The Spurned Shadchan

clip_image002The phone rings. Mrs. Weinberg, a shadchan who often calls to ask shaylos, is on the line.

“I suggested that a local girl meet a bachur who is currently learning in Eretz Yisroel,” Mrs. Weinberg began. “Both families did their research and agreed that it sounded worth pursuing, but they decided to wait until the summer when the bachur would be visiting his family here.”

“When the summer arrived,” Mrs. Weinberg continued, “I called the families back to arrange for the young people to meet. However they told me that someone else suggested the shidduch, and that they are following up through the other shadchan. Are they permitted to cut me out of the arrangements? After all, it was my idea first!”

Does Mrs. Weinberg have a claim? If she does, for how much money and against whom?

SHADCHANUS GELT

Before we discuss these issues, we need to establish whether paying a shadchan is indeed a halachic requirement.

I often find that people feel that one is not required to pay a shadchan. However, this is a misconception, since the halachic sources require paying a shadchan a fee, usually called by its Yiddish name, shadchanus gelt (Rama, Choshen Mishpat 264:7).  Just as you expect to pay your real estate broker, so too, you should assume you will pay the shadchan. (We should be aware that a shadchan’s claim for services rendered has a stronger foundation than a doctor’s fee for an office visit [see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 336:2], but that is a topic for a different article.)

Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with a shadchan requesting payment for services rendered just as an attorney or accountant has every right to demand payment for services.

BROKERAGE FEES

Although it sometimes sounds strange, shadchanus fees are halachically categorized as brokerage fees. Just as one pays a real estate agent for arranging a transaction, so too one pays a shadchan for making the arrangements necessary for the engagement and marriage to transpire. Therefore, we must first explain the halachic sources for brokerage fees.

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 63b) mentions the responsibility to pay a broker’s fee to the person who arranges the sale of property or merchandise (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 185:1; Rama 87:39). This is a standard business practice, similar to paying a commission to a stockbroker, real estate agent, or personnel recruiter (sometimes called a “headhunter”).

BUT WHAT IF I DIDN’T ASK HIM?

People easily understand that if you approach a broker or agent, you thereby obligate yourself to pay him for his services. However, some people assume that if you did not solicit the service, are not obligated to pay. Does this distinction have any basis?

According to halacha, you are required to pay for any unsolicited benefit that you would usually pay for. Providing unsolicited benefit is called yored lisoch sdei chaveiro shelo birshus, entering someone else’s field without authorization, and the provider of the benefit is referred to simply as the yored (Gemara Bava Metzia 101a).

The case where the Gemara demonstrates this halacha is very instructive: Someone owns a field that he usually plants, but he has not yet planted it this year. Someone else planted the field without asking the owner’s permission and now asks the owner to pay him! Is the planter entitled to compensation for his efforts? The Gemara rules that he is entitled to compensation since you benefit from his work.

HOW MUCH DO YOU OWE THE YORED?

You are required to pay the yored as much as you have benefited. If he performed work for you that would normally require you to hire someone, you must pay him the market rate for hiring someone for this work (Gemara Bava Metzia 76a; Sma, Choshen Mishpat 375:1).

WHY MUST ONE PAY THE SHADCHAN?

When a single person or the parent of a single person asks someone if they know of any marriageable prospects, they are asking them to perform a valuable service on their behalf. This service has a market value, just as any other brokerage or recruiting fee has a market value (Rama Choshen Mishpat 264:7).

WHAT IF YOU DID NOT ASK THE SHADCHAN?

Although there are halachic differences whether you approach the shadchan or the shadchan offers his/her service, in either case you are required to pay the shadchan. The basis for this requirement is as follows:

In this latter instance the shadchan is a yored, since you received benefit from him for an unsolicited service that you would normally pay for (Gra, Choshen Mishpat 87:117). As explained above, you must pay him whatever you would have otherwise paid for that service (Gemara Bava Metzia 76a, 101a).

AM I REQUIRED TO PAY SHADCHONUS TO A FAMILY MEMBER OR CLOSE FRIEND?

This shaylah was discussed hundreds of years ago. A professional shadchan contacted Mr. Reuven suggesting a gentleman he thought appropriate for Mr. Reuven’s widowed sister-in-law. Mr. Reuven was involved in researching the shidduch and in arranging the couple’s meeting. When the couple announced their engagement, Mr. Reuven informed the professional shadchan that he was expecting half the shadchanus gelt, claiming that he was the shadchan who convinced the woman to consider this shidduch. The professional shadchan contended that he was the only shadchan, and that Mr. Reuven was an interested party and not a shadchan. Mr. Reuven countered that the professional had never made direct contact with his sister-in-law but relied exclusively on him (Mr. Reuven) to encourage the shidduch. The matter was referred to Rav Yair Chayim Bachrach, known as the Chavos Yair (after one of the seforim he authored). The rav ruled that Mr. Reuven was indeed a shadchan since he influenced his sister-in-law to pursue the shidduch. He was therefore entitled to half the shadchanus fee even though he was related to one of the principals (Shu’t Chut HaShani #3, quoted in Pischei Tshuvah, Even HaEzer 50:16).

WHO MUST PAY THE SHADCHANUS FEE, THE PARENTS OR THE COUPLE?

Usually the parents of an engaged party pay the shadchanus gelt. Are they required to pay this fee, or is it really the responsibility of the young couple that the parents assume? As we will see, there are halachic ramifications to this question.

The poskim debate this question, making razor-thin distinctions that have major ramifications. Some contend that the responsibility falls upon the young couple since they are the ones who benefit, even though the prevalent custom is that the parents pay (Shu’t Avnei Nezer, Choshen Mishpat #36). Others contend that since the parents usually pay, the shadchan only expects payment from them and therefore he has no claim against the young couple (Halichos Yisroel #3, quoting Eirech Shai, Choshen Mishpat Chapter 185).

There is a major dispute between these approaches. The first opinion holds that if the shadchan is unable to collect from the parents, he may collect from the couple. According to the second opinion, his only claim is against the parents, and if he cannot collect from the parents, he cannot claim his fee from the young couple.

ARE THERE ANY HALACHIC DIFFERENCES WHETHER YOU ASKED THE SHADCHAN, OR HE APPROACHED YOU WITH THE SUGGESTION?

Since we have learned that one must pay the shadchan whether or not one solicited him or her initially or not, does it make any difference whether I asked the shadchan or the shadchan approached me first?

There are several differences in halacha that pertain to whether you solicited the shadchan initially or vice versa, including when you are required to pay the shadchan and whether one violates the mitzvah of bal talin if one fails to pay the shadchan on time.

If you approached or telephoned the shadchan initially, then you have hired him or her to perform a job — in this case to find an appropriate shidduch. If he/she succeeds in his/her mission, then you are required to pay when the job is completed, and you must pay the shadchan as soon as the couple becomes engaged (Shu’t Halichos Yisroel #1-2). Furthermore if you do not pay him/her on time and the shadchan demands payment, you will violate a Torah prohibition called bal talin, not paying a worker on time, a mitzvah we will explain shortly.

However, if you did not hire the shadchan, then you do not violate bal talin if you do not pay him/her on time since the shadchan is not your employee.

Another difference in halacha affected by whether the shadchan was solicited or not, is whether you must pay him or her at the time the couple becomes engaged or at the wedding. If the shadchan solicited you, then the time you are required to pay the shadchan depends on minhag– accepted local custom (Rama Choshen Mishpat 185:10). If the local custom is that people do not pay the shadchan until the wedding, then the shadchanus gelt is considered a marriage expense to be paid then, not an engagement expense. However, if you solicited the shadchan, then you are required to pay the shadchan when his/her job is completed, which is when the couple becomes engaged (Shu’t Halichos Yisroel #4).

BAL TALIN – PAYING WORKERS ON TIME

As explained above, if one hired the shadchan, one must pay him/her on time because of the mitzvah of bal talin.

WHAT IS ON TIME?

There are two deadlines, sunset and daybreak, and one is obligated to pay one’s worker before the first deadline after the job is completed. Therefore, if the worker finished his job before the end of the day, I must pay him by sunset. If he completed the work at night, I must pay him before daybreak (Bava Metzia 111a). (As mentioned above, one violates this prohibition only if the worker demanded payment and the owner refused to pay and there was no understanding or prearrangement of late payment.) According to this approach, if you went to a shadchan who, Baruch Hashem, arranged a successful shidduch, one should make sure to pay him or her immediately after the couple becomes engaged before the next deadline arrives (Shu’t Halichos Yisroel #11). Others contend that one need not pay the shadchan until the wedding unless the custom is otherwise (Rav Elyashiv, introduction to Shu’t Halichos Yisroel).

Still other poskim contend that since the responsibility of paying the shadchan really lies with the marrying couple, there is no violation of bal talin if the shadchan is assuming that the parents are paying his fee since they are technically not required to pay shadchanus gelt.

HOW MUCH MUST I PAY THE SHADCHAN?

One must pay the shadchan whatever is the accepted fee in your community for this service (Pischei Teshuvah, Even HaEzer Chapter 50:16).

