Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Bris During the Nine Days... But is it Joyous?

Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein (1829-1908) is arguably most famous for writing the "Arukh HaShulchan," a contemporary work based on the format of the Shulchan Arukh and Tur.

In the laws of pre-Tisha B'Av, he drops a number of comments about how people conduct themselves during the Nine Days leading up to Tisha B'Av, a traditionally negative/ bad-luck time for the Jewish people, during which we minimize our joy and withdraw from certain pleasures and celebrations, such as eating meat and conducting weddings.

In 551:8-9 (and 27) he has a number of insights about Bris Milah, a mitzvah which is time-dependent, based on when the baby is born, which necessarily overrides other restrictions. We may eat meat at such an event, and we do not push off the celebration, as we might a wedding, because the bris MUST take place on the 8th day (assuming the baby is healthy). 

What follows is a summary of the insights about Bris Milah. I left the Hebrew (untranslated) at the end, in case you are inclined to read it inside.

8. "Weddings (which are forbidden during this time" are not comparable to Bris Milah and Pidyon Haben, which are permitted because they are time-dependent. Additionally, you don't really have "Simcha" (joy), for real joy is only in matches (for matrimony) at which we declare "שהשמחה במעונו".  Therefore anything related to marriage is considered to be joyous. But that is not the case for circumcision and redeeming of the first born.

9. When a Bris takes place any day from Rosh Chodesh (Av) through Tisha B'Av, the custom is for the mohel, sandak and the father to wear Shabbos clothes. All of the honorees, including the kvatter, do not wear Shabbos clothes. However, women do have the practice to wear Shabbos clothes, because this is their main observance of the mitzvah - their wearing fancier clothes in honor of the Milah.  

27. For a circumcision and a redemption of firstborn..., people may eat meat and drink wine if they are participants in the Simcha.  [Hosts]  need that ahead and extend invitations to people with whom they have no connection, just for the sake of the Bris.  One who normally would not be there should not take advantage of the opportunity to eat meat even if it is it legitimately special occasion.

MY TAKE HOME LESSONS:
1. The Simcha at a joy is emotionally subjective. Objectively, Halakha only defines real Simcha as the kind you have at a wedding. Certainly there is a joy at a wedding unlike at any other occasion, with a band and with music and dancing, which you simply don't have at a bris. Also, we note the reality that - albeit for a very short time - the baby experiences pain, and that takes away from the full Simcha we might otherwise experience. Though we skip tachanun on bris days, we don't skip Lamnatzeach, which includes the words יענך ה' ביום צרה, for precisely this reason!

2. Women and men have different ways of celebrating special occasions. Men more actively participate in the mitzvah, while women dress nicer (much nicer) than men tend to!

3. Specifically looking to manufacture reasons to eat meat during the Nine Days is generally frowned upon.



ערוך השולחן אורח חיים סימן תקנא
סעיף ח
וכן אין נושאין נשים מר"ח ואפילו בלא סעודה... דכל מין שמחה אסור פשיטא דגם בכה"ג הוי שמחה ואסור ואפילו שמחת מריעות נראה דאסור וה"ה שידוכין אצלינו מותר להתקשר מר"ח ולהלן אבל בלא סעודה וכ"ש בלא ריקודין ומחולות ואפילו בשבת אסור לעשות סעודה בשביל זה ואפילו מי"ז בתמוז אסור ריקודין ומחולות כמו שאנו נוהגין לבלי לעשות נשואין מי"ז בתמוז עד אחר ת"ב ולא דמי לסעודת מילה ופדיון הבן שמותר דהזמן גרמא וגם אין בזה שמחה דאין שמחה אלא בענייני זיווגים שעליהם מברכין שהשמחה במעונו ולכן כל השייך לזה האירוסין והקישורי תנאים הוי שמחה ולא מילה ופדה"ב
סעיף ט
אמרו חז"ל בתענית שם האי בר ישראל דאית ליה דינא בהדי א"י לישתמיט מיניה כל החדש דריע מזלא בכל החדש מילה שהיא מר"ח עד ט"ב נוהגין שהמוהל והבעל ברית שהוא הסנדק ואבי הבן לובשין בגדי שבת אבל שארי בעלי הכיבודים אפילו הקוואטי"ר אין לובשין בגדי שבת אך הנשים נוהגות ללבוש לפי שזהו עיקר מצוה שלהן במה שלובשות בגדים יקרים לכבוד המילה [מג"א סק"ג]:
סעיף כז
עוד כתבו דבמילה ופדיון הבן וסיום מסכת וסעודת אירוסין אוכלין בשר ושותין יין כל השייכים לסעודה אבל יש לצמצם שלא להוסיף ובשבוע שחל ת"ב בתוכה אין לאכול בשר ולשתות יין רק מניין מצומצם וזה אפילו בערב תשעה באב שרי ובלבד שלא יהיה בסעודה המפסיק בה וכל מי שאוכל בשר במקום שנוהגים בו איסור פורץ גדר הוא וינשכנו נחש ומותר לשתות כל שכר אפילו של דבר שקורין מע"ד עכ"ל וחילקו בין מן ר"ח לבין שבוע שחל ט"ב בתוכה דבשבוע זו יראו שלא יהיה יותר ממניין מצומצם ומן ר"ח יכול להיות יותר ורק לבלי להוסיף קרואים שאין להם שייכות להברית מילה ואלולי האכילת בשר לא היו קוראים אותם בוודאי יש לאסור

