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Bris Milah – A Long Article

by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

This article is printed in honor of the Bris Milah of our new einekel, who was named after Rabbi Yitzchok Wenger z”l of Lakewood, NJ, who exemplified “ivdu es Hashem b’simcha.” The author can be reached at [email protected]

At the seudas haBris, Rav Yeruchem Olshin shlita posed the question as to the nature of the third bracha of the Bris Milah – “Boruch atta Hashem elokainu melech ha’olam asher Kadesh yedid mibeten” etc.  Why is it said over a kos, a cup of wine?  He cited the words of teh Turei Zahav who stated that it is so that Shira be recited.  What is the nature of this Shira?  It is so that we rejoice that we have merited to be an Eved Hashem – a servant of Hashem.  The Bris Milah, which is a mark of pride (as we say in bentching, v’al brischa shechasamta bivsareinu” is something of which we show so much joy, that it reaches the level of shira, a song of utter joy.  [The author is reminded of a statement of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, “The expression of es is shver tzu zein a yid should never be voiced.  It is entirely untrue.  Rather we should say it is beautiful and joyous to be a yid.”]

Below is a rather long overview of Bris Milah.  Perhaps it is best to print out for reading.


It is a positive Mitzvah in the Torah for a father to circumcise his son . This Mitzvah is greater than other positive Mitzvos in the Torah .

If the father did not circumcise his son, it is incumbent upon the Beis Din or the community to do so. If they did not do so, then he is obligated to circumcise himself when he becomes of age. If he did not do so, then he incurs the punishment of Karais . Each day that the Bris Milah is not done one incurs these punishments .

One may not circumcise a baby without the father’s permission, unless the father did not do so. In such circumstances Beis Din performs the Milah against his will (Tur citing Rambam) . Nowadays, however, when the beis Din does not have temporal power this is not generally done.

A woman is not obligated to circumcise her son .

If a father does not know how to circumcise and there is a Mohel who does not wish to circumcise for no fee, Beis Din must censor the Mohel, for this is not the manner of the descendants of Avrohom. Indeed, the opposite is true, Mohalim compete for the opportunity to circumcise. If the Mohel remains adamant and the father cannot afford to pay his fee, it is likened to a case where there is no father and the Beis Din is obligated to circumcise. Therefore, Bais Din can force the Mohel, since there is no one else to circumcise.


A circumcision is not performed at nighttime, rather one waits until sunrise of the eighth day of his birth . If it was performed after dawn, however, the Mitzvah has been fulfilled .

One may perform the circumcision throughout the entire day, however, there is a concept that the zealous perform Mitzvos early, and therefore it is done immediately in the morning .
Even a Milah that had been delayed must only be performed in the daytime .
If one went ahead and circumcised at nighttime, he must go back and draw a drop of blood through the performance of hatafas dam bris .

If one went ahead and circumcised within the eight days and in the daytime, there is a debate as to whether he has fulfilled the Mitzvah . One should perform a hatafas dam bris.


If a baby is sick, the Bris Milah is not performed until he becomes well, and then one must wait a full seven 24 hour periods after he has recovered until the Bris Milah is performed. This, however, refers to if the child has an infection that resulted in a fever.

If the child was sick in just one limb, such as pain in the eyes, then we wait until the child recovers and then the Bris Milah is performed immediately . If, however, he is in severe eye pain, then it is considered as if his entire body is ill and they must wait the seven day period15.


An androgynous child, a baby with two foreskins, and a child born of Caesarian section is circumcised on the eighth day .


If the baby was born during twilight, we count nine days later which is possibly the eighth day or the ninth day. If, however, the child stuck its head out of the birth canal while it was yet daylight, or if they heard the child crying – even if it did not finish coming out until several days, we count eight days from when its head emerged or from when the crying was heard . This is only in general, however, if the mother said that the baby was still inside her at the time, then we do not count any crying .

If the child was born after there were three very small stars that appeared in the sky, one may rely upon these stars to perform the Milah on the next day, since there was no Shabbos or Yom Tov. This is true even if the sky appears like it is yet day.
If three medium stars were visible immediately upon the child’s head emerging, one may rely upon this that it is evening – even if the next day is Shabbos. But if they waited and only observed the stars after waiting – they only have what their eyes see and he is circumcised on the eighth even if it happened on Shabbos.

The matter is not dependent at all upon Tefilah – whether they prayed while it was daylight. This is neither to be lenient nor to be stringent.


A baby who is yellow, it is a sign that its blood has not emerged yet , one does not perform a Bris Milah until its blood emerges and the baby’s appearance resembles that of other babies.

