Circumcision, which is known as brit mila in the Hebrew language, is the oldest ritual in Judaism tracing back to our father Avraham who was the first circumcised male as we learned in the Torah. The covenant of Brit Mila appeared in the parashah Lekh Lekha, where it was commanded that every male shall circumcise in the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Hashem and his people. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he circumcised the flesh of his foreskin, along with his son Ismael who was thirteen years of age, including a handful of servants who underwent the same ritual.
The condition for circumcision, as instructed by Hashem, to be practiced throughout the generations, is for every male child to be circumcised at the age of eight days. The whole idea was simply to create a physical mark in the flesh of the foreskin as an everlasting pact, distinguishing Jewish males from their non-Jewish neighbors. This had become an identity-check for Jews for thousands of years until in recent times when circumcision became popular for many other people around the World. For instance, during the tragic days of WW2, the Nazi soldiers in search of Jewish residents often forced men to drop their pants, to ascertain if any person that is a Jews.
Speaking about identifying Jewishness in a people- the Igbo tribe occupying the regions east of the River Niger have been known as strong observers of the ritual of circumcision of their male child. Beyond all reasonable doubts, this fact has become the strongest evidence linking the Igbos as one of the lost tribes of Israel. Going back in history, their grandfathers and the ones before them had simply continued the act of circumcision which was practiced by their forefathers’ many generations ago.
However, even though a greater percentage of the Igbos are currently Christians, forced to drop most of their ancestral traditions following the British conquest about a century ago- male children are circumcised on their eight days of age. For the Jews of Nigeria, the brit mila is usually carried out according to the Jewish laws just like their counterparts in the Holy Land and across the World Jewry.
Ushering-In The Festival Of Shavuot!
Few days before the feast of Shavuot, a new couple in Adat Yisrael Synagogue Lagos welcomed a baby boy as their first child. So, while we prepared to celebrate the feast of Shavuot amidst the global lock-down, we also looked forward to witnessing the brit mila to make the newborn truly one of us once the mitzvah is fulfilled as commanded by the Holy One, blessed is He. And with most of the synagogues in Lagos under lock-down for several weeks, the best option was to hold the brit mila at home. For now, everybody has come to terms with the new reality on the ground that stretched for quite some time since the beginning part of the year. In the wake of the whole situation, I was at the table with Kish Onyia and family as Jews in Nigeria celebrated Pesach at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As usual, from the second seder night, the countdown to the next Jewish festival began in earnest. This spiritual counting exercise has its origin from the duration of the number of days it took the Israelite to prepare themselves to receive the law about 32 centuries ago at Mount Sinai. Before the end of the buildup to Shavuot, we looked at 8 important things to know about counting the Omer as Jewish Nigeria joins the rest of the World in the countdown to Shavuot.
Most parts of the Omer counting in Lagos was done at home, with exception of Adat Yisrael Synagogue, which was although closed to the public, yet a handful of members residing in the Synagogue guest house continued to gather for prayers and keeping Shabbat. It was an honor to join them to mark the feast of Shavuot, especially after staying away from the synagogue for 9 consecutive Shabbath. To usher in the festival, the women lighted up the festival light, and then we proceeded with the maariv prayers led by chazzan Shlomo ben Nomeh.
D’vrei Torah by Shlomo Nomeh- Corresponding Relationship Between The Laws In The 10 Commandments.
After the evening prayers, it was time for Kiddush and then followed by the festival meal, which ended with a joyful brikat hamazon. Seated around the table- there were 5 men, 4 women, and two little girls (Hadassah and Orah). Typical of every eve of Shavuot, it has become a custom to spend a greater part of the night studying the Torah as we prepare our minds to receive the Torah just like in the days at Mount Sinai. The discussion and teaching continued beyond the midnight hour-mark.
The following day, during the festival shacharit service, Shlomo ben Nomeh, one of the cantors in Adat Yisrael Synagogue, gave a remarkable D’vrei Torha- outlining the corresponding relationship between the two parts of the Ten Commandments. Laws pertaining Hashem are found in the first tablet, while laws between man and his fellow are contained in the second tablet. However, each law isn’t just dependent but strongly linked to another law on the other side of the tablet.