Monday, July 2, 2018

Precision

If you've stumbled across this blog and you are not using my services, I humbly suggest you speak with your mohel about this. I have had quite a few hirings come my way only BECAUSE I DO WHAT IS DESCRIBED BELOW. The people were looking precisely for someone who is precise

Of the recent brisses I have had, in a few cases a grandparent is a pediatrician. In a number of cases, the parents had hired a different mohel for an older son of theirs.

Of course in most most most cases of brisses, everything goes well and everyone is happy.

But a bunch of people have a story. About a bris that did not cosmetically turn out as they had hoped. Of a circumstance under which the baby needed to go to the hospital. Of a less than positively memorable experience. Or a pediatrician sees circumcisions (performed by doctors) and the rare bris performed by a mohel which did not turn out as it perhaps should have.

The parents with these stories probably don't talk too much about it, but they have to tell me because they don't want that experience repeated. Or the pediatrician quietly suggests to parents that they would do well to speak to a pediatric urologist.

It pains me to hear these stories, because they are unnecessary. Honestly, they should never happen.

There is a very simple solution, and a very simple method that mohels MUST train themselves to do, to make for perfect circumcisions - straight, even, cosmetically beautiful, and responsible, while leaving the parents happy and the baby in a good place for all purposes and needs down the road.

MARK THE FORESKIN!!!!!

AND FOLLOW THE MARK!!!

I am tired of hearing mohels say "I don't need to do that." This is arrogance of the highest order.

We are dealing with long term ramifications of a person's life!

This is not to suggest I think that circumcision is dangerous. On the contrary. I think that when done correctly and under all the proper conditions, it is not only not dangerous, but a safe procedure which has very many benefits long term (agreed that some of these are not apparent for a long time, but I can't tell you how many babies had a change in their urination immediately after circumcision - able to urinate more freely, and avoid the UTI that even babies could get under certain conditions).

There is no greater satisfaction that I have in this line of work than in being able to tell parents "Your son's circumcision is perfect." And I know that the only reason I can say that so often, noting the precision of the circumcision, is because of the marking of the foreskin with a surgical pen and following the mark.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Summer Time

My son recently commented to me, "Abba, you do realize you're always busier in the summer."

Looking back at some of my old logs, there is truth to this. Though how he would know I can't fathom, because he was away at camp the last few summers.

But I digress.

Was it the aftermath of Hurricane Irma? Was it the High Holiday season?

Is there a trend among teachers to have babies in the summer time so they can have 2-3 months with baby before needing to go back to work? (Yes there is!)

Or do people just plan for summer babies because summer babies are awesome (my wife and I have 4 "summer babies"!)?

Of course not everyone can plan these things. And of course, I am well aware that there are many people who don't care when they have the baby they desperately want to have, but have been unable to have for all the reasons in the world.

So to those who are having babies, congratulations. Feel free to be in touch when you have a boy.
Congratulations to the mommies of the little bundles of pink.

And for those still hoping, I hope God can fulfill your wishes, for good, speedily in the near future.

ה' ימלא משאלות לבכם לטובה אמן

Monday, May 21, 2018

The 3-Bris Day



My mohel teacher would often have multiple brisses in a single day. Rare was it that he had only one bris. Even more rare was when he had not a single bris in any particular day. .

There are many mohels in Florida - some have been working as mohels in Florida for over 30 years. Between their seniority and the fact that many Jews opt for circumcision in hospitals - either for insurance reasons, because they think a doctor does a better job, because they don't know about the significance of the 8th day, or they simply don't care - it is not so common for me to have 3 brisses in a day.

But that is what is lined up for today!

It is a special merit of a day! I look forward to bringing these babies into the Sign of the Covenant, and serving their wonderful families in this very special mitzvah.