Similarly, if it appears reddish, it is a sign that the circulation has not fully developed. One does not perform a circumcision until the circulation is developed. One must be very careful in these matters. For one does not circumcise a child if there is a concern for illness. For danger to life sets aside everything. It is always possible to conduct the circumcision after a while. It is never possible, however, to bring back one Jewish soul.


If a woman circumcised her first son and he dies on account of the circumcision, i.e. the circumcision weakened the child, and she circumcised her second child and it died on account of circumcision – she attains the status of a woman whose children die from circumcision. It does not matter whether it was from the same husband or from two different husbands, she may not circumcise the third. Rather, she must wait until he matures and gains strength.

The same would be true if a man circumcised his first and second son and they died on account of the circumcision. He may not circumcise the third, whether or not they were from one wife or two different wives. Some argue and are of the opinion that it does not apply to a man but only the woman. The Ramah concludes that when there is a doubt in regard to life we are lenient (and assume that there is a problem even with a man) .

If a woman had her son circumcised and he died on account of the circumcision and her sister had circumcised her son and he died on account of the circumcision, the other sisters may not circumcise their sons. Rather, they should wait until they mature and gain strength.


If the child is born circumcised one must take a drop of blood called, “Dam Bris.” It must be done gently and examined carefully with watchful eyes. It is not done with iron so as not to damage him.

They watch and examine carefully how to circumcise him and wait an adequate time. We are not concerned that it be performed on the eighth day so the child will not come to danger.

If a child passes away before it reached the eighth day, he is circumcised at the graveside with a rock or with a piece of wood.

A blessing is not recited on the circumcision, but a name is given him as a memorial, so that he will receive compassion from Heaven and live again at Tchias Hameisim.

This is not done (on Yom Tov nor) even on the second day Yom Tov, as it is forbidden to bury an unviable child on Yom Tov – even moving it is forbidden.


It is forbidden to circumcise a gentile if it is not for the purpose of conversion – even during the week .


All are kosher to perform the Bris Milah, even an eved, a woman, a minor, and an uncircumcised Jew whose brothers died on account of circumcision .

If there is an adult male Jew who knows how to circumcise – he comes before all of them. Some say that a woman should not circumcise, and the custom is to wait for a man (even when no man is currently present).

A gentile, however, may not circumcise at all, even if he himself is circumcised. If he did circumcise, there is no need to circumcise again. There is an opinion that we do go back and take a drop of blood – Dam Bris. This is the essential custom.

A denier of the entire Torah or a denier of the concept of circumcision is considered like a gentile.

If a child needs to be circumcised within the eight days on account of danger – there is no difference between a Jew or gentile. For whenever it is within the eight days it is not called “Milah.”

However, if there are tzitzin haMe’akvin haMilah– threads of flesh that invalidate the circumcision or if he did the circumcision but not the priyah, then a Jew should finish off the circumcision on the eighth day, or after he is healed.


A person should look to engage a Mohel and a Sandek that is good and righteous .

If it was promised to one person, it is forbidden to cancel it and take it back. If, however, he did take it back it is a valid cancellation. The idea of Kabalas Kinyan is ineffective to force the engagement. However, if he swore to him that he would receive it, then we would force him to fulfill it.

If the father engaged one person to perform the Milah but he sent for another because he thought the first person would not be present or available, and the first person was available – the first should perform the Milah.

This is because he certainly did not change from the first one.

A woman may not appoint a different person to perform the Milah, because she has no connection to the Mitzvah of Milah .


One may circumcise with anything, even a rock or glass or anything that cuts, with the exception of a stem of a reed, because splinters come off it and lead to a severed urethra. It is a Mitzvah Min HaMuvchar to use iron, whether it is a knife or a scissors. The custom is to circumcise with a knife.


How does one circumcise?

One cuts the foreskin, the entire skin that surrounds the crown (Glans) until the crown is revealed. Afterward, the softer under-foreskin is ripped with a fingernail and pulled down on each side until the crown is revealed. After this the blood from the distant places is suctioned up, Metzitzah, so that the baby will not come to danger.

Any Mohel who does not perform the suction is removed. Some perform the Metzitzah with the mouth. Others perform it by using a glass tube. The Chofetz Chaim, in his Biur Halacha, allows the use of the glass tube on Shabbos.

After the suction is performed, he places an isplanis or a bandage or an herbal compound that stops the blood. He should be careful that if the isplanis has a lip to turn it facing the outside so it will not stick to the wound and cause a danger.
If he performed the Milah without performing the priyah (the rolling back of the lower foreskin) it is as if he has not performed the Milah .


