The State of California’s Unofficial Jewish Ethnic Studies Program: Session II: A Ten Commandments’ Project

rituals can define an ethnic group. this session with discuss the notion of ritual, the origins of rituals, and how a ritual can shape an ethnic community.

per merriam webster, a ritual is defined by “the established form for a ceremony or an act.”

the jewish people were founded upon ritual. the first central ritual is circumcision. in hebrew, this ritual is referred to as “brit milah.” this ritual is essentially a medical procedure in which the foreskin is removal from a penis. in modern times, many non-jewish individuals have their children circumcised. as a medical procedure, it is performed in a hospital or doctor’s offices.

the origin of circumcision for the jewish people can be traced to the torah. in the torah, in genesis, chapter 17, it is stated that god has an encounter with abraham, the founder of the jewish people:

“as for me, behold my covenant is with you, and you shall become the father of a multitude of nations. and i will make you exceedingly fruitful, and i will make you into nations, and kings will emerge from you. and i will establish my covenant between me and between you and between your seed after you throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant, to be to you for a god and to your seed after you. and i will give you and your seed after you the land of your sojournings, the entire land of canaan for an everlasting possession, and i will be to them for a god.” and god said to abraham, “and you shall keep my covenant, you and your seed after you throughout their generations. this is my covenant, which you shall observe between me and between you and between your seed after you, that every male among you be circumcised. and you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be as the sign of a covenant between me and between you. and at the age of eight days, every male shall be circumcised to you throughout your generations… “

as the text indicates, the ritual is connected with abraham become a father of nations. therefore, the ritual is connected to a reproductive organ. abraham is also considered the father of the islamic religion. thus, the ritual of circumcision is also performed within islam.

in modern times, thousands of years after abraham’s circumcision of isaac, this ritual is still conducted in essentially the same manner. jewish male babies when they are 8 days old are circumcised. the event is called a “bris.” it is frequently performed at homes or at a place of worship. the procedure is performed by a “moiel” who is trained to perform the procedure. at the bris ceremony, family and friends are invited to observe the event. frequently, it is a celebrated event. for female jewish babies, a naming ceremony is held in alternative. this will usually take place at a house worship. it is called. simcha bat.

the performance of this ancient ritual connects the jewish community to its beginnings, to its thousands of years old tradition, and is a symbol of the future as to the continuation of the covenant. for a brief moment,

the bris is so central to a jewish people that even non-religious jews may have their male children undergo the procedure.

thus, a ritual may be a source of ethnic identity.

rituals, however, can separate an ethnic group from the general population. over the years, circumcision has conflicted with other cultures. in ancient times, greek and roman civilizations did not favor circumcision. thus, the jewish communities adhering to the ritual were set apart from others. even in modern times, there are some advocates who favor the abolishment of circumcision.


are you aware of other rituals?

does your community and family engage in rituals? what are they? what happens as part of these rituals? why do they do them? do you know the rituals origin?

how can rituals separate one group from others?

what makes a “bris” to an important ritual for the jewish people?

be well!!

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Published by biblelifestudies

I am a practicing lawyer and long term admirer of the bible

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