Hunting for Meat

Parshas Re’eih includes the commandment that instructs us how to prepare our meat for our table (Devorim 12:15).

Question #1:

Sheis, the son of Adom Harishon, was traveling one day and realized that he had not packed enough peanut butter sandwiches for the trip. Now hungry, he witnessed a travel accident, which resulted in an animal being killed. Was he permitted to cook the carcass for lunch?

Question #2:

Sheis’s descendant, Linda, lives in the modern era and is Jewish. While traveling in an unfamiliar area, she hunts for kosher meat, discovering some with an unfamiliar supervision, and calls her rabbi to ask whether he recommends it. What factors does he consider in advising her whether to use this product?

Question #3:

In a previous position, I was responsible for researching sources of meat that our local Vaad HaKashrus would accept. I traveled to many cities and visited many meat packing facilities. People have often asked why, sometimes, my hunt resulted in a new acceptable source, and why sometimes it did not. What was I looking for?

Before answering these questions, we need to understand what are the Torah’s requirements for allowable meat.

Upon Noach’s emerging from the teivah (the ark), Hashem speaks to Noach, notifying him that he and his descendants may now eat meat for the very first time. Prior to this time, no one had ever been permitted to sink his teeth into a steak or even a schnitzel (Sanhedrin 59b, based on Bereishis 1:29-30, 9:3; as interpreted by Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:1). In actuality, not all authorities agree that Adam and his pre-mabul descendants were required to be vegetarian – some maintain that they were permitted to eat the meat of animals that had already died, and were forbidden only to kill animals for meat (Rashi, Bereishis 1:29and Sanhedrin 57a s.v. limishri basar; Tosafos, Sanhedrin 56b s.v. achal). According to this last opinion, pre-Noach mankind may have eaten sushi, steak or schnitzel, provided that they did not take the animal’s life.

Thus, whether Sheis could barbecue the discovered road kill (Question #1 above) depends upon whether he held like Rashi, in which case he could, or like the Rambam, in which case he could not. According to the Rambam, he was restricted to a vegetarian diet, which included the responsibility to check that his veggies were insect-free. Presumably, he called the local Vaad HaKashrus to determine how to check each type of vegetable. I wonder what he did when he wanted to eat Brussels sprouts!

However, when Noach emerged from the teivah, he and his descendents were permitted to give up their vegetarian lifestyle, provided that they ate no meat that had been removed from an animal while it was still alive (eiver min hachai). Just think —  had Sheis lived after the time of Noach, he could have included some tuna sandwiches in his lunchbox or picked up a salami at the local grocery, instead of going hungry!

When the Torah was given, it both limited the species that a Jew may eat and created many other regulations, including that kosher meat and poultry must be slaughtered in the halachically-approved way (shechitah), and may be eaten only if they are without certain defects that render them tereifah. Even after ascertaining that the animal, itself, may be eaten, one must still remove the blood, certain fats called cheilev, and the sciatic nerve (the gid hanasheh). These last two prohibitions do not apply to fowl.

In the contemporary world, guaranteeing that one’s meat is appropriate for the Jewish table involves several trained and G-d-fearing people, including shochatim, bod’kim, menakerim, mashgichim, and knowledgeable rabbonim to oversee the entire process.

THE SHOCHEIT’S JOB

Aside from the shocheit’s obvious responsibility to slaughter the animal the way Hashem commanded, he must also fulfill another very important task: following the slaughtering, he must verify that he performed the shechitah correctly. This is a vitally important step; without this inspection, the animal or bird must be considered non-kosher – it will be acceptable for the table of Bnei Noach, but not for Klal Yisroel.

Next, the animal or bird is examined to ensure that it is not tereifah. Although common use of the word “treif” means something that is non-kosher, for any reason whatsoever, the technical meaning of the word refers to an animal with a physical defect that renders it non-kosher, even if it was the beneficiary of a proper shechitah.

