"At a night encampment on the way, the lord encountered him and sought to kill him. So Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin, and touched his legs with it, saying, ‘You're truly a bridegroom to me!' And when He let him alone, she added ‘A bridegroom of blood because of the circumcision"(Exodus 4:24-26).

Moses is symbolically circumcised here. Through the circumcision of his son he is touched in the place where his own fertility comes from, as the feet and legs are often euphemisms for genitals. Through the uncovering of the son the father has become uncovered too. The act of circumcision suggests a change of state. The ritual severing-the cut or milah that unites (b-rith)- is symbolic of a cut through the known to reveal the unknown. The knife inscribes a circle which is a symbol of unity. The B'rith Milah, or covenant with God, suggests that a cut into the flesh is a sign of human/divine wholeness. The act of circumcision is the removal of the orlah or foreskin. When used in scripture the word orlah refers to a barrier in the way of a beneficial result. Adam, the first man, was born circumcised which signified his closeness to God. Because Adam's sin was the failure of mankind the foreskin, symbolizing his new separation from God, became a permanent part of the human body. "Like a sheath holding a sword, the body is a vessel containing the soul. Just as the contours of a sheath tell much about the contours of the sword within, so the body can reveal much about the condition of the soul. (Bris Milah) When Adam retained his intimacy with God the human body mirrored this condition. When the body had no spiritual barrier it had no orlah, but when Adam's sin caused a barrier between him and God the human body mirrored this state also. The foreskin represents Moses' separation from God as Adam's fig leaf did after he ate of the Tree of Knowledge. The fig leaf serves as Adam's foreskin that he later passes on to his descendants. During the time of Abraham the human race still had the spiritual and physical foreskin, but then Abraham demonstrated that man could surmount this sin. God recognized this change in the human race's spiritual essence through Abraham and so gave him the commandment of circumcision. In general, the word orlah has the connotation of something that is uncontrolled. The removal of the orlah then symbolizes the idea of control. Through the act of milah one indicates that they can control the pattern of their life. Circumcision is the removal of a defilement or barrier that could restrict spiritual development.

Circumcision can be seen as a form of ritual bloodletting. A metal knife, called an izmail is used to perform the circumcision. The traditional izmail is sharp on both sides. This helps to eliminate possibility of harming the child by using a blunt edge. Metzitzah, or drawing, is the act of extracting blood from the wound. The Talmud considers this act to be therapeutic which is reminiscent of other feeling about bloodletting acts such as venesection. There is some controversy over whether this should be done orally or if it can also be done in other ways. The Talmud is strongly opposed to omitting this part of the ceremony and says that any mohel who does not perform it should be removed from office. An act which causes bleeding is a violation of the Sabbath. However, since the Torah specifies exactly when the ceremony is to be performed, eight days after birth, the act of milah wins out over this prohibition. This is a case where one ceremony cancel out a blood taboo. According to Jewish law, a boy that is born circumcised has to have a drop of blood drawn ritually instead of a circumcision the same also applies to any converts to Judaism who might already be circumcised. This shows that the blood is as integral a part of the ceremony as the removal of the foreskin. Blood is an integral part of many offerings and sacrifices and the act of circumcision is both an offering and a sacrifice to the covenant with God. The rabbinic notion of salvation is symbolized by the blood of circumcision. The foreskin is the offering with which the people of Israel seal the covenant with Yahweh.


Hoffman, Lawrence A. Covenant of Blood:Circumcision and Gender in Rabbinic Judaism. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. 1996.

Krohn, Rabbi Paysach J. Bris Milah:Circumcision-The Covenant of Abraham. New York, Mesorah Publications. 1985.

Seiden, Melvin. "The Wound and the Covenant . The Humanist. July/August 1996. Vol. 54, #4.
Shankman, Ray. "The Cut That Unites: Word as Covenant in Exodus 4:24-26 . Cross Currents. Summer 1991.


A Guide for Brit Milah/Bris Milah -- http://www.milah.net/

The Bris -- http://www.torahview.com/bris/html/the_bris.html