Friday, February 5, 2016

Streamlining the Blog

There are two purposes for this blog:
1. It serves as my website as a mohel.
2. To provide information for the community of Jews who are researching Bris Milah on the Internet.

According to Blogger's count of these things, here is the current pageview stats from around the world - beyond the United States (which dwarfs the others) - over the last six years.

United Kingdom

So, as #2 is purpose has a mind of its own (thank you Internet), I'm going to try to bring things together in a more orderly fashion over the next few blog posts - essentially making the equivalent of pages dedicated to specific areas. Instead of rewriting the blog (always an interesting option!), I'll be putting together posts that are Tables of Contents for the areas of interest that have been raised thus far. Some of the "pages" which are linked at the top already do this. But it will provide more of a sense of order than the way the blog is currently structured.

Should be fun! 

We'll start with the most popular blog posts of all time:

Monday, January 18, 2016

No Tachanun - a so-called Perk of being a mohel

Anyone who grew up going to a shul where a mohel was in regular attendance recalls saying tachanun infrequently, in particular if the man was a busy mohel. Some mohels had a "siman" (indicator sign) that if he was wearing a tie in the morning, it meant he had a bris.

 We can well understand why if a bris is taking place right after davening, Tachanun, a prayer of supplication, would be omitted. Everyone feels the joy of the morning, everyone participates in the simcha, there is no room for a prayer such as tachanun.

 But sometimes the baby is not present, and the bris is not taking place immediately after davening, and sometimes it won't even take place in the same building, and in even some cases, noone from the family is present. So how could Tachanun be cancelled in these cases?

Please note that the definition of "Baal Bris" includes the baby's father, the sandak, and the mohel.

Here is my translation of the Shulchan Arukh and some of its commentaries on this subject.

Orach Chaim 131:4 
 “There is a practice not to fall on the face (e.g. say tachanun) in the synagogue on the day of a bris… Rama’s gloss: This is specifically if the bris will be in that synagogue. But if the bris will not be in that synagogue, even though it will take place in a different synagogue, then Tachanun is recited… Omitting Tachanun on the day of a bris is only relevant for Shacharis, because then [shortly afterwards] the baby is circumcised. But for Mincha, even when praying with/ in the presence of the newly-circumcised baby, tachanun would be said.”

 Ta”z (Turei Zahav)
Quoting his father in law, he notes that the rule about skipping Tachanun only applies to Shacharis, and not to Mincha. And, the Mincha which is required to have Tachanun is the mincha which takes place where the baby is not. However, if the baby is there, there is no tachanun at Mincha. This was also the view of R Shlomo Luria. It is the practice in Brisk, in Lithuania, and thus one should be lenient since tachanun is optional… This was also the custom in Krakow.

 Shaarei Teshuvah 131:10
Quotes the Eishel Avraham… that when the father is away, even if the circumcision will not be in the synagogue, since relatives are going to pray in the synagogue, there would not be tachanun. See also “Beer Yaakov” who says there are places where the custom is that when there’s a bris in the shul, where most of the city’s inhabitants pray, and it is the “elder” synagogue in town, then no other synagogue in town need say tachanun, as long as they are davening at the same time as the bris-minyan. Same is true for an individual davening alone at home

Mishneh Brurah 131 
21. Since the bal simcha was at davening, the simcha is shared with everyone and tachanun is cancelled.
22. Tachanun is not said in the synagogue on the day of the bris. Meaning, in the actual synagogue where the bris will take place, even if the baalei simcha aren’t davening there. The Acharonim wrote that if the baalei bris are davening there, i.e. the father, the sandak or the mohel [though not the kvatter], even if the bris takes place elsewhere, there is no tachanun in the minyan.
25. R Shlomo Luria, the BaCh and Taz all agree that when davening near the baby there is no tachanun. Eliyahu Raba decided that if they’re davening mincha in the baby’s house before the meal or DURING the meal, there is no tachanun. However, after bentching, they do say tachanun. The Chayei Adam wrote that this only applies when davening in the baby’s house. But once they’re davening somewhere else, even if they daven mincha BEFORE the meal and the Baal bris (father, sandak, mohel) is present, they should still say tachanun. Further, the baal bris himself (father, sandak, mohel) should not say tachanun at Mincha, even if it takes place after bentching, because it is his personal yomtov.

 Beer Hetev 
13 There is an implication that in the cold days (winter) whe brisses take place in the home, tachanun is said in shul. This requires further discussion. The “knesses hagdolah” wrote that the custom everywhere was that even if the bris was in the house tachanun wouild be skipped in shul if the baal bris davens there.