Image result for 3x

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Naming a Baby Before His Bris

When one studies the Torah's narratives, following the births of the forefathers and the sons of Yaakov (later known as the sons of Israel), we find they are all named before birth (by God, for example) or shortly after birth. There is no indication of their being named at the time of circumcision, as their circumcisions are not talked about (with the exception of Yitzchak, the first baby to be circumcised at on day 8).

In my other blog I wrote about when we name boys and girls, and why we name them at the bris and at a Torah reading, respectively.

Yossele Weisberg z"l, dedicated a chapter of his magnum opus on the laws and practices of the Bris Milah experience, "Otzar Habris," to the customs surrounding when we name both boys and girls. He records 4 reasons for why a boy is named at his bris:

  1. At the time we are involved in blessing the child (ie. we say a "mi sheberach" after the bris), it is appropriate to refer to him by name. This would imply that the bris is the latest we can name a boy. 
  2. Until his bris, he carries the name of an "arel" ערל (uncircumcised), which must be changed to a proper Jewish name as soon as possible after his circumcision. 
  3. When we give the name with the formula of "Kayem" קיים את הילד הזה לאביו ולאמו ויקרא שמו בישראל... (establish this baby to his mother and father with the following Jewish name…), we are asking for the name to carry with it "God's approval," which would surely be most forthcoming once the child is circumcised. 
  4. Once he is circumcised, and has arrived at his personal physical "completion" (shlemut), it is the right time for him to be given his name.
But what happens if the baby is not circumcised right away for health reasons?

What about when this happens, and on account of an anatomical abnormality there will not be a traditional "bris"?

The answer is that we would name the baby! A baby should have a name! In particular if the baby is in need of our prayers, he should have a name. The bris is the absolute last opportunity to name a baby boy - because he should not go past the bris without having a name, as per the 4 points mentioned above - but it is not an absolute that we must wait until the bris, especially when it will clearly be delayed for weeks and certainly months (when a different kind of surgery is required).

May this discussion only be hypothetical, as all babies should have their brisses on time. In the event that it becomes a practical question, I hope the baby in question is named sooner than later.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Bris Milah and Iceland

Iceland has had a bill to criminalize Bris Milah. I don't know how many Jews live in Iceland, but the thought that a basic Jewish practice might be criminalized, sending people into cellars and basements to do it, is frightening.

I know much lobbying has helped turn this decision, and that international pressure has brought about this interim conclusion. Enjoy? the link.

Here is the latest: https://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/general/1512993/european-jewish-association-welcomes-iceland-bris-milah-bill-demise-but-urge-continued-vigilance.html

European Jewish Association Welcomes Demise Of Iceland Bris Milah Bill, But Urges Continued Vigilance

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The Chairman of the European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menachem Margolin on Sunday welcomed the apparent demise of Iceland’s controversial circumcision bill, that sought to criminalize the act and threatened imprisonment to adherents, regardless of religious practice or obligation.
Rabbi Margolin however cautioned that continued vigilance of contagion was a necessity not only in Iceland but across Europe.
On March 1, the Icelandic parliament sent the bill to the committee on Judicial affairs for comment, where it has been stuck since. The committee has now decided not to let the bill go forward for a vote on the floor.
As the legislative session is drawing to a close it is all but guaranteed that the decision to refer the bill to the cabinet kills its chances of becoming law. Whether the bill will then be re-introduced is still an open question
In a statement from Brussels, Rabbi Margolin said, “I welcome the apparent demise of what was a discriminatory, unnecessary and fundamentally anti-Jewish bill. The European Jewish Association, along with many other groups, Christian, Muslim and Jewish, made repeated and vociferous representations to the Icelandic government, registering our strong opposition to legislation that sought to criminalize an entire faith.
“Whilst we welcome the news, we must remain vigilant. In our experience bills such as this do not come out in isolation but represent an idea that knows no borders. It is sadly often the case that there is contagion where one bill fails in one country, it gets picked up by another.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Vigilant Parent

Vigilant. Not vigilante.

Last week I received from a phone call from a somewhat reluctant father, who was calling more because his wife was concerned about how their son's circumcision looks.

The following is my recollection of what he said, though it is not an exact quote.

"We had a friend of mine fly in from New York to do the bris 5 months ago. It was a little weird because he did something afterwards, and he followed up with us a lot, but eventually - he lives in NY and we are in Florida - I can't bother him to come down to look at it. But I found what you wrote on your website and so I'm calling you."

Not having been at the bris, not having seen the baby before or afterwards, not having witnessed the actual circumcision, I told the father that I could not comment on the job without seeing it. And so we made arrangements for me to visit, and sure enough, the mommy's instinct was correct and there was a(n easily) correctable problem, which I have called the Fusion Challenge. Basically the remains of the Periah skin (membrane) had gotten stuck to the back of the glans.