There are threads of the flesh that disqualify the Milah and there are that do not disqualify it.

How so? If there is foreskin leftover that covers the majority of the crown from the above the corona line – even if it is just in one place – it invalidates the circumcision and it is as if he has not circumcised .

If only some of the foreskin is left over and it does not surround the majority of the crown above the corona line – it does not disqualify the Milah.

However, if it is a weekday, he should ideally remove all the larger threads – even if they do not disqualify the Milah.

A child (who had already received a bris), whose flesh is soft and hanging, or if he is heavyset and he appears as if he is uncircumcised, we examine: if when his member is erect it appears circumcised he does not need to be circumcised again. Nonetheless, on account of Maaris ayin, one should fix the excess skin that appears on each side. [There is a debate as to how this “fixing” is to be accomplished,]

If he does not appear to be circumcised when his member is erect, he must cut the flesh that is hanging until he would appear to be circumcised when his member is erect .

It is not necessary that the majority of the crown be apparent when the member is erect, since at one point he was circumcised properly. Even if only a small part of the crown is visible there is no need to circumcise again.

Nonetheless, if it is possible, one should correct it by pulling back the skin and tying it in such a manner that it will remain up and not come down.


One who performs the Milah recites the blessing, “asher kidshanu b;mitzvosav v’tzivanu al hamilah.” The father of the child, between the cutting of the foreskin and the Priyah this blessing: “Asher kidshanu b’mizvosav v’tzivanu l’hachniso bevriso shel Avrohom Avinu.”

If the father is not present at the Milah, some say that another person recites this blessing – since Bais Din is obligated in circumcising him . The custom is that the person who holds the child recites this blessing. It is the same, if the father is present but does not know how to recite a blessing.

When the father and the Mohel recite their blessings they must stand. When the person who is holding the child is the one who recites the blessing, the custom is that he sits. Some are of the opinion that everyone who is present at the Bris should stand, as the verse states (Malachim II 23:3), “And the nation stood at the covenant. ” This is the custom, aside from the person who holds the baby who sits.

If other people are present they recite: “Just as you have brought him to a bris, so too should you bring him to Torah, to the Chuppah, and to good deeds.” It is interesting that the Shach changes this wording and states that we always say, just as he entered rather than “just as you have brought him..”

The father of the child or the Mohel or one of those gathered recites over a cup of wine: Borei Pri HaGafen. Some have the custom to hold a myrtle branch in his hand and recite a blessing over it and smell it and then say, “Boruch atta Hashem elokainu melech ha’olam asher Kadesh yedid mibeten” etc.

The custom is that when he reaches the words, “b’damayich chayi” to take some of the wine with his index finger and place it in the mouth of the child . When the Mohel recites this blessing, he first washes his hands and mouth so that he will be able to recite the blessing in a state of purity.


If the father himself is a mohel, according to the Rambam he recites the blessing, “Limol es Haben.” Others argue (Tur citing the Baal HaIttur). The custom is for everyone to recite the same blessing.

However, if the father did recite “limol” he has fulfilled the Mitzvah or if he only recited the blessing of “lehachniso” he has likewise fulfilled the Mitzvah.

A convert who received a Bris Milah prior to his conversion, and a child who was born circumcised, when a drop of blood is taken, a blessing is not recited .

Similarly, a blessing is not recited over a circumcision of an androgynous person – because he is not a certain male. However, when one goes back to remove the threads that invalidate a circumcision, one does recite a blessing. However, one does not say, “sustain this child, etc.”


A Mamzer is considered like a Jew, and a blessing is recited up until the words, “Kores HaBris.”

One does not, however, recite the bakashas rachamim section . During the Milah one publicizes his status.


On Yom Kippur and on the four fasts, a blessing is not recited over a cup of wine.

However, if the mother is not fasting, he may recite a blessing over the wine and the mother may taste of it if she hears the blessing and has in mind not to interrupt between the recitation of the blessing and her drinking of it.
On Yom Kippur and on Tisha b’Av, when the mother may not drink of it, no blessing is recited .


On Tisha b’Av spices are also not brought for the reason that a blessing is not recited on spices on Motzai Shabbos that falls on Tisha b’Av. The Ramah cites an opinion that a blessing is recited over the cup of wine on all fast days and the glass is given to young children, and this is the custom.

On Yom Kippur the custom is to give the wine to the child undergoing the bris, as explained in OC 621. Some say that even without a Taanis one can fulfill the Mitzvah in this manner, but this is not the custom. Rather, the Sandek drinks the wine when it is not a fast day.