DIVIDING THE FEE

What happens if two different shadchanim were involved at different stages of encouraging the shidduch? Are they both entitled to be paid? How does one divide the fee? As we can imagine, this is not a recent shaylah.

An early posek, the Shev Yaakov (Choshen Mishpat #13), discusses the following case: Levi recommended that Reuven’s son meet Shimon’s daughter. After the engagement of the young couple, Gad claimed that he had originally suggested the shidduch to the parties and thus he is entitled to part of the shadchanus.

The Shev Yaakov researched the claims. As it turned out, Gad had indeed originally suggested the shidduch to both parties, but Shimon and his family had no interest in pursuing it. Levi, however, was a more persistent shadchan and convinced Shimon to consider Reuven’s son for his daughter.

Shev Yaakov ruled that Gad was not entitled to any part of the shadchanus fee. He contends that a shadchan is only entitled to a fee when he was involved in the part of the discussion that reached fruition. However in this case, Gad’s proposal did not accomplish anything and therefore he is not considered to be a shadchan.

By a similar reasoning, a real estate agent who showed a prospective client a house, but was unable to interest them in the house, and then a different agent showed them the same house and succeeded in convincing them to purchase the house, the second agent is entitled to the commission according to halacha. (In these instances, if accepted business practice is different it might affect the halacha, which is a topic for a different time.)

Thus, it seems that Mrs. Weinberg is not entitled to any shadchanus fee in our situation, since she was not part of the actual introduction that took place. However, one could argue differently – that she had interested them in the shidduch, and therefore she is entitled to part of the shadchanus gelt. It would seem to me that this latter argument is stronger.

Notwithstanding that the Shev Yaakov ruled that Gad was not entitled to a share of the fee, there are cases in which the shidduch involves several parties and each is entitled to a part of the fee. If Sarah suggested a shidduch, but then felt that Rivkah would be a better go between, and eventually Leah was necessary to get involved and was instrumental in the couple subsequently becoming engaged, all three ladies are considered partial shadchanim according to many poskim. the accepted practice in this case is to divide the accepted shadchanus fee and to award 1/3 to each of the ladies. Other poskim contend that only the person who suggested the shidduch and the one who finalized it are considered shadchanim and they split the fee – but that a go-between who neither suggested a shidduch nor finalized it is not viewed as a shadchan (Shu’t Avnei Nezer, Choshen Mishpat #36).

SOME INTERESTING SHADCHANUS STORIES

A shadchan unsuccessfully attempted to arrange a shidduch between a daughter of the wealthy Weiss family and the son of the wealthy Schwartz family. Although the two families did meet and enjoyed one another, the shidduch did not materialize and the Weiss girl subsequently married someone else. Later, other shadchanim suggested a match between a younger Weiss daughter and the widowed Mr. Schwartz, and the couple became engaged. The original shadchan now claimed that he is entitled to a percentage of the shadchanus gelt, claiming that his involvement in the previous unsuccessful shidduch was instrumental in forging the close relationship between the two families that caused the latter shidduch to happen. Does the original shadchan have a claim?

The parties referred this shaylah to the Avnei Nezer (Choshen Mishpat #36). In a very complicated ruling he contends that the original shadchan might be entitled to a very small percentage of the shadchanus gelt for his role. He suggests a compromise on this basis, but rules that it is uncertain that he is entitled to any part of the fee.

IF A SHADCHAN ASKS FOR A HIGHER THAN TYPICAL FEE, AM I REQUIRED TO PAY IT?

If the shadchan did not provide any unusual shadchanus service, and the fee for a shadchan in your area is fairly standard, then the shadchan is not entitled to the extra fee. However, if there is no standard shadchanus fee in your area, or the shadchan performed a special service, then one must pay the shadchan’s higher fee (see Rama, Choshen Mishpat 335:1 and 264:7; Shach 264:15). Shadchanus is like any other profession where one may not charge significantly above the going rate. However, when there is no fixed accepted amount, then the shadchan is not overcharging since there is no market figure. Similarly, if the shadchan extends him/herself more than is expected, he may command a higher fee since one is paying for the extra service (see Rama 335:1)

According to the Midrash, Moshe Rabbeinu was the shadchan between Klal Yisroel and Hashem at the giving of the Torah. Furthermore, Hashem Himself is indeed the ultimate Shadchan of every marriage. Thus, we should respect the wonderful role of the shadchanim in our midst who are involved in a mitzvah that emulates both Hashem and Moshe.

Who should I Choose as Sandek?

clip_image002Since both last week’s parsha, and this week’s (V’Yera) discuss the mitzvah of bris milah,  I thought we would discuss who one honors as sandek at a Bris.

Question #1:

Aharon calls: “I would prefer asking my Rosh Yeshivah to be sandek, but I know that my father is expecting the honor. What should I do?”

Question #2:

As I arrive for the bris, the two new grandfathers approach me: “We would like to ask a psak halachah: Which one of us should be the sandek?”

Question #3:

“I would like to ask my father to be the sandek, but my wife feels that her grandfather should be honored.”

Question #4:

“At a Sefardic bris I noticed that the sandek remained sitting even after the bris itself, and the baby remained on his lap through the naming ceremony. Afterwards, the sandek remained seated, and the attendees lined up to seek his blessing. Why were they doing this?”

Answer:

The greatest of the honors given at a bris is holding the baby during the bris itself; the person who does this is called the sandek (Maharil). Many authorities rule that the sandek receives greater honors than either the mohel or the father of the newborn, ruling that he has preference over them for an aliyah on the day of the bris (Rama, Yoreh Deah 265:11; Magen Avraham 282:18; cf., however, Shaarei Efrayim 2:12, who notes that this depends on local custom, and in his locale they did not give aliyos to the sandek or the mohel.)

Why the Sandek?

Why should the sandek deserve the highest honor? After all, if we honor him because he is performing a big mitzvah, then the honor should go to the mohel who is performing a far greater mitzvah – the bris itself. On the other hand, if it bestowed because it is a personal celebration, then it should go to the father of the baby.

The halachic authorities explain that since performing a bris milah is considered like the offering of a korban (Zohar, Parshas Lech Lecha), the sandek’s lap functions as the mizbei’ach, the altar, on which this korban is offered (Maharil; Toras Chayim, Sanhedrin 89b). The Maharil compares the sandek’s role to that of the kohen offering the ketores, the incense, in the Beis Hamikdash, explaining that for this reason the sandek is granted top honors. However, others note that this analysis is unclear, since it is the mohel who “offers” the korban by performing the mitzvah, and therefore he should be more closely compared to the kohen offering the ketores, not the sandek who is functioning as the mizbei’ach” [Shu”t Noda BeYehudah, Yoreh Deah 1:86]. We will discuss this point later.

Halachic sources mention that one should strive to perform the mitzvah of being sandek and even spend large sums of money to accomplish this (Migdal Oz, quoted in Sefer HaBris pg 313). These authorities suggest that it is for this precise reason that the sandek has preference for an aliyah – he receives honor for showing that he endears mitzvos so much that he is willing to spend much money to fulfill them.

We find many customs associated with being honored with sandek. In some places, the sandek paid for all the costs of the seudah, the festive meal served in honor of the bris. In other communities, there was a custom that the sandek paid for the first schar limud – the first Torah tuition of the child. The source for this second custom is the brachah given immediately following the bris, kesheim shenichnas labris kein yikaneis letorah ulechupah ulemaasim tovim, just as he entered the bris, he should enter studying Torah, marriage and good deeds. The sandek, who participated in the bris, thanks the parents for being honored by participating in the next step, the child’s growing in Torah.

Sandek Segulos

Some explain that being sandek is a segulah for wealth, although many dispute the existence of such a segulah, noting that many great talmidei chachamim were sandek numerous times yet remained poor as shul mice.

Another famous custom, mentioned by early authorities, is that a family should not honor the same person with sandek for a second time; which means that each of their sons requires a different sandek (Maharil; Rama). Although many authorities dispute whether one need follow this custom (Shu”t Noda BeYehudah), this practice is fairly common in Ashkenazic communities with one exception: That the local rav or rosh yeshivah is often presented this honor many times.

As a matter of fact, the honor of being sandek was considered so special that some communities had the custom that the father did not choose the sandek; instead, the community sold the right to the mitzvah and used the funds for charitable purposes (Otzar Habris 2: pg 255; see Derishah and Taz, Yoreh Deah 249:1 who discuss use of maaser kesafim to purchase the right to be the sandek). In other communities, they always gave the honor to the local rav (mentioned in Shu”t Noda BeYehudah, Yoreh Deah 1:86). However, in most locales, the father chooses this honoree. What factors should one consider when choosing the sandek?

The Greatest Tzadik

The Rama says that one should choose the biggest tzadikim that one can find to be the sandek and the mohel (Yoreh Deah 264:1). It is because of this Rama that many honor their rosh yeshiva, rav or a different talmid chacham with being sandek. Other sources require only that the sandek be a “good Jew,” meaning someone who observes the mitzvos properly, so that Eliyahu Hanavi will want to join him at the bris (Ohr Zarua; Rikanati #590, quoting a Medrash; Maharil). Although they certainly agree that it is preferable to choose a big tzadik, should one risk offending a family member?

