The Seudah of a Bris
Question #1: Fleishig bris
“Must a bris meal be fleishig? I am between jobs, and even a bagel and tuna salad bris is really, at the moment, beyond my means.”
Question #2: How many people?
How many attendees does a bris seudah require?
Question #3: Day later?
Can you make the meal for a bris a day later?
It is a well-established practice that when someone celebrates a bris milah, they make a seudah in honor of the occasion. The common, but not universal, custom in Eretz Yisroel is that the meal served in honor of a bris is fleishig, whereas, in the United States, the meal served is often milchig. This article will explore the origins of the practice of having a seudah in honor of the bris, discuss the parameters of chiyuv involved, and, at the same time, discover some interesting customs, cases and piskei halacha that we find in the halachic literature. As always, this column is to provide general background, but not meant to provide halachic ruling, which is the role of each individual’s rav or posek.
The first question is whether the bris meal is required min haTorah, miderabbanan or whether it is simply a common practice. This author found different midrashim on the subject with slightly variant implications regarding this issue.
“Someone who brought his son to a bris milah is required to make a celebration and a party for the occasion” (Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29; Midrash Tehillim to Chapter 112). The basis for this celebration is that Avraham made a large party beyom higameil es Yitzchak,“on the day of the higameil of Yitzchok,” assuming that the word higameil refers to the day of his bris. Tosafos (Shabbos 130a s.v. Sas) quotes a midrash that this is derived by taking the four letters of the word הגמל and dividing them into הג, which is the gematriya of eight, and מל, meaning that Avraham made his big celebration on the eighth day after Yitzchak’s birth, the day of his milah.
Another midrash adds that the reward for a father making a “big mishteh” (party) on the day of his son’s bris is that he will have a child who will be a gibbor aretz, which could be translated as a “hero of the earth.” The examples in the midrash are “like Yitzchak, whose prayer allowed a barren woman to give birth” or “like Yaakov, who defeated an angel” (Midrash Tehillim to Chapter 112).
On the other hand, a different midrash describes the celebration of the bris as something highly praiseworthy, referring to it as something that people do out of joy – something performed notwithstanding that there is requirement to do so (Midrash Tanchuma, parshas Tetzaveh #1). This midrash implies that, unlike the Pirkei derabbi Eliezer quoted above, making a bris seudah is a commendable act, but not required. This last midrash then emphasizes, “not only do they make a massive celebration, but people even borrow money and collateralize themselves in order to make this celebration.” A possible way to explain what seems to be a dispute between midrashim is that the Torah never required making a huge celebration in honor of bris milah, but Chazal later made it into a chiyuv.
Other Biblical sources
Another posuk frequently quoted as a source for a celebration on the day of the bris is in Tehillim (119:162), sas anochi al imrasecha kemotzei shalal rav, “I rejoice about your utterances as he who finds a huge treasure.” The word imrasecha is interpreted to mean the mitzvah of bris milah, thus rendering the posuk: I rejoice when I have the opportunity of bris milah.
In this context, the Maharshal states that the seudah, itself, is a simchas mitzvah, on the same level as a wedding or sheva brachos, and it is therefore a big mitzvah to participate in it (Yam shel Shlomoh, Bava Kama 7:37).
Upon the eighth
Another midrash mentions a different posuk in Tehillim as the source for celebrating a bris: the opening words of the 12th Chapter, La’me’natzei’ach al hasheminis, usually translated as, “For the musician, upon the eight-stringed instrument.” This midrash explains that the posuk refers not to an instrument of eight strings, but to the celebration of bris milah on the eighth day after birth (Yalkut Shim’oni, Beshalach #250 and Va’eschanan #844; Midrash Tehillim 6:1, and others).
A difference that might potentially result between these various midrashic sources is whether we should make a festive meal when the bris needed to be delayed, for example, when the baby was not fully healthy on the eighth day. Another possibility is when the baby is born on Friday evening after sunset and before nightfall, in which case the bris cannot be made the next Friday, because it might be the seventh day, nor on Shabbos, since it might be the ninth day from the birth, and only a bris on the eighth day supersedes Shabbos. In these instances, is there still a mitzvah to have a bris seudah? If the source for this celebration is the posuk sas anochi al imrasecha, there should be no difference whether the bris falls on the eighth day or is postponed. On the other hand, if the source is from the words of the 12th chapter of Tehillim that refer to the eighth, or from the words הגמל meaning the eighth day, it is possible that the mitzvah of celebrating the bris with a festive mealis only when the bris falls on the eighth day.
Indeed, we find some halachic authorities who make such a distinction, but in a different context. Concerning a bris that takes place during the Nine Days, where eating fleishig is permitted, at least in certain situations (see Maharil, laws of Tisha Be’Av; Rema, Orach Chayim 551:10; Elya Rabbah 249:2; cf. Taz, Orach Chayim 551:12), there are authorities who contend that permission to eat meat during the nine days is limited to a bris on the eighth day after birth, but not when the bris is delayed (see Shaarei Teshuvah 551:33, quoting Shu”t Or Olam #9), notwithstanding that this is when it is the correct time to perform the bris.