If someone has two babies to circumcise, only one blessing is recited for both of them .

Even if there are two different people performing the circumcision, the first one recites the blessing on the Milah and it counts for the second child. The second Mohel recites the “Asher Kadesh yedid” and it counts for the first child. Even if the baby is not there during the blessing – it still counts, since he has him in mind. It is just that he cannot have an interruption in between. But if he spoke in between or if he did not initially have in mind the second child, he must recite the “asher kidesh yedid” on the first child and recite the blessing of Milah on the second child.

This is only if he spoke in matters that do not have to do with the Milah, but if he spoke about matters having to do with the Milah it is not considered a Hefsek, an interruption.

If he forgot and recited the blessing of Asher Kidesh yedid after the first child – there is no need to recite the blessing on the Milah, for the bracha is not a hefsek, as explained in YD 28 regarding kisui hadam.

If both children are from the same father, he recites: lehachniso bivriso shel avrohom avinu. He also says,
“kayaim es hayeladim etc.”

The father further arranges all the needs of the Milah for each one, such as the candle – each child should have his own candle (Maharil).


Where it is possible the Milah is performed before ten people . When this is not possible, it may be done with less than ten.

When the father himself circumcises his son, he recites the blessing of Shehecheyanu (according to Sefardim). If the Mohel is someone else, some say that no shehecheyanu is recited. According to the Rambam, the father always recites the Shehecheyanu on each and every Milah. And this is the custom in Eretz Yisroel, and Syria and its surrounding environs, and in Egypt.

The Ramah adds that in these countries the custom is not to recite the Shehecheyanu – even if the father circumcises the son himself.

However, if the father is circumcising his firstborn child that requires a pidyon – he makes a shehecheyanu during the Bris and he does not recite it during the pidyon HaBen. However, if the child is exempt from a pidyon than the shehecheyanu is not recited.

There is no need to cover the private parts of the child when the blessing is recited . However, one should clean the child of any fecal matter prior to the blessing.

The father of the child stands next to the Mohel to inform him that he is his shliach – messenger.


The foreskin is placed in sand or dirt . So too is the blood from the Metzitzah poured out in sand. If it is Shabbos this must be prepared from before Shabbos.


It is the custom to prepare a chair for Eliyahu, who is called the Angel of the Bris. When he establishes it he should say aloud, “This is the chair of Elyahu.”

The Ramah writes that it is the custom to seek out this Mitzvah to be a Sandek and hold the baby when it is being circumcised.

The power of a Sandek is greater than that of a Mohel in terms of being called up to the Torah, for every Sandek is considered as if he is offering the Ktores – the incense.

Therefore, it is the custom not to give two children one Sandek as it is said regarding the incense, “Only those who have never offered incense before shall participate in the lottery for the incense. A woman should not be the Sandek in a place where it is possible for a man to do so, for it is like pritzus. Nonetheless, a woman may assist her husband and bring the baby up to the Shul.

He then takes the baby from her and becomes the Sandek. A man can do the entire procedure without the woman. Some say that it is the custom for the Mohalim to pray on the day of the Milah as it is written (Tehillim 149:6), “Let the high praises of Hashem be in their mouth and a two-edged sword in their hand.”

The knife of a Mohel is usually sharp on both sides. However, the Maharam Mintz in response #43 proves that there is no such drasha and therefore a Mohel never sets aside a mourner from leading the services.


It is the custom to make a meal for the Bris Milah.

It is also the custom to gather a minyan for the meal, and it is called a Seudas Mitzvah. Whomever does not eat of the meal of the Bris is cast off from Heaven.

This, however, is only if there are proper people gathered there. But if inappropriate people are there, there is no need to eat there.


There is also the custom to arrange a festive meal on the Friday night after a male child is born .

This is also a Seudas Mitzvah.


If the Bris Milah falls on one of the written fast days, Slichos and Vidui are said as usual, but VeHu Rachum and Nefilas Apaim are not said.


A Bris Milah, whether it is on time or delayed, sets aside leprosy of tzaraas .

If there is a bright spot in the skin of the foreskin, even though there is a prohibition in removing the bright spot (see Vayikrah chapter 12 and Dvarim 24:8), he may remove it with the foreskin.

However, if after he has been circumcised, the growth appeared on his member to the point where he no longer appears circumcised and he must cut it, if there is a bright spot on the flesh there – it is forbidden to remove it, since he is only required to circumcise again by Rabbinic decree .