- Number (#1)> First/Sixth Commandment: Hashem introduced Himself to the house of Israel as the Elokim who brought Israel out of the land of Egypt. In the sixth commandment, it was said: you should not murder. So, one who kills his fellow has denied the existence of Elohim. He has denied the fact that there is one who gives life.
- Number (#2)> Second/Seventh Commandment: Hashem in the second commandment clearly stated that we should have no other gods besides Him. And the seventh commandment talks about adultery. Hence, it can be deduced that one who serves idol and chosen another deity is just like a wife who leaves her husband to meet another one.
- Number (#3)> Third/Eight Commandment: The third commandment is a warning against taking oats in vain, while the eighth commandment is: thou shall not steal. The relationship between both subjects is that one who steals can go any length to protect himself even if it means swearing falsely in the name of G-d.
- Number (#4)> Fourth/Ninth Commandment: One who keeps Shabbat is testifying that Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. And as the ninth commandment said one should not bear false witness against his fellow. So, it can be implied that whoever is not keeping Shabbat, is also bearing false witness against Hashem- that no one created the World in six days and rested on the seventh day.
- Number (#5)> Fifth/Tenth Commandment: The relationship between honoring parents- and not coveting your neighbor’s property is that- one who tends to desire to acquire other people’s things even when it’s not rightly yours should be rest assured to raise children who may likely not honor their parents. Because, once the children can see what is happening as a bridge of the moral way of life, then they will tend to grow up without the much-needed respect the parents should naturally be accorded.
The Symbolic Food and Their Significance.
For thousands of years, Jews have maintained certain restrictions in terms of the food they eat. And outside these food specifications as can be found in the laws of the kashrut- almost each of the celebrated Jewish festivals is associated with a particular kind of symbolic food. Which brings me to the next question- concerning the spiritual significance of the food and why every Jew should partake in it. While there are many answers to that question, the fact remains that it’s a halakhah and most interestingly, the symbolic meal is linked to the stories of events in the past. This ultimately would help us to be able to tune our spirituality into the original event (of the past) and connect to the light of the available energy.
Dairy foods are the symbolic meal eaten during Shavuot. Milk is considered to be a symbol of the Torah, which nourishes the children of Israelite, as milk does for a baby. There are popular opinions that the festival of Shavuot occurs during the fertile spring period when animal mothers produce lots of fresh milk. One of the most common Shavuot foods is cheesecake, which is usually taken alongside the normal festival meal.
While taking the dairy foods, one is expected to tune their consciousness and focus on the light of the Torah and what the Torah stands for in terms of knowing what God wants from us, and how he wants man to live with his fellow men.
First Kaddish- After 9 Consecutive Shabbat!
Nobody predicted that the year would be plagued with a powerful virus that would bring the whole World into a standstill. I can still recall my visit to Lagos in February when Adat Yisrael Synagogue unlocked the next phase in the Jewish movement, hosting the 19th National Youth Shabbat in Lagos. The next big move was the buildup to the first-ever Pan African Jewish conference scheduled in May to take place in Ivory Coast but had to be postponed due to international travel ban put in place to curtail the spread of the dreaded coronavirus.
Before Purim, Nigeria had already recorded the first index case of the COVID-19 virus. And so while Pesach was approaching, everyone eventually understood the reality of celebrating Pesach while stuck at home during a pandemic. I sat at the seder table with Kish Onyia and family, as Jews in Nigeria celebrated Pesach at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Visiting Adat Yisrael Synagogue on the final day of the Omer counting, I learned that a few members residing within the Synagogue have been gathering for Shabbat, even as the synagogue remained closed to the rest of the public. But due to the low numbers, they have not said kaddish for nine consecutive Shabbat. Shlomo ben Nomeh was leading the mincha service on Shavuot when the Synagogue had its first minyan since the period of the lock-down began.
The Igbos Circumcising Their Male Child On The 8th Day- In Observance Of The Abrahamic Covenant.
Circumcision is one of the oldest traditions of the people of Eastern Nigeria. Tracing back to hundreds and hundreds of years ago, our grandfathers said they learned the ritual from the fathers before them. The day of circumcision is usually on the 8th day after the birth of a male child. This usually coincide with the naming ceremony of the child, as it is expected for the parents to reveal the name of their newborn.
Usually, great feasting is held to celebrate the child and honor the parent. Occasions of this nature are accompanied by music and dancing; a time for neighbors and families to gather and express the heritage of the Igbo culture.