Thus far, we have noted several midrashim as sources for the practice of a festive celebration in honor of a bris milah, and we noted a discrepancy whether this meal is required or only customary. The wording of the Shulchan Aruch is “nohagim,” which implies that the seudah is required because of Jewish practice (Yoreh Deah 265:12).
We should note that a minority opinion contends that a seudas bris is required min haTorah (Or Ne’elam, based on Rashi, Niddah 31b, quoted by Shaarei Teshuvah, 551:33).
Invite your enemies!
One early source emphasizes that the person making a bris should make peace with his enemies and invite them to the seudah (Orchos Chayim). The poor should also be invited, so that they can participate in a meal that is beyond their means. The custom of bringing home treats from the bris is also mentioned in early sources (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz, parshas Lech Lecha).
Bris on the eighth
We all realize that a bris should take place on the eighth day after birth, unless it cannot, such as when the baby is not fully healthy.
Rescheduling bris to a legal holiday
While researching this article, I found an interesting responsum from the Divrei Malkiel, one of the leading Litvishe poskim of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The question was sent to him from the rav of Bucharest, Rumania, deploring the progressive attitudes towards shemiras mitzvos that existed among many wealthier members of his community. One issue was that they would postpone a bris milah from the eighth day to a secular legal holiday, to make it easier for people to attend. The Divrei Malkiel found this practice extremely abhorrent – the seudas bris is to celebrate that a mitzvah involving mesiras nefesh was observed to its fullest. By postponing the bris to accommodate the seudah, the baalei simcha are inverting the importance — making, quite literally, the tafeil into the ikar and the ikar into the tafeil. The Divrei Malkiel suggests that, under these circumstances, there would be no mitzvah accomplished with the seudas bris. Since the entire bris was delayed against halacha, it now becomes the celebration of an aveirah – the non-fulfillment of a bris on the eighth day, rather than the celebration of a mitzvah!
The Divrei Malkiel notes that this not only confuses the ikar (performing the bris at the first opportunity, and the mitzvah of performing it on the eighth day) with the tafeil (the seudah celebration), but that, if indeed the bris was delayed because of convenience, there is no mitzvah of having a celebratory meal. His rationale is simple: The purpose of the celebratory meal is to demonstrate our scrupulous observance of this mitzvah that involves sacrifice. But, in this instance, it is a declaration that the father did not want to perform the mitzvah properly. Therefore, any celebration becomes a farce and is not a simchas mitzvah(Shu”t Divrei Malkiel 4:86)!
The exact question asked of the Divrei Malkiel was asked many hundreds of years ago of the Tashbeitz, who ruled the same way. The case in this instance was that the eighth day after the birth fell on Sunday, the tenth of Av – in other words, Tisha Be’Av nidche, the day that the ninth of Av isobserved in practice. The family wanted to push off the bris to Monday in order to have it on a day when there would be a seudah. Similar to the Divrei Malkiel, the Tashbeitz writes that pushing off the bris to accommodate amore convenient seudah confuses the ikar with the tafeil and is sinful, for it violates performing the bris on the eighth day. He concludes, similarly to the Divrei Malkiel, that in this situation there is no mitzvah to have a seudah (Shu”t Tashbeitz 3:8).
Milchig or fleishig?
At this point, we are ready to discuss the first of our opening questions: “Must a bris be fleishig? I am between jobs, and even a bagel and tuna salad bris is really, at the moment, beyond my means.”
The early authorities discuss whether it is preferred to have a fleishig meal at a bris. The Shelah Hakadosh quotes a dispute that he had with his rebbe, the Maharash, who contended that a bris should be a fleishig meal, whereas the Shlah himself, at least prior to his rebbe voicing a disputing opinion, held that a milchig meal is fine (Mesechta Shabbos, Ner Mitzvah #7, quoted by Elya Zuta 249:2). The opinion of the Maharash is viewed as the primary halachic opinion by the Machatzis Hashekel (Orach Chayim 249:6). On the other hand, the Chasam Sofer notes that the accepted practice in his day was to serve a dairy meal (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chayim #69), and this practice is similarly quoted approvingly by others (Shaarei Teshuvah 551:33, quoting Shu”t Or Olam #9).
In this context, the Chochmas Odom states that having a bris seudah is a custom to demonstrate the simcha that Jews feel when we observe bris milah. To quote him, “Someone who could make a seudah, and pinches pennies to serve only coffee, schnapps and sweets, is not doing the right thing (149:24). In other words, if someone cannot afford an expensive meal, it is perfectly acceptable that he serve a snack, rather than a full meal. But someone who can afford to serve a nice meal should make a proper celebration.
At the same time, we must be careful that the expenses associated with a bris not become so lavish that it embarrasses someone who is unable to make such a nice bris. In many communities, over the ages, when this became a problem, takanos were established, limiting how many people could be invited to a bris seudah and what was served.
At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “How many attendees does a bris seudah require?”