 If the child is born without a foreskin, and hatafat dam is performed, there is no tachanun

Monday, January 4, 2016

The first Bris of 2016 - Amazing Event

To describe the backstory of this family would be an injustice to their experiences that brought them to this point. But the public story is certainly one which is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of, so here it is.

Picture a baby being born at 26 weeks (or thereabouts), and having all kinds of understandable problems. Being cared for 24/7 in a hospital. A 40 minute drive (with good traffic) from his parents, and they having limited access to him, not being able to hold him for the first month of his life.

He spent 101 days in the NICU before coming home, and bringing some light to his family on Chanukah!

It still took a few weeks for him to be ready, for him to get the green light from the doctors, and for his overall well-being to be ascertained before going ahead with the bris. As a rule, we do not perform the bris on babies who are not medically considered to be 100% healthy.

While it's not uncommon for a newborn to weigh over 8 pounds, for this baby who was born weighing around 2 pounds, seeing him in his gargantuan 8 plus pounds made for quite an impression! His mother told me he is the biggest baby they've brought home from the hospital - this is, Baruch HaShem, baby #4!

It was not a big crowd - that is not the family's style. But it was a gathering of meaningful friends, and, of course, people who have been with this family every step of the way, praying for them, being there for them, extending a loving hand, and just helping them not feel alone. It was very special to be a part of this simcha - as guest and friend, and also, in my case, as the mohel!

We here at wish Asher Chaim all the very best! We wish his mother, his father, his brother and his two sisters, only good times and loads and loads of smiles with their new son and brother. And for Asher Chaim, let his healing from the bris be the last healing he should have to undergo for a long time, as we hope for him to have a life of good health and minimal need for doctors!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Being an Uncircumcised Jew

I recently met a Jew who was born and lived most of his adult life in Russia, before coming to the United States when he was almost a senior citizen. He is now close to 80.

At the time of his birth, the Russian Jews were no longer circumcising their sons, and while he has children who are observant, he feels he is too old to undergo circumcision.

With hints - though it was quite clear what he was asking - he wondered if he can be buried in a Jewish cemetery if he finishes his life (and he should live for a long time!) uncircumcised.

Simply put, the answer is embedded in this essay about what happens when a child dies before being circumcised. We would take care of it for him before burial.

[While the answer is simple, the circumstance is not. Many anti-circumcision activists use the argument that a male "Jew is still a Jew even if he is uncircumcised, therefore we should not be circumcising our children without their consent." This man is certainly a Jew, but he wants to be circumcised. He is only hesitant due to his age. (I didn't raise the "Abraham was 99 at his circumcision" argument) While it is true that a Jewish male is a Jew regardless of circumcision, there is another element to his Judaism which remains in limbo, and that is his obligation to circumcise to avoid the status of receiving "karet" at the time of death. Which is why we would take care of it for him when he dies, no matter what. Now, of course, one can question the need to do this after death, after all, who cares? But if one takes Judaism seriously, one takes the concept of "karet" seriously, and understands that this is a consequence/result that one would prefer to avoid. The law is very clear that first the father has the responsibility to take care of it for his child, then the Bet Din (Rabbinic court) has the responsibility if the father is either absent or derelict of his responsibilities, and if Bet Din doesn't take care of it, the young man is responsible for his lack of circumcision until the day he dies (hopefully as a very old man). At which point, the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) takes care of it for him. A Jew he is, but remember that Abraham was not considered "complete (or perfect) before God" until he was circumcised. See Genesis 17:1]

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"The Process" a.k.a. "The Procedure"

I often get calls months in advance of the baby's birth, from parents who "like to plan ahead" who are asking what is the procedure for arranging for a bris.

All mohels operate on what is in the real world a tight schedule, while in the mohel world is called "plenty of time." (Caterers for brisses also operate this way)

What do I mean? The nature of the world of bris milah is that there is - in most cases - only a week to prepare for the bris. So if your baby was already born (as in, earlier today) and you haven't called the mohel yet, DON'T WORRY! Anyone else who just had a baby has probably not called him either. You do want to call sooner than later, but don't be concerned that you didn't book him before the baby was born. The mohel expects that any bris-call is for a bris that is a week away or less than a week away. [I have received calls from people asking if I'd be available "tomorrow," but most people are a little more organized than that. In defense of some people who called at that later hour, their first mohel canceled on them last-minute, so they found themselves frantically looking for someone to cover.]

So here is the process, for anyone who is at the stage of pre-birth, whether 3, 4 5... or even 9.5 months into pregnancy.

Call the mohel to interview him
You can do this at any time before the baby is born. It is a good idea to get acquainted, or even to meet, if possible.

Call the mohel to book him
As soon as possible after the baby is born

Organize your supplies
This should be done anytime before the bris. Some people even do this before the baby is born, before things get super hectic. You can also order The Bris Bag if it makes your life a little easier. [This is an independent business who I recommend and support. I do not get any referral fees - their prices cover costs, shipping and reasonable profit.]

