Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Most Important Kibbudim

One of the search terms that brought someone to this site recently was "most important kibbudim," so I figured the subject is worthy of a posting.

Other than being the father or mohel, the highest honor at a bris is unquestioningly the sandak.

Beyond the sandak it really becomes a matter of opinion. 

Some might call the "standing sandak" the highest honor. Though whether it was always called that or later called that to give similar honor to the honoree (such as the grandfather who did not serve as sandak) is a question for discussion.

Some might view placing the baby on the Chair of Elijah as a great honor. After all, if the presence of the prophet is noted and invoked through the appointment of this chair to such a role, being partner in placing the baby on this holy space is surely significant.

Some might view the speaking roles as most important - the recitation of the blessings and the paragraph in which the baby is given his name. Every other role at the bris (aside from the father and mohel) is a non-speaking and holding-baby-only role. If you view a speaking role as significant, then this one is pretty important (though the dramatist in me reminds all of the old adage "there are no small roles. Only small actors.")

The catch in this latter group of roles is that the speaker must be a fluent Hebrew reader, and insofar as the blessings go (from my perspective) the one saying the blessings should be an observant Jew - at least to the best of everyone's knowledge.  These factors often leave the mohel as the default person for this role, or the community rabbi. At brisses for Orthodox families, this role might be given to a family member, or a friend who is more cantorially inclined.

My only recommendation is that whoever names the baby not be a person emotionally attached to the name being given to the baby. I have seen too many a grandfather lose control when the baby was named for a recently deceased great-grandfather. 

On the other side, as well, one grandfather with "quite the sense of humor" got up to the part when the baby is named, gave the child his "Name, son of..."  At this point, he is supposed to say the baby's father's name. When he took a longer pause, I thought in the heat of the moment he had forgotten his son's name. Turns out, he paused as if to say to his kid, "who is the REAL father?" People laughed good-naturedly (I think), but if I had to do it again, I would have had someone else name the baby.

Those kinds of jokes are not funny, and while the baby's father "laughed," I don't think he thought it was funny either. "My own father... Sheesh!" 

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Rabbi With the Great Line

On Friday, I was privileged to work with my second set of twins of the week. The difference was that Friday's twins (as opposed to Sunday's) were a boy and a girl. Which means that while the bris took place, the sister was sleeping in her crib.

Anyway, the bris took place at home, where the living room was adorned with signs that say "It's a Boy!" and "It's a Girl!"

The bris spot (meaning where the chairs were set up) happened to be under the pink sign, and before he recited the blessings over the bris, the rabbi of the community remarked, "This is the first time I have ever done this under an 'It's a Girl!' sign."

Thank God for that!

[Photo below is not from the bris in question - I found it online and doctored it for the effect.]


My Article About Bris Milah

I write a weekly column for the Jewish Star in New York - which I reproduce on my Torah/Judaism-focused blog. Last week the topic was Bris Milah - or the Covenant of Circumcision, as it appears in the Torah in Bereshit (Genesis) Chapter 17, Parshas Lekh Lekha.

Here is the link to the Jewish Star      Here is the link to my blog

And here is the text for good measure:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Front page of Sun Sentinel local (Palm Beach County) section

On Tuesday October 23, 2012
All good except the man in the white coat's first name is AVI

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Interesting Stimulus Response

I just came across this article, which includes a link at the end with a response from the "other side" (my side).

http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/my-body-my-choice-ban-non-consensual-circumcision

And the response

http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/becoming-a-jew-is-dangerous-circumcision-is-the-least-of-it

Were I to respond to the original author (and I might here eventually) [Update: Response Part I, and Response Part II]  I would take issue with a lot of his points. I'll just respond to one here, becomes it is brought up a lot by people who make similar arguments:

The author quotes Maimonides - and takes the same quote that many people who areanti-circumcision like to quote from "The Guide tothe Perplexed" [3.49 (118a), 609] in which Maimonides expressed how circumcisiondecreases physical sensitivity. 

But their quotation of Maimonides is always incomplete, and therefore intellectually dishonest. Maimonides is coming from the perspective that there is a lot more to life than "running like chickens to one's bedroom."

In the part they don't quote, Maimonides outlines why we circumcise. Avraham was the first to recognize the power of the male "drive" and the need to have other pursuits in life [see Hilchot De'ot 3:2]. More importantly, in his day (certainly before any notion of routine circumcision that exists in the United States today), circumcision gave our people a common physical sign of our peoplehood, along with the faith that this is what God has asked of us. 

