The Christian New Testament records that both John the Baptist and Jesus were circumcised on the eighth day in accordance with Jewish Law.

Luke 1:57-60 English Standard Version (ESV)

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.”

Luke 2:21-39 English Standard Version (ESV)

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Did a priest or rabbi come to the home to perform the circumcision? Were there formal traditions or prayers recited, and if so, what do we know about them and how do we know about them? What is the English translation for a typical prayer or blessing said at circumcision?

  • 1
    Hi MutluAnne. You may want to check out judaism.meta.stackexchange.com/q/32/759
    – Double AA
    Oct 25, 2017 at 18:06
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    A Mohel has the job of performing circumcisions nowadays; because of lack of information I would assume it would be the same in the First Century, and for sure it doesn't have to be a priest. It could even be the boy's father, given that he knew how to perform the procedure (not many people do or feel comfortable doing so).
    – ezra
    Oct 25, 2017 at 18:12
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    You might be interested in this article from Chabad.org.
    – ezra
    Oct 25, 2017 at 18:19
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    FYI, according to Jewish law, women are allowed to perform circumcisions. This is rarely practiced, today. But, we certainly see that Tzipporah, Moses's wife circumcised her own son. Perhaps, at that time, some women did the job? (I assume that they didn't serve bagels and lox, then :-)
    – DanF
    Oct 25, 2017 at 18:45
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    @sabbahillel For those familiar with Jewish practices, there would be no need (or perhaps curiosity) to ask. As a follower of Jesus, I see the roots of my faith in Judaism, and know that we share Scriptures which differ little from one another (tanakh and our Old Testament), but have had little exposure to the practice of Judaism. I am studying Luke 1 in our New Testament. I asked on Christianity.SE, and a user there thought Mi Yodeya was a better venue for answers to my question. I am trying to accurately picture what the text refers to regarding both John's and Jesus' circumcision.
    – MutluAnne
    Oct 25, 2017 at 21:36

1 Answer 1


According to halacha (Jewish law), a father is obligated to circumcise his son on the eighth day after birth (unless some health reason requires postponement). The circumcision is to be done by the father or an agent he appoints; there is no requirement that the person performing the ritual be a rabbi, priest, or any other special category. Today it is customary to hire a mohel to do it, but that is a matter of expertise -- most people today do not know how to do it safely. (We also tend to hire agents to do other specialized things, like writing a torah scroll and slaughtering animals for meat. Halacha does not require hiring a specialist; practicality usually does.)

The torah records one case of a woman performing circumcision (Moshe's wife Tzippora circumcised their son on the way to Egypt in Exodus chapter 4). Under the Greek ban on circumcision c. 215-163 BCE, Antiochus degraded and executed mothers of circumcised babies, which makes me think the mothers might have sometimes done the act themselves. Usually, though, I believe either fathers or agents hired by fathers were the ones to perform circumcision throughout our history.

The Mishna, the part of the talmud compiled around 200 CE, talks about when to perform circumcision, but I haven't found anything there about where. Today the circumcision can be held either in the synagogue (typically right after morning services) or in the home. A celebratory meal is part of the mitzvah, so practicality might govern the choice sometimes.

The one performing the circumcision says a b'racha (blessing) before doing so: "Blessed are you, Hashem our God, King of the universe, who sanctifies us with mitzvot and commands us concerning circumcision". The father also makes a b'racha before the circumcision: "Blessed... and brings him (the son) into the covenant of Avraham our father". In some traditions the father also says Shehechiyanu, a b'racha expressing thanks for reaching this time. (It's not specific to circumcision; this prayer is also said on festivals, when donning new clothes, when eating a type of fruit for the first time in a year, and other occasions.)

See the Halachipedia page on circumcision and its many citations for more on the halacha as we have it today.


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