The brit milah (Hebrew: בְּרִית מִילָה, pronounced [bʁit miˈla]; Ashkenazi pronunciation: [bʁis ˈmilə], "covenant of circumcision"; Yiddish pronunciation: bris [bʀɪs]) is a Jewish religious male circumcision ceremony. Today, it is performed by a mohel on the eighth day after the infant's birth and is followed by a celebratory meal known as seudat mitzvah.
The notion of Milah being linked to a covenant is generally believed to have originated in the 6th century BCE as a product of the Babylonian Exile; the practice almost certainly lacked this significance among Jews before the period. Some scholars have argued that it originated as a replacement for child sacrifice. The J source (likely composed during the seventh century BCE) of the Pentateuch in Genesis 15 does not mention a covenant that involves the practice of circumcision. Only in the P source (likely composed during the sixth century BCE) of Genesis 17 does the notion of circumcision become linked to a covenant. This form of genital cutting, known as simply Milah, became adopted among Second Temple Jews and was the predominant form until the second century CE. It was either a ritual nick or cut to the acroposthion: the part of the foreskin that overhangs the glans penis.By the period of the Maccabees, many Jewish men attempted to hide their circumcisions through the process of epispasm due to the circumstances of the period. Intact genitals, including the foreskin, were considered a sign of beauty, civility, and masculinity throughout the Greco-Roman world. And it was custom to spend an hour a day or so exercising nude in the gymnasium and in Roman baths; many Jewish men did not want to be seen in public deprived of their foreskins, where matters of business and politics were discussed. To expose one's glans in public was seen as indecent, vulgar, and a sign of sexual arousal and desire. While Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman culture widely found circumcision to be barbaric, cruel, and utterly repulsive in nature. Jewish religious writers denounced these practices as abrogating the covenant of Abraham in 1 Maccabees and the Talmud. After Christianity and Second Temple Judaism split apart from one another, Milah was declared newly spiritually unnecessary by Christian writers such as Paul of Tarsus and subsequently in the Council of Jerusalem, while it further increased in importance for Jews.In the mid-2nd century, Rabbinical Jewish leaders, the successors of the newly ideologically dominant Phraisees, introduced and made mandatory a radical method of circumcision known as the Brit Periah. Without it, circumcision was newly declared to have no spiritual value. This new form removed as much of the inner mucosa as possible, the frenulum and its corresponding delta from the penis, and prevented the movement of shaft skin, in what creates a "low and tight" circumcision. It was intended to make it almost impossible to restore the foreskin. This is the form practiced among the large majority of Jews today, and, later, became the basis for the routine neonatal circumcisions performed in the United States and other countries.The justifications for Milah have varied throughout history. Commonly cited reasons for the practice have included it being a way to reduce male sexual pleasure and desire, a visual mark of Judaism, as a metaphor for mankind perfecting creation, various matters of hygiene and health, and promoting fertility. Especially since the 18th century, many Jewish philosophers have increasingly criticized the practice of circumcision, either advocating for a reversion to the original Milah or abolishing the practice altogether.