We can now fully appreciate Aharon’s question: “I would prefer asking my Rosh Yeshivah to be sandek, but I know that my father is expecting the honor. What should I do?” Do we find halachic precedent with which to guide Aharon?

Family or Scholar?

I found halachah works that compared Aharon’s predicament to a question that was asked of one of the great authorities of the late 17th – early 18th Centuries, the Chacham Tzvi (Shu”t #69, 70).

A man, let us call him Yaakov, passed on, leaving an adult son from a previous marriage, and a young pregnant widow. Yaakov’s son had recently become a mohel, although he did not have much experience. For previous brissin, Yaakov had used a certain respected talmid chacham as the mohel, and when Yaakov took ill, he had appointed this talmid chacham to oversee the affairs of his children. When the widow gave birth to a boy, she wanted the experienced mohel, to whom she owed much gratitude and who was also a talmid chacham, to perform the bris, rather than the newborn’s older brother who was relatively inexperienced. One can certainly see the logic behind her position, and most of us would probably instinctively side with her opinion.

Nevertheless, the Chacham Tzvi rules that the older brother should perform the bris, because one should give a close relative the opportunity to perform a mitzvah even ahead of a talmid chacham.

Based on this ruling, I found authorities who rule that one should select a family member, provided of course that he is fully observant, for sandek ahead of a talmid chacham. This approach would of course guide Aharon to choose his father ahead of his Rosh Yeshiva, but I suggest that each individual discuss their specific question with their posek.

At this point, let us address the next question that I mentioned above:

Which Grandfather?

As I arrive for the bris, the two new grandfathers approach me: “We want to ask a shaylah: Which one of us should be the sandek?”

This situation actually happened once. Not wanting to ruffle anyone’s feathers, the baby’s father left it for the two grandfathers to decide. Fortunately, they were both easy-going and eager to do what is halachically preferred. I will explain the basis for my answer to them.

In most of our interpersonal relationships, we do not need to decide whom I am required to honor more than another person. However, the particular questions regarding which person to honor as sandek lead us to explore the following issue: Since one must choose only one sandek, whom is the new father required to honor more?

An Early Response

Fortunately, we already find this issue discussed by halachic authorities as early as the Fourteenth Century, in a work called Leket Yosher. There we find the following rulings:

“The father of a newborn boy who does not want to be the sandek himself out of desire to create peace and share honor with others, should give the honor to his own father, the baby’s paternal grandfather, ahead of the baby’s greatgrandfather, since the mitzvah of honoring one’s father is greater than that of honoring one’s grandfather. However, if the baby’s paternal grandfather prefers that his own father (the baby’s greatgrandfather) be honored, then it is fine to give the honor to the greatgrandfather, and that is the prevalent custom, based on an adage that one who is sandek for his greatgrandchild will never face gehenom.”

Being Sandek Yourself

We can derive a total of five interesting halachic points from this passage.

1. The father of the child can certainly choose to keep the honor of sandek for himself. The requirement to show honor to others does not preempt my right to fulfill the mitzvah myself should I choose to.

I will mention that, of the hundreds of brissin that I have attended over the years, I have seen the father act as sandek on only a few occasions. However, one highly regarded authority rules that if the father cannot perform the bris himself, which is his mitzvah, he should act as sandek, since the sandek assists the mohel in performing the bris (Shu”t Divrei Malkiel 4:86).

Although the halachic reasoning here is extremely solid, this practice is fairly uncommon, presumably for the exact reasons mentioned by Leket Yosher: the father would prefer to share the honors and the mitzvah with others, and he feels that more shalom is generated this way. Indeed, in both instances that I have seen the father be the sandek for his own child, it was not the first bris in the family, and the family members who might expect this honor had been honored as sandek at previous brissin.

2. A second point we see from the Leket Yosher, is that when determining who should be sandek, one should follow the usual rules governing whom one is required to honor. Thus, since the responsibility to honor one’s father is greater than honoring one’s grandfather, the father of the newborn should therefore honor his own father, the baby’s paternal grandfather, with being sandek. Although one is responsible to show honor to one’s grandfather, one has a greater responsibility to honor one’s own father (Rama, both in Yoreh Deah 240:24 and in his responsum #118).

3. The baby’s paternal grandfather may defer the honor to his own father, in order to accomplish his own mitzvah of kibud av, should he desire to. Leket Yosher reports that the common custom was indeed to do this.

4. The Leket Yosher mentions an additional reason to honor the greatgrandfather with being sandek. He cites an adage that being sandek for one’s greatgrandson protects the greatgrandfather from gehenom, although the Leket Yosher quotes no halachic source for this segulah other than that it was common for people to say so. Presumably, even if there is no halachic source for such an idea, the fact that people believe it to be so itself makes it a reason to honor the greatgrandfather.

5. The Leket Yosher makes no mention of honoring the maternal grandfather or the maternal greatgrandfathers. It seems that the reason for this omission is obvious:

Although one is required to honor one’s father-in-law, there is a greater responsibility to honor one’s own father. Thus, in the absence of paternal male antecedents, one should honor the mother’s father or grandfather. However, when the paternal grandfather is present, the responsibility of the baby’s father to honor his own father precedes his responsibility to honor his father-in-law.

At this point, I can present what I answered the two grandfathers. Since the right to provide the honor belongs to the father of the baby, he has greater responsibility to honor his father than he does to honor his father-in-law. Therefore, the paternal grandfather should be the sandek. Indeed, I found that in several places the prevalent custom was to honor the paternal grandfather with being sandek at the first bris, and the maternal grandfather at the second (Otzar Habris Volume 2, page 254).

His Father or Her Grandfather?

At this point, we can also address the third question I raised above:

“I would like my father to be the sandek, but my wife feels that her grandfather should be honored.”

As we see from the above discussion, the father of the baby has a greater responsibility to honor his father over his wife’s grandfather, even though Zeide is a generation older. But I note here that one should realize that each individual situation may have other factors involved, and that the most important factor is that we achieve maximum shalom. Again, one should consult with a rav for guidance.

Let us now examine the fourth question I mentioned above: “Someone attending a Sefardic bris noticed that the sandek remained sitting even after the bris itself, and the baby remained on his lap through the naming ceremony. Afterwards, the sandek remained on his seat, and the attendees lined up to seek his blessing. Why were they doing this?”

“Standing Sandek

Allow me to provide some background. After the mohel performs the bris itself, the baby, now bearing his eternal Jewish sign, is named. There are two widespread customs as to who holds the baby while he is being named.

The prevalent, although not exclusive, practice among Ashkenazim is that someone not previously honored at this bris is called forward to hold the baby while he is named. This honor is usually called either the sandek me’umad, literally, the standing sandek, or amidah lebrachos, the one who stands holding the baby while the blessings and prayers are recited.

The prevalent Sefardic approach is that the sandek remains sitting and continues holding the baby while he is named. In other words, there is one less kibud – the sandek who holds the baby during the actual bris holds the baby throughout the remainder of the ceremony. Although most are familiar with this as a Sefardic practice, many Ashkenazic sources mention it (Rabbi Akiva Eiger Comments to Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 265:1, quoting Toras Chayim to Sanhedrin 89b). Indeed, I know several leading Ashkenazic gedolim who prefer this practice.

No “Standing Sandek

What is the basis for this practice?

To understand this practice, we need to present and explain a short piece of aggadic Gemara.

Pouring Wine

The Gemara teaches: Rabbi Berechyah said, “One who desires to pour wine libations on the mizbei’ach, should fill the throats of Torah scholars with wine” (Yoma 71a).

One could interpret this Gemara as meaning that supporting needy Torah scholars is considered as meritorious as offering wine on the mizbei’ach. However, there are several reasons why this interpretation of the Gemara does not explain it fully.

1. Why specifically refer to wine; people who need support require bread rather than wine?

2. The Gemara makes no reference to “needy Torah scholars,” but only to “Torah scholars,” implying that it is not extolling the concept of tzedakah, but some different idea.

3. Why does the Gemara use the seeming unflattering expression fill the throats, rather than a more polite description, such as: should provide them with wine, or give them wine to drink. Filling someone’s throat is not exactly a polite way of saying that one is providing wine.

To answer the above questions, the Toras Chayim explains this Gemara as referring to a very specific time that one is supplying the Torah scholar with wine. As I mentioned above, the Zohar refers to bris milah as offering a korban. If the bris itself is a korban, then the sandek, on whose knees the bris is performed, is a mizbei’ach, and having him drink wine can be compared to offering libations on the mizbei’ach. The Toras Chayim explains that this is called “filling his throat” since we are comparing the sandek drinking the wine to “filling” the top of the receptacles of the mizbei’ach where the kohen pours the wine libations.

Based on this analysis, the Toras Chayim concludes that the sandek should remain sitting with the baby on his lap until after the baby is named and the wine is drunk. He further contends that the cup of wine, or at least some of it, should be drunk by the sandek. As long as the baby remains on the sandek’s lap, he is still comparable to a mizbei’ach.

