Childbirth and Circumcision


In Jewish law, every woman in the process of childbirth is deemed to be in a life-threatening situation, even if the birth is proceeding normally. Therefore all measures deemed necessary for childbirth, may and should be taken even on the Sabbath or Festivals.

The process of childbirth is defined as commencing either:

  • when the woman can no longer walk unaided, or
  • when she begins to bleed, or
  • when she has regular contractions.

The process of childbirth continues for up to 30 days after childbirth, and during this process, whatever treatment she requires, may be carried out.

If the mother’s life is in imminent danger at any stage during childbirth, and the only way to save her life is by aborting the foetus, it is permitted (and indeed obligatory) in Jewish law to terminate the pregnancy. However once the head is born, the foetus is treated as an independent human being whose life may not be sacrificed even to save the mother’s life.

Once the process of childbirth has commenced, the obligation to fast on Yom Kippur and other fast days is suspended for seven days. Between 7 and 30 days after the birth, the mother should fast on Yom Kippur (but if a doctor feels this is medically inadvisable, please consult a Rabbi). On the other fast days (especially Tisha B’Av) she should try to fast, unless she feels weak or unwell.

A woman who suffers a miscarriage more than 40 days after conception (i.e. in practice, more than 35 days after the date of her last missed period) is treated in Jewish law as if she had given birth.


Circumcision is one of the most fundamental and oldest Jewish observances. It marks the entry of Jewish males into the Covenant between God and the Jewish people.

Circumcision is a simple operation to remove the foreskin, the skin that overhangs the tip of the penis, which is usually performed in the daytime on the eighth day after birth. It is a quick operation and the child heals within a few days.

The circumcision is performed by a person called a “Mohel”. He will be a deeply religious person who is highly trained, having a thorough knowledge of all the laws of circumcision, and will have been trained and experienced in all the necessary surgical technique. Arrangements to obtain the services of a qualified Mohel can be made by contacting the secretary of the Initiation Society. (See list of useful contacts)The Initiation Society keeps a register of qualified persons and constantly monitors their performance and competence both religiously and medically.

If a circumcision is performed in the hospital, it would be appreciated if a room could be set aside for this purpose. It is customary to have ten men present, and to also have a small celebration afterwards.

If the child is ill or too weak, the circumcision is postponed until the baby is fit and strong enough. The most common problem affecting circumcision is jaundice. Even when the baby is suffering only from physiological jaundice of the new-born, the Mohel may wish to delay the circumcision. The Mohel should always be consulted when it is felt that the circumcision should be postponed. In any case he will always check before to see if the baby is ready for the procedure. Jewish law has strict rules for determining when a baby is unwell, and may, for example, delay a circumcision even if the baby is only suffering from a sticky eye.

This may also be the case when a baby is born premature or underweight, or has feeding problems.

Firstborn Baby Boys:

A special religious ceremony known as “Pidyon HaBen” takes place 30 days after the birth of a first born boy. There are certain occasions, including when the baby was born by Caesarean section, when the ceremony does not take place.

(Further clarification should be sought from a Rabbi.)

Information on child miscarriages, stillbirths and neonatal deaths is included in the section on death and burial. The Stillbirth Support Group offers a telephone support service to anyone who has been affected by a stillbirth, either recently or in the past.

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