THE BODEIK

In a meat packing plant (beef, veal or lamb), the individual accountable to check for these defects is called a bodeik (pl. bod’kim). Most bod’kim are trained shochatim, and, indeed, in most plants, the bod’kim and shochatim rotate their tasks, thus making it easier for them to be as attentive as the post requires. As a result, a person licensed both as a shocheit and as a bodeik is usually called a shocheit, although, technically, he should be called a shocheit ubodeik, to truly reflect the extent of his training.

THE SECOND BODEIK

The responsibility to check for tereifos is divided between two bod’kim. The first, the bodeik penim, checks the lungs in situ, which is the only way one can properly check that the lungs do not adhere to the ribs, to the membrane surrounding the heart (the pericardium), or to themselves in an improper way, all of which render the animal non-kosher. This checking is performed completely based on feel. The bodeik gently inserts his hand, and runs his fingers carefully over all eight sections of the lung, to see if he feels any adhesion between the lung and one of the other areas.

The second bodeik, the bodeik chutz, rechecks the lungs and makes a cursory check of other organs, upon their removal from the carcass, particularly the stomachs and intestines, for swallowed nails and for various imperfections that render the animal non-kosher.

After the two bod’kim are satisfied that the animal is kosher, the second bodeik or a mashgiach tags the different parts of the animal as kosher with lead or plastic seals. Longstanding practice is that, in addition, the bodeik or a mashgiach makes small slits between the ribs that identify the day and parsha of the week, to mark the piece as kosher. A mark made when the meat is this fresh appears completely different from one made even a few hours later, making it difficult to counterfeit. Of course, this mark is not, alone, used to verify that the meat is kosher, but it is an essential crosscheck, since the old-styled tags can be tampered with.

The modern kosher poultry plant is organized slightly differently: The shochatim perform shechitah only, whereas the bedikah inspection is performed by mashgichim trained to notice abnormalities. If they notice any, they remove the bird from the production line; a rav or bodeik then rules whether these birds are kosher.

For both animals and birds, one needs to check only for commonly occurring tereifos, but not for uncommon problems. For example, the established halachic practice of over a thousand years is to check an animal’s lungs, because of their high rate of tereifos, and today it is common practice in Israel to check legs. Animal lungs frequently have adhesions called sirchos, which render them non-kosher (Chullin 46b), although Ashkenazic custom is that easily removed adhesions on mature cattle do not render them treif (Rosh, Chullin 3:14; Rema, Yoreh Deah 39:13). An animal without any sircha adhesions is called glatt kosher, meaning that its lung is completely smooth – that is, without any adhesions, even of the easily removable variety.

The rav hamachishir’s responsibilities include deciding which problems are prevalent enough to require scrutiny and what is considered an adequate method of inspection.

Depending on the factory, the next steps in the preparation of beef, veal or lamb are occasionally performed in the same facility where the shechitah was performed, or alternatively, they are performed at the butcher shop.

TRABERING

Prior to soaking and salting meat to remove the blood, certain non-kosher parts of the animal, including the gid hanasheh (the sciatic nerve), non-kosher fats called “cheilev,” and certain large blood vessels, must be removed (Yoreh Deah 65:1). The Hebrew word for this process is “nikur,” excising, and the artisan who possesses the skill to properly perform it is called a menakeir (pl. menak’rim). The Yiddish word for this process is traberen,which derives from tarba, the Aramaic word for cheilev, the non-kosher fat. This step is omitted in the production of poultry, since it is exempt from the prohibitions of gid hanasheh and cheilev, and its blood vessels are small enough that it is sufficient to puncture them prior to the soaking and salting procedures.

Early in its butchering, a side of beef (which is half its carcass) is divided into its forequarter and hindquarter. Since the gid hanasheh and most of the cheilev are located in the hindquarter, trabering it is a tedious process that requires a highly skilled menakeir. (On RabbiKaganoff.com, there is an article on the history and halachic issues germane to this practice.) The forequarters must still be trabered prior to soaking and salting, to remove blood vessels and some fat (Rema, Yoreh Deah 64:1; Pischei Teshuvah 64:3). Although trabering is a relatively easy skill to learn, Linda’s rabbi might need to check whether the hechsher can be trusted that this was done properly, as the following story indicates.