Milah sets side Yom Tov and Shabbos when it is on time . When it is not on time, it does not set aside Shabbos.

Even if it is on time, it only sets aside the Milah itself, the Priyah and the Metzitzah.

Even if the Mohel finished the task and left, he may go back and remove the threads of flesh that invalidate the Milah. That is, he may remove the threads that surround the majority of the crown – even if it is just in one place.

For those that do not invalidate the Milah, if he has not left, he may remove them. If he has left he may not remove them.

He may place an Asplanis on it – a bandage that absorbs the blood.


The Ramah writes that it is permitted to move the aismal, the Milah knife, and hide it in a safe place, even though he will no longer need it for that Shabbos . This is because it did not become Muktzah on Friday evening Bain HaShmashos – since he needed to use it over Shabbos (TaZ). This is how it appears to the Ramah.

However, the preparatory parts of it are not set aside, since he could have done them while it was not yet Shabbos. Therefore, one cannot fashion a knife to circumcise with.

The Chochmas Adam adds that one may also not sharpen a knife on Shabbos. Nor may one carry the knife from one place to another, even carrying it from the house to bring it through roofs and courtyards and alleys where an Eiruv was not made.

However, if he forgot the knife on the rood or the courtyard one may bring it even if they made an Eiruv with the houses.


We do not soak herbs nor do we heat up water nor do we make a bandage, nor do we mix wine and oil together on Shabbos . If he did not grind cinnamon from Friday, he may chew it between his teeth.

If he did not mix the wine and oil from Friday he may place one by itself and the other by itself. One may not make a cover for the member (which prevents the foreskin from enveloping the crown again. However, one may wrap a cloth around it. If he did not prepare it from before Shabbos, he may wrap it around his finger as if to wear it and he may even carry it from another courtyard where there was no Eiruv.

If he has circumcised the child on Shabbos and the herbs got scattered, one may make them again on Shabbos because it is a danger for the child.

If they forgot and did not bring the knife from Friday, he may tell a gentile to bring a knife on Shabbos. However, he may not bring it by way of a reshus harabim – a public thoroughfare.

The general principle of the matter [according to the view of the author of the Shulchan Aruch] is: Anything that the performance of which is forbidden only by Rabbinic decree, it is permitted to instruct a gentile to perform in order to fulfill a Mitzvah in its proper time. Something the performance of which is forbidden on account of a Biblical prohibition, it is forbidden for us to instruct a gentile to perform on Shabbos.

*However, the Mishna Brurah (Orech Chaim Siman 276) is of the opinion that a gentile may be instructed even to violate a Torah prohibition for the sake of a Choleh and during certain other times as well..

All the preparatory matters that do not set aside Shabbos, may not be set aside for Yom Tov either , with the exception of grinding cinnamon on Yom Tov, since they are usable for a food pot. Similarly, wine and oil may be mixed together.

A person who has never circumcised before should not circumcise for the first time on Shabbos, for perhaps he will mess up and will end up violating the Shabbos.

If he has already circumcised once it is permitted – even if he is the father .


If someone is born during Bain haShmashos (during twilight), which is a doubt whether it is day or night. We count from the night and he is circumcised on the ninth which is a doubt as to whether it is the eighth .

If he was born on Friday during twilight – it does not push off the Shabbos – for we do not set aside Shabbos out of a doubt.

Nor does it set aside Yom Tov on a doubt. It does not even set aside the second day of Yom Tov. Even if he merely stuck his head out during twilight – even if the rest of his body came out on Shabbos – he is not circumcised on Shabbos.

The length of Bais HaShmashos is a discussion of the Tannaim and the Amoraim in the Chapter of BaMeh Madlikin. The Baal HaIttur writes that we are in doubt who the halacha is like.

Therefore, if a child is born after the sun sets, we are in doubt until it fulfills the Bain haShmashos of Rabbi Yossi, and he is circumcised on the tenth. If he was born on Saturday night after the sun sets we are stringent – like the view of Rabbah.

A child who was born circumcised, and a child who has two foreskins , and an androgynous child, and a child born of a Caesarian Section, and a woman who did not yet immerse before she gave birth, even though they are circumcised on the eighth day – it does not push off Shabbos .

A Tumtum (someone whose gender is not clearly identified) whose private section is ripped open is circumcised on Shabbos. Some for bid it.


If someone was born in his seventh month, he is circumcised on Shabbos – even if his hair and fingernails have not been fully developed.

