“The earliest time for the circumcision of a (healthy) newborn baby is never less than eight days after birth, nor more than twelve days after birth.” (Gemara Arachin 8b)

It is important to note that the day of birth is considered the first day, even if the birth occurs shortly before the end of the day, i.e. just prior to sunset. For instance, a child born at 3pm on Monday will have the Brit Milah on the following Monday, and it can even be performed in the morning. Furthermore, the Jewish day begins at night, like in Bereishit 1:5 where the Torah states: “There was evening (first) and (then) there was morning, one day.” Accordingly, a child born at 11pm on Sunday evening will also have his Brit Milah on the Monday eight days later. Under certain circumstances, the circumcision is postponed, but it is never postponed beyond the twelfth day, unless the health of the child is at stake.

It is well known that the Torah states1: “On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised”, and this even applies if the eighth day is Shabbat, but what could be the scenario in which the earliest time for the circumcision of a healthy newborn baby would be on the twelfth day after birth? Think about it for a few minutes, before reading further for Rashi’s elucidation.

If a child is born during Bein HaShemashot2 (twilight), the circumcision takes place on what might actually be the ninth day from birth. This is because the twilight period has a doubtful status of being either the conclusion of the previous day or the beginning of the following day. We therefore apply stringencies so as to be cautious. For instance, if the baby was born on Sunday evening during twilight, he cannot be circumcised on the following Sunday, but must wait until Monday. To circumcise on Sunday would incur the risk of performing circumcision prior to the eighth day (if the twilight period in question actually belongs to the night). Thus the correct procedure is to postpone.

When the birth takes place during twilight of Friday going into Shabbat, the child is circumcised on what might actually be the tenth day from birth. The circumcision cannot take place on Friday, since twilight may be judged to be Shabbat, and thus Friday would only be the seventh day from birth. The circumcision cannot take place on Shabbat either, because Friday may in fact have been the eighth day, and since only a circumcision taking place on the definite eighth day may be performed on Shabbat, our circumcision must be postponed to Sunday, which may in reality be the tenth day.

Now, just as a delayed circumcision may not take place on Shabbat, so may it not take place on a festival. In a situation where Rosh Hashanah falls on Sunday and Monday3, the circumcision would be postponed until Tuesday. As a result, this baby who might actually have been born on Friday will not have Brit Milah until a week later on Tuesday, which might then be the twelfth day of his life!4

1.       VaYikra 12:3

2.       Bein HaShemashot is the twilight period preceding night. Its legal status as day or night is uncertain.

3.       Now that we have a fixed calendar, Rosh Hashanah cannot actually fall on a Sunday (לא אד"ו ראש), but this scenario could have occurred when the calendar was set month to month by the Beit Din.

4.       Rambam (Hilchot Milah 1:15) explains that this is true only in regard to the second day of Rosh Hashanah where the two days share a united, single holiness. He permits rescheduled circumcisions to take place on other occurrences in the diaspora of second day Yom Tov. Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 266:8), however, maintains that a delayed Brit Milah does not defer the second day of any Yom Tov.

 

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