I once investigated the kashrus of a certain well-known resort hotel, one not usually frequented by frum clientele. I called the hotel and asked who provided their hechsher, and was soon on the telephone with both the resident mashgiach and the rav hamachshir.

I began by introducing myself and the reason for my phone call, and then asked about the sources of the meat used in the hotel. In the course of the conversation, it became evident that neither the rabbi nor the mashgiach knew the slightest thing about traberen, although they were officially overseeing a staff of in-house butchers, none of whom was an observant Jew. I realized that the rather poor kashrus reputation of this establishment was, indeed, well deserved. The rabbi overseeing the hechsher, himself, did not know trabering, nor did he have any halachically reliable supervisor. What was he overseeing?

SOAKING AND SALTING

Returning to our brief overview of the proper preparations for kosher meat:  After the meat has been properly trabered, it is ready to be soaked and salted to remove its blood. In earlier generations, this process, usually called kashering meat, was performed exclusively at home, but today, common practice is that this is performed either by the butcher or at the meat packer. Almost all kosher poultry operations today soak and salt the meat immediately after shechitah, and it is becoming increasingly more common in beef operations.

To kasher meat, it should be rinsed well, soaked in water for half an hour, drained, salted for an hour, and then rinsed three times (Rema, Yoreh Deah 69:1, 5, 7). The halacha requires that the meat be covered with salt on all exposed surfaces (Yoreh Deah 69:4). Most packing plants do this job appropriately, although I have seen places where the salting was inadequate; entire areas of the meat were not salted. This is, probably, simple negligence; although when I called this problem to the attention of the mashgiach, he insisted that it was performed adequately, notwithstanding my observing the contrary. Needless to say, I did not approve this source.

WASHED MEAT

The Geonim instituted a requirement that meat be soaked and salted within 72 hours of its slaughter (Yoreh Deah 69:12). This is because of concern that once 72 hours have passed, the blood becomes hardened inside the meat, and salting no longer removes it. If more than 72 hours passed without the meat being salted, the Geonim ruled that if the meat is broiled, it may be eaten, since this process will still remove the blood, even though salting will not (Yoreh Deah 69:12).

A question that developed with time was whether wetting the meat prevents the blood from hardening inside. Some early authorities permitted soaking meat to extend the 72-hour period (Shach 69:53). However, this leniency often led to highly liberal interpretations. I have seen butchers take a damp rag and wipe the outside of the meat and considered it washed. Thus, there are two different reasons why most reliable kashrus operations do not allow the use of “washed meat,” either because they do not accept this lenience, altogether, or because of concern that once one accepts hosed meat, it becomes difficult to control what type of washing is acceptable.

THE RAV HAMACHSHIR

Thus far, I have described the tremendous responsibilities of most of the staff necessary to guarantee that the meat is of the highest kashrus standards. One person that I have not adequately discussed is the rav hamachshir, the supervising rabbi, who has the final say on the kashrus standards that the meat packer and butcher follow. Although a rav overseeing meat kashrus does not necessarily have to be a shocheit or trained menakeir himself, he certainly must be proficient in all of these areas, both in terms of thorough knowledge of halacha and in terms of practical experience. For most of Jewish history, the most basic requirement of every rav demanded that he be proficient in all the halachos of kosher meat production. As the local rav, his responsibility included all shechitah and bedikah in his town.

However, in the contemporary world of mass production and shipping, the local shul rav is rarely involved in the details of shechitah, and often has limited experience and training in these areas. Depending on the semicha program he attended, he may not have been required to study the laws of shechitah and tereifos. Thus, what was once the province of every rav has now become a specialty area, and, sometimes, rabbonim involved in the giving of meat hechsherim lack the proper training.

I was once given a tour of a meat packing plant by the supervising rabbi of the plant. During the course of the tour, I became painfully aware of the rabbi’s incompetence in this area of kashrus. For example, he was clearly unaware of how to check shechitah knives properly, certainly a basic skill necessary to oversee this type of hechsher. Would you approve this meat supplier for your local Vaad HaKashrus?

