Contemporary American Reform Responsa

28. Berit Milah

QUESTION: Is it Reform practice to observe the berit milah on the eighth day, or can it be done at the convenience of the parents by a Jewish or Gentile physician? In addition, should the comparable naming ceremony for girls also be observed on the eighth day? (Rabbi E. Sapinsley, Bluefield, WV)

ANSWER: The Biblical statement about circumcising a male on the eighth day is very clear and is provided in Genesis 17.11 (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 261 ff; Yad Hil. Milah). Reform Jews observe this practice on the day stipulated. Of course if a medical reason makes the circumcision dangerous, it may be postponed virtually indefinitely until the child can be circumcised safely. All traditional authorities agree completely on this. If the parents do not arrange for a boy's circumcision as a child, it becomes his responsibility as an adult.

It is clear as well (A. Z. 26a) that a Jew must perform the actual operation of circumcision. In the Reform tradition, if no Jewish doctor is available, then a non-Jew may perform the operation while the rabbi or father recites the appropriate prayers. In fact, someone totally removed from Judaism [a pagan] would be preferable to an individual close to Judaism [like a Samaritan] who is a sectarian, according to Rabbi Meir (A. Z. 26b). In his notes to the Shulhan Arukh, Moses Isserles indicated that a non-Jew might also perform the operation during a period of duress or danger (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 264.1).

The treatment of girls, as far as the "covenant" is concerned, varies (S. J. Maslin, Gates of Mitzvah, p. 15). Many congregations name girls in the synagogue at a Sabbath close to birth when both parents can attend and participate in the service. This makes the event a happy congregational celebration. The recently introduced ceremony of "covenant of life" should probably also occur on the eighth day if we wish to indicate complete equality for girls. As no medical impediments can arise, and as there is no need to return to a hospital, it is possible to conduct this ceremony on the eighth day, but postponement for the sake of family convenience is equally acceptable.

January 1978

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.