Hatafat Dam Brit (ritual drawing of a drop of blood)
As the date of their beit din (rabbinic court) nears, many intended gerim (converts) grow especially nervous about one “last detail” of the conversion process, the hatafat dam brit (literally, the drop of blood covenant), or symbolic circumcision. The hatafat dam brit is a requisite part of conversion to Judaism because brit milah (the covenant of circumcision), is a sacred rite as much as it is a surgical procedure. If an intended male convert to Judaism was circumcised prior to his conversion, that non-religious procedure doesn’t substitute for brit milah. The would-be ger (convert) must undergo hatafat dam brit to meet the ritual requirements of entrance into the Jewish covenant. During the rite, a mohel or rabbi draws a drop of blood from just under the glans of the penis, where the foreskin is attached on an uncircumcised member.
Like most of my fellow male gerim, I was a bit anxious about this aspect of my conversion. I knew that my beit din, hatafat dam brit, and mikveh visit were slated to take place in quick succession, all in the course of about two hours, provided that my time with the beit din satisfied the participating rabbis. It did. The three rabbis, two of whom I knew and one of whom I did not, had read my conversion statement the night before and, to my delight and relief, thought highly of it. The four of us talked at length; it felt less like an interview (or court) than a conversation between people excited about Judaism and Jewish identity. Eventually, we realized we’d talked beyond the allotted time, so I hurried off to the changing room to disrobe and prepare for the hatafat dam brit and the mikveh.
Once I’d changed into a bath robe and bath slippers, I let the rabbis know that I was ready for them to enter. The rabbis, all men, entered the bathroom and instructed me to sit on a bench, open the bathrobe at the waist, and try to relax. The first two instructions were easily complied with; the third, a little more challenging! One of the rabbis then pinched together some of the skin of my penis and used a small, spring-loaded lancet (similar to that which diabetic individuals use to check their blood sugar levels) to prick the bunched skin. He then used a small piece of cotton gauze to dab the skin so that a tiny drop of blood stained the cotton. Finally, he showed the gauze and blood mark to the two other rabbis. Agreeing that they’d all seen the blood, they recited the bracha (blessing) for the rite. And that was that. It was time for me to follow them into the room containing the mikveh.
When men ask me about this experience, they always want to know if the hatafat dam brit hurt. Honestly, I don’t remember any pain at all. That doesn’t mean, however, that hatafat dam brit isn’t an uncomfortable part of the conversion process. No matter the context, having your penis inspected, pinched, and poked can be awkward and unsettling. Additionally, everything is relative in our experience. I consider the pain of the rite alongside that associated with my adult circumcision, which I’d had several months prior to the hatafat dam brit. Although I was under general anesthetic during the medical procedure itself, the recovery from the circumcision lasted about two months and it was unpleasant and, at times, quite painful. Perhaps, then, even a painful hatafat dam brit experience would have been seen by me as relatively easy?
If intended gerim have particular questions for me about brit milah or hatafat dam brit, I am happy to answer them.
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