Tuesday, December 16, 2014

When Bris is on a Fast Day (Tosafos insights)

In a much larger Talmudic discussion (Eruvin 40b) that involves the question of whether one must eat/drink after saying a blessing (instead of having someone else, such as a child drink), as well as the propriety of giving alcohol to children, Tosafos record two stories, which are instructive as to how people conduct themselves with reference to eating and drinking on a fast day.

I share because when there is a bris on a fast day (10th of Tevet, referenced below, is coming up), this information is instructive.

תוספות מסכת עירובין דף מ עמוד ב 
ומעשה היה בחופה בעשרה בטבת נתנו הכוס לתינוק לשתות [ומעשה היה בברית מילה ברבינו יעקב בר יקר שחל עשרה באב בא' בשבת והוא היה אב"ד וצוה להתפלל מנחה גדולה ורחצו ואכלו מפני שי"ט שלהן היה כדכתיב שש אנכי כו' והאי דלא מברכינן שהחיינו משום צערא דינוקא תוס' שאנ"ץ].

"It happened that there was a wedding on the 10th of Tevet (a fast day), and they gave the cup (of wine) to a child to drink (the word "Tinok" means baby - but sometimes refers to a child)."
"It happened that there was a bris with Rabbi Yaakov bar Yakar which fell on the 10th of Av which fell on Sunday (meaning it was the day they were observing the 9th of Av fast, pushed to Sunday). He was the Head of the Rabbinic Court. He instructed everyone to pray the early Mincha, and then to wash and eat, for it was a Yom Tov for them, as it says, 'I rejoice at the fulfillment of Your word...'
And the reason we do not say "Shehechiyanu" at a bris is because of the pain the child experiences."
When we say a blessing over wine on a fast day, we have the custom to give the wine to the child - which at a bris is the baby. This may or may not be the source for our giving wine to the baby at every bris anyway.

But the points we take from these tales for bris practices on fast days are the following:
1. The easiest person to give to drink on a fast day is the baby
2. A fast day which is pushed off, even a fast day as important as 9 Av, is a day when participants at the bris may eat. While this is not a common practice, it is mostly due to lack of awareness of the rules.
3. A baby does feel pain at a bris. This is not something we celebrate through the recitation of Shehechiyanu. [This is a confirmation that this mitzvah is one of the rare mitzvos in the Torah that has pain associated with it (the other being fasting on Yom Kippur). This is why numbing the baby is advocated, while some argue that the speed in which we operate serves as its own numbing.]


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

News Monitor: the circumcision debate

This debate has been ongoing for many decades, with medical views going back and forth on the subject of "to circ or not to circ." This is the latest installment (text embedded below).

As always, this is irrelevant to the Jewish people on account of it merely being a footnote to why we do what we do.

But the STD concern is real.

See also this article and newsreel from today.com

Monday, December 1, 2014

Yer Lookin Quite Good Yerself

Because we live in an increasingly depressing world, there are things that I must do and that I cannot do in order to maintain that my interest in this field (bris milah) is solely for the mitzvah - helping parents fulfill their biblically mandated requirement to have their sons circumcised to bear the mark of the Covenant.

This is why, as much as I want to share before and after photos so parents can know what to expect, I am resigned to explain it in words, leaving photos out.

This is why my care for most children ends one or two days after the bris, when things are healing nicely and I know that as long as post bris care follows my instructions, everything will be fine.

I have a colleague who likes to offer the change the baby's diaper if he bumps into the parents weeks down the road - it's his way of checking his handiwork to assure that all is healing as it should.

I am not so bold, and I don't ask parents for such opportunities. However, every now and then a parent will have a question or wants me to assure that all is good (especially if we left things as "let's keep in touch to see how things heal") and I get a chance to see how things have healed.  This happened twice this week, and I am happy to report wonderful healing processes.

It is always flattering to see such beautiful results from one's handiwork.  I hope they all turn out this way.

God bless!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Minhagei Worms, Germany (2 of 2)

The first installment is the previous posting. Here are a few more gems from the book "Minhagei Vorms."

1. Rabbenu Tam would be sure to stand during Torah reading and during a bris. The reason for standing during the bris was the same verse from Melachim II 23:3 - that the people stood at the covenant. The reason why the person saying the bracha needs to be standing is because of a comparison from the word לכם to the word לכם that we learn from ספירת העומר. Just as by the counting of the Omer the Torah tells us וספרתם לכם, the Torah tells us regarding the bris, המול לכם כל זכר. Just as we stand for counting the Omer, we stand for the bris. 

2. When there is a bris associated with שחרית we have a custom not to say עלינו until after the bris is over (most shuls today finish davening and then repeat עלינו, but that may be because many mothers bring their babies to the bris a little later than the end of davening (and some mohels have the bad habit of coming late*), and it takes a few minutes from baby's arrival before the bris begins). Why is עלינו not recited until after the bris is over? Because we say in עלינו the following phrase: "שלא עשנו כגויי הארצות" - that He did not make us like the nations of the land. When the child is uncircumcised, he is like the nations of the land. When he is circumcised, we can mark his entry into the mark of the covenant by including him in the missive that we are different from them. 

* I pride myself on coming on time, and not double booking, in order to be sensitive to everyone's schedule. 

