New American Reform Responsa

96. Terminated Pregnancy and Berit

QUESTION: For various reasons (i.e. post term pregnancy, medical complications, convenience of the doctor or patient) it was decided that a woman who was pregnant should have her pregnancy ended before labor commenced. Labor was then artificially induced either through the use of Pitocin or by having the doctor rupture the amniotic membrane. In either case it could be argued that because labor had been started artificially the actual delivery date has also been altered by artificial medical intervention. If the child was born on the shabbat after such an artificially induced labor, should the berit ceremony then be postponed to Sunday (ninth day). (Mark Lebovitz, Cherry Hill NJ)

ANSWER: Tradition has mandated that the berit milah shall be conducted on the eighth day as a mark of the covenant (Gen 17.9 ff; Lev 12.1 ff; Yad Hil Milah; Tur and Shulhan Arukh 264). The circumcision was to take place on the eighth day as indicated by the Biblical citations and also in later literature even if it was shabbat (Tur and Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 262.1, 266.2). There were some circumstances in which the child was not circumcised on shabbat although it may have been the eighth day. It was not done if there was some uncertainly about the time of birth. For example if the child was born at twilight (Shulhan Arukh 264.4, 266.8). In addition a circumcision was postponed if the child was ill or there is some other medical reason for doing so and then the postponed circumcision would not be permitted on shabbat or a festival (Yeb 64b, Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 262.2, 263.4, 266.10). A child born through Cesarean section is also not circumcised on shabbat (see responsum # 95).

As far as drugs or any other methods which hasten the delivery of a child are concerned, they would make no difference with the berit. That would be determined by the time of birth irrespective of the method of birth.

We should remember that a child born by Cesarean does not need to be redeemed (Nu 18.15 f). This is so because the child did not "open the womb" as would occur with a normal delivery (M Bek 8.2; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 305.24). The other male babies who do not need to be redeemed were the firstborn of a priest or a Levite (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 305.18), and the son of a woman who had a miscarriage after the first forty days of conception (M Nidah 3.7; Shulhan Arukh 305.23). This ritual, of course takes place on the thirty-first day after birth and is never held on shabbat or a festival but postponed until the next day.

Circumcision therefore under all circumstances except a Cesarean section and those listed above takes place on the eighth day when it falls on shabbat irrespective of what has induced the labor which led to the birth of the boy.

June 1989

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.