The Rema (Yoreh Deah 265:12) writes that the minhag is to have a minyan at a seudas bris. This is the earliest authority I know of who discusses this, and he does not cite either a source or a reason. Later authorities endeavor to understand what the source is for this Rema. Several options are mentioned, including the statement of the Gemara (Kesubos 8a) that the brocha of shehasimcha bi’me’ono, “that joy is in His abode”would be recited at a bris – just as we do at a wedding or sheva brachos – except for tzara leyanuka, the discomfort caused to the baby by the bris. This brocha, shehasimcha bi’me’ono, is never recited without a minyan. (However, this source does not demonstrate a requirement to have a minyan; rather, that even if a minyan is present, not to recite shehasimcha bi’me’ono.)
It is possible that the reason the bris seudah should have a minyan is to spread the happy tidings that the mitzvah was performed, pirsumei mitzvah, and pirsum usually requires at least a minyan. (These and other approaches are discussed in Sefer Habris by the late Rav Moshe Bunim Pirutinsky, 265:166, page 329.)
Bris seudah before Musaf?
In a responsum, the Chasam Sofer discusses the following situation. The rav of a certain town had succeeded in changing the davening time for the local shul on Shabbos, so that they would now daven Shacharis before zman kerias Shema. In order to accommodate this change, the people insisted that there should be a break before they davened Musaf, during which they would eat a milchig meal as their morning seudah of Shabbos. After Musaf, they had the fleishig meal of the day, with which they fulfilled the mitzvah of seudah shelishis. When they would celebrate a bris on Shabbos, they would perform the bris immediately after Shacharis, and then celebrate the bris seudah before Musaf. The rav was concerned, because it is prohibited to have a seudas gedolah before davening Musaf.
In his reply, the Chasam Sofer commends the rav for getting the community to daven Shacharis before the time of reciting kerias Shma. He then discusses whether it is permitted to eat the Shabbos seudah before davening Musaf, and whether it will be halachically worse if the morning seudah is also a bris seudah. Based on a psak of the Bach (Orach Chayim 286), the Chasam Sofer concludes that there is halachic basis to permit them to have a milchig seudah for the bris, since they do not want to have the added expense of a fleishig bris seudah, which is what would be involved if they held the seudah after Musaf. He then notes that a seudas bris is usually considered a seudah gedolah, which is prohibited to eat before Musaf. However, since the seudas bris would be milchig, and not a lot of wine drunk, although it would be preferred to have the seudas bris after Musaf, the rav is not required to correct them for having a milchig, non-intoxicating seudah before Musaf (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #69).
Bris on Friday
Although it is generally prohibited to make a large meal on Friday, in order not to infringe on the appetite one brings with him to his Shabbos meal, exception is made for a seudas mitzvah that should not be delayed. There are two instances of this: A pidyon haben and a bris milah (Rema, Orach Chayim 249:2). In these instances, the Bach rules that the seudah should be made before the “tenth” hour, which is usually understood to mean in the afternoon, halfway between midday and sunset.
The Levush contends that if you cannot have both seudos, Shabbos and bris, the bris seudah should be done even at the expense of the Shabbos seudah, because both are seudos mitzvah, and you should perform whichever one comes first, without concern that as a result the second will not take place (Orach Chayim249:2). The Bach appears to disagree with this Levush.
Postponing the Seudah until after Shabbos
Common practice for a Shabbos bris is to make the celebratory meal on Shabbos.
Apparently, however, this approach was not always universal. The Magen Avraham (131:11) quotes from the Hagahos Minhagim that there were places in which the custom was that the seudah for a Shabbos bris was postponed until after Shabbos. I did not find any commentaries who explain the source for this custom, but I suspect that the basis is that a seudas bris on Shabbos would not be apparent that the meal was in celebration of the bris; therefore, they made a special meal on motza’ei Shabbos in honor of the bris. This can be compared to the accepted practice today that when Purim falls on Shabbos (which happens in our calendar only in Yerushalayim and other walled cities) the seudah is postponed to Sunday, in order to assure that the special Purim meal be noticeable. Since this year Purim falls on Shabbos in Yerushalayim, I hope to discuss this topic with our readership prior to Purim.
At this point, let us discuss the last of our opening questions: Can you make the meal for a bris a day later?
Although some halachic authorities assume that the bris seudah should be celebrated on the day that the bris occurred (Yaavetz in Migdal Oz, quoted by Sefer Habris 255:170 [pg 329]; Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz, quoting Shlah), severalauthorities rule that when the seudah could not or did not take place on the day of the bris, that it can take place afterward (Tashbeitz 3:8; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 265:16 quoting Chamudei Daniel). The Tashbeitz proves this from the fact that, as mentioned above, the Purim seudah is postponed from Shabbos to Sunday, as well as a custom that he records of postponing the seudah of a bris celebrated on Friday to Shabbos (Shu”t Tashbeitz 3:8).
The Midrash tells us that Avraham Avinu’s bris took place on Yom Kippur, on the site where the mizbei’ach of the Beis Hamikdash was later built. Thus, the atonement both of Yom Kippur and of korbanos is combined in the observance of bris 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 atonement from all sins (Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29; see also Rabbeinu Bachya commentary to Bereishis 17:13). This is certainly a major reason not to shortchange its celebration!