Moving from one state to the other in eastern Nigeria, the celebration of male child circumcision is similar in a general perception. Although, many may choose to add one or more attractions to make the occasion worthwhile.
Nathan Ben Uwaoma Leads The Shacharit Prayers On The Day Of Circumcision.
It’s a popular belief among Jews that some portions of sins committed by an individual are forgiven if they partake in Brit Mila ceremonies as guests to this Jewish ritual. This typically shows the significance of the covenant of circumcision to the Jewish people and how they relate with the Holy One, Blessed is He. From generations to generations, as commanded by the Elokim of Benei Yisrael, all the male child shall be circumcised in the flesh of their skin on eight days old. This will be a perpetual covenant and sign between Me and my peculiar people, as recorded in the Torah.
After we had basked in the excitement of Shavuot, we set out early in the morning to be part of the brit mila of Brother Michael Onuzuruike’s new son who was born during the last days of counting the Omer. It was also during the lock-down period in Lagos state and the synagogues have been shut down to the public. But eventually, the event became an avenue for the majority of the Lagos Jews to come together and see one another since the outbreak of the virus.
That morning at the residence of the new parent, a minyan of Jews gathered to conduct a full brit mila service in honor of the new child. The prayers were led by Nathan Uwaoma the chazzan in Adat Yisrael Synagogue. At the end of the prayers, the nurse wasted no further time in getting down to the main agenda of the day.
Chidera Nashon Ben Michael Becomes One Of Us!
The compound was crowded even before the end of the shacharit prayers. A good number of brothers and sisters from various synagogues in Lagos state showed up for the brit mila. Even though it was at the height of the coronavirus inter-state lockdown, the obligation to perform the mitzvah rather superimposed.
Everyone was happy to see each other, and as the formal occasion got underway, Kish ben Onyia acted as the officiating minister in the naming of the child. This part was inserted in some of the prayer-lines, where everyone paused and listened as the father pronounced the name of the baby for the first time.
Chidera Nashon ben Michael was cheered by the crowds, as we welcomed him into the Jewish faith as one of us. Such a remarkable day for the young boy as he was surrounded by several other younger children who were also not left out from the whole celebration. And at the end, the event became an avenue to reunite the Lagos Jews and make them stronger as a body.
Photo Gallery I
Scenes from the brit mila occasion as it happened in Lagos state.
Kiddush, Feasting, and Merriment!
In honor of the new member, Chidera Nashon ben Michael, a sumptuous meal was prepared for the guests. But firstly, we have to do Kiddush, which was led by Kish, the leader in Adat Yisrael Synagogue. After the blessing of the wine, we drank our portion and washed hands for bread. Kish said the prayers and broke the challah, which was passed around for everyone to take a portion.
While waiting for the meal to be served, Kish began a conversation by asking how the experience of celebrating Pesach during the lock-down at home. And as the discussion got underway, some of the younger women served the festival meal of jollof rice and fried chicken. Everyone looked cheerful, especially the younger children who were happy to see the new child for the first time. It was indeed a turning point as the Jews from different Synagogues in Lagos state turned out in good numbers to grace the occasion.
There were few moments for comedy and laughter, and discussion in Igbo language during the meal. Then came one of the best moments of that morning- when charity donations were raised for the new baby boy. Michael, the father of the child took some moment to address the audience, expressing his appreciation to Hashem, and said it was an honor for the Lagos Jews to respond to his invitation for the brit mila of Nashon. At the end, we chorused the brikat hamazon aloud and cheerfully and then bade each other goodbye as we returned into the World to face the reality of the ongoing pandemic.
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6 Things To Know About Circumcision
Why is circumcision so important for the Jews, not minding the fact that a huge population of non-Jews across the World also practice the same act of circumcising their male child?
- It is a mitzvah in the Torah-one of the greatest of all of them- that connects the Jewish people to their Elokim as a pact of covenant transcending from one generation to the next.
- Circumcision- according to the Torah is only for the male child, and it should be done on the 8th day as it is commanded.
- It is permitted, on rare occasions, if the need is, to carry out the brit mila beyond the specified 8-days duration, on grounds of health conditions of the baby.
- It is believed and taught by many that attending a brit milah is a great mitzvah that enables some portions of sins of the individual to be forgiven by Hashem. From Midrashic Sources, it was narrated that G‑d promised Elijah that on the day of the Brit the father of the child, the Mohel, and all those present will be completely forgiven of their sins. Hence, one of the reasons why a special sit is designed for the prophet Eliyahu during a brit milah event.
