A Brit Milah, or circumcision, is typically performed on a healthy Jewish baby boy at eight days old, or at a later time as determined when he has been medically declared as healthy. This ceremony is often referred to as a ‘bris’ and it represents the powerful moment a boy enters the Covenant of Israel.
This meaningfully echoes the actions of our forefather, Abraham, who, via circumcision, consciously facilitated a covenant with our Creator, during which he vowed to teach his descendants to serve G-d with devotion. In return, G-d promised to safeguard the Jewish people.
Today, Jews continue this unbroken generational chain, thereby ensuring their children are connected to that eternal promise. There are many customs and traditions surrounding this core practice. The procedure is performed by a mohel, an individual who has mastered the Jewish laws regarding circumcision and who has also received extensive training.
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The naming of a Jewish child is a profound spiritual moment – at the beginning of life we assign a name (or names).
In Hebrew, a name reveals essential characteristics. Naming a Jewish baby is a statement of what we hope the child will become and often a recognition of family and cultural heritage. Many parents name their child after relatives or, for example, may choose a name linked to a Jewish holiday coinciding with the birth. It is a very personal and thoughtful process. A girl’s name is officially given in synagogue shortly after the birth when the father is called up to the Torah – often a Simchat Bat event is held in her honour too. A baby boy is given his name during the Bris.
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Upsherin – a first haircut for a Jewish boy aged 3 years
Jews often wait until a boy’s third birthday before giving a first haircut. This is often referred to by its Yiddish name – an Upsherin and it is typically both an educational and festive ceremony.
There is so much to explore in regard to the traditions, customs and meaning behind this practice. A Midrashic source expounds that three years are waited as this period of time relates to the mitzvah of Orlah. The Torah says if you plant a tree, all fruits which grow during the first three years are Orlah – off-limits. Just as Orlah fruit is untouched, so too do we leave a child’s hair uncut for the first three years and comprehension grows at an exponential pace from this age.
Friends and family actively participate in this haircut. The first cut is made at the front of the head, where a decade later, the boy will place his Tefillin upon becoming Bar mitzvah. After snipping, people give the young boy a blessing for success (and food and gifts) and from then on, he wears his kippah and tzizit daily.
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