At this point, I want to address the third question I raised above: Sometimes, my visit to a meat packer resulted in a new, acceptable source, and sometimes it did not. What was I looking for, and why would I disapprove a source that a different rav was approving?

The answers to these questions are sometimes subjective, but I will provide you with some observations of mine.

IS THE SYSTEM WORKABLE?

There are many subtle and not-so-subtle observations that a rav makes when examining a meat packer. I could not possibly list in one article all the types of problems I have seen, but I will mention certain specific concerns to which I would always be attentive.

Is the production line too quick for the shocheit or mashgiach to do his job properly? Are the shochatim or mashgichim expected to perform their job in an unrealistic manner, either because of a shortage of trained manpower or because of the speed or organization of the production line?

QUALITY OF PERSONNEL

Are the shochatim knowledgeable? Do they appear to be G-d fearing individuals? Although it is impossible to know whether someone is, indeed, a yarei shamayim, it is unfortunately often very obvious that he is not. It can happen that one rav has questions about the staff, and for this reason, he does not approve a source of supply.

I will give you an example of this. While visiting a plant to determine whether we should allow this shechitah, we heard a conversation in which one of the shochatim showed a shortcoming in tzeniyus within his family. Although one could point to a specific law that disqualifies him as a shocheit, I, personally, was uncomfortable with entrusting him with decisions that would affect what I eat. After discussion with the other rabbonim in our community, we decided not to accept meat from this shechitah.

Does this mean that we considered this meat non-kosher? G-d forbid. It simply means that we were uncomfortable allowing it, and decided that we have that responsibility as rabbonim of our community.

Thus, it could indeed happen that what one rav considers acceptable, another rav feels is not. The differences may be based on the interpretation of halacha, or they may result from a rav’s inclination as to how a plant should be run.

CONCLUSION

Based on the above information, we can better understand many aspects of the preparation of kosher meat and why it is important to use only meat that has a proper hechsher. We can also gain a greater appreciation of how hard rabbonim and shochatim work to maintain a high kashrus standard. Now that we recognize the complexity involved in maintaining kosher meat standards, we should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands us.




May I Pass Up This Mitzvah?

Question #1: Inexperienced Father

Abba Chodosh asks me the following question: “Before we relocated for a particular job, I had trained as a mohel. Since our children born since that time were daughters, I never ended up performing a bris without the supervision of an experienced mohel. Now that my son was born, am I required to perform the bris myself?”

Question #2 Successful Mezuzos

Baal Eisektov asks: “Thank G-d, we are inaugurating a new branch of our business. Common practice is to give a rav the honor of installing the mezuzos. But shouldn’t I be doing that myself, because of the principle of mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho?”

Question #3 Sharing the Challah

Leah asks me: “Recently, I participated in a tour of a large bakery, and the mashgiach offered me to take challah there, which I did. Someone afterwards told me that the mashgiach should not have been so free in giving away his mitzvah. Did he, indeed, do something wrong?”

Answer: May I delegate?

One of the most basic rules of business and life management is to learn how to entrust responsibility and tasks to others. Does this concept extend to the observance of mitzvos? If I have a mitzvah to carry out, am I permitted to assign it to someone else?

All of the questions asked above are contingent on the same basic underlying issue: Under what circumstances may I hand over the performance of a mitzvah that I could do myself?

The basics

The Gemara rules that one fulfills a mitzvah when it is performed by an agent, although it is preferable to do it himself (Kiddushin 41a). This is called mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho, it is better to perform a mitzvah yourself, rather than have someone else do it for you. This rule is not needed in cases of mitzvah shebegufo, where the mitzvah is incumbent on a person to do with and upon his own body, and a sheliach cannot be made at all. An example of the latter case is the wearing of tefillin: I cannot make someone an agent for me by asking that he don tefillin in my stead, because the mitzvah is that the tefillin be placed on my arm and my head.

Anything done wrong?