Someone who is born in the eighth month is not circumcised on Shabbos, unless his hair and fingernails are fully developed. The same is true of there is a doubt whether he was born in the seventh month or the eighth month. He is not circumcised on Shabbos unless his hair and fingernails are fully formed. The Ramah cites opinions that we do circumcise him since he could be a seventh month child. Rather, we do not violate the Shabbos in regard to other matters. And this appears to be the halacha according to the Ramah.


If a Jew left his religion and had a child from a Jewish woman, the Milah is still performed on Shabbos.

If a Jew has a child from a non-Jewish woman, no Milah is done on Shabbos.


One must be careful not to have two mohalim perform one Milah on Shabbos (or Yom Tov )– where one does the Milah and the other does the Priyah. Rather, he that does the milah should do the Priyah . The Ramah writes that he did not find evidence to this position. Rather, it appears to him that it is permitted since Milah sets aside Shabbos like Avodah did in the Temple, and since many Kohanim performed the service and did so on Shabbos, since Shabbos was given to be set aside – it is considered like a weekday for these matters.

The Ramah found evidence of this in a manuscript edition of the Sefer HaTrumah. However, since in the Kovetz it forbids it, the Ramah writes that it is proper to be stringent ideally, even though technically it appears to be permitted.

In Poland and in other places in Europe the custom was to be lenient and allow two Mohalim to perform it. This was based upon the lenient views of the Shach, Taz, Bach, Vilna Gaon, Noda BiYehudah (MT OC #22) and the Chochmas Adam.

There is a debate between the Chochmas Adam (Rabbi Avrohom Danzig, 1748-1820) and the Yeshuos Yaakov (Rabbi Yaakov Orenstein, 1770-1840) as to whether it can be split into three parts: The Milah, the Priyah, and the Metzitzah. The Chochmas Adam writes that the one who does the Priyah should do the Metzitzah. The Yeshuos Yaakov is lenient.

Practically speaking, Sefardim follow the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch and forbid any splitting up of the Bris Milah on Shabbat – unless the Mohel is unable to do the priyah and another must do it.


Part Two – Iyunim

Contents of Section II

I. The Shalom Zachar
II. May a father do the Milah and a Mohel do the Priyah?
III. Milah and Priyah: In two steps or one?
IV. A Bris with gloves on
V. Is a Mohel Obligated to go to a Shabbos or Yom Tov Bris?
VI. The Sandek
VII. The Name of a Child

It is a Minhag among Ashkenazic Jews to make a seudah on the Shabbos evening after the birth of a male child.
There are two reasons cited for this minhag.

While in Auschwitz, the Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l was shot in the arm r”l by a Nazi. He was afraid to go to the Nazi infirmary, even there were doctors there. He knew that if he entered that building, he would never come out alive.

Instead, the Rebbe plucked a leaf from a tree to stanch the bleeding. He then cut off a branch and tied it around his wound to hold it in place. It healed in 3 days. He then promised himself that if he would survive the horrible evil that was Auschwitz- he would build a hospital in Eretz Yisrael where every human being would be cared for with dignity. And the basis of that future hospital would be that the doctors and nurses would believe that there is a Creator in this world and that when they treat a patient, they are fulfilling the greatest mitzvah in the Torah.

Fast forward 32 years. The Rebbe did survive. We are in Union City, New Jersey in the Yeshiva’s building. It is now 1976, slightly after Purim, and the Rebbe is conducting a Shalom Zachar, but it is not for his child nor a grandchild. Nor is it for any child of one of his Chassidim.

Who was it for?

In 1976, the maternity ward of the Klausenberger Rebbe’s Laniado hospital in Netanya had just opened up. Its first baby was born. It was a boy. The Rebbe was called and the phone was taken in the nursery where the Rebbe could hear the child cry.

The Rebbe was overcome with emotion. The Nazis had been defeated and Klal Yisroel had survived. A new child had entered Klal Yisroel. How could he not make a Shalom Zachar? How could he not make a seudas Mitzvah of thanks?


After Maariv in thousands of shuls across the world, the gabbai will announce that a shalom zachar will take place at the house of so and so. We are all tired after a hard week.

But the emotion felt by the Klausenberger Rebbe in seeing the continuity of Klal Yisroel should be felt by all of us. How can we not go?


It is a minhag in Ashkenazic Jewish circles to host a Shalom Zachar where the baby is found on the Shabbos after a baby boy is born.

It is generally held after the Shabbos evening meal. It is not a meal where people wash.


