Rabbi Ariel Asa

A Quick History of the Bris, Jewish Ritual Circumcision

The words “brit milah” or “bris milah” (there are variations in the way the Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews tend to pronounce this phrase) mean the covenant of circumcision, commonly referred to as the “bris”.

This name is based on the biblical account (Genesis, Chapter 17) of the covenant that God made with Abraham. God promised him that he would be a father of a nation whose spiritual influence would extend to the rest of human civilization. As a sign of the covenant, he and all his male progeny throughout the generations would be circumcised.

The Jewish people in every generation have faithfully continued to uphold this commandment, often at great risk. The Greeks, Romans, Communist Russians, and others that have ruled over the Jewish people tried to ban this practice, but the Jews held fast.

In the 19th century, medical circumcision became popular among the general population in certain countries. The medical community has been debating for several decades the pros and cons of routine circumcision for newborns. No matter which way the pendulum may swing in the medical community, Jewish parents will continue to bring their sons into the covenant of Abraham.