Our first consideration is: Granted that, under normal circumstances, a person should perform the mitzvah himself, has he violated anything by requesting that an agent do it for him? The Gemara implies that a person (a meshalei’ach) delegating someone else to perform a mitzvah for him has done nothing wrong; he has, however, forfeited an opportunity to perform a mitzvah.

However, other factors may have an impact on the final ruling. Let us consider, for a moment, the situation above, where the father has been trained as a mohel, but is lacking extensive experience. What if his wife, the baby’s mother, prefers that he not perform the bris, and that they opt to use an experienced mohel instead? Does Abba’s shalom bayis become a factor in whether or not he should perform the bris? If he is not violating anything by appointing an agent, then I would personally rule that his wife’s serenity is the most important factor. However, this may not be true if it is prohibited to assign the mitzvah to someone else.

Are there circumstances in which it is fine to have the agent perform a mitzvah for me? What are the halachic principles upon which I can base my decision?

Kisuy hadam practices

Much of the halachic literature discussing these questions originates with the mitzvah of kisuy hadam. The Gemara teaches that the mitzvah of kisuy hadam, the Torah’s requirement that one cover the blood with earth after shechting poultry or chayos, such as deer and antelope is incumbent upon the shocheit. According to the rule of mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho, the shocheit should cover the blood himself. Yet, it was, and is, common practice that shochatim honor someone else with fulfilling the mitzvah. Is this permitted? Let us see if we can find Talmudic precedents for the practice.

Kohen application

The Gemara (Bava Kamma 110a) teaches that an elderly or ill kohen for whom it is difficult to offer a korban himself may bring his korban to the Beis Hamikdash and ask a different kohen to offer it in his stead. Notwithstanding that it is a mitzvah of the elderly kohen, he may delegate the performance of the mitzvah, since it is difficult for him. Thus, we see that, at least under certain circumstances, one does not violate halachah by asking someone else to perform a mitzvah in one’s place. The Tevuos Shor (28:14) notes that we see from this Talmudic passage that there are situations in which a person is able to perform a mitzvah himself, yet he has the option of passing the opportunity to someone else.

Yibum application

Here is another Talmudic precedent that permits someone required to observe a mitzvah to defer it to someone else. One of the Torah’s mitzvos, yibum, is that a man should marry his late brother’s widow, if his brother left no descendents. The Mishnah teaches that the mitzvah devolves specifically upon the oldest surviving brother. If he chooses not to fulfill the mitzvah, then and only then does the mitzvah pass to his younger brother.

The Gemara (Yevamos 44a) discusses a situation in which there are at least seven brothers in a family, of whom five are married without any children. The five married brothers all die, thereby creating five mitzvos of yibum for the oldest brother to perform. The Gemara’s conclusion is that if the oldest brother wants to marry as many as four of the widows, he may, clearly noting that he is not required to do so, even should he have the financial and physical ability to provide the needs of all four widows. The Gemara advises against his marrying more than four, out of concern that he will not be able to provide his new wives with sufficient attention. (We can definitely conclude that marital expectations have changed since the time of the Gemara.)

The Tevuos Shor (28:14) notes that we see from this Talmudic passage that there are situations in which a person could perform a mitzvah himself, yet he has the option of passing the opportunity to someone else. Based on this and other Talmudic sources, the Tevuos Shor justifies the practice of shochatim honoring someone else with the mitzvah of kisuy hadam.

This ruling of the Tevuos Shor can be used to explain the practice that forms the basis of Mr. Eisektov’s question. Why is there a common practice of honoring a respected rav with installing mezuzos at a new business? The answer is that, since the owners are doing it to honor the rav, they view this consideration as a greater mitzvah than performing the mitzvah themselves.

However, other authorities disagree with the Tevuos Shor’s approach, contending that providing someone else with honor is not sufficient reason to justify not fulfilling the mitzvah oneself (Binas Adam #7). Still others are of the opinion that the opposite of the Tevuos Shor‘s approach is true: they posit that asking someone to act as one’s agent is permitted, since one still fulfills the mitzvah, whereas honoring someone with the mitzvah without making him an agent is forbidden (Peleisi 28:3).