Based on this concept, Sefardim have a custom that the sandek holds the baby on his lap through the naming, and that the Sandek remains seated for several minutes after the bris. During this time people cluster around the sandek, requesting that he bless them for whatever blessing they would like. Since he has achieved the exalted status of being comparable to a mizbei’ach, he has the ability to bless others.

Conclusion

Although we have shown many ways to prioritize the honor of being sandek, we should note that an important factor in choosing a sandek is that he be someone that Eliyahu would want to join. We should bear in mind that Eliyahu is not only the malach habris, the angel who attends the bris, but also Pinchas, the bringer and angel of peace. Thus, we should remember that bringing peace to all the baalei simchah should be a highest priority in choosing the honorees.

How Does Someone Convert to Judaism?

Judaism Starburst grunge background

When our ancestors accepted responsibility to observe the Torah, they did so by performing bris milah, immersing themselves in a mikveh, and offering korbanos. In the same way, a non-Jew who chooses to join the Jewish people is entering the same covenant and must follow a similar procedure (Gemara Kerisus 9a).

The privilege of becoming a ger tzedek requires very exact and exacting guidelines. On a technical level, the ger is accepting responsibility to perform mitzvos. Through the geirus procedure, he creates an obligation upon himself to observe mitzvos (Birchas Shmuel, Kiddushin #15).

DEFINITION OF A JEW

To the non-Jewish or non-observant world, the definition of a Jew is based on sociological criteria. But to the Torah Jew, the definition of a Jew is someone who is a member of a people who are obligated to fulfill all of the Torah’s commandments. For this reason, it is axiomatic that no one can become Jewish without first accepting the responsibility to observe mitzvos (kabbalas mitzvos). This concept, so obvious to the Torah Jew, is almost never appreciated by the non-observant. Someone who does not (yet) observe mitzvos himself usually does not appreciate why observing mitzvos is imperative to becoming Jewish. This is why a not-yet-observant Jew often finds our requirements for giyur to be “unrealistic” or even “intolerant.” However in true reality, attempting to bend the Torah’s rules reflects an intolerance, or more exactly, a lack of understanding. The Torah Jew realizes that the basic requirement for becoming a Jew is accepting Hashem’s commandments, since a Jew is by definition someone who is bound by the Torah.

DISCOURAGE CONVERTS

As we all know, when someone requests to be converted to Judaism, we discourage him. As the Gemara (Yevamos 47a) says, if a potential convert comes, we ask him, “Why do you want to convert? Don’t you know that Jews are persecuted and dishonored? Constant suffering is their lot! Why do you want to join such a people?”

Why do we discourage a sincere non-Jew from joining Jewish ranks? Shouldn’t we encourage someone to undertake such a noble endeavor!

The reason is that even if the potential convert is very sincerely motivated, we still want to ascertain that he or she can persevere to keep the mitzvos even under adversity. Although we can never be certain what the future brings, by making the path to conversion difficult we are helping the potential convert who might later regret his conversion when the going gets hard. Because of this rationale, some batei din deliberately make it difficult for a potential convert as a method of discouraging him.

I have used a different method of discouragement, by informing potential converts of the seven mitzvos bnei Noach. In so doing, I point out that they can merit olam haba without becoming obligated to keep all the Torah’s mitzvos. In this way, I hope to make them responsible moral non-Jews without their becoming Jewish. As the Gemara explains, we tell him, “Until now you received no punishment if you failed to keep kosher. There was no punishment if you failed to observe Shabbos. If you become Jewish, you will receive very severe punishments for not keeping kosher or Shabbos!” (Yevamos 47a).

I once met a woman who was enthusiastically interested in becoming Jewish. Although she was living in a town with no Jewish community – she was already keeping a kosher home!

After I explained the mitzvos of bnei Noach to her, she insisted that this was not enough for her. She wanted to be fully Jewish.

Because of her enthusiasm, I expected to hear from her again. I was wrong. I never heard from her again. It seems that her tremendous enthusiasm petered out. This is exactly what Chazal were concerned about. Therefore they told us to make it difficult for someone to become Jewish and see whether his or her commitment survives adversity. It was better that this woman’s enthusiasm waned before she became Jewish than after she became Jewish and had no way out.
The following story from my personal experience is unfortunately very common. A gentile woman, eager to marry an observant Jewish man, agreed to fulfill all the mitzvos as a requirement for her conversion. (As we will point out shortly, this is not a recommended procedure.) Although she seemed initially very excited about observing mitzvos, with time she began to lose interest. In the end, she ended up giving up observance completely. The unfortunate result is that she is now a chotei Yisrael (a Jew who sins).

MOTIVATION FOR CONVERTING

We must ascertain that the proposed convert wants to become Jewish for the correct reasons. If we discern or suspect that there is an ulterior reason to convert, we do not accept the potential convert even if he is committed to observing all the mitzvos.

For this reason converts are not accepted at times when there is political, financial, or social gain in being Jewish. For example, no converts were accepted in the days of Mordechai and Esther, nor in the times of Dovid and Shlomoh, nor will geirim be accepted in the era of the Moshiach. During such times, we suspect that the convert is somewhat motivated by the financial or political advantages in being Jewish (Gemara Yevamos 24b). This applies even if we are certain that they will observe all the mitzvos.

Despite this rule, unlearned Jews created “batei din” during the reign of Dovid HaMelech and accepted converts against the wishes of the gedolim (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Biyah 13:15).

The Rambam explains that the “non-Jewish” wives that Shlomoh married were really insincere converts. In his words, “In the days of Shlomoh converts were not accepted by the official batei din…however Shlomoh converted women and married them…and it was known that they converted for ulterior reasons and not through the official batei din. For this reason, the pasuk treats them as non-Jews…furthermore the end bears out that they worshipped idols and built altars to them” (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Biyah 13:15-16).

Because of this rule, we do not accept someone who is converting because he or she wants to marry someone who is Jewish, even if the convert is absolutely willing to observe all the mitzvos (Gemara Yevamos 24b). I have seen numerous instances of non-Jews who converted primarily for marriage and who agreed to keep all the mitzvos at the time of the conversion. Even in the instances where mitzvos were indeed observed, I have seen very few situations where mitzvos were still being observed a few years (or even months) later.

GEIRUS WITH IMPROPER MOTIVATION

What is the halachic status of someone who went through the geirus process for the wrong reasons, such as they converted because they wanted to marry someone?

If the convert followed all the procedures including full acceptance of all the mitzvos, the conversion is valid even though we disapprove of what was done. If the convert remains faithful to Jewish observance, we will treat him with all the respect due to a Jew. However, before reaching a decision on his status, the beis din waits a while to see whether the convert is indeed fully committed to living a Jewish life (Rambam, Issurei Biyah 13:15-18).

However, someone who is not committed to mitzvah observance and just goes through the procedures has not become Jewish at all.

Jim was interested in “converting to Judaism” because his wife was Jewish and not because he was interested in observing mitzvos. At first he went to a Rav who explained that he must observe all the mitzvos, and certainly they must live within the frum community. This was not what Jim had in mind, so he went shopping for a “rabbi” who would meet his standards. Is there any validity to this conversion?

CONVERSION PROCESS

How does a non-Jew become Jewish? As mentioned above, Klal Yisrael joined Hashem’s covenant with three steps: bris milah (for males), immersion in a mikveh, and offering a korban (Gemara Krisus 9a). Since no korbanos are brought today, the convert becomes a ger without fulfilling this mitzvah. (We derive from a pasuk that geirim are accepted even in generations that do not have a Beis HaMikdash.) However, when the Beis HaMikdash is iy”h rebuilt, every ger will be required to offer a korban olah which is completely burnt on the mizbayach (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Biyah 13:5).

Besides these three steps, the convert must accept all the mitzvos, just as the Jews accepted to keep all the mitzvos.

Preferably, each step in the geirus procedure should be witnessed by a beis din. Some poskim contend that the bris and tevilah are valid even if not witnessed by a beis din. But all poskim agree that if the kabbalas (accepting) mitzvos does not take place in the presence of a beis din, the conversion is invalid (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 268:3). Thus, a minimal requirement for proper giyur (conversion) is that the ger’s commitment to observe all the mitzvos and practices of a Jew be made in the presence of a kosher beis din. Any “conversion” with no commitment to mitzvos, or where the commitment is made without observant Jews present, is by definition invalid and without any halachic foundation.

Unfortunately, some well-intentioned converts have been misled by people purporting to be batei din for geirus. I know of a woman who underwent four different conversion procedures until she performed a geirus in the presence of a kosher beis din!

KABBALAS MITZVOS

As mentioned above, kabbalas mitzvos is a verbalized acceptance to observe all the Torah’s mitzvos. We do not accept a convert who states that he is accepting all the mitzvos of the Torah except for one (Gemara Bechoros 30b). Rav Moshe Feinstein discusses a woman who was interested in converting and was willing to fulfill all the mitzvos except that she did not want to dress in the halachically-required tzniyus way. Rav Moshe rules that it is questionable if her geirus is valid (Shu”t Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:106).