- It is said that prophet Elija visits every circumcision and gives a blessing everybody present.
- According to the ticketsofrussia.ru, at the circumcision, a Jew is receiving a Jewish name which is a reflection of his being in the material and spiritual worlds. As our scholars say: “A non-circumcised Jew is like a jar with a hole in it. No matter how much you pour into it, it remains empty”.
L’Shana Tova To All Our Readers & Supporters Across The World!
There is a time for everything on earth, and reoccurring seasons to complete the yearly circles. Although sadly, much of the year has been characterized by uncontrollable situations, which forced the world to retire behind their doors in defense of the coronavirus. But in the face of all these, we are grateful to Hashem for giving us hope each day that this whole thing will soon go away, as the world is gradually learning how to move on and keep on living safely.
Baruch Hasehm the New Year is here again! These are positive times for Jews as they usher in the New Year, seeking to tap from the available spiritual energy to sustain life, improvements in career, success, and stability in different areas of life. And in a couple of days, the main pilgrimage festival comes up shortly after Yom Kippur (the holiest day in the year). Our prayer and focus is for one to attain the required spiritual level during the period of the High Holidays. Isn’t this the earnest expectation of every dedicated Jew?
And as the year ends by the eve of tomorrow, on behalf of the entire team of the Jewish Nigeria Blog– I thank all our readers who have been following our blog and contributing positively. Todah raba for reading all our story coverage. We look forward to another exciting year (5781) of bringing our readers fascinating stories happening across Jewish Nigeria and beyond.
Our sponsors have played a huge role in supporting the functionality of the blog. I will like to mention Kulanu specifically- Harriet Bograd and her team has been so wonderful and generous.
Finally- and not forgetting to mention the parent of Chidera Nashon- our prayer and wishes are with you as both of you train up the young child in the right ways of Judaism. We look forward to celebrating his bar mitzvah in thirteen years from now! Shalom.
One more thing- another great news to remark- is that one of the greatest friends of the Nigerian Jews, Gadi Bentley, took Ortal to the Chuppah on Tuesday, September 15th in Eretz Israel. The occasion was marked in a grand style, watched by thousands of Jews in Nigeria through live video streaming, to celebrate the end of the year (5780) in a colorful way filled with memorable sights. May Hashem bless their union abundantly!
L’shana Tova! Happy New Year! Happy 5781!
ABOUT THE WRITER: Avraham ben Avraham is a Nigerian Writer, Business Consultant, International Tour Guide and a Jewish Travel Blogger. He is the founder of the Jewish Nigeria Blog (his 2nd blog after the Jewish Standards). Avraham is also a contributory writer in the diaspora section of The Jerusalem Post Magazine. Some of his upcoming projects include: the Jewish Nigeria Online Forum, Jewish Nigeria Directory, the “Book of the Returning Jews,” and Parnasah Network (Nigeria). He is a member of the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (New Jersey).
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Upcoming Stories On The Jewish Nigeria Blog
- Succot Celebration Across Jewish Nigeria
- Hanukkah in Jewish Nigeria
- Jewish Nigeria Parnasah Network Upcoming Seminar for Youth Empowerment
- Pushing towards the establishment of a typical Jewish Nigeria community settlement
- The “Book of the Returning Jews of Nigeria.”
Photo Gallery II- Selected Photos from Across Jewish Nigeria
Remembering some of the Scenes from a couple of events in 2019/5780 from Across Jewish Nigeria!
- Professor William Miles in Ebonyi State- August 2019
- National Youth Seminar in Onitsha- August 2019
- Street procession as twin Sifrei Torah arrive Lagos from ertez Israel- October 2019
- Women Shabbat in Olam Yisrael Synagogue Lagos- November 2019
- Scenes from Olam Torah Synagogue marking Kulanu Across the Globe event- November 2019
- Havdallah concert held in Adat Yisrael Synagogue to mark the International Sabbath Project– November 2019
- A birthday celebration in Olam Torah Synagogue Aba- February 2020
- The 19th National Youth Shabbat held in Adat Yisrael Synagogue Lagos- March 2020
- Baruch takes his new bride to the Chuppah- September 2020