Sandek application

Here is another situation in which we see how a respected early authority ruled. “The father of a newborn boy who does not want to be the sandek himself, because he desires to have harmonious family relationships and demonstrate his respect, should give the honor to his own father, the baby’s paternal grandfather. However, if the baby’s paternal grandfather prefers that his own father (the baby’s great-grandfather) be honored, then he may give the honor to the great-grandfather, and this is the prevalent custom.” (Leket Yosher) The time-honored role of the sandek, the one who holds the baby during a bris, is, in itself, a mitzvah. By holding the baby, the sandek assists the mohel doing the mitzvah. Since the mitzvah of bris milah is the father’s, logic suggests that a father who is not a mohel should be the sandek. However, since he does not want anyone to be upset and also wants to fulfill his own mitzvah of respecting his parents, common practice is that the father honors someone else with being sandek.

Those who permit honoring someone else with the mitzvah of kisuy hadam would no doubt rally support to their approach from the ruling of the Leket Yosher. Those who feel that the shocheit should not honor someone else with the mitzvah of kisuy hadam will presumably contend that the sandek is not actually fulfilling a mitzvah that is required of him, and that is why its performance can be transferred to someone else. On the other hand, since kisuy hadam is incumbent on the shocheit, they would contend that he may not honor someone else with this mitzvah.

Passing on a bris

At this point, I would like to discuss how these rules affect the laws of bris milah, which was the first question I mentioned above (and the reason why I chose to discuss the topic the week of Parshas Lech Lecha). The Or Zarua, a rishon, writes that it is forbidden for a father who is a qualified mohel to have someone else perform his son’s bris milah (Hilchos Milah #107). (The Or Zarua, a native of what is today the Czech Republic, traveled to attend the yeshivos of the Baalei Tosafos in Northern France. He subsequently became the rav of Vienna, where he apparently opened a yeshivah. The Maharam of Rothenberg was one of the Or Zarua’s disciples.) According to the obvious reading of the Or Zarua, we already have enough information to answer Abba Chodosh’s question above: Abba had once trained to be a mohel, but never practiced. Now that he has his first son, is he required to perform the bris himself, or may he have a more experienced mohel do it? Assuming that Abba can still perform a bris safely, the Or Zarua would seem to rule that he is required to be the mohel.

However, this answer is not obvious. Firstly, the Rema (Darkei Moshe, Yoreh Deah 264:1) wonders why the Or Zarua rules that it is prohibited for the mohel to have an agent perform the mitzvah for him. We fully understand that it is not preferred – the Gemara says that it is better to perform a mitzvah oneself, rather than have it performed by someone else. However, the Or Zarua does not say simply that it is preferred that the father perform the mitzvah himself – the Or Zarua prohibits having someone else perform the mitzvah!

In his comments on the Shulchan Aruch, the Rema omits mention of the Or Zarua’s ruling, a factor noted by some authorities as proof that the Rema rejected the position of the Or Zarua (Tevuos Shor 28:14). However, the Shach (Choshen Mishpat 382:4) independently reaches the same conclusion as the Or Zarua, based on his analysis of a statement of the Rosh. The Shach’s comments require an introduction.

A mitzvah snatcher

The Gemara rules that someone who performs a mitzvah that another person is required to do and is planning to perform is charged a fine of ten gold coins for stealing someone else’s mitzvah (Bava Kamma 91b; Chullin 87a). One of the Gemara’s cases is as follows: A shocheit slaughtered a bird, and then, before he had a chance to fulfill the mitzvah of covering the blood, someone else covered it, thus snatching the mitzvah. The shocheit brought the offending party to a din Torah before Rabban Gamliel, who fined the mitzvah snatcher ten gold coins. Rashi (Chullin 87a s.v. Litein) explains that the fine is for depriving someone of the reward he should have received for the mitzvah.

