Brit Milah Today
By Rabbi Yehoshua Fromowitz

Mazel Tov, it’s a boy! After nine long months the baby is finally here! But for some, there is now an important question… I know I want my son to be circumcised, but what method of circumcision do I want for my child?

The primary consideration for some is the religious significance of Brit Milah. Brit Milah is one of the most fundamental precepts of the Jewish religion. It is referred to in the Bible as the covenant of Abraham, since our forefather Abraham was the first to receive the commandment concerning circumcision from G-d.  As the verse in Genesis (17:12) states, “And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations”. More than any other Jewish ritual, Brit Milah is an expression of Jewish identity. “You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall become the sign of a covenant between Me and you, and your offspring after you" (ibid. 17:10-11). This is the only commandment that the Torah calls "the sign of a covenant" between G-d and the Jewish people. That is why the word “Brit” or “Covenant” has become synonymous with circumcision. In fact, our Sages say that it is considered the greatest of all the commandments. Its fulfillment symbolizes an affirmation of faith in Abraham’s ancient, and still vibrant, covenant with G-d. Through ritual circumcision, parents create with their precious child yet another link in the continuing chain of our people that has proudly survived the challenges to its physical and spiritual existence for thousands of years.

While a doctor is certainly more knowledgeable and experienced at treating general medical issues, a Mohel is a super-specialist at circumcision. It is the only procedure he performs. The Mohel has extensive training in the medical and surgical techniques of circumcision. He is an expert at his profession, and typically has much more experience at performing circumcisions than most doctors! A Mohel may have the opportunity to perform more Brit Milahs in a month than some doctors do in an entire year. Knowing this, it is no wonder that the Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth, chose a Mohel instead of the Royal Physician to circumcise the young Prince Charles. (see http://www.circinfo.net) In addition to his expertise a Mohel is also thoroughly knowledgeable in the Jewish laws and traditions pertaining to Brit Milah, and families have turned to the Mohel to this tradition for generations.

Circumcision done in the hospital not in accordance with Jewish tradition is different in many ways. The following description illustrates some of the differences between a Mohel’s circumcision and a purely medical procedure. Firstly, Mohelim do not strap the baby down. Instead the baby is placed on a double pillow and held by warm loving hands on the lap of the sandak (an honor bestowed to a close family member). A Mohel uses a Mogen shield, which takes a few seconds to put in place, and a scalpel, which makes a precise and quick cut. All instruments are autoclaved (heat-steam sterilized) just as in a hospital.

With this technique, the brit procedure is extremely fast and relatively painless. The Mohel is then able to immediately comfort the baby and officiate at the ceremony, which includes the blessing on the wine and naming the baby. The ceremony is often performed at the family’s house or synagogue of choice. To contrast, a brit not done in accordance with tradition, the baby is often strapped down to a cold, molded plastic body board and placed on a table. The procedure can take up to a half an hour or longer, depending on the ability of the individual doing the circumcision and how many shots of anesthetic are being used. The device that is often used is often heavier and more painful than the Mogen shield, and takes several minutes to put in place. This procedure has also been shown to be more prone to complications.

Although the best anesthesia is the sheer speed that a Mohel performs the brit, parents, understandably, are often still concerned about their baby feeling pain during a brit and often ask what can be done to reduce discomfort to their baby. According to most Rabbinic authorities, Jewish law does allow the use of a topical anaesthetic cream (EMLA®, or MAXELINE®). Some Mohelim use this anaesthetic cream routinely, or upon request from the parents, with the approval of the family's personal physician.

A Brit Milah is a wonderful beginning for a newborn boy. It is a memorable experience for the family, replete with significance and meaning. A baby’s brit serves as the first of many milestones and happy occasions to be joyously celebrated during a Jewish child's life as he grows to be a source of pride to his family and the entire Jewish Nation. The points addressed in this article about religious significance, and the medical superiority of the Mohel in this area, should hopefully make this an easy decision for all.

Rabbi Fromowitz is a Certified Mohel currently practicing in Las Vegas and the entire Southwest. He can be reached with any questions or to schedule a free consultation at rabbifromowitz@gmail.com or by phone at 702.845.1435. References available upon request. For more information please visit www.jewishmohel.com