If the potential convert states that he/she accepts kabbalas mitzvos, we usually assume that the geirus is valid. However, what is the halacha if a person declares that he accepts the mitzvos but his behavior indicates the opposite? For example, what happens if the convert eats non-kosher or desecrates Shabbos immediately following his conversion procedure? Is he considered Jewish?

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that if it is clear that the person never intended to observe mitzvos, his conversion is invalid. The person remains a non-Jew since he never undertook kabbalas mitzvos, which is the most important component of geirus (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:157; 3:106).

BEIS DIN

As mentioned before, conversion is an act that requires a proper beis din, meaning minimally three fully observant male Jews.

Since a beis din cannot perform a legal function at night or on Shabbos or Yom Tov, conversions cannot be performed at these times (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 268:4).

CHILD CONVERSION

Until now we discussed the conversion of adults. A child can also be converted to Judaism (Gemara Kesubos 11a). There are two common reasons why this is done: Either when the child’s parents are converting to Judaism, or when a non-Jewish child is adopted by Jewish parents.

The conversion of a child involves an interesting question. As we explained above, the convert’s acceptance of the mitzvos is the main factor that makes him into a Jew. However, since a child is too young to assume legal obligations and responsibilities, how can his conversion be valid when it is without a legal accepting of mitzvos?

The answer is that we know that children can be converted from the historical precedent of Sinai where the Jewish people accepted the Torah and mitzvos. Among them were thousands of children who also joined the covenant and became part of klal Yisrael. When these children became adults, they became responsible to keep mitzvos (Tosafos Sanhedrin 68b).

There is, however, a qualitative difference between a child who becomes part of the covenant together with his parents, and an adopted child who is becoming Jewish without his birth parents. In the former case the parent assumes responsibility for the child’s decision (Gemara Kesubos 11a; Rashi Yevamos 48a s.v. eved), whereas an adopting parent cannot assume this role in the conversion process. Instead, the beis din supervising the geirus acts as the child’s surrogate parents and accepts his geirus. This same approach is used if a child comes of his own volition and requests to be converted (Mordechai, Yevamos 4:40).

CAN THE CHILD REJECT THIS DECISION?

Yes. If the child convert decides on reaching maturity that he does not want to be Jewish, he invalidates his conversion and reverts to being a gentile. The age at which a child can make this decision is when he or she becomes obligated to observe mitzvos, twelve for a girl and thirteen for a boy (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:162).

CAN HE CHANGE HIS MIND LATER IN LIFE?

No. Once the child achieves maturity and is living an observant lifestyle, this is considered an acceptance of the conversion that cannot be rejected afterwards.

WHAT IF THE CHILD CONVERT WAS UNAWARE THAT HE WAS A GER AND DID NOT KNOW THAT HE HAD THE OPTION?

Rav Moshe Feinstein discusses the case of a couple that adopted a non-Jewish child but did not want to tell him that he was adopted. (Not telling the child he is adopted may be inadvisable for psychological reasons, but this is an article on halacha, not psychology.) Rav Moshe raises the following halachic reason why the parents should tell the child that he is a convert. Assuming that the child knows he is a child convert, he has the option to accept or reject his Judaism when turning bar mitzvah (bas mitzvah for a girl), which is a time that the parents have much influence on their child. Subsequent to this time, he cannot opt out of Judaism. However, if he does not discover that he is a convert until he becomes an adult, he would have the option at that time to accept or reject his Judaism, and the parents have limited influence on his decision.

WHAT IF THE CHILD WANTS TO BE A NON-OBSERVANT JEW?

What is the halacha if the child at age thirteen wants to be Jewish, but does not want to be observant?

There is a dispute among poskim whether this constitutes a rejection of one’s conversion or not. Some contend that not observing mitzvos is not the same as rejecting conversion; the conversion is only undone if the child does not want to be Jewish. Others contend that not observing mitzvos is considered an abandonment of one’s being Jewish.

Many years ago I asked my rebbe, Rav Yaakov Kulefsky zt”l, about the following situation. A boy underwent a giyur katan and was raised by non-observant “traditional” parents who kept a kosher home but did not observe Shabbos. The boy wanted to be Jewish without being observant, just like his adopted parents. The family wanted to celebrate his bar mitzvah in an Orthodox shul and have the boy “lein” the Torah. Was this permitted or was the boy considered non-Jewish?

Rav Kulefsky zt”l paskined that the boy could “lein” and was considered halachically Jewish. Other poskim disagree, contending that being halachically Jewish requires acknowledging the mitzvos we must perform. Someone who rejects the mitzvos thereby rejects the concept of being Jewish.

GERIM ARE SPECIAL

Once a potential ger persists in his determination to join the Jewish people, the beis din will usually recommend a program whereby he can learn about Judaism and that sets him on track for giyur. A ger tzedek should be treated with tremendous love and respect. Indeed, the Torah gives us a special mitzvah to “Love the Ger,” and we daven for them daily in our Shmoneh Esrei!

Throughout the years, I have met many sincere gerim and have been truly impressed by their dedication to Torah and mitzvos. Hearing about the journey to find truth that brought them to Judaism is usually fascinating. What would cause a gentile to join the Jewish people, risk confronting the brunt of anti-Semitism, while at the same time being uncertain that Jews will accept him?  Sincere converts are drawn by the truth of Torah and a desire to be part of the Chosen People. They know that they can follow the will of Hashem by doing seven mitzvos, but they insist on choosing an all-encompassing Torah lifestyle.

One sincere young woman, of Oriental background, stood firmly before the Beis Din. “Why would you want this?” questioned the Rav.

“Because it is truth and gives my life meaning.”

“There are many rules to follow,” he cautioned.

“I know. I have been following them meticulously for two years,” came the immediate reply. “I identify with the Jews.”

After further questioning, the beis din authorized her geirus, offering her two dates convenient for them. She chose the earlier one, so she could keep one extra Shabbos.
We should learn from the ger to observe our mitzvos every day with tremendous excitement – just as if we just received them for the first time!

Doubly Blessed

   

It was a big simcha, the birth of twin boys. Avi Habanim, the new Daddy, wondered whether he and Reb Mendel the mohel should recite the brachos once or twice. He also wanted to know whether the bracha after the bris, asher kidash yedid mibeten, is recited separately for each baby or not. Since holding the baby while this bracha is recited is a big honor, this would amount to two extra kibbudim for Avi to distribute – quite an asset in his sensitive family!

Response:

When celebrating the Habanim sons’ bris, the older son was brought to shul first; the mohel recited the bracha of al hamilah prior to performing the older boy’s bris. Avi then recited the bracha lehachniso bivriso shel Avraham Avinu, to bring him into the Covenant of Avraham our forefather. After the bris was completed, Uncle Max was honored with reciting the bracha asher kidash yedid mibeten prior to naming the baby Peretz after Uncle Max’s late father. After Max’s booming baritone rendition was complete, the mohel recited the mishebeirach wishing Peretz a speedy recovery and then began Aleinu, the customary closing prayer to the bris ceremony.

Now the Second Bris

After Aleinu and kaddish were completed, Reb Mendel, Avi and Uncle Herman (I will soon explain why he, and not Uncle Max) took a brief walk outside the shul, and then Avi’s younger son arrived just in time for his bris. Reb Mendel declared kvatter, the standard announcement politely asking people to end their conversations because the bris is beginning. Mendel recited the bracha al hamilah a second time and Avi then recited the bracha lehachniso again. After the bris was completed, Uncle Herman was honored with reciting the bracha asher kidash yedid mibeten prior to naming the baby Zerach.

The Dvar Torah

At the banquet celebrating the brisin, Avi began his comments by thanking Hashem not only for the birth of two healthy boys, but also for the opportunity to have had time to analyze a complex halachic topic that he had never previously researched. He then devoted his “Bris Torah” to sharing his research on the subject at hand. He began by noting that most early authorities contend that one should not recite the brachos twice, but recite one al hamilah and one lehachniso bivriso for both brisin (this is the commonly used plural). When following this approach, one should be careful not to talk about anything not germane to the bris prior to performing the second bris (see Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 265; Gra”z 213:7).

Lehachnisam bivriso

Indeed, even the text of the bracha recited by the father changes to the plural: lehachnisam bivriso shel Avraham Avinu, to bring them into the Covenant (Beis Yosef; Rama, Yoreh Deah 265:5). The Rama even amends the prayer that includes naming the child to plural by saying kayem es hayeladim.

Among those authorities who follow this approach, we find a dispute concerning when Dad recites his bracha lehachnisam; although some imply that he should recite it immediately after the mohel recites his bracha on the first bris (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 6:9), most contend that he should not recite it until after the mohel performs the second bris (Shu”t HaRashba 1:382). This dispute concerns whether the optimal time to recite this bracha (on every bris) is prior to the performing of the bris, assuming that it is a bracha on the performing of the mitzvah, or afterwards, considering it a bracha of praise (see Tosafos, Pesachim 7a s.v. Beliva’eir). This is a complex discussion on its own that we will need to leave for now; perhaps it is a topic for a future bris. In order to accommodate both approaches, the father usually recites lehachniso bivriso immediately after the mohel begins removing the foreskin but prior to his peeling back the membrane underneath that is halachically called the or haperiyah.