The Rambam (Hilchos Me’ilah 8:8) tells us that it is important to understand the reason why we do our Mitzvos. He also writes this in Moreh Nevuchim (3:31). It is also the view of the Zohar (Parshas Yisro p. 93b) and Rabbeinu Yonah Shaarei HaAvodah #54. This is also true for understanding why we perform our customs. There are three main reasons cited for the custom of the Shalom Zachar.


The Terumas HaDeshen (Siman 269) explains that it is a Seudas Hoda’ah, a meal of thanksgiving. It is held in thanks that the child was saved from the travails and dangers involved in the birth. This is how the Terumas HaDeshen understands the view of Rabbeinu Tam cited in Tosfos in Bava Kamma (80a, “Yeshua HaBen”).


Perhaps the incident cited above gives us a new reason for the Shalom Zachar. Perhaps, in the eyes of the Klausenberger, the baby represents Klal Yisroel. This baby, Klal Yisroel was saved from the travails and dangers of Jewish history. Infant Klal Yisroel had survived the Rindfleish Massacres, the Crusades, the Gzeiras Tach vetat of Chmelnieki, the pogroms of Russia, and the holocaust itself! This baby represents the very continuity of the Jewish people itself.

This reason of Hakaras HaTov for the Shalom Zachar highlights to us the idea that we should always have and develop a feeling of gratitude and appreciation for all that Hashem gives us. We should also have this appreciation for all that others do for us as well. This is a critical component in our development as Ovdei Hashem.


The TaZ cites another reason in the name of the Drisha.
The Drisha was written by Rav Yehoshua Falk (15551614), a great Posaik from Poland. He writes that is based upon the Gemorah in Niddah 30b that states that when the child is born a malach, an angel, strikes the baby on his mouth and causes the child to forget all of the Torah he had learned while in his mother’s womb.

This meal, according to the Drisha, is to mourn the Torah that was lost.

According to this reason, we highlight our appreciation for Torah study. The Torah must always be central to our lives. Every day in Maariv we recite “ki HAIM chayeinu.” Torah is our life itself.


The TaZ provides his own reason based upon a Midrash found in chapter 27 of VaYikra Rabba. There, the Midrash explains why the Bris Milah is held on the eighth day. It draws a comparison between a king who tells his subjects that he will only grant them an audience after they first appear before a matronisa – a hostess.
The TaZ writes that this is the reason we hold the Shalom Zachar on Shabbos.

From the TaZ we gain an appreciation of the gift that Hashem gave us in the Shabbos. It is important to remember that more than the Jew has kept Shabbos – Shabbos has kept the Jew. Although it is somewhat ironic that the person who coined this expression was not observant, it is, nonetheless, a truism.


Rav Yechezkel Landau of Prague is noted to have asked the question on the reason cited by the Terumas HaDeshen (in his Dagul Mervavah sefer on Yoreh Deah). If this is the, in fact, the reason for the Seudah to express our appreciation for the salvation of the baby – how come we do not hold this meal when a girl is born?

This author would like to answer that question with a shocking find. In Meseches Smachos Aivel Rabbasi (2:3) – we do find such a meal!
The meal is called “Shavuah HaBas” and it parallels the name found in Bava Kamma called Shavuah HaBen. It is also likely that the Kiddush that we have in shul on Shabbos when a girl is born is in order to fulfill this idea too.

Some relate that Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita has advised young women who are still in search of a Shidduch to hold a Kiddush in shul – even if the girl is now in her twenties! It could very well be that the Shabbos Kiddush is a fulfillment of the “Shavuah HaBas” that is referenced in Aivel Rabbasi. Others, however, relate that this is not Rav Chaim’s position.


The Yaavetz writes in his Sefer Migdol Oz that the reason it is called Shalom Zachar is on account of the fact that it is to remember or commemorate the Torah that was lost. While the baby was in the womb, he was studying Torah with a malach. That Torah is now no longer – it is lost. This meal commemorates it.

What is the benefit of the young baby learning Torah in the womb – only to forget it?

It is said in the name of the Vilna Gaon that the term “matzasi” in the expression “yagati umatzasi taamin – if a person says, “I put in effort and I found success in regard to Torah – believe him” indicates that he had found something that he had before. The fetus in the womb is taught his own portion and section in Torah. It is so each person can strive and exert effort to find his own section of Torah.


The Trumas HaDeshen rules that, in fact, the Shalom Zachar is a Seudas Mitzvah. He cites as a proof that the Gemorah in Bava Kamma tells us that Rav entered the meal of Yeshua HaBen (as it was called then, according to the Trumas HaDeshen). We know from elsewhere (Chullin 95b) that Rav never ate at a Seudas Reshus – a festive meal that was not a seudas Mitzvah. Therefore, the Trumas HaDeshen concludes that it is a Seudas Mitzvah.

