The Bris Milah:  Important for Health, Essential for Jewish Continuity

Meet Dr. Hylton Lightman

The very first Bris Milah – the “covenant of circumcision” – happened 4000 years ago.  Our forefather Avraham entered into a covenant with G-d whereby G-d promised there would always be Jews in this world.  They sealed the agreement when Avraham circumcised himself.  Bris Milah is one of the most joyous of Jewish life cycle rituals.

The ceremony today is fundamentally the same as in ancient days.  The infant boy’s penile foreskin is removed and blood is drawn from the reproductive organ.  Blessings are recited, after which the baby’s name is announced to the world.

Throughout Jewish history, even those who are not particularly connected to their Judaism have circumcised their sons.  During the Crusades.  The Holocaust.  Times when being identified as Jewish was downright dangerous.  Yet, this tradition has continued uninterrupted from Avraham until present day.

I’m afraid things might be changing.

A recent New York Times article discusses a growing trend among some Jewish parents choosing not to circumcise their sons.  Zoe Greenberg, the article’s author, says while some parents are opting for a medical circumcision in a doctor’s office or hospital, some other are actually choosing not to circumcise their boys—part of a growing American trend.

The overall American trend is cause by several factors:  Medicaid no longer covers the costs of circumcision.  The 2012 recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that while the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks, it is no longer recommending “universal newborn circumcision.”   And a growing Hispanic community does not usually circumcise their sons.

And sadly, there are Jewish parents who see Bris Milah as irrelevant.  This concerns me.

As a pediatrician, I strongly believe there are health benefits to Bris Milah.  A 2014 Mayo Clinic reports says that the health benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks 100 to 1  (Read the full article here)  I believe that circumcision reduces the incidence of urinary tract infections as well as penile cancer and the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases.  Jewish women have a lower incidence of gynecological cancers than their non-Jewish counterparts.  Circumcision makes sense for health reasons: that’s why over 80% of all American men are circumcised.

Further, Bris Milah is a tremendous spiritual experience.

Bris Milah takes place on the 8th day of life.  Why?  Because then every Jewish baby boy has experienced the transcendence of one Shabbos.  The baby’s precious soul is being nourished even after it has entered this material world.  What an awesome foundation for this new Jewish life.

There is a deeper meaning to the timing of this ritual.  The number “7” is about the physical in this world.  G-d created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th.   The number “8” goes beyond the physical to bring us to the supernatural and infinite.

Our precious children enter into a religion founded upon faith whose survival in this world has been miraculous.  Jewish contributions to this world, through science, medicine, law, ethics…so much more, have been and continue to be infinite.

The ceremony itself and the gathering of our friends, family and community to welcome this new arrival are all vitally important to the vibrancy and continuity of Jewish traditions.

It’s unfortunate that our historical adversaries have employed a “circumcision check” for nefarious purposes.  I am quite certain that not circumcising our boys will not stop our enemies from trying to persecute us.  Quite the contrary.  The more we cling to our faith and its precepts, the more we thrive.  The irony is that the very civilizations that have sought our destruction are now dead and gone – and we Jews are still here.

Being a Jew is being a member of the best club in the entire world.  How proud we should be of Bris Milah.  It demonstrates our tenacity and perseverance through the centuries.   Now that’s something to celebrate!

Please share with me your Bris celebration stories by adding to the conversation on our TFC Facebook Page or Dr Lightman Instagram we have interesting conversation with our growing community on social media!   

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