Figure out the baby's Hebrew name
My joke to people is that you should write it down on a paper when you figure it out, five minutes before his bris. Some people have it easy, some people put a lot of thought into deciding a baby's name.

Assign a family member the job of getting a bris outfit (though you can pick anything - it doesn't matter)
A gown, open on the bottom is best. If not, snaps that completely open the bottom of the outfit are good. (Can both be rolled up over baby's arms) Buttons are hard to navigate with gloves on. Zippers and diagonal snaps that only go down one leg just make mohel's job more difficult.
And, NO, he does NOT need a kippah

Figure out your venue, your budget, and what kind of celebration you'd like to have
And where the mohel fits in your plans

After the Bris
You'll want to keep this page handy - Post Bris Care
And these links at your fingertips
What Things Will Look Like Afterwards
Long term Care Reminder
Chubby Baby Syndrome


Monday, November 9, 2015

Intergenerational Simchas

I have been a mohel for about 16 years. Several years ago I stopped counting the number of brisses I've presided over as it doesn't really matter any more. People often jokingly ask "Have you done this before?" but it's usually because they assume a mohel is more middle-aged or older (I'll get there eventually, IY"H), or they're being generously kind in guessing my age particularly after hearing I've been on the job that long.

But, as is plainly clear, the oldest child who has been circumcised by me is 16, and is certainly not yet a father. And considering how many times I've heard of a mohel circumcising the son of someone he circumcised so many years ago, I look forward to the days when I'm called to play that role.

And yet, I've had some interesting stories which are nonetheless related to playing such a role. Here are three of them.

Story #1. A father who was raised in a Reform Jewish household told me he realized he had been circumcised when he was two days old and his bris was not "kosher." He asked me to perform Hatafat Dam on him (see second half of this post). His wife was pregnant at the time, and he thought - just in case it's a boy - it would be a good idea to have his own bris "kosherized" before he'd be bringing his son into the mark of the Covenant. Sure enough, we took care of him, and 4 months later he actually circumcised his own son (with my assistance) in a moment I will never forget. Especially considering his sharing with me his backstory, which was briefly mentioned here. So I guess maybe I have presided over the brisses for a father and a son!

Story #2. I did a bris for a couple that are contemporaries of mine (I actually went to pre school with the wife/mother!). Some time later I got a call from his father, who was in his fifties, who was in a second marriage and had a new son! In this way I did the bris of a (half)brother of someone for whom I had done his son's bris.

Story #3. This isn't a bris story as much as it is an interesting story. I recently got a phone call from the father of a baby whose bris was over a year ago, asking "Do you do weddings as well?" Yes... who is getting married? "We are!" I had no idea they weren't married when I did the bris. Somehow it didn't come up. Anyway, I recently performed the wedding for this couple, certainly making for the most unique intergenerational simcha I have ever presided over.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Most Inspiring Line of the Year

I did a bris this week for the first child of a couple with a fascinating family background and incredible personal story. I wrote up a "Dvar Torah" based on my experience at this bris. But I am repeating the story here, because it is a remarkable tribute to how love of family could cross the most surprising walls of time and space.

 I learned a very important lesson this week, from a Tzanzer chossid I probably never would have met were I not invited to be the mohel for a very unique family. The baby’s father grew up Chassidic, but lives a vastly different lifestyle now – absolutely Jewish, but not particularly observant. And yet he told me over and over how much he wants his parents and brother, who were to be flying in from Israel, to feel comfortable at the bris. “I don’t live as a chossid. But I love them, and I respect them so much.”

 After my post-bris visit, I told his parents how much I admire their ability to embrace their son’s choices, and to maintain the connection with him – despite the physical distance and the worldy-distance. His father told me they email each other several times a week, and of course speak on the phone. I complimented them – the parents – for keeping their son close to them.

 And then his brother said to me, “He is also mekarev us.” (He brings us close to him). “He has really opened our eyes. And we need that more than anything.” This insightful comment really struck home.

 How often do we see families torn apart over religious differences? How often are children rejected, or parents ignored, or grandparents deprived of a relationship with their grandchildren (which hurts both directions) on account of a fight or disagreement that should not be irreconcilable? Egos are hard to drop. Taking a stand in the name of religion or God is hard to give-in on. But we must recognize what the greater lesson, what the greater value is, when we encounter what we see as conflicts that cut to our core.

 A Tzanzer chossid loves a secular Jew because he literally is his brother. And his eyes have been opened to the idea that life is much bigger than one way – that people can be Jewish in many ways, and they can still have a “Yiddishe neshoma,” a Jewish soul.

Amazing story. Still inspired.