I separated the skin with a little pressure, the baby did not bleed, and I showed the parents very simply how they could avoid this concern in the future.

And then I told them this story. Which, as usual, had its desired effect.

The point is, if you, the parents, are vigilant about how to care for your baby's circumcision after the bris, you'll never have these problems or concerns. So be sure to know what you need to do, and follow through with it for your baby's sake!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Periah

The second stage of Brit Milah, which is sometimes accomplished along with the first, is the one that is often used by anti-circumcision people as being "anti-traditional." 

They'll often claim that it wasn't originally instructed to Abraham, and therefore doing it is "not what God intended."

I love how they have a hold on "what God intended."

The truth is, they have no blessed idea of what they're talking about, and no business chiming in on Jewish practice, when they are anti-Jewish practice. 

The same Talmud that debates and discusses whether Abraham did Periah dictates that there are three stages to a bris procedure: Milah (excising the foreskin), Periah (revealing the glans - either through removal or folding back of the mucosal membrane), and Metzitzah (drawing out blood from the wound).

I bring this up here because in advance of a class I'm giving next week, I came across this comment from the Haktav V'hakabbalah (a commentary on the Torah) on the verse in Vayikra 12:3 which states that when a woman gives birth to a son, on the 8th day of his life he is to be circumcised. 

הכתב והקבלה ויקרא פרק יב
(ג) בשר ערלתו. יש לפרשו באחד משני פנים, הא' בשר הוא כנוי לאותו אבר, כמו זב בשרו, החתים בשרו, וערלה הוא שם לעור המכסה את העטרה, והיה ראוי להסמיך ערלה לבשר ולומר ערלת בשר, כמו ונמלתם ערלת לבבכם, והב' בשר הוא עור החופה את הגיד, כי העור נקרא בשר, כמו דבקה עצמי לבשרי שטעמו לרד"ק דבקה עצמי לעורי, ויהיה טעם בשר ערלתו, בשרו הערל. וההבדל שבין הפירושים האלה הוא, אם ניתנה פריעת מילה לא"א אם לא. והענין מבואר יותר ס"פ לך לך.

Rabbi Mecklenburg's comment here discusses how the reading of the verse in question would determine whether Periah was given as an instruction to Abraham.

However, as I've noted before, we don't circumcise because Abraham circumcised. He may have started a family tradition! But we circumcise because we were commanded to at Sinai, in a different covenant which has kept the Jewish people a distinct unit for thousands of years.

Therefore, while the historical debate of Abraham's periah makes for interesting dinner-talk it is completely irrelevant to our practice.

On top of that, I can certainly add that if asthetics are the least bit of a concern to anyone who is either circumcising a child or having oneself circumcised (as an adult, etc), the status of periah's having been done will actually have a significant impact in whether one "looks" circumcised. 

I'll leave the pro-con benefit vs no-benefit argument to others to tackle. We circumcise because of our mitzvah and our Covenant. But once we're doing it right (i.e. with periah) it should also look right.

AMEN.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

When the Mohel is also a Synagogue Rabbi

In old Jewish towns there was often one person who was a Jewish know-it-all. He was the sofer (Scribe), Shochet (ritual slaughterer), and Mohel. 

Despite the fact that this person held several positions, there is actually indication in Jewish law that the shochet shouldn't also be a mohel. Why? Not because anyone is afraid he'd do anything wrong to the child! It's actually something which is a serious concern to devout Jews, but not because of whatever you might be thinking.

The assumption is that any shochet will be busier than any mohel. Every family needs to eat daily, while even if a family might have had a baby once a year, it's not always a boy. And of course some have babies far less frequently than that.

So here's the reason: When a shochet finds himself in a situation where he has a knife in his hand (even though it's a much smaller knife than usual, and he is looking at a baby and not a bird or animal slated for slaughter), he might accidentally say the wrong blessing before commencing the job.

You read right. The wrong blessing. Now the blessing a shochet makes (Blessed are You God... Who has commanded us to slaughter animals) might not sound good before circumcising a baby. But no one thinks he'd go and slaughter the baby. Everyone is moi confident that the bris will go just fine.

I finally understood this on a very deep level this week. As I am also a rabbi of a synagogue, this time of year is somewhat dedicated to people appointing me to be their agent to sell their chametz in advance of Pesach. When we meet, I always tell them, "Please appoint me to be your shaliach/agent to sell your chametz."

As I do brisses a lot more often than I sell chametz, you can probably guess what happened. 

