Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hatafat Dam Brit

With the holiday of Pesach (Passover) approaching, it is appropriate to discuss the connections that bris shares with the holiday - and there are many.

One of them is the role of blood in the covenant.

The name of the holiday of Pesach comes from two sources: A. the Paschal lamb, the offering that was set aside for three days before being sacrificed and eaten by the Jewish people in Egypt, and B. the fact that God "passed over" the homes of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt on the night of the "Death of the First Born."

The Paschal Lamb is called the קרבן פסח - Korban Pesach, and the verb to "pass over" is פסח - Pasach - which is formulated slightly different in the name of the lamb and the holiday itself.

What caused God, or the destroying angel, or the death force to pass over the homes of the Hebrew slaves, the Israelites? If the edict against first borns was only against Egyptians, did the Israelites really need to do anything in order to be bypassed?

The answer to the first question is the blood of the lamb. The Israelites were instructed to put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and mantle of their homes on the evening of the final plague to cause their houses to be skipped.

The second question is a trick question. Surely God knows the difference between the homes of those He is looking to punish and those He wishes to avoid. That is clear. But the Israelites needed to do something, to indicate they understood what was going on. They needed to show their faith in God, and in Egypt, on that night, their faith was demonstrated through following instructions.

Thus, in Egypt, the people were physically and symbolically saved through the merit of the blood of the Paschal lamb.

While the greater significance of blood is not the scope of this posting - there is much written about it in rabbinic teachings - the general significance of blood is that covenants are forged through it.

To our point - bloodless circumcisions, medical circumcisions and circumcisions pre-conversion

In the event that a baby is circumcised through a bloodless technique - which can be accomplished through the use of certain clamps - the bris is not considered to be "kosher." (This point is worthy of discussion, and I will return to it in a different posting) Of course, once the baby is circumcised, (hopefully) there is no more circumcision to be done.

Circumcisions done either not for the sake of a bris (ie by a doctor), before the eighth day of life, or by a non-Jewish officiant are all not considered to be "covenantal." In order to turn the "circ" into a "bris milah" a minor procedure involving the drawing of blood needs to take place under the proper auspices.

We draw a minimal amount of blood from the circumcision scar, typically using a medical lancet, the sterile pin used for blood tests. Once blood is drawn under the auspices of a bris ceremony, the circumcision is now considered to be a bris according to Jewish law.

(To bring an example from a different religion, and NOT TO COMPARE THE TWO RITUALS, you can pour as much water as you want onto a baby or a convert to Catholicism. But until the water comes in the form of baptism and is done by the right person in the right place, it is considered meaningless.)

The blood we are talking about is absolutely minimal. Most people who experience it as adults (converts, or those who discover they were circumcised in the hospital and want to make sure it is "corrected") feel the significance more than they feel the pin-prick that draws the blood.

Babies upon whom I have done this are usually smiling and cooing through the half second it takes.  Healing time is virtually nothing.