In the Torah portion of Vayishlach, we read the tragic story of the abduction of Dinah, the daughter of Yaakov, by the prince of the city of Shechem. In the ploy by the sons of Yaakov to rescue their sister (and kill the members of the city), they offered to the king of Shechem that they become one nation with the city of Shechem but only if the Shechemites consent to circumcise themselves. As they said (Gen. 34:14-15), “Only on this condition will we agree with you; that you will become like us, in that every male among you is circumcised. Then we will give our daughters to you and take your daughters to ourselves; and we will dwell among you and become like one nation.”
The simple reading of the text is that the sons of Yaakov were offering the people of Shechem to join their nation and that in order for this to happen, they would need to have a brit milah (circumcision).
According to halacha, a Jew should not circumcise a gentile unless it is for the sake of conversion (Rama Y.D. 263:4) as circumcision is supposed to be a unique aspect of being Jewish (see Taz there). As such, when the sons of Yaakov suggested that the people of Shechem have a brit milah, they must have intended for the people of Shechem to become Jewish. But when the Shechemites did the brit milah, their intention was to be able to increase their wealth, as their leader said to them (Gen. 32:22-23), “However, only with this condition will the men consent to dwell with us to become one people, by every male among us being circumcised, just as they are circumcised. Then their cattle, their property, and all their beasts will be ours. Indeed let us consent to them, and they will dwell with us.”
This is why the verse (32:25) says, “On the third day they were in pain.” Had they done the brit milah for the sake of converting, the pain would not have bothered them. (Certainly tzadikim too would feel the physical pain of such a wound. But this would not have led them to have any regrets. The physical pain of Shechemites, however caused them to regret the entire process. Thus the word “koavim – in pain” should be understood both in the physical sense and emotionally in terms of their feelings of regret.)
This is why the sons of Yaakov felt justified in killing them as their brit milah was not a sincere act of conversion and they could therefore be punished for their previous sins (Divrei Shaul by Rabbi Yosef Shaul Nathanson, Mahadura Tinyana, Parshat Vayishlach 49b). (See Ramban as to which sin or sins they had committed.)
Brit Milah for Conversion
Indeed, one of the essential aspects of conversion to Judaism for a man is to have a brit milah (see Y.D. 268:1 based on Yevamot 46a and b). In addition, one must immerse in a mikvah and formally accept the mitzvot.
This is derived from the way our forefathers became formal Jews at Mount Sinai. Moshe Rabeinu circumcised them before they left Egypt, they immersed before the Sinai revelation, and they accepted the Torah when G-d offered it to them (Rambam, Laws of Issurei Bi’ah 13:1). (In ancient times it was also necessary to bring a sacrifice as they did in the desert.)
Since the brit milah is part of the conversion process, it must take place during the day (as do all matters requiring a beit din, Jewish court) and be witnessed by three Jewish men who are considered a beit din for the purpose of his conversion.
The brit milah must take place before the immersion in the mikvah. If the order was reversed, some say the convert must immerse again after the brit milah (Y.D. ibid).
After the brit milah, he must wait until the wound heals before immersing in the mikvah.
The Ramban (on Yevamot 47b) questions this order in light of the fact that one should not delay a mitzvah, in this case the mitzvah of conversion. As we see that the Talmud says (Yevamot 47b), once a convert is ready to convert, he should do so immediately so as not to delay the mitzvah. In fact, converts are faulted for delaying their conversion unnecessarily (see ibid 48b). As such, it would seemingly be better to have a convert immerse and the brit milah immediately after, rather than the reverse order which would necessitate waiting several days while the wound heals.
The Ramban answers that since the brit milah is painful we do that first so that he can back out of the conversion if he is afraid of the pain.
Rabbi Yosef Engel (Gilyonei Hashas, Pesachim 7b) explains that doing the conversion in this order (first the brit milah and then the immersion) will allow the convert to recite a blessing on his immersion. Were he to immerse first, he would not be able to say the blessing which states that he is “commanded to immerse” since he is not yet considered Jewish (until after the brit milah) and as such has no commandments. The blessing on the brit milah can be recited even though the convert is not yet Jewish because it is recited by the mohel and the beit din and they may say it since they are commanded to facilitate his conversion by performing his brit milah.
The Me’iri (Yevamot 47b) says that the order of brit milah and then immersion is the only way for a conversion to be effective. If the immersion would take place before the brit milah, the conversion would not be complete.
