the circumcision took place. If you develop a fever, you should consult your doctor.
The religious ceremony
Adult circumcision creates a rare combination of religious ceremony and surgical procedure. In striking contrast to the circumcision of an infant, where the baby’s father, the mohel, and other participants recite most of the blessings and verses, in this situation, the person being circumcised actively participates in the ceremony, reciting himself many of the passages.
Immediately prior to the surgery, the mohel recites the circumcision blessing which is specifically for converts:
Blessed are You, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to circumcise the converts and to trickle from them the blood of circumcision, but for which heavens and earth could not endure, as it is written, ‘If not for my covenant day and night, the ordinances of heaven and earth I would not maintain.’ Blessed are You, maker of the covenant
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ למוּל אֶת הַגָּרִים וְלְהַטִּיף מֵהֶם דָּם בְּרִית שֶׁאִלְמַלֵי דָּם בְּרִית לֹא נִתְקַיְימוּ שָׁמַיִם וָאַרֶץ, שֶׁנֶאֱמַר: אִם לֹא בְּרִיתִי יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה, חֻקּוֹת שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ לֹא שָׂמְתִּי, בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי כּוֹרֵת הַבְּרִית
The mohel performs the circumcision, and then the person being circumcised recites two blessings: the first one binding the specific brit taking place presently with the chain of generations, that began with the brit of our forefather Avraham, and the second, expressing gratitude to God for the opportunity to fulfill the commandment of circumcision.
Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
God is king, God was king, and God will be king forever and ever.
Please God, Bring us salvation.
Please God, Bring us success.
יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֲדֹנָי אֶחָד.
אֲדֹנָי מֶלֶךְ אֲדֹנָי מָלָךְ אֲדֹנָי יִמְלֹךְ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶד
אָנָּא אֲדֹנָי הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא.
אָנָּא אֲדֹנָי הַצְלִיחָה נָּא
Blessed are You, O Lord, King of the universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to enter into the covenant of Avraham our father.
Blessed are You, O Lord, King of the universe, who has given us life and sustained us and enabled us to come to this time.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהִיכַּנֵס בִּבְרִיתוֹ שֶׁל אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַזְמַן הַזֶּה
The Prophet Eliyahu is considered the ‘angel of the covenant’ who is symbolically present at each and every brit in order to bear witness that the Jewish people are observing the covenant of their forefathers. If there is a ‘Chair of Eliyahu’ present, it is pointed to and the mohel recites the following The mohel and those who were circumcised then take a cup of wine, as is customary at every Jewish ceremony, and recite the blessing:
This is the chair of Elijah of blessed memory. I have awaited Your salvation, O God, and desire it. I have observed Your commandments. Elijah, angel of circumcision, here is what is yours before you. Stand to my right and support me. I have hoped for Your salvation, O God. I am joyous with your words, as one who has found great wealth. Great peace comes to those who love Your Torah, and they do not stumble. Lucky is he whom You choose to bring near, that he may dwell in Your courts. May we be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, the holy temple.
זה הַכִּסֵּא שֶׁל אֵלִיָּהוּ הַנָּבִיא זָכוּר לַטּוֹב.
לִישׁוּעָתְךָ קִוִּיתִי אֲדֹנָי. שִׂבַּרְתִּי לִישׁוּעָתְךָ אֲדֹנָי, וּמִצְוֹתֶיךָ עָשִׂיתִי.
אֵלִיָּהוּ מַלְאַךְ הַבְּרִית, הִנֵּה שֶׁלְּךָ לְפָנֶיך, עֲמוֹד עַל יְמִינִי וְסָמְכֵנִי.
שִׂבַּרְתִּי לִישׁוּעָתְךָ אֲדֹנָי. שָׂשׂ אָנֹכִי עַל אִמְרָתֶךָ, כְּמוֹצֵא שָׁלָל רָב.
שָׁלוֹם רָב לְאֹהֲבֵי תוֹרָתֶך, וְאֵין לָמוֹ מִכְשׁוֹל.
אַשְׁרֵי תִּבְחַר וּתְקָרֵב יִשְׁכֹּן חֲצֵרֶיךָ, נִשְׂבְּעָה בְּטוּב בֵּיתֶך, קְדשׁ הֵיכָלֶךָ
Blessed are You, O Lord, King of the universe, creator of the fruits of the vine.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן.
The mohel will occasionally add:
Blessed are You, O Lord, King of the universe, who sanctified your loved one from the womb and established Your law with his descendants giving them the sign of the holy covenant. By this merit, our living God, our portion and rock, command to save Your loved one from the abyss, for the sake of the covenant made in the flesh. Blessed are You, Maker of the covenant.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדַּשׁ יְדִיד מִבֶּטֶן, וְחוֹק בִּשְׁאֵרוֹ שָׂם,
וְצֶאֱצָאָיו חָתַם בְּאוֹת בְּרִית קֹדֶשׁ. עַל כֵּן בִּשְׂכַר זֹאת אֵל חַי חֶלְקֵנוּ צוּרֵנו,
צַוֵּה לְהַצִּיל יְדִידוּת שְׁאֵרֵנוּ מִשַּׁחַת, לְמַעַן בְּרִיתוֹ אֲשֶׁר שָׂם בִּבְשָׂרֵנוּ.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֲדֹנָי כּוֹרֵת הַבְּרִית.