The Chavos Yair, however, disagrees. He states (Siman 70) that it is possible that Rav had just popped in and did not partake of the actual meal itself.


If the child is jaundiced or otherwise ill and the Bris will not be held within the next week, there is a debate among authorities as to when the Shalom Zachar is to be held. Some hold it on the Shabbos before the Bris (Yaavetz and Chochmas Adam 149:24), while others (Zocher Habris) hold that it is always the Shabbos after the baby is born. The language of the Ramah seems to indicate that he held to this view. The prevailing custom seems to be that it is held after the birth.


What happens when the baby is born on Friday night? In such circumstances it is often logistically difficult to arrange a Shalom Zachar. The Pri MaGadim (MZ YD 444:9) writes that one does it as close to the birth as possible.

The Chayei Adaam, however, disagrees and writes that it should be done as close to the Bris Milah as possible.
Each person should ask his own Rav.


What is being suggested here is that there may be a fourth reason for the Shalom Zachar seudah. There is the general idea of it being an expression of Hakaras haTov found in the Trumas HaDeshen. There is the reason proposed by the author of the Drisha that it is to enhance our appreciation of Torah. There is the reason further suggested by the TaZ that it is to enhance our appreciation of Shabbos. The fourth reason – suggested by this author but alluded to in the actions of the Klausenberger Rebbe is that it also enhances our appreciation for Jewish continuity.

So even though we may have worked hard all week, let’s make that special effort to attend that local Shalom Zachar. It symbolizes our miraculous survival through the tear-stained path of history. It symbolizes Jewish continuity.


More and more, fathers are having the Mohel just set up the Bris Milah for them so that they themselves can perform what they believe is the halachically preferable thing to do. They believe that it is halachically preferable to do the cut on the baby themselves, based upon the Gemorah in Kiddushin (41a) that it is better to perform the Mitzvah oneself than through a messenger. In this article, we will examine how it is possible for untrained people to perform the cut and if it is, indeed, halachically preferable.


The idea of a father who is not a Mohel being able to actually perform the cut was made possible because of a device called the Mogain or shield. The Mogain was introduced in Europe in the 1700’s in order to protect against accidental excess cutting.

The Pri Magadim in his commentary on the Mogain Avrohom (AA YD 75:8) approves of its use. The circumcision shield, however, has gone through many different incarnations, some of which are halachically acceptable, unacceptable, or a debate.
When doctors perform circumcisions, they generally use a device called a Gomco clamp or a Plastibell clamp, which has been rejected as a valid method of Bris Milah by the majority of Poskim (see, for example, Igros Moshe YD II #119, Tzitz Eliezer VIII #29). One reason why the Gomco clamp is deemed unacceptable by some is because it does not involve the drawing of blood, a necessary component according to some Poskim. The Gomco and Plastibell clamps require multiple incisions and cause the baby more pain as well.


In contemporary times, some Mohelim used something called the “Bronstein Mogain” or a similar device, which provides for protection and yet allows for the flow of blood. This clamp was invented in 1954 and received the approbation of Rav Eliezer Silver zt”l (HaPardes Vol. XXX #1). Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe YD Vol. III #98) allows it b’dieved but was unhappy with its use. On this account, many Mohelim do not use the Bronstein Mogain.


Many Mohelim use a hemostat with a regular Mogain. A hemostat is a surgical instrument that looks like a scissors but can lock in place and is used primarily to control bleeding. The hemostat allows the the Milah and priyah to be done at the same time.
It is the various Mogains and the hemostat which allow Mohelim to “set up” the cut for the father who performs the cut. More on this later.


The bris performed with a Bronstein Mogain, however, is different than one performed without it. The Bris Milah involved another process called Priyah which means the removal of the under layer of skin found beneath the foreskin. When the Bronstein Mogain is used, the priyah is performed with an instrument, not the fingernail. Many Poskim hold that although it is permitted to perform the priyah with an instrument, it is preferable to use a fingernail and not an instrument (See responsa of Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky zt”l, Achiezer Vol. III 65:12 and responsa of Rav Ovadiah Yoseph zt”l, Yabia Omer Vol. VII #22).

Another issue is that with modern Mogains and hemostats, the Milah and the priyah happen simultaneously, which although is permitted, is not how the Shulchan Aruch describes the procedure. The priyah follows the Milah in Shulchan Aruch and is a second procedure.

Mohalim who use a shield other than