Berit mila, the “covenant of circumcision”, also called a bris, refers to a religious ritual through which male babies are formally welcomed into the Jewish community on the 8th day of life.
A child is born Jewish as a result of having a Jewish parent. And while the berit mila alone does not make a child Jewish, this ritual is the first step for parents intending to raise a Jewish child. Today, a mohel or mohelet is routinely designated by parents to fulfill this custom. According to Jewish tradition, in addition to circumcising their son, it is the parent's obligation to provide their child with a Jewish education, which may include celebrating Jewish holidays.
Berit mila is the oldest religious rite in Judaism, dating back almost 4,000 years. It is first mentioned in Genesis 17, when God commands Abraham: “Every male amongst you shall be circumcised...At the age of eight days, every male among you throughout the generations shall be circumcised...” According to the Torah, Abraham immediately followed God’s command, circumcising himself, his son Ishmael, and all the males of his household.
Originally, Judaism did not have a special home celebration to welcome female infants into the covenant. Traditionally, fathers were given an aliyah at the synagogue the first Shabbat after a girl was born, when the child also received her Hebrew name. After services, both mother and father were honored at a congregational kiddush. Then a more formal baby-naming ceremony evolved in Reform synagogues, involving both parents. Still, the absence of a special home ritual was disturbing, especially to liberal Jews. A few congregations began to create their own ceremonies for girls, and the popularity of the idea quickly made it a widespread practice amongst many Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist families.
Ceremonies that celebrate the birth of a daughter and her entry into the covenant of the Jewish people are known by a variety of names including berit bat and berit chayim. They are a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our daughters and are an important part of liberal Judaism's approach to the Jewish tradition.
During the busy days of learning to meet the physical needs of your newborn, these ceremonies offer an opportunity for you, as parents, to reflect on your hopes for your new child, as well as a chance to celebrate the arrival with those that you love, as you formally introduce your child into the Jewish community.
The mitzvah of Berit Mila and Berit Bat ceremonies welcome your new child into the Jewish community, connecting families across generations and around the globe.
Copyright 2014. Georgia Mohel. All Rights Reserved.