Brit Milah is the most ancient Jewish ritual that is still practiced today. It connects an infant and his family to our Jewish ancestors, the Jewish community of today and to those who will follow us. It is a time of joy and celebration.
The biblical source for brit milah is the commandment for Avraham to circumcise himself, all the males of his household, and all his male descendants:
This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every manchild among you shall be circumcised. And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant between me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you.
In fact, the Torah recounts several other cases of brit milah in addition to Avraham's own circumcision, Tzipora, Moshe’s wife, circumcises their son, and Joshua's circumcision of all the previously uncircumcised males before the Israelites entered the Land of Israel. The Jewish people continued to observe brit milah through the generations and circumcision has become the most profound symbol of the Jewish community, a physical sign attesting to a covenant of the heart. Jews throughout history risked their lives to circumcise their children as the brit milah was a symbol of Jewish distinctiveness.
Jewish communities have practiced this rite of passage for thousands of years, even under threat of persecution.
Circumcision does not determine the Jewishness of a child: having a brit milah does not make a non-Jewish child Jewish just as not having a brit milah does not make a Jewish child non-Jewish. Still, this act represents a transitional moment as the newborn now carries a testimony to his inclusion within the Jewish people, and this is the first rite of passage for a Jewish boy.
Around the 1600s in Germany, it became a custom to take the swaddling clothes that an infant wore for his bris and create a length of cloth embroidered with his name and with some decoration. When any significant religious event happened in that child’s life the cloth would then be used to wrap the Torah scroll.
That custom has been revived today with creation of a piece of fiber art which is used to wrap the baby at his bris and then wrap the Torah at his Bar Mitzvah.