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Covenant of Ritual of Cutting

Despite rare media reports and rabid blogs to the contrary, ritual circumcision is a very safe procedure. Dr. Avraham Steinberg, author of the Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics (and a pediatric neurologist himself) reports that:

"...although ritual circumcision is usually performed by non-physicians, complications are extremely rare. A summary of several large studies comprising more than 24,000 newborn circumcisions found complications in only 0.06% to 0.25%. The medical literature between 1953 and 1980 contains only two instances of fatality as a result of circumcision.

By contrast, in a report of 500,000 circumcisions in New York and 175,000 in the U.S. Armed Forces, not a single fatality occurred. These large studies are more reliable than reports of individual cases. The fact that isolated reports occur in the literature attests to the extreme rarity of death following circumcision."

It should be apparent that the timing of bris mila is meaningful and profound. Circumcision has been an integral part of Jewish tradition for thousands of years and we reaffirm our unique connection to God with each bris that we perform.

Jewish Reasons

The truth is, there is no "logical" argument for cutting a piece of flesh off a helpless baby.

Yet circumcision has been practiced on Jewish males for close to 4,000 years, ever since Abraham was so commanded by God. Why does the foreskin need to be removed?

In Kabbalistic terms, the foreskin symbolizes a barrier which prevents growth. For example, when the Torah speaks about getting close to God, it calls upon us to "remove the Orlah, the foreskin of your heart" (Deut. 10:16).

When Abraham circumcised himself at age 99, God added the letter "heh" to his name. "Heh" is part of God's own name, signifying that through Bris Milah, the human being adds a dimension of spirituality to the physical body.

It is a foundation of Judaism that we are to control our animal desires and direct them into spiritual pursuits. Nowhere does a person have more potential for expressing "barbaric" behavior than in the sex drive. That's why the Bris is done on this specific organ. If we bring holiness into our life there, then all other areas will follow.

Jewish Identity

Another aspect of circumcision is that it is integral to Jewish identity.

This point was made quite powerfully in a movie called "Europa Europa," the true story about a young Jewish boy trying to escape detection by the Nazis. The boy resembles an Aryan and speaks German fluently, so he poses as a non-Jew and is eventually recruited into an elite training program for the next generation of SS officers.

This boy was on his way to a fully non-Jewish life, except for one thing: His circumcision. He couldn't hide it. And that is what kept him Jewish throughout the entire ordeal.

Bris is the sign of the covenant. A boy who is not circumcised has basically lost his spiritual attachment to the Jewish people.

The man survived the war, and made a new life for himself in Israel. Instead, he may have ended up becoming a Nazi officer. It all depended on the Bris.


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