Generally, the ceremony concludes with the giving of a Hebrew name to those who were circumcised, thus conferring ceremonial weight on the names that you each had already selected before the religious court. The following blessing is recited separately to each of the men circumcised, with the insertion of the chosen name.
Our God and God of our fathers, look after this man and let his name be called in Israel [insert the chosen name] the son of our forefather Avraham.
Those present in the room respond: This one that is grown up, one day shall be great.
אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינו, קַיֵּם אֶת הַאִישׁ הַזֶּה וְיִקָּרֵא שְׁמוֹ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל פלוני בֵּן אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ.
הנוכחים: זֶה הַגָּדוֹל, גָּדוֹל יִהְיֶה
This is sometimes followed by the traditional prayer for the health of the circumcised. It can be said to all together or with the insertion of each individual’s name:
מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב משֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן דָּוִד וּשְׁלֹמֹה, הוּא יְבָרֵךְ אֶת הַנִּמּוֹל פלוני [כאן נאמר שמו העברי] בֵּן אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ, בַּעֲבוּר שֶׁנִּכְנַס לַבְּרִית וְכָל הַקָּהָל מְבָרְכִים אוֹתוֹ. וּבִּשְׂכַר זֶה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יִשְׁלַח לוֹ רְפוּאָה שְׁלֵמָה מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם, רְפוּאַת הַנֶּפֶשׁ וּרְפוּאַת הַגּוּף לְרמ”ח אֵיבָרָיו וְשׁס”ה גִּידָיו בְּתוֹךְ שְׁאָר חוֹלֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. וּכְשֵׁם שֶׁנִּכְנַס לַבְּרִית כֵּן יִכָּנֵס לְתּוֹרָה וּלְעֲבוֹדָה וּלְחֻפָּה וּלְמַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים, וְנֹאמַר אָמֵן”.
Circumcision of children and babies
The circumcision of a baby as part of the conversion process closely parallels the circumcision of a Jewish baby on the eighth day of his life. The distinctive nature of the circumcision of the convert finds expression in the blessing ‘to circumcise the converts.’ Until the age of six months, a child can and should be circumcised by a certified mohel. The circumcision does not need to necessarily be performed in a hospital.
If your child is born before you have completed your conversion studies, and before his mother has come before the bet din, you will generally be able to circumcise him when he is eight days old, even though his conversion process is not yet complete. In order to do so, you will need to contact the bet din in which you opened a conversion file and request authorization to perform a circumcision. After receiving authorization, any certified mohel of your choosing may circumcise your child. If the mohel you select needs guidance in performing this distinctive brit, he should make contact with the circumcision division of the Chief Rabbinate.
The circumcision of children older than six months is performed by a doctor in a clinic, just like the circumcision of adults. Until the age of ten, circumcision is done under general anesthesia, in addition to local anesthesia in the area of the brit. Parents or guardians must accompany a child under 18 and sign the various medical and legal documents. A child who is older than ten must also sign these forms.
Hatafat Dam Brit and Tikunei Brit
Hatafat Dam Brit is a simple straightforward ceremony that entails a light prick of the penis. It is done in place of circumcision, in the case of a person whose foreskin had previously been removed not in a Jewish-halachic context or a person who was born circumcised (Approximately 7% of males are born without all or part of their foreskin).
When the foreskin is removed simply as a medical procedure, or not according to the traditional laws, and the circumcision is performed without the proper kavanah (intention), and blessings, it is not considered a ‘brit milah’ until a symbolic hatafat dam brit is performed. A baby or adult, who was circumcised ‘in the name of Judaism’ in a ceremony that included the traditional blessings and prayers, will not need to do ‘hatafat dam brit’ even if he had not completed his conversion process at the time of the circumcision.
The ceremony of hatafat dam brit is generally performed at the time of the ritual immersion by a certified mohel. The process is done with a sterile disposable injection needle. In skilled hands, this is a quick painless procedure that requires no pre-op or convalescence.
Tikun brit is a simple surgical procedure performed by a mohel or physician on someone whose foreskin was removed either partially or imprecisely or the end of whose penis had become covered due to infection since the circumcision. Sometimes the bet din will send a convert to a mohel to determine whether there is a need to perform a tikun brit. If a tikun brit is necessary, he will make the necessary correction in the appropriate manner before the convert immerses in the mikveh and completes his conversion process.