Time and space collided on the day his father, Zacharias, was responsible for attending to the incense offerings in the Temple, a priestly service that was likely a once in a lifetime opportunity for this member of the tribe of Levi. While over seeing the Temple ritual, he was visited by the angel, Gabriel, who informed him that his barren wife would bare a son and his name would be Yochanan. Zacharias, who was quite an old man, questioned Gabriel and was struck silent. When he returned from the Temple, all in proximity knew that he had seen a vision. (Luke 1: 1-24)
Zacharias returned home, Elizabeth became pregnant, and he remained in silence until the baby's name was announced at his... Brit Milah.
On the eight day, according to Torah (Gen 17:10-14, Lev 12:3), the child was to be circumcised. The people wanted to call him after his father, but mama-bear, Elizabeth, made it clear that his name was to be Yochanan (Luke 1:60). His father then wrote "His name is Yochanan." (v.63) on a tablet and was then granted the ability to speak. Zacharias, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied over his infant son that the covenant of the Lord would be remembered and that he would prepare the way for the coming Meshiach. (Luke 1:67-80)
Now, I had read that story many times, but realizing that I had participated in the same ceremony, more than 2000 years later, filled my heart with awe and amazement. The story came to life in a new way, and enhanced meaning of our decision. We had made a choice for Aviel, that allowed him to follow in the tradition of his ancestors, in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. Aviel was born at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital, in the very neighborhood where Zacharias and Elizabeth lived. The very neighborhood where John was born. Time and space seemed to be colliding in my own life, as I could see how real and living the word of God is, even today.
“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in (a land flowing with milk and honey. Deuteronomy 6:1-3
That your days might be prolonged...
For our family, it was never a question of whether to have our son circumcised. With a Jewish heritage, this is something we felt was important for his sense of identity. We trusted the wisdom of scripture, that circumcision is a command God provided to the nation of Israel not only as a sign of covenant, but also for their health and well being.
That it might be well with you...
The specifics of the command to circumcise on the eight day testifies to the wisdom of God, since medically that is when a baby's body first begins producing Vitmin K, allowing his blood to clot more quickly. This is something ancient Israeli's could not have known without a divine word from the Lord.
Besides the mystery of the timing involved in this procedure, the World Health Organization (WHO), has some compelling evidence to support the health benefits associated with male circumcision for both men and women. WHO has been conducting studies on the effects of male circumcision, particularly in Africa, and statistics indicate that the risk of HIV is reduced by 60% in tribes/countries where male circumcision is practiced. Similar WHO studies reveal lower reports of other STIs and penile and cervical cancer as well. The language they use in their information reports takes care to state clearly that circumcision does not *prevent* these issues, but that there is a correlation between this as a practice and lower levels of disease.
WHO takes the stance that this is correlation is more than than simply a cultural outcome, and offers an explanation as to biological factors that implicate these results. In simple terms, it is because the foreskin suffers abrasions that allow for diseases to be contracted and transmitted more easily. Circumcision causes something called keratinization, or a hardening of the remaining foreskin, which prevents abrasions and ulcers, thus making this part of the body less vulnerable to contracting and passing on diseases. (Source links will be provided at the end of this post).
What I find amazing about this (besides medical evidence that the commands of God are always--always--for our good) is how this outward sign of the covenant God made with Abraham and his decedents is a physical representation of what happens to our hearts through the blood of Messiah Yeshua. In Him, the part of our hearts that make us susceptible to the disease of sin is cut away.
“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord And remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Or else My wrath will go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds.” Jeremiah 4:4
Even though this spiritual circumcision is a promise of the Brit Hadasha (New Covenant) that we have in Messiah Yeshua, it is a spiritual concept that has roots in the Old Covenant, even while it was essential to practice circumcision in the physical sense.
“Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. Deut 30:6
The bible is clear that physical circumcision (as well as keeping any part of Torah) is not essential for our salvation. It does not make one holy or righteous. Circumcision is not something required for one to know Messiah Yeshua, and it is not something required after one knows Messiah Yeshua. Our salvation and knowledge of Him comes through grace and grace alone. (See 1 Corinthians 7:19, Galatians 5:6, Colossians 2:11, Romans 2:29, Acts 15) This is something we firmly believe, but we also felt that as someone with with a Jewish heritage, and Israeli citizenship, it was important for our son to take part in this ancient covenant.
We chose to have Aviel circumcised in traditional rabbinical fashion with a Mohel, who is someone specifically trained in the way of circumcision. Since I'm not Jewish, and had never attended a Brit, I went to great lengths to research and understand the difference between a rabbinical procedure for circumcision compared to the medical approach at a hospital. I wanted to make a safe and informed choice for our son, and I'll admit that I was a little nervous about having this procedure done outside of the hospital. As I studied, I found that the primary difference is that a Mohel removes the foreskin with a scalpel in a very quick procedure. The medical approach most commonly uses a clamping method that can take up to 30 minutes to complete. With the exception of one part of the ceremony, which we chose to omit, I felt confident in a Mohel's ability to perform this procedure in a safe and sanitary way.
Aviel's Brit was held at the home of some family friends. When we woke up that morning, his little eyes were filled with goo and I was concerned that the Mohel would not think he was well enough to do his Brit. When he arrived, he looked at my new baby's eyes, took him over to the little ritual hand washing sink outside of the bathroom and gave me a quick lesson on eye cleaning. I felt an immediate sense of ease with him, as he cared for my son, and spoke kindly to me in the process. We placed our baby on table in the middle of the room, and the Mohel's son, who was there in training, prepped our little guy for the surgery. Aviel was first given a little sip of sugar water on a piece of gauze, which acts as acts as an anesthetic in small babies. The Mohel then cleaned and numbed the area with a local anesthetic, then cut the foreskin with a scalpel in a very quick procedure. It took maybe 30 seconds and Aviel didn't even let out the smallest hit of a cry. Afterward, our Mohel cleaned the scalpel and gave it to us on a little card for a keepsake. He jokingly said we could use it as a reminder if he became disobedient as a teenager. It healed very quickly and we did not have any complications whatsoever.
And in tradition we kept his name, Aviel David, between us and announced it in a ceremony following the procedure. Many blessings were spoken over his life, and we celebrated with a giant feast, because that what Jewish families do, right?
I had not dived into my breastfeeding studies at this point, and was unaware of arguments for concerns that circumcision can cause problems in establishing the breastfeeding relationship. In fact, my expectation was that he would want to nurse for comfort after the procedure. I was surprised to find that he had little interest in nursing, but a tremendous desire to sleep. I now know that sleep is a newborn's natural response to pain. Had I known this in advance, I would have prepared a little differently for his needs, and my needs as a newly lactating mother, after the procedure. (Forgive me for not knowing these things. My energy was exerted in researching the "how" of the procedure.) This small lag in breastfeeding really only lasted through the rest of that day. The next day, he fed as normal.
So... that is the story of Aviel's Brit Milah...
In keeping with the covenant established with his ancestors...
A command we chose to follow so that his days might be prolonged...
A tradition that our even found its way into the life of our Messiah Yeshua. The word who became flesh to dwell among us, who was circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21), and who's flesh was later crushed so that we might be free.
For downloadable information pamphlets on the health benefits of male circumcision, please go here
Visit the WHO's HIV/Circumcision page here