Asher Kidash

There is an additional dispute whether to recite the bracha asher kidash yedid mibeten (recited after the bris and before the baby is named) twice or only once. Rabbeinu Yeruchem implies that one should recite it after each bris, whereas the Beis Yosef disagrees, contending that it should be recited only once — after the second bris. I would like to note that a much earlier authority than the Beis Yosef, the Tashbeitz (2:42), already ruled exactly as the Beis Yosef did — that it should be recited only once, and after the second bris, so that it refers back to both brisin.

Avi noted that some might be concerned about the following curious problem. Since we usually name the child immediately after reciting the bracha asher kidash yedid mibeten, and one is now reciting only one bracha for both boys, how does anyone know which child was given which name? (Avi then noted tongue-in-cheek that in his particular instance this probably would not be such a concern, since people could always refer to Chumash and see that Peretz is the older twin.)

Actually, an early halachic source alludes to a response to this question. The Tashbeitz notes that after reciting the bracha asher kidash yedid mibeten, the custom was to pour two different cups of wine and name each baby while holding a different cup, although one recites only one bracha of hagafen for both cups since there is no interruption between them. He notes that there is no real reason to have two cups for this purpose other than to pacify people. One cup of wine for the bracha certainly suffices. Presumably, each cup of wine was brought near the child who was now being named so that people would know which child would bear which name, although it is also clear from the Tashbeitz that there is no necessity to do this.

Avi continued: According to the Rama’s recommendation that one recites only one naming prayer for both boys, obviously one is using only one cup of wine. It also seems that one concludes this prayer by saying viyakaru shemam biYisrael Peretz ben Avraham veZerach ben Avraham. Since one recites only one prayer that then names both boys, presumably the naming follows the order in which they were circumcised.

Double Blessings

Avi then noted a more serious issue: If most poskim contend that one should not recite the brachos twice for the two brisin, why do we ignore this majority opinion! As you can imagine, after researching the shaylah, I asked my rav what to do, and followed his advice. However, before explaining his reasoning, I would like to share with you more of my research.

Truthfully, several different authorities, both early and late, recommend different reasons why one should recite separate brachos for each bris. The earliest dissenting opinion is that of the Baal HaItur, an early rishon, who rules that each bris always requires its own bracha. Why should this be so? Does the Baal HaItur contend that whenever one fulfills a mitzvah twice that each act requires its own bracha? This would mean that when installing several mezuzos one would recite a bracha on each mezuzah, and that a shocheit slaughtering many birds or animals should recite a new bracha before each shechitah. Although there is a recognized very early authority who indeed advocates this position (Rabbeinu Shmuel ben Chofni, quoted by Mordechai, Chullin #658), the other authorities, Baal HaItur included, accept that one recites only one bracha before performing the same mitzvah several times (Tashbeitz 2:42). So why is this case different?

Baal HaItur himself explains that bris milah is different from the other mitzvos mentioned because one may not perform two brisin simultaneously. Presumably, he means that because of the principle of ain osim mitzvos chavilos chavilos, one may not “bundle” together two mitzvos and perform them together because this implies that one finds performing mitzvos a burden that one wants to be rid of. The logic is that since I cannot perform the second bris until after I perform the first, the first bris is in effect an interruption between the bracha and the second bris (Shu”t Maharam Shick, Yoreh Deah #250).

Most early authorities dispute with the Baal HaItur’s logic. Although they presumably agree that one may not perform both brisin simultaneously because of safety concerns and because of the principle of ain osim mitzvos chavilos chavilos, they feel that this does not create a sufficient reason to require a new bracha on the second bris. Remember that the mohel knows that he will be performing a second bris when he recites the bracha on the first child.

Although most early authorities rule differently, some seem somewhat unconvinced that one is forbidden from reciting separate brachos on each bris. For example, someone sent the Rashba a letter inquiring whether it is correct to recite only one bracha when performing two brisin. The Rashba responded that he had never been in attendance when two brisin occurred together and consequently was unaware of an accepted practice. Logically, he feels that one should recite only one bracha, just as a shocheit should recite only one bracha prior to performing multiple shechitos, although it is clear from the Rashba’s discussion that he would certainly defer to a minhag differing from his ruling (Shu”t HaRashba 1:382).

Later Authorities

Avi continued his discussion by mentioning that the Tur cites the opinion of the Baal HaItur, but then quotes his father, the Rosh, who disputed the Baal HaItur’s conclusions. The Rosh compares this case to having two newly married couples in attendance at one sheva brachos, and whether one should recite two sets of brachos, one for each couple, or one series of brachos for both. He concludes that one should recite one set of brachos for both couples, and rules that when performing brisin on twins that one should recite only one series of brachos for both. Clearly, there is concern that one is reciting unnecessary brachos, brachos she’ainam tzricha, which is a violation of halacha. The Rosh then notes that this is true even if there are two different mohalim involved – and even if the two babies are from different families — one mohel should recite the bracha before performing the first bris with the other mohel present and include the second mohel in his bracha. The second mohel should have in mind to be included in this first one’s bracha. He then also rules that the same is true for the bracha recited after the bris, asher kidash yedid mibeten – concluding that this bracha should also be recited only once for both children, and even if the second child is not present when the first bris is performed since one knows that one will be performing both brisin (Shu”t HaRosh 26:4). Of course, this presents an interesting question, since this bracha is recited after the bris, and one may have already performed the first bris before the second baby arrived. The authorities conclude that even so, one should delay reciting the bracha asher kidash yedid mibeten until the second bris is performed, and then recite it after the second bris with intent for the first bris as well.

To sum up, there is a dispute between the Baal HaItur and the Rosh whether one must recite separate brachos on these two brisin, or whether one is required to recite one bracha on both brisin.

Other reasons

Other, later, authorities present completely different reasons why one should not recite the brachos on two brisin together. The Beis Shmuel (Even HaEzer 62:3) quotes the Perisha as stating that one should not make two brisin together because of ayin hora, just as one should not perform two wedding ceremonies together. According to the Perisha, the concern is not about the brachos, but about the ceremony itself, and that therefore one should complete one bris ceremony before beginning the next one. However, most other authorities do not share this concern (see Taz, Yoreh Deah 265:11 for one approach why).

We should note that the Perisha’s approach results in a different procedure than the Baal HaItur would advise. According to the Perisha, one should not bring the second baby to the location of the bris until after the first bris is complete, whereas according to the Baal HaItur, one may bring both babies at the beginning and conduct the two brisin step-by-step one after the other.

Avi then mentioned a different approach why we should not bring the two babies together. If we remember the Baal HaItur’s position, he contended that simultaneously performing the bris act for both babies violates ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos, bundling together mitzvos. However, the Baal HaItur was not concerned that bringing the babies together violates ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos. However, there are authorities who feel that bringing two babies together with the intent of performing their brisin consecutively involves a problem of ein osin mitzvos chavilos chavilos (see Magen Avraham 147:11). Thus, we have two authorities who advise against bringing the two babies together to perform their brisin together . We are now going to present a third reason not to do this.

Interrupting the Brachos

Most authorities rule that if someone interrupted after reciting the bracha for the first bris, he must recite a new bracha for the second bris. They contend that it is prohibited to interrupt because this now causes the recital of a new bracha, which is a bracha she’ainah tzricha, an unnecessary bracha. For this reason, the Maharshal reached an interesting conclusion: Departing from the Rosh’s conclusions, he contended that when two different families are making a bris, one should have them each recite its own brachos. He voices two different reasons for his conclusion:

1. There is likelihood that they will interrupt, which requires a new bracha, but fail to recite the bracha.

2. When dealing with two families, one needs to be concerned that they will get into a fight over who recites the brachos.

As a result, the Maharshal recommends making certain that the two brisin have an interruption between them to guarantee that they require two separate brachos. This alleviates the possibility of a machlokes and also guarantees that the proper brachos will indeed be recited (Yam shel Shelomoh, Chullin 6:9).

The Shach’s Conclusion

The Shach (Yoreh Deah 265:15) takes the Maharshal’s concerns even further, being concerned that even in the case of twins, there will be interruptions between the two brisin, and that one should therefore separate between them. In taking this position, he is disputing the conclusions of most Rishonim, and those of the Shulchan Aruch, Rama, and Taz, although one could argue that he was not disagreeing as much as reflecting changing patterns of human behavior. It may be that in earlier generations, people exhibited better self-control and remained quiet between the two brisin, whereas in his generation they did not.