3. Why is there a custom to have a party for a bris? There is a gemara that says that "all mitzvos that the Jews accepted with joy they still fulfill with joy" (i.e. with a party), and the classic example is bris milah. 
Furthermore, we are told that Avraham made a big part ביום הגמל את יצחק, Another way to read that is that Avraham made a big party ביום ה+ג מל את יצחק. On day (5+3=8) Avraham מל (circumcized) Yitzchak. And that's when he made the big party - at Yitzchak's bris!

4, We have the custom to say that just as the child entered the covenant so should he enter
"Torah, Huppah, and Maasim Tovim" - learning about (and living based on ) the Torah; the marital canopy; and a life of good deeds. In the footnote on this pronouncement, the author writes "I've been asked many times why Huppah precedes good deeds. Why can't it be the other way around? And I don't really have a good answer."

But I (AB) have a good answer. Simply put, one who does good deeds before marriage knows that a volunteer may step away at any time. But one who is married, in a committed relationship, cannot just go when things are rough. It is true that "chesed begins at home" and a life of good deeds truly begins AFTER marriage, when a person should do good deeds because it makes the other person's life easier and better. It isn't voluntary in the way one can just walk away when one is done. It is a commitment that one sticks with no matter what (again, in a lasting relationship) that outweighs any sense of "I'm volunteering and can walk away whenever I like."

Some of these vignettes are really fantastic. I hope you enjoy them as I have.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Minhagei Worms, Germany (1 of 2)

Over the weekend I picked up a book which discusses the customs of the Jewish community of "Vermaiza" - Worms, Germany. While much of the customs of the Jews of Worms are for the Ages, the book had some interesting insights about some aspects of Bris Milah, and the customs associated with the ancient ritual.

1. The reason we don't say Tachanun - since Eliyahu the Prophet will be in attendance at the bris, all rejoice over his arrival and Tachanun is cancelled.

2. The reason why we still say Lamnatzeach is because of the pain of the child. Targum Yonatan defines the phrase "יענך ה' ביום צרה" (That God should answer you on a day of pain) as "God should accept your cries on the day of circumcision." Obviously, this is an appropriate thing to say on the day of a bris. (Though it too is cancelled if there is a groom in the synagogue).

3. We say "ברוך הבא" at a bris, either because we are welcoming the 8 day old (הבא has the gematria (numerical value) of 8 in 5+2+1). Or because it is a greeting to Eliyahu the Prophet (as someone once pointed out to me, הבא is an acronym for - הנה בא אליהו.)

4. The mitzvah of Bris Milah has two components - Milah (removal of foreskin) and Priah (removal of mucosal membrane) (note - no mention of metzitzah as being essential...), based on the verse in Yehoshua (5:2) "Return and circumcise the children of Israel a second time." The word שנית (a second time) has the same numerical value (760) as פריעת, which is a reference to the second component of the circumcision. When the child is circumcised, people should be standing, based on the verse "ויעמוד כל העם בברית" (Melachim II 23:3) - that the people stood for the covenant.

We'll have more in the next installment from this wonderful book.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Metzitzah in a Nutshell

Oy.
This question keeps coming up. And while I have a page dedicated to it, and a lengthy blog post explaining it, and a clarification as to how I do it, it seems I haven't made clear in simple terms why I do it.

So here goes.

The Talmud states that a Mohel who does not do metzitzah is not fit to serve as a mohel.

Not wanting to fall out of favor with this declaration in the Talmud, I continue the tradition.

HOWEVER, the Talmud does not describe how metzitzah is to be done. Nor does it ever say that a bris without metzitzah is an unkosher bris. The bris is fine! It is the mohel who is suspect!

Since Metzitzah can be done in a number of ways, and since a long tradition has the power of the mouth performing the metzitzah, I choose to do it in a way that is as sterile and sanitary as applying a sterile gauze pad to the wound (haven't met a parent who objected to that!), which does no harm to a baby, which also satisfies my own obligations vis a vis the Talmud.

Were the metzitzah, as I perform it, in any way possibly dangerous to a baby, I wouldn't do it at all. I would find an alternative method. But the sterile tube stuffed with sterile gauze assures no transfer of fluid, assuring safety of baby, and allows me to be Talmudically fit to serve as mohel.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Sensitivity Factor

I've been asked by many people, "Why should I hire you? What do you differently than any other mohel?"


But after some of the more recent experiences I've had with some sensitive situations, and the feedback I've received, what people have told me they found most helpful about my services is the calming demeanor and the "knowing the right thing to say" manner I bring to their unique circumstance.

Honestly, I am a results guy. I want the circumcision to look as perfect as I can, and I want the baby to be in a good place in his post-bris healing the last time I see him (which is usually one post-bris visit).

But there is so much more to what is going on than just the baby's circumcision. There is post-partum mother, and, in many cases, a nervous father. If this is their first child (but also if it's the first son after a girl or only girls) there is the added "This is totally new for us" factor, 

And people need to know...

that everything will be OK, 
that we have thousands upon thousands of Jewish boys born every year, 
that the baby will cry during the bris.
that circumcision causes a little bit of bleeding.

AND also that
your baby is in good hands
other than you right now, no one cares for your baby's well being more than I do

And all this will be explained to you in a calm manner, in a sensitive manner, in a way that will put you at ease, and will hopefully leave you feeling (as the couple from this morning's bris told me) that your questions and concerns are also my concerns, and that they were answered, and that you were given the attention you need and deserve in the events surrounding the bris of your son.