Bris Milah | Foundations of Judaism

Brit Milah is one of the most important commandments in Judaism.

What is a Brit Milah?

Achilles the convert asked rabbi Eliezer,[1] “Since the mitzvah of brit Milah is so great, why was it not given in the ten commandments? Answered Rabbi Eliezer: “Since (therefore) it was given before the ten commandments,” meaning as a prerequisite.

Brit Milah is one of only two mitzvot assei – positive commandments – that must be done to be part of the Jewish nation. If not done, the person is “Mechuyiv Kares” – cut out of the Jewish people. Another instance of “Chiyuv Kares” is Korban Pesach, which can only be done if one already had a circumcision[3]. We sadly do not have Karbanot today until the Beit Hamikdash is rebuilt speedily in our days, leaving us with only this mitzvah of this stature. All other “chiyuv Kares” are transgressions – ”mitzvot lo sa’aseh”[2].

What is different between Brit Milah and circumcision?

The Main Difference between a brit and circumcision is the pria. Even though many peoples practice circumcisions, pria is considered an exclusively Jewish mitzvah[4]. The mitzvah of milah is not complete unless pria is performed[5].

Medical circumcisions generally remove the pria skin[6]. The brit Milah does not[7]; Leaving the tighter, more sensitive skin (inner prepuce) and instead, removing the thicker drier skin without nerve endings (outer prepuce).

Every circumcision result ideally should look the same by removing both extra layers of skin covering the glans[8]. However, the skin leftover is the difference between a brit and circumcision because, in the brit, the outer skin is taken off the shaft. The inner skin (lower prepuce) is left on and peeled back, and that is the uniquely Jewish mitzvah of pria.

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[1]medrash psikta rabbasi 23



[4] beis halevei explains what was special about the covenant with god if Egyptians also circumcized and answers that they did not have the mitzvah of pariah

[5] talmud Bavli shabbos 137:2

[6] Circumcision Policy Statement Archived 2009-03-20 at the Wayback Machine of The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that “there are three methods of circumcision that are commonly used in the newborn male,” and that all three include “bluntly freeing the inner preputial epithelium from the epithelium of the glans,” to be later amputated with the foreskin.

[7]Gracely-Kilgore, Katharine A. (May 1984). “Further Fate of the Foreskin.” 5 (2). Nurse Practitioner: 4–22. Archived from the original on 2010-06-28. Retrieved 2010-11-14. [8] “Medically, the operation consists of the cutting of the foreskin to allow its free retraction behind the glans penis (the conical head). The foreskin consists of a double layer of skin that, without circumcision, more or less completely covers the glans penis.”