One night this week, I was a little distracted as a person came to make the transaction with me, and I told him, "Please appoint me to be the shaliach to do your son's bris!"

Like in the example above, I did not circumcise anyone at that time, and the error was quickly corrected and our transaction went without a hitch. But it just goes to show how we can train ourselves to say things. After all, every time the father is not doing the circumcision himself - which is his mitzvah - I remind him "You have to appoint me to be your shaliach to fulfill this mitzvah on your behalf."

AND THAT is an honor that I cherish anew every time I receive the call!

Thank you, as always, for your trusting your baby's bris needs to my hands. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Best and the Worst of Times

This blog post has two anecdotes from this week, each followed by the method of procedure I utilize in these circumstances. Like any religious milestone and lifecycle event, the only thing that gives it that flavor is when the rules are being followed. I didn't make the rules, so please (if your circumstance is described below) don't cast aspersions against things which have defined the Jewish people for millennia.

Shabbos Bris and Bilirubin/Jaundice
I got a call last night (Thursday night after Purim) from a couple whose son was born last Saturday morning. A baby born on Shabbos is supposed to have his bris on Shabbos.

Owing to a very mild case of jaundice (bilirubin count 15.3), their mohel told them that they could not have the bris on Shabbos, and it will be Sunday. Wanting to do things right, they found my blog post on the subject online and called me to see if I'm available. I'm not, which is fine. But there are two things going on here which, to me are a cause for concern.

1. As noted in the article recounted in that blog post, the craze over jaundice, and the fact that some mohels will delay brisses on account of it, is mostly based on a misunderstanding of halakha. Also, the medical concern is unfounded as most doctors will tell you that normal physiological jaundice (which is the most common type) need not delay a bris. Mohels need to drop the arbitrary bilirubin number of 12 and have brisses take place on time when the number is higher. I have never had a problem with babies who had a bilirubin count of 16 (or even lower than 18 when the numbers were descending).

2. To do a bris at the right time is a mitzvah. A Shabbos bris provides added stress to parents if the mohel they want to hire does not live in their neighborhood, as he needs to be housed for Shabbos, with all the arrangements that entails. Of course it's inconvenient for the mohel as well. But it is important to the family to do the bris on the 8th day. This is why I find the mohel jumping at excuses to delay the bris - for his own convenience - to be wrong.

Instead of saying "bilirubin is too high, so I'll do the bris on Sunday," the mohel should be honest and say this: "Your baby should have his bris on time. I am not available to come for Shabbos. If you find someone to do the bris that day, wonderful! Mazal tov! If not, I am happy to be available at the next opportunity, Sunday morning."

I have given that speech to many people. Some have found someone else. Others could not find someone for Shabbos. Others chose on their own to delay to Sunday because they wanted me to be their son's mohel, based on all the research they had done. Let us understand bilirubin and jaundice better, getting out of old-school methods of delaying brisses. And let us (mohels) be honest about what we can and can't do, and not delay a bris due to our (mohels') inconvenience. 

Non-Jewish Mother
I do feel badly every time this happens. But this is one place where the kind of Judaism I live draws a clear line. By birth, only a child born of a Jewish mother is Jewish. If his mother is not Jewish at the time of birth, he is not Jewish and needs at the very least to undergo some form of conversion. 

As I like to say, I'm not judging anyone. Heaven forfend I would ever suggest anyone is not a good person. All I'm saying is that a non-Jewish woman is not a Jewish personWhich, of course, has ramifications for her child.

While there might be a financial incentive, I made a decision a long time ago not to do "brisses" on babies born from non-Jewish women, even if the father is Jewish (because they usually want a Bris, and the baby doesn't even need to get circumcised! and is certainly exempt from a Bris!). I am not supervising a conversion in these cases. And I certainly don't want to mislead anyone into thinking all is good and kosher when it is not. The child would still need a conversion as the circ would not turn him into a Jew.

I don't know the rabbi who called me on their behalf earlier this week. But he certainly thinks differently. When I told him "The baby is not Jewish and doesn't need a bris," he said, "Now I know where we stand." [For what I sometimes offer people in these circumstances - which very few people have taken me up on - see the second half of this post. under "The Cases I Will Take."]

The continuation of the Jewish people is most possible through Jewish marriage, Jewish education, and a commitment from both parents to raise their children as Jews. While to the modern eye matrilineal descent might seem to be anachronistic, and the concept of "Jewish DNA" only passing through the mother might seem to be bigoted, the fact remains that that is the core definition of Jewish peoplehood (outside of proper conversion) which has defined us almost forever. 

I look forward to continuing to service Jewish babies in this holy mitzvah.