QUESTION: May the circumcision of a new-born child be conducted prior to the eighth day? Would such a circumcision be considered as fulfilling the religious obligation of circumcising a child?
ANSWER: Circumcision is the oldest ritual connected with Judaism. It ties us to Abraham and our beginnings: "God further said to Abraham: 'As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your offerings to come throughout the ages. Such shall be the covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your offspring to follow. Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. At the age of eight days, every male among you throughout the generations shall be circumcised" (Gen. 17:9-13). The commandment is repeated in Leviticus 12:3. This has remained throughout our history as one of the most important commandments, and led to martyrdom already in Maccabean times (I Macc. 1:48, 60). The precise details of the nature of circumcision have been discussed in every Jewish code (Yad, Hil. Mila; Tur, Yoreh De-a 360ff; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De-a 260ff; see also Gates of Mitzvah, pp. 13ff). The ritual itself is done by the father, a Mohel, or a Jewish physician, though any Jew is qualified, on the eighth day after birth (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De-a 262.1). The exact day is most important, and the circumcision should take place on that day, even if it falls on Sabbath or the Day of Atonement, unless illness or weakness of the baby demands postponement.
If the circumcision was done prior to the eighth day, it is still considered valid bedi-avad (Asher ben Yehiel to Shab. 135a; Nathaniel Weil, Korban Netan-el, ibid.; Isserles to Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De-a 262.1). Others have felt that if the circumcision took place before the eighth day, at least a drop of blood should be taken on the eighth day (Shabatai Cohen to Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De-a 262.1; Aryeh Lev, Sha-agat Aryeh, #52). We would consider it valid without that.
Circumcision and the accompanying prayers are an act of affirmation of Judaism by the parents. As such, it should be done on the traditional day. The mere surgical act of Mila will not suffice for a Berit Mila.
We strongly urge parents to have the circumcision on the eighth day, even if it might take place at home. Hundreds of generations have observed this rite on the eighth day. Through the observance of this ritual on the eighth day, we teach each new generation the importance of the keeping of the covenant of Abraham. This presents only a slight inconvenience to the family and to the Mohel or Jewish physician. If that is impossible, then it should be done as soon after the eighth day as possible. The ritual of circumcision must retain its religious significance and not simply be a hygienic device. For this reason, we continue to stress circumcision on the eighth day.
Walter Jacob, Chairman
Leonard S. Kravitz
W. Gunther Plaut
Harry a. Roth
Rav A. Soloff
S.B. Freehof, "Circumcision Before Eighth Day," Reform Responsa, pp. 90ff.