When citing this Gemara, the Rosh (Chullin 6:8) recounts the following story: The father of a newborn asked a mohel to perform the bris, but a different mohel performed it without getting permission. Subsequently, the first mohel sued the second mohel in Rabbeinu Tam’s beis din for stealing the mitzvah. Rabbeinu Tam ruled that, although the interloping mohel’s act was despicable, for a variety of technical reasons not germane to our topic, there are no grounds to fine the mohel for stealing the bris.

The Rosh agrees with the ruling, but for a reason that Rabbeinu Tam did not mention: Although the father told the mohel to perform the bris, the mohel does not thereby become the “owner” of the mitzvah, unlike the shocheit in Rabban Gamliel’s case, who was already obligated in the mitzvah.

The Rosh closes his discussion with the following words: “However, if the father does not want to perform the milah, all Jews are obligated to perform the bris. The words that the father spoke to the mohel did not have sufficient weight to transfer ownership of this mitzvah to him, thus making it impossible to fine a second person who performed the mitzvah, albeit without permission.” Based on this Rosh, the Rema (Choshen Mishpat 382:1) concludes that someone who performed the bris on a child whose father was intending to carry it out himself must pay the father ten gold coins, but if the father asked a mohel to perform the bris, then the interloping mohel is absolved of any fine.

Can the father make an agent?

The following question is raised relative to the comments of the Rosh: We see from the Rosh that the interloping mohel who takes the mitzvah away from the father is fined, whereas if he takes the mitzvah from a different mohel, he is not. But why is this so? In the latter instance, he also “stole” the mitzvah from the father, since the first mohel was the father’s agent, and the interloping mohel was not? Thus, the father would have fulfilled the mitzvah through his agent had the first mohel performed the bris, but he was deprived of the mitzvah by the second mohel (Ketzos Hachoshen 382:2).

There are a few ways to resolve this question. The Ketzos Hachoshen concludes that when the Torah gave the father a mitzvah to circumcise his child, the Torah was not simply asking him to make sure that his son has a bris, but was requiring the father to perform the bris himself. The father cannot make a mohel an agent to circumcise his son, just as one cannot make an agent to don tefillin. Neither of these mitzvos can be performed through agency. Therefore, when the father asks a mohel to perform the bris for him, he is demonstrating that he does not intend to perform this mitzvah himself, and the second mohel did not steal it from him. This appears to be the way the Shach (Choshen Mishpat 382:4) understood the Rosh also, and for this reason he writes: “We can demonstrate from the words of this Rosh that a father who is a mohel is not permitted to give the mitzvah to someone else… I saw many men who are capable of performing the bris themselves who honor others with the mitzvah. In my opinion, they thereby are abrogating the important mitzvah of milah. The local beis din should take action to stop this.”

Everyone is an agent

However, there is an alternative way to explain the Rosh, which reaches a different conclusion. The Mishneh Lamelech (Bechoros end of 4:1; see also Terumas Hadeshen #188) contends that once someone revealed that he does not want to do a mitzvah himself, anyone who performs it is his agent. Therefore, when a father appoints someone to perform his son’s bris, any Jew who properly performs the bris milah is now acting as the father’s agent. The second mohel did not deprive the father of any mitzvah.

According to the second approach, no matter who performs the bris, the father has fulfilled the mitzvah, and he is not in violation for appointing an agent. However, if this is true, why does the Or Zarua prohibit a father from appointing someone to circumcise his son? The Tevuos Shor explains that there is a difference between honoring someone else to perform the mitzvah that one would prefer to do, which is permitted, and having someone else perform a mitzvah because one is not interested to perform it. In the latter case, failure to fulfill the mitzvah oneself violates mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho. The Tevuos Shor thus concludes that one may appoint someone else to do the milah. He also concludes that it is permitted for a shocheit to honor someone else with performing kisuy hadam. As I mentioned above, there are other authorities who disagree with this conclusion.

Conclusion:

The following anecdote about Rav Pam demonstrates his observing the principle of mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho. Someone offered to mail a letter for him, but Rav Pam told him that he preferred to mail the letter himself, since it was a donation to tzedakah. Since mailing the letter is part of the mitzvah, one should do it himself, because of mitzvah bo yoseir mibishlucho.