The Me’iri does not explain the reason why this order is so essential. The Rashal (Yam Shel Shlomo, Yevamot 4:49) explains that the reason an immersion is ineffective before the brit milah is because it is like one who immerses while holding onto something impure (such as a sheretz, a rodent). That is, since the immersion is the completion of his conversion, how can it be completed if he has an impurity, namely, the foreskin, attached to him?
In addition, perhaps this order must be followed as this was the order that the Jewish people followed at Mount Sinai. They first had their brit milah (in Egypt) and then immersed (before receiving the Torah).
Acceptance of Mitzvot
Before the brit milah, the beit din should inform the convert of the fundamentals of the religion as well as some of the easy and some of the difficult mitzvot, and the convert should express his acceptance of these (Geirut Kehalacha by Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Stern, 3:2 based on the Me’iri, Yevamot 47a and Tosfot Rid on Yevamot ibid).
Already Had a Circumcision
If the convert was already circumcised as a gentile (not for the purpose of conversion), he must have a drop of blood drawn from the area of the brit milah in lieu of a brit milah. No blessing is recited when this takes place as there is an argument among the authorities as to whether it is actually necessary. In practice we do it, but since there is a doubt we do not recite the blessing as we do not recite blessings in cases of doubt (Y.D. 268:1 and Shach there, Yam Shel Shlomo Yevamot 4:45 but see there 8:6 where he rules differently).
Drop of Blood
Some say that an actual drop of blood must be extracted (Rabbi Shmuel HaLevi Wosner and Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv) while others say it is sufficient to scratch the skin in a manner that makes a red scratch as this indicates that some blood flowed underneath the skin (Chazon Ish). [These opinions are quoted in Geirut KeHalacha, Birurei Halacha 2 and 3.]
Can’t be Circumcised
One who cannot have a brit milah due to his medical condition, cannot convert to Judaism as the brit milah is an essential part of his conversion (Achiezer 4:45 – 46). (But see Y.D. 268:1 for one case where the conversion is acceptable without a brit milah.)
No Beit Din
If the brit milah was done for the sake of conversion but there was no beit din present (i.e., there were not three adult male Jews present who intended to be a beit din for this purpose) some say that the brit milah is still valid while others say it is invalid and a drop of blood must be drawn in the presence of a beit din (Y.D. 268:3).
In the case of a child who is being converted, there is no doubt that a beit din must be present during the brit milah (see Igrot Moshe Y.D. 1:168 D.H. Ach). If they were not present, it is necessary to draw another drop of blood in the presence of the Beit Din.
It is best that the convert be awake at the time of the brit so that he can accept the mitzvot as mentioned above. Therefore, only local anesthesia should be used.
Order of the Brit (Geirut Kahalacha chapter 3)
- Before the brit, it is proper to set up a chair for Elijah, the prophet, and designate it as such by saying, “Zeh hakiseh shel Eliyahu Hanavi etc. This is the chair of Elijah etc.”
- The convert’s private parts should be covered while the Mohel makes the bracha.
- The Mohel should recite the bracha “Baruch… Asher… Al Milat Geirim – Blessed are You… Who Commanded us… about circumcising converts.”
- After the brit is completed, a cup of wine should be poured and the following recited while holding it:
- Borei Peri HaGafen (the blessing on wine).
- A special bracha that is recited only for the brit milah of converts, the text of which is as follows: ברוך … למול את הגרים ולהטיף מהם דם ברית שאלמלא דם ברית לא נתקיימו שמים וארץ שנאמר אם לא בריתי יומם ולילה חוקות שמים וארץ לא שמתי, ברוך… כורת הברית
- This means “Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, Ruler of the Universe, who sanctifies us with Your mitzvot and commands us to circumcise converts and to draw from them the blood of the covenant. Were it not for the blood of the covenant, heaven and earth would not be able to exist, as it says (Yirmiyahu 33:25), ‘Were it not for my brit, day and night, I would not have placed the laws of heaven and earth.’ Blessed are you, L-rd, who establishes the covenant.”
- The prayer that is said when naming a baby is then said. It is slightly modified so that it is suitable for a convert instead of a baby. This is when a male convert receives his Hebrew name. The female convert receives her name when she immerses in the mikvah.
- Some of the wine should be drunk at this point.
May we merit the great Brit of the Messianic era (see Deut. 30:6) speedily in our times!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a meaningful Yud-Tet Kislev, the Rosh HaShana for Chassidut!