Friday, October 18, 2019

High Fiving the Sandak

I have never done this before. But today, before the baby was on the sandak's lap, I let out a whoop and gave the sandak a high-five.

Here's the background.

Before the baby gets put on the sandak's lap, and after the baby is on his lap, I speak with him briefly, giving him instructions for how he is to hold the baby, etc.

When his legs are in the position they will remain in for the circumcision (remember, baby will be on a pillow which will be resting on sandak's lap), often with at least one pillow on his lap, I typically ask the sandak, "Are you comfortable?"

It's both a serious question, and the set up for an old Henny Youngman punchline you'll find at the end below the line.

Most sandaks are not fully paying attention, or the question catches them off guard, and they simply answer "Yes. I'm good."

At which point I tell him, "You're supposed to say, 'I make a nice living.'"

TODAY, I had the sandak in position with the first pillow - the baby was still being held by his father. I said to the sandak, the baby's maternal grandfather, "Are you comfortable?"

He hesitated for half-a-second and said, "I make a nice living."

BAM! No one has done that before, and he nailed it. Made my day!

So I gave a whoop and gave him a high-five, because he and I were so in SYNC.

He told me afterwards that he wasn't sure if I was being serious (I was, but also setting up a joke for him if he caught it, and he did!), hence the hesitation. But he decided to go with it, in case I was looking for a laugh.

I'm STILL chuckling about it.

Good times.

A Jewish man got hit by a car: “A policeman comes over and places a blanket over him and asks: ‘Are you comfortable?’ The man replies: ‘I make a nice living.’ ”

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

In the Merit of Milah...

דעת זקנים מבעלי התוספות דברים פרק ל
מי "יעלה "לנו "השמימה. הרי מילה בראשי תיבות רמז שבזכות מילה עלה משה לשמי' לקבל התורה"

Daat Zekenim on the recent Torah portion
Who (Mi) Will Go Up (iYaleh) For Us (Lanu) To The Heavens (HaShamayma)
Milah is the acronym of those words, to hint to us that in the merit of circumcision, Moshe went up the mountain to receive the Torah!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Bris During the Ten Days of Repentance

The book "Otzar HaBris" (Yossele Weisberg) has a section of halakhot surrounding what is done differently on noted days of the Jewish calendar.

With respect to a bris during the Aseres Y'mei Teshuvah, he shares the following insights:

1. If the father of the baby, the sandak for the bris, or the mohel are present at a Shacharis, tachanun will be skipped. However, "Avinu Malkeinu" - an additional prayer recited between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, will be recited. 

2. Those who have the custom to fast during the 10 days may eat at the "seudat mitzvah" of the bris, and they do not need to do/say hatarat neder for their custom to fast. The exception would be if the person specifically made a vow at Mincha the previous day - not knowing he would be at a bris - for that vow, hatarat neder would be necessary.

Next up will be a bris on Yom Kippur

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Bris on Tzom Gedaliah

The book "Otzar HaBris" (Yossele Weisberg) has a section of halakhot surrounding what is done differently on noted days of the Jewish calendar.

With respect to a bris on Tzom Gedaliah, he shares the following insights:

1. The prayers are the same for the fast day - saying Selichos and Viduy.
2. However, Tachanun is not recited during Shacharis (it is recited as part of Selichos)
3. We say Kel Erekh Apayim and Lamnatzeach
4. When we say the blessing on the wine, we give some of it to the baby to drink.
5. If the fast day is pushed off to Sunday (because the 3rd of Tishrei fell on Shabbos), then the mohel, sandak or baby's father may drink, as none of them (the "baalet bris") are required to fast
6. Some have the custom to give the baby the name "Gedaliah," while others felt this should not be done.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Bris on Rosh Hashana

The book "Otzar HaBris" (Yossele Weisberg) has a section of halakhot surrounding what is done differently on noted days of the Jewish calendar.

With respect to a bris on  Rosh Hashana, he shares the following insights:

1. If the bris will be taking place in the synagogue, the Rosh Hashana bris should ideally take place after Torah reading, before Shofar blowing. It should certainly not take place at the end of Tefillah.
2. If the bris will be in a home, it could take place after prayer services are over. If the home is close to the synagogue, and there's a way for the bris to take place at the proper time (see #1) without causing a delay in the services, then it should be done. (If there is an appeal or the rabbi's sermon, and the mohel can work quickly to not miss shofar blowing, then I suppose this is possible - but there shouldn't be a mass exodus - only those needed for the ceremony)
3. If it is the Sabbath, since there will not be Shofar blowing, the bris will take place after the Torah is returned to the Ark, before the Chazzan for Mussaf begins his prayer before Mussaf. (Some say it should take place at the same time as it would during a weekday Rosh Hashana day, after Torah reading and before Ashrei)
4. If the bris will cause the mohel to miss Shofar blowing, some say it is OK for him to miss out on Shofar blowing for the sake of the mitzvah of bris. Others say this only applies to a father who is also a trained mohel. Otherwise, the mohel should not be missing out on hearing the Shofar.
5. There is a custom to give the name Yitzchak to a child who is either circumcised on Rosh Hashana or who is born on Rosh Hashana.
6. Some say to not make a celebratory Bris meal on Rosh Hashana. (In the footnote he mentions a concern that such a celebration might take away from the more serious nature of the day)
7. Those who fast on Rosh Hashana (not a common practice) - both opinions exist regarding whether to eat. You may not eat, while some are lenient saying you may eat (welcome to Judaism!)
8. A child who is born at dusk a week before either the first or second day of Rosh Hashana will eb circumcised the day after Rosh Hashana (on Tzom Gedaliah). Of course if that day is Shabbos, the bris will be pushed off (as will be Tzom Gedaliah) to Sunday.

Next up, a bris on Tzom Gedaliah

Monday, September 16, 2019

Bris on Erev Rosh Hashana

The book "Otzar HaBris" (Yossele Weisberg) has a section of halakhot surrounding what is done differently on noted days of the Jewish calendar.

With respect to a bris on the day before Rosh Hashana, he shares the following insight - which is essentially the same as the first rule he shared regarding a Rosh Chodesh bris. 

Those who have the custom to fast on Erev Rosh Hashana may participate in the Bris celebratory meal.

Next up, a bris on Rosh Hashana.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Bris on Rosh Chodesh

The book "Otzar HaBris" (Yossele Weisberg) has a section of halakhot surrounding what is done differently on noted days of the Jewish calendar.

With respect to Rosh Chodesh, he shares two points:

1. Someone who fasts on Erev Rosh Chodesh (the day before Rosh Chodesh, sometimes called Yom Kippur Katan) may eat at a Bris meal, according to some opinions.

2. At the meal for a bris which takes place on Rosh Chodesh, an additional food item should be added to the menu, specifically in honor of Rosh Chodesh.

Next up, a bris on Erev Rosh Hashana.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Mother v Father : Wife v Husband

It does not happen often, but every now and then the parents of the baby have very different ideas as to what they want their baby's circumcision to look like. And no, I am not talking about the actual aesthetics of how things will turn out and look post-op.

I'm referring to the setting of the bris. Without getting into specifics of what men v women want (because there is honestly no set rule here), let's just give a few examples where different visions can reach very different conclusions.

One wants to make a big party and invite lots of people
One wants to keep things modest. Very modest.

One wants to bring special attention to the mitzvah at hand
One couldn't care less about the mitzvah

One believes circumcision is the right thing to do for religious reasons
One believes circumcision is an important medical procedure

One wants the bris milah
One is very hesitant about the bris altogether

One thinks the only way to do this is through hiring a mohel
One thinks the only way to do this is through hiring a doctor

One thinks we should involve many people in the ceremony
One thinks the mohel is more than enough, thank you very much, and the baby does not to be exposed to every germ under the sun

One thinks the boy should be named after Derek Jeter
One thinks the boy should be named after Great Tante Shprintze
(OK - this last one is a joke)

You see where this can go wrong!

So the first thing I would encourage is "Talk beforehand. WAAAAAAAY beforehand!"
Next: Come up with lists of your desires. See where you are on the same page, and see where you differ. Then have mature conversations about the differences, and compromise as much as possible, while giving in when it's more of a question of "what is more meaningful to you."
These questions may be a good guide for the things you need to learn

Here is an example that comes up for conversation more often than you'd think, though the conclusion is usually the same:

The father (thinks he) wants to do the incision.
The mother (thinks he should have his head examined and) disagrees

As I've noted here - - it's not a big deal for the father to do it. It's easily set up so that his doing the incision is no different than if I do it. He will fulfill his mitzvah in a greater way. And it may help him feel more involved. 
On the one hand, if he (or his wife) is not comfortable with it, then I advise against it.
On the other hand, I've had many moms/wives say to the husband, "If the rabbi says it's OK, it's fine with me. It's your mitzvah. I don't want to get in your way." And indeed that attitude has prevailed a number of times. It's also testament to a very good and healthy relationship.

The bottom line is this: knowledge is power. The more both of you know, the more both of you can talk through what your visions are for the bris of your dreams - public, private, fancy food, limited food, mohel (my preference!), doctor, the right name for baby, etc.

And, as always, if I can help you through the journey (or navigating this conversation), be in touch! I am happy to help!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Bris on Tisha B'Av

In the event your baby's bris will be taking place on Tisha B'Av (timely, because that will be observed this coming Sunday), here are a few things to bear in mind.

