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 part 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. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

When Does the Delayed Bris Take Place?

The reasons why a bris might be delayed are mentioned here.

The specific points to consider are addressed here

I got a call Sunday night from a father whose newborn son had finally come home from the hospital after having been there for over a month on account of his premature birth.

He wanted to schedule the bris for a week later, because that was what he had been told to do.

(The following is my summary of our conversation, the quotes are not actual)

Did your baby have complications? No. He needed to learn how to do things, but he's been fine for a while.

Why was he in the hospital so long? He wasn't eating well, he needed to gain weight.

Was he ever "sick"? No. He needed to grow into himself.

All this information led me to understand that the baby did not fall into the "choleh b'khol haguf" (systemic illness) category. It was a matter of maturity.

Then he told me that the doctors felt the baby could have circumcised while still in the hospital, if the parents had wanted such. Which meant he'd had medical clearance for a while.

With an understanding of the medical side, and an understanding of the halakhic side, we discussed options for when to have the bris, and when to have the "celebration party." I told the father that when a baby is ready for his bris, the appropriate thing is to do it as soon as possible. Could a preemie wait a few more days? Yes. But it's not necessary to do so.

The bris ended up taking place the following afternoon after our conversation, with a small, yet respectable - mostly family and very close friends - crowd. The family will have a bigger party as a combination homecoming and post-bris celebration, after the holidays.

MAZAL TOV!

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Promise Fulfilled

I did a bris for a very sweet family (the baby's parents are very chilled out - I love that!) 2 and a half years ago, and blogged about my reflections on a conversation I had at the time with the baby's grandfather. 

At that bris, the baby's father had requested that his father, a urologist by profession, be the one to actually do the circumcision - with me being the facilitator and bandager.

Which I happily did at that time.

The baby's father watched his own father do the bris, and when he saw how simple it is to do, once everything has been set up properly, he spontaneously called out, "THAT'S IT?! I'M going to do it NEXT TIME!"

When he called me last week, I reminded him of his spontaneous comment at the previous bris. And that I'd been telling the story for 2 and a half years.

With a reminder and a nudge, he fulfilled his promise today, and served as mohel for his third son - with complete support of his wonderful wife.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Beautiful Bris Story

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/184689#.VBaHHH-9KK0

A couple chose to have the bris for their baby in a new yishuv that was established immediately after the murder of Gilad She'ar, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrach became known.

See pictures at the link above.  Here is the text of the article:

About two months after Givat Oz veGaon was established, in memory of the three youths Gilad Sha'ar, Eyal Yifrah, and Naftali Frenkel hy"d, a moving event was held on the hill - the first brit milah (ritual circumcision) ceremony in the forest, which is situated facing the Gush Etzion junction.

David and Ilana Brenner, residents of Elazar in Gush Etzion, invited their guests, relatives, and the mohel to Givat Oz veGaon, where the ceremony was conducted. The baby, who became part of the renewed history of Gush Etzion, was named Oz Michael.

The baby's grandmother, Naomi Brenner, one of those expelled from Yamit, emotionally summed up the event.
"We felt a special atmosphere here, in the place that is named after the precious boys who fell," she said. "A brit symbolizes continuity. We look at one another here with joy, and the desire to be in Eretz Israel."

The baby's grandfather, Igor Tofeld, added, "This isn't just a moving event because we gathered in this place. This is our first grandchild, and I am very happy that Ilana and David chose this location. This symbolizes that the people of Israel lives, and that with all that has happened, we will be victorious."

The mohel, Rabbi Hayyim Moshe Weisberg, too, expressed his emotion at performing the first brit at a new Jewish site.

Oz veGaon  was first settled by members of Women in Green and the Zionist Midrasha, the night after the murder became known.
In the days and weeks that have passed since then, many youth and visitors from all over Israel have come to the hill, that is next to the site of the kidnapping.
They renovated and restored the site, and started to establish the infrastructure needed to turn it into a regional tourism center.

"The preserve was established to continue life in Eretz Israel, give a living soul and provide a constant Jewish presence at another location in Gush Etzion. It therefore was only natural for the family to conduct their first son's brit here, in the Oz veGaon preserve, and to call their baby Oz Michael," say the heads of Women in Green, Yehudit Katsover and Nadia Matar. They add that "the phrase 'In your blood live' [recited during the brit ceremony] received redoubled significance here."

The two, as well as the activists and supporters from among the nearby communities and the members of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, call upon the public at large "to conduct events at the site, to enjoy the beautiful forest and the facilities that have been established, and to strengthen the Jewish presence."