Differing Customs

“If I have not yet put you to sleep,” the erudite father continued, “I will return to the original dispute I mentioned above between the Baal HaItur and the Rosh whether one must recite separate brachos on these two brisin, or whether one is required to recite one bracha on both brisin. Among the later authorities, there is much discussion whether the custom follows the Baal HaItur or the Rosh. The Bach records that in his day this was dependent on local custom, some places following the Baal HaItur’s approach of reciting separate brachos, and others following the Rosh. He mentions that the custom in Cracow followed the Rosh. The Bach concludes that the preferred practice in a place without an established custom is to bring one baby and perform his bris with its brachos, and then when finished bring the second baby and recite separate all the brachos again.

What Is the Sefardic Custom?

“The Tashbeitz, who was the Chief Rabbi in Algiers, a Sefardic community, reports that he attended many brisin of twins and never saw two brachos recited. This is also the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch, usually the source for all Sefardic custom and practice. Nevertheless, some authorities quote an old established practice in Egypt, a Sefardic community, of performing the first bris with all its brachos, then reciting pesukim and similar things to create an interruption, following which they performed the second bris with all the brachos again (Shu”t Darchei Noam, Yoreh Deah #27, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah 265:10).

“A similar practice is noted in Nineteenth Century Hungary (Shu”t Maharam Shick, Yoreh Deah #250). Thus, it appears that in different places throughout Jewish history there were different established practices. However, Rav Elyashiv takes much umbrage at this practice, claiming that since most authorities quoted rule that one should recite only one bracha, they were also aware of minhagim, and that the places where the minhag was otherwise are the exception, not the rule (Introduction to Otzar HaBris).

“With this information, I asked my rav a shaylah, and he told me that he has attended many brisin of twins, and that the practice is always to perform one bris, make a slight interruption, and then begin the second. He told me that some people provide refreshments between the two brisin, both to accomplish more of an interruption and to have a “bris seudah” for the first twin.

In Conclusion

“Prior to thanking all those who have helped us, I want to share with everyone the idea that we should recognize the paramount importance of being careful with our brachos. Here we see how much ink was used to clarify whether one should recite one or two brachos. Certainly, it behooves us to be careful about our recital of our brachos.”

Explaining the Customs of Bris Milah

The mitzvah of Bris Milah has been enhanced by many beautiful customs. We will explain the background of these minhagim in the course of a guide to the honors bestowed during a bris and the steps of a bris procedure.

THE DIFFERENT HONORS AT THE BRIS

Each of the “kibbudim” at a bris performs a different mitzvah. The sandek is the greatest honor at a bris since the milah is performed upon his lap. The Zohar teaches that bringing one’s son to a Bris Milah is equivalent to building the mizbayach (the altar) in the Beis HaMikdash and offering all the korbanos of the whole world (Parshas Lech Lecha 95a). Since milah is compared to a korban, the sandek himself is like a mizbayach (altar). In addition, since holding the baby assists the mohel perform the bris, the sandek also partly fulfills the mitzvah of performing the bris.

The kvatter and kvattern perform the mitzvah of transporting the baby to the bris. Frequently, this honor is given to a couple who do not as yet have children. It is hoped that as reward for performing the mitzvah of bring a child to the bris, they will soon merit to bring their own child to a bris.

The other honors at a bris include: placing the baby on Eliyahu’s chair, reciting the b’rachos after the bris, naming the baby (in some places the last two honors are combined), and holding the baby during the b’rachos and the naming.

KVATTER

With this word, the mohel calls the assembled to attention. The “kvaterin” carries the baby in from the women’s area and hands him to her husband, the kvater, who brings the baby to the mohel. Some have the custom of sharing the mitzvah of bringing the baby to the bris among several people, an honor called “cheika.” Those who follow this practice should make sure that each honoree brings the baby closer to where the bris will take place. (I have seen brisin where the people honored with cheika carried the baby in the opposite direction from where the bris was to be held. These individuals did not realize that they were doing the opposite of what they were supposed to be doing and thus not performing a mitzvah.)

Two chairs of honor are set up, one for Eliyahu (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 265:11) and one for the sandek who will hold the baby during the bris.

WHY IS THERE A CHAIR FOR ELIYAHU?

According to the Midrash Eliyahu Hanavi attends every bris, and the chair that the baby is placed upon before the bris is referred to as Kisay shel Eliyahu. Before Eliyahu rose to heaven and assumed the role of an angel, he was the prophet responsible to admonish the wicked monarchs Achav and Izevel. Eliyahu was a zealot for Hashem’s honor (Melachim 1:19:10, 14) and accused Bnei Yisrael of abrogating Bris Milah. As a response, Hashem decreed that Eliyahu will be present at every bris to see that the Jews indeed fulfill bris milah. Chazal therefore instituted that there should be a seat of honor for Eliyahu at every bris (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29; Zohar 93a). Eliyahu thus came to be called the “Angel of the Covenant,” since he attends and attests to every bris (Malachi 3:1, 23 with Rashi).

THE SANDEK

The poskim discuss whether it is better to give the mitzvah of sandek to a great tzadik or to a family member (see Shu’t Chacham Tzvi #70). Incidentally, some poskim contend that the father of the baby should be sandek since he thereby assists in the bris which is his mitzvah to perform (Shu’t Divrei Malkiel 4:86). However, the prevailing custom is to give the honor either to a grandparent or other honored family member or to a tzadik or talmid chacham.

Very special rewards and blessings are associated with being sandek. For this reason, the Rama cites a custom not to honor the same person with being sandek twice (Yoreh Deah 265:11; compare Gra and Noda Bi’yehudah, YD 86; see also Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #159).

There is a custom, seven hundred years old, that the sandek immerse himself in a mikveh before the bris. Since the sandek is compared to the mizbayach, he must make every attempt to make himself pure and holy (Maharil).

B’RACHOS AT A BRIS

Several b’rachos are recited both before and after the bris. Immediately before performing the bris, the mohel recites the b’racha “asher kidishanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu al hamilah” (that He commanded us to observe the mitzvah of Bris Milah), and the father immediately recites “asher kidishanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu lihachniso bivriso shel Avraham Avinu” (that He commanded us to bring the child into the Covenant of Avraham). If the father is himself the mohel, he recites both b’rachos and then performs the bris. Among Sfardim, the father also recites the b’racha shehechiyanu (Yoreh Deah 265:7). In Eretz Yisrael, shehechiyanu is recited at a bris even by Ashkenazim. In Chutz LaAretz, most Ashkenazim do not recite shehechiyanu at a bris.

WHY ARE TWO B’RACHOS RECITED ON THE MITZVAH OF MILAH?

It is indeed unusual to recite two different b’rachos before fulfilling a mitzvah, each beginning with the words “asher kidishanu b’mitzvosav”. Why do we recite two such b’rachos?

According to one opinion, the b’racha of lihachniso is recited on the mitzvah of training the child in mitzvos (chinuch) rather than being exclusively about milah (Abudraham). It is recited at the bris since this is the first mitzvah that the father performs in raising his child as a Torah Jew.

An alternative approach is that this b’racha is an appreciation for bringing the child into the kedusha of Klal Yisrael (Aruch HaShulchan 265:5-8). According to this approach, the b’racha of lihachniso is a b’racha of thanks and praise rather than being a b’racha on the performance of a specific mitzvah (Tosafos Pesachim 7a).

WHY DO SOME COMMUNITIES RECITE SHEHECHIYANU AT A BRIS, AND OTHERS DO NOT?

This machlokes is hundreds of years old. Usually, we recite a shehechiyanu on a mitzvah that is observed on special occasions, such as Yom Tov, Pidyon HaBen, Shofar, and Lulav. Thus, it would seem that one should recite shehechiyanu at a Bris Milah. Nonetheless, the old minhag in Ashkenaz was to omit shehechiyanu at a Bris Milah (Tosafos Sukah 46a; Rama 265:7). What was the reason for this minhag? (The custom among Sfardim was, and is, to recite shehechiyanu at a bris.)

The poskim offer several reasons why there is no shehechiyanu. Some suggest that shehechiyanu is recited only on a mitzvah that is dependent on a date, such as a Yom Tov, or a very specific time, such as Pidyon HaBen, which is always performed on the thirtieth day after birth (Ran, Sukah Chapter 4). Although Bris Milah can only be performed beginning the eighth day, since there are occasions when one cannot perform the bris on the eighth day (such as when the baby is ill or when it is uncertain which day the baby was born), there was no establishment of shehechiyanu.

An alternative approach is that Chazal did not institute reciting shehechiyanu at a bris because it is not a totally joyous time, since the baby suffers pain. However, other poskim disagree with this reason, pointing out that one recites shehechiyanu when hearing news that includes both good and bad tidings (see Gemara Berachos 46b, 59b). Thus, suffering does not preclude reciting the b’racha of shehechiyanu (Hagahos Maimoniyos, Hilchos Milah 3:4, who also cites two other reasons for the Ashkenazic custom).

The Gra, himself an Ashkenazi, disagreed with the accepted practice and ruled that one should recite shehechiyanu at a bris (Yoreh Deah 265:36). Since disciples of the Gra established the contemporary Ashkenazic community in Eretz Yisrael, they followed his practice to recite shehechiyanu at a bris. As a result, the custom in Eretz Yisrael developed that everyone recites shehechiyanu at a bris. The prevalent Ashkenazic practice in Chutz La’Aretz follows the opinion of Tosafos and Rama not to recite shehechiyanu.