1. The bris takes place after Kinot, because we can't mix "Simcha" (of the bris) with the sadness of the Kinot. As far as when exactly we do the bris there are three views

  1. After Shacharit, but before Chatzot (midday)
  2. After Chatzot
  3. After Mincha
Ashkenazim typically follow the first view, while Sefardim typically follow the second view. 
Like every other day of the calendar, the main rule is that the bris take place while the sun is out. Those who would like to serve a break the fast meal as a "Seudat Mitzvah" might prefer to have the bris as close to sunset as possible. 

2. The father, mohel and sandak may wear Shabbos clothes in honor of the special day (typically, Tisha B'Av clothes are less fancy than Shabbos clothes). There are differences of opinion as to their allowance to wear leather shoes. However, once the bris is over, they should change back to regular Tisha B'Av garb.

3.The blessing is made over wine, but the wine is given either to children to drink, to the baby to drink, or to the baby's mother, in the event that she is not fasting.  She should be sure to hear the bracha, have in mind to fulfill the bracha for herself with the recitation at the bris, and she should not talk between hearing the bracha and drinking the wine. (This applies if the bris is on time, or taking place while the baby is under 30 days old. If the bris has been significantly delayed, she should also be fasting).

4. For those who bring besamim to a bris (a Sefardic and Middle Eastern tradition), there is a debate as to whether they should be brought to a Tisha B'Av bris, some feeling we avoid making a blessing on spices on Tisha B'Av, with others thinking, "Yes, but it's a brit!!"

5. While we don't cut fingernails on Tisha B'Av, a mohel may cut his fingernails if they are needed for pri'ah. 

6. There are different customs surrounding wearing a tallis at a bris. Those who wear a tallis do not wear it on Tisha B'Av in the morning. As such, there are different views as to whether the "no tallis in the morning" rule also applies to a bris taking place in the morning. 

7. While under typical circumstances we do not allow the eating of meat on the evening that follows Tisha B'Av, but since meat is allowed to be eaten during the Nine Days for a bris, meat can also be eaten at the end of Tisha B'Av, if it is for the meal that is the Seudas Mitzvah of the Tisha B'Av bris. 

8. When Tisha B'Av falls on Saturday and is observed on Sunday there is a debate as to whether the father, mohel and sandak may eat. If they may, it is only after Mincha. All eating on a Sunday Tisha B'Av must be preceded by havdalah. 

9. If the bris has been pushed off, and today is not the 8th day, the father, mohel and sandak must fast. 

10. There is a custom to give the baby whose bris is on Tisha B'Av either the name Menachem or Nechemiah (there is also a custom to give a girl born on Tisha B'Av the name Bat Zion.)

(Source, Otzar HaBris  Volume I, pages 293-297)

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

If the father is not present, who recites his blessing?

The father's role at the bris is significant, as he is one of the 3 baalei brit. The blessing he recites is noted as the third bullet-point in the link at the beginning of this paragraph.

While it is uncommon for the father to not be present at the bris, here are a few examples of how it could be that he is not present.

* He is away on business and his wife unexpectedly gave birth early
* He is sick and out of commission
* He has passed away (R"L)
* He is in prison
* He is not Jewish.

In the latter case he might be physically present, but halakha does not recognize his role in the child coming into the Jewish people, as the non-Jewish father does not transfer Jewish-ness to the baby. Certainly, the non-Jewish father has no mitzvah and is not to recite a blessing over a Jewish ritual!

Here are the options of who can recite the blessing in the father's absence (Sefer HaBris p. 254).
1. The sandak
2. The baby's grandfather
3. Anyone present
4. The mohel

The blessing means that we acknowledge God who has sanctified us with His mitzvot and has commanded us 'to enter the child in the covenant of Avraham our forefather.'

The question is what does that mean? Is entering into the covenant a one-time thing? Or is a longer-term commitment? That distinction is what determines whether the mohel may or may not recite the blessing!

The sandak is a baal bris, so he seems the most obvious choice to say the blessing.
The baby's grandfather has a responsibility to help in the child's education in the event that the father is not present (for any of the reasons outlined above), and one can argue that the longer version of the mitzvah is to raise the child within the framework of the covenant. If that is the case, he might be the best candidate. His candidacy grows if he is also serving as the sandak.
Any person who is present may play the role as the community may take the responsibility on itself to help raise the child.
Finally, the mohel. The question is whether it is appropriate for the mohel to say 2 brachot on the same mitzvah. In light of the explanation given above for the grandfather, the argument can be made that if the mohel is the father he can say both blessings. But of course, if that is the case, he is present at the bris! In cases where the mohel is a service provider, one can certainly argue that his mitzvah is the circumcision alone and not the acknowledgment of his role in the child's upbringing into the covenant.

Best option - in my opinion - is the sandak, especially if he is also the grandfather of the baby.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Reciting "Shehechiyanu" At a Bris

Much of the following is from Rabbi Pirutinsky's discussion of the subject in Sefer HaBris, starting page 290. He quotes all the Rishonim and Acharonim. I am making it simple through just giving the opinions. 

One of the more impactful blessings we have in our liturgy is the "Shehechiyanu"

ברוך אתה ה' א-לקינו מלך העולם שהחיינו וקימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה
Blessed are you Hashem, our God, King of the universe, Who has had us live, and survive, and brought us to this time.

We say this blessing on holidays and other special occasions, mostly when a special event has not happened for over 30 days. (There is an entire Siman in the Shulchan Arukh - Orach Chaim 225 - dedicated to this blessing!)

Do we say it at a bris?

There are three answers to this question:
1. Yes
2. No
3. It depends

Those who say it are usually Sefardim or of Middle Eastern descent. It is the custom in Israel to say it, even among Ashkenazi Jews. I have seen some Ashkenazic Jews from Israel say it at their son's bris in the United States. The thought process is simple. How often do you have a son? How often do you  have a bris? Say Shehechiyanu!

The reasons to not say it are a little more formal thinking.
1. The child experiences pain at the bris (צערא דינוקא), so it is not a nice time to say Shehechiyanu.
2. Unlike a Pidyon Haben, which takes place after the child's 30th day, in most cases (barring extreme medically required delays) the bris takes place while the baby is under 30 days old. In Halakhic terms, the child is still in the realm of what's called a חשש נפל. While (THANK GOD) most babies survive to 30 days, halakha assigns a status of נפל to a child under 30 days "just in case" the worst happens. Because of that concern, there is hesitation to allow the recitation of Shehechiyanu on the bris.

A special circumstance to allow for Shehechiyanu would be if the father himself is doing the circumcision. Since in most cases the mohel is performing the mitzvah on the father's behalf, and since for the mohel it's a regular occurence, the mohel would not be saying Shehechiyanu. And since the father isn't actually doing the milah he can't say it either!
But if the father is either a mohel himself, or the mohel sets it up for the father to do, then there are opinions which support the father's saying Shehechiyanu in this circumstance.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Who Cries At A Bris? It Depends...

The baby’s mother told me today:

I’ve always cried at a Bris. Both because of the emotion of being part of the Jewish people, and for the mom who can’t console her baby during the Bris.
But TODAY I didn’t cry. Even though it was MY baby. Because all the information you sent me, all the things you gave me to read, helped me understand what is going on, and helped me know my baby is in the right hands.

(Now *I* am crying. 😅)

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Why do I love being a mohel? Read THIS

Let me count the ways.

While I've answered this question in the past, I am now going to elaborate on reason #2

It is because of stories like what I heard at today's bris.

The parents of the baby are not American-born. Spanish? Russian? I got a mix of different cultures - all of which led me to give a different kind of speech than the one I usually give while explaining the ceremony... about Jewish strength and survival, and doing what we do because we are proud to be Jews... and about the strength God should give parents who are given the enormous task of raising a baby.

As I was about to leave - bris was great, baby resting peacefully - the baby's grandmother walks into the room where her daughter is holding the baby, and she essentially tells me that she's riding on top of the world.

I asked her why? This is her daughter's first child, but she seems even more elated than other parents of first-time parents.

So she tells me her story.

"Five years ago, my daughter had an autoimmune reaction. She was dead on a ventilator. DEAD."

I did not ask for details. A coma? Dead? I don't know what that means.

"She had just gotten engaged. We told her fiance, 'You don't need to wait for her. You are free to go and move on.' And he said, 'Where am I going to go?'"

You guessed it. Her husband is the fiance who stuck with her - through her 3 months bout with death.

"She lost two babies" (This baby was her 3rd pregnancy)

"And now she has a healthy child. This baby is a miracle like you have no idea. My daughter is a living miracle."

And I. Had the PRIVILEGE. To be brought. Into the inner circle. Of this family. And this story.

And I had no idea. Until it (the bris) was all over.

Before leaving I sought out the daddy. I gave him a huge hug (which I never do). And I told him, "Your mother in law just told me your wife's story. You are an incredible man. God bless you. God bless your wife, your baby, your family."

(Crying as I write this. So honored to play the role I played. And Baruch She'kivanti)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Common Questions to uncommon situations

Some of the more common questions that come up have been addressed before. I'm providing some old links to help you navigate these issues.

What happens when the baby is jaundiced/yellow?

What happens if the baby has a weird foreskin or no foreskin?

What kinds of problems should I anticipate after the bris? (there are a few links here as well)

Do you have any really bad stories that you care to share? (see the bottom link "Vindicated" on this page)

How do I get over the nervousness I feel at the prospect of the bris?
Knowledge is power -