The covenant forged with Avraham, in which God agreed "to be a God for you and for your children after you" [as described in Bereshit 17] is the source for declaring God's oneness.

[As to Maimonides' real reason for why we circumcise, see here]

Maimonides states unequivocally that the Torah cannot be properly fulfilled without circumcision. He shares three points of wisdom in the process of circumcising at this age: 1. Were we to leave it for the child to do when he grows older, there's a great chance that he wouldn't do it. 2. The long-term pain experienced by an older person, who will add emotional stress to the ordeal, does not compare to the when-it's-over-it's-done experience of a newborn 3. Submitting a newborn to circumcision is much easier than an older child, for whom our love only grows over time, who experiences pain differently and who might remember it.

To Maimonides first point here, the author of the first "Tikkun" article quoted above might say, "That's exactly my point!" But to a Jew who has faith in God and appreciates that life itself is a gift from God, and that our bodies are given to us to house our souls, circumcision is a non-question. [See a discussion on the subject of God's creation versus Man's intervention here]

To the second point (which follows, once we assume circumcision will be taking place), Maimonides is essentially arguing that when a child is newly born, circumcision is not as traumatic as it might be at a later age. As a mohel, my experience echoes such a sentiment. Most babies are calm and cooing minutes after their circumcision, if not resting quite peacefully, and no worse the wear. Contrast this with the father of a baby, who was born in Russia, and told me how grateful he was that this was being taken care of in infancy while he personally was circumcised at age 18 and remembers the pain of the experience as one of the most difficult times in his life ("Couldn't walk for weeks!").

These days, even many Muslims have switched from the older practice of circumcising at 13 or a younger age of childhood, opting for the newborn period, which is far less traumatic and entirely forgettable.

CONCLUSION
I readily admit that in the general culture the to circ or not to circ question is a legitimate one that people can debate. But for Jews who observe this commandment, there is no question, need for further rationale, or discussion to be had (aside from "which mohel," "where will the party take place" and "who is catering").

With blessings for happy occasions and many celebrations of the births of Jewish children, and the occasional bris (on the boys only), may we continue to fulfill God's commandments until the end of time.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Should the Father DO the Circumcision?

Most fathers (and certainly most mothers) will answer "NO!"

For this reason, I've outlined the Father's Role here, and also told the story of a father who got lost in the moment when circumcising his son (don't worry - everything turned out OK). I've also addressed the emotional downside that may accompany the first time a person does the circumcision act (see here, most notably paragraphs 6-9).

When I did the bris that was the inspiration for this blog post, the father of the baby wanted his own father to do the circumcision. When the father saw me set everything up and observed his father make the incision, he spontaneously remarked, "That's IT? I'M doing it next time!" [Once the moment of the incision has arrived, if the mohel has set things up properly, it is a simple matter of sliding a scalpel across a metal shield, literally like cutting soft butter.]

The simple answer to the title question is if you know what you are doing, you have an awareness of the anatomy, and can maintain poise in the heat of the moment, then you can do the bris. Nonetheless, you don't have to do it yourself, because appointing a mohel to serve as your "Shaliach" (Agent) on your behalf fulfills your responsibility adequately.

But the Torah says, וימל אברהם את יצחק בנו בן שמונת ימים כאשר צוה אותו א-לקים, that Avraham circumcised his son when Yitzchak was 8 days old. He did it himself, without an agent.

The Shulchan Arukh expresses, in the first of the Laws of Milah (Circumcision) (Yoreh Deah 260):

מצות עשה לאב למול את בנו, וגדולה מצוה זו משאר מצות עשה.
"It is a positive commandment for the father to circumcise his son. And this mitzvah is greater than every other positive commandment."

To be fair, the "greatness" of this mitzvah lies in the fact that if the mitzvah is not done there's a significant (and quite serious) spiritual consequence. But this could mean that "if the father does not see to the circumcision being taken care" i.e. through a person trained to do so, that such a consequence would come into play.

Bottom line is that the mitzvah is the father's to do. Most fathers are not trained and are happy to have the mohel do the brit milah on their behalf. But if this is something which is of interest to you, even remotely, and baby's mommy is cool with the possibility of your playing this role, I am happy to have the conversation and see if it will work. I have done set it up for many fathers, with an excellent track record.

IT ISN'T FOR EVERYBODY, CERTAINLY NOT THE FAINT OF HEART.
But if you are interested in at least exploring or finding out more, there's no harm in having a conversation.