WHAT B’RACHOS ARE RECITED AFTER THE BRIS?

After the bris is performed, two more b’rachos are recited over a cup of wine- first a borei pri hagafen and then a lengthy special b’racha that begins with the words “Asher Kideish Y’did Mi’beten,” (Shabbos 137b). (Sfardim have the custom to recite an additional b’racha, “Borei Atzei Besamim” on a hadas, after the b’racha on the wine, see Shulchan Aruch 265:1.) This b’racha translates, “Praised are you, Hashem our G-d King of the Universe, Who sanctified Yitzchok Avinu from birth, placed a permanent mark on his body, and sealed the holy covenant upon his descendants. As a reward for fulfilling Bris Milah, Hashem the living G-d, command that Avrohom’s descendants be saved from the punishment of Gehenom (Shabbos 137b with Rashi; Shach Yoreh Deah 265:5).

An alternative interpretation of the beginning of the b’racha is that it refers to the three forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov (Tosafos Shabbos 137b).

WHY WAS THIS B’RACHA INSTITUTED?

It is unusual to have an additional b’racha recited AFTER a mitzvah is performed.

Some Rishonim explain that milah warrants an extra b’racha since it was commanded to the Avos before the Torah was given (Tosafos Rid to Shabbos 137b). This theme is reflected in the structure of the b’racha, since it refers to the Avos Avraham and Yitzchok (and also Yaakov according to the second explanation above).

The wording of the b’racha is unusual, since it instructs Hashem to command that Avrohom’s descendants be saved from the punishment of Gehenom. What is meant by this unusual b’racha?

This b’racha can be explained by the following Agada. The Gemara teaches that Avrohom Avinu rescues all of his descendents from Gehenom, no matter how many sins they performed during their time on Earth, provided they observed Bris Milah and did not intermarry (Gemara Eruvin 19a). Thus, the observance of just this one mitzvah may be enough to guarantee that a Jew not end up in Gehenom. We ask Hashem to command that all Jews be protected in this way (Shach 265:5).

An alternative approach to explain this bracha is that the Hebrew word “tzavei” should instead be pronounced “tzivah,” He commanded. In this interpretation of the bracha we are not asking Hashem to command- we are mentioning that in this merit he did command (Shaylas Yaavetz #146). Some prominent gedolim have the practice of saying both versions of the bracha, although others take issue with this practice (Shu’t Nimla Tal).

THE NAMING OF THE BABY

After the b’racha “Asher kideish”, the baby is named in a special text that quotes the Prophet Yechezkel (16:6), “vo’e’evor olayich vo’er’eich misbo’seses b’domoyich vo’omar loch ‘b’domayich chayi’ vo’omar loch ‘b’domayich chayi’,” “And I passed over you and I saw you wallowing in your blood. And I said to you, ‘By your blood, live!’ And I say to you, ‘By your blood, live!’

Reading this posuk presents us with the question: Why is the clause “And I say to you, ‘By your blood, live!’” repeated?

The Targum explains this posuk to be quoting Hashem, “When you, the Jews, were deeply enslaved in Mitzrayim, I remembered the covenant made with the Forefathers. I saw your suffering and told you that I will have mercy on you because of the blood of Bris Milah and will redeem you because of the blood of Korban Pesach.” Thus, according to Targum, the two statements “By your blood, live!” refer to the blood of two different mitzvos, Bris Milah and Korban Pesach. (Because of the latter reason, this posuk is also quoted in the Pesach Hagadah.)

A similar interpretation of this posuk appears in a Midrash: “When the Jews exited Mitzrayim they had Bris Milah performed. They took the blood of the milah and mixed it with the blood of Korban Pesach and placed it on the lintels of their doors. For this reason the pasuk repeats, ‘By your blood, live!’ one reference to blood of milah, and the other to blood of Korban Pesach (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29)

WHEN SHOULD ONE DRINK FROM THE CUP?

The custom is that one places a bit of the wine in the baby’s mouth when reciting the words, “b’domayich chayi.” However, when does the person reciting the b’rachos drink the wine?

According to some opinions, one should drink the wine immediately after completing the b’racha of “Asher Kideish” in order to avoid an interruption (a hefsek) between the b’racha of “HaGafen” and drinking the wine (Tur Yoreh Deah 265). Although the b’racha of “Asher Kideish” intervenes between HaGafen and drinking, this is not considered a hefsek just like reciting the b’rachos of kiddush or havdala between “HaGafen” and drinking the wine are not. However, naming the baby constitutes an interruption since it is not a b’racha. Others contend that naming the baby is not considered an interruption between the b’racha and the drinking of the wine since it is part of the procedure (Itur). To avoid this shaylah, the most common practice in Chutz La’Aretz is to honor one person with reciting the b’rachos and someone else with naming the baby. This way the honoree who recited the b’rachos can lick the wine off his fingers in a discreet way, thus avoiding the hefsek. In Eretz Yisrael, the prevalent custom is to honor one person with both kibudim; some follow the Tur’s approach that he drinks from the cup before he names the baby whereas others follow the Itur’s approach that he does not drink the wine until the baby is named.

WHO DRINKS THE WINE ON A FAST DAY?

Since one may not drink the cup of wine, can one recite a b’racha on the wine if it will not be drunk? Indeed, many poskim rule that making Borei Pri HaGafen on the wine constitutes a b’racha levatalah, a b’racha recited in vain (Itur; Shu’t Ran #52; Mordechai, end of Yoma). Others contend that reciting Borei Pri HaGafen without drinking the wine is not a b’racha levatalah since the b’racha is part of the procedure (Rabbeinu Tam). There are numerous opinions among early Rishonim what is the correct procedure to observe.

Some contend that one should not make the b’racha of HaGafen at all on a fast day (Itur; Shu’t Rashba 7:536). (There are poskim who distinguish between Yom Kippur, when the mother may not drink the wine, and other fast days, where the mother might be available to drink the wine.) In their opinion, when no adult will drink the wine, Borei Pri HaGafen should not be recited. (This follows the first opinion quoted above.)

Others go one step further, contending that one cannot even recite the b’racha of Asher Kideish. In their opinion, since the wine cannot be drunk it is not permitted even to pour a cup of wine for a mitzvah without drinking it subsequently (Mordechai end of Yoma, quoting Rabbeinu Yaakov ben Shimshon). Furthermore, they contend that Asher Kideish may not be recited in the absence of the wine.

This last point is disputed by a prominent Rishon, Rav Yitzchok ibn Giat, who contends that one recites the b’racha Asher Kideish without any wine (quoted by Abudraham and Beis Yosef 265). In his opinion, it is only preferential, but not essential, to recite Asher Kideish over a cup of wine.

Others rule that you make a b’racha on the cup of wine but don’t drink it until after the fast (Rav Tzemach Gaon, quoted by Itur). This opinion contends that when reciting “Borei Pri haGefen” on a mitzvah it is not necessary to drink the cup of wine to avoid a b’racha levatalah. The reason we drink the cup of wine is that it is not a kavod for a “kos shel b’racha” to be left undrunk. However, this requirement is fulfilled when the cup of wine is drunk the evening after the bris.

WHAT DO WE DO WITH THE FORESKIN AFTER THE BRIS?

The foreskin is placed in some sand or earth to remind us that the Jews in the desert buried the foreskins from the milah in the earth (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 265:10 from Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29). It also reminds us that the Jews will be as plentiful as the dust of the earth (Breishis 28:14).

TWINS

If there are two milos (plural of milah) to be performed on the same day, such as when there are twins, should one repeat all the b’rachos when performing the second bris, or should one perform the bris on the second child without repeating the b’rachos? There is a dispute among poskim which to do, some poskim rule that when performing two mitzvos that cannot be performed simultaneously one should recite two separate b’rachos (Itur). Others contend that one should recite separate b’rachos because of “ayin hora” that could result (Rama, Prisha, and Beis Shmuel, Even HaEzer 62:3). Although Shulchan Aruch rules that one should recite only one set of b’rachos (Yoreh Deah 265:5), the widespread practice is to make separate b’rachos for each bris, and to interrupt between the two brisos by going outside to require a new b’racha (Shu’t Darchei Noam, Yoreh Deah #27, cited by Rabbi Akiva Eiger and Pischei Tshuvah to Yoreh Deah). (It should be noted that Mishnah Berurah [8:34 & 639:48] rules that changing one’s location after performing a mitzvah does not require a new b’racha.)

BRIS MILAH AND ATONEMENT

The Midrash tells us that Avraham Avinu’s bris took place on Yom Kippur on the place where the Mizbayach of the Beis HaMikdash was later built. Thus, the atonement both of Yom Kippur and of korbanos is combined in the observance of Birs Milah. In the words of the Midrash “Every year HaKodosh Boruch Hu sees the blood of the Bris of Avrohom Avinu and He atones for all our sins.” Thus, Bris Milah guarantees the future redemption of the Jewish people, and the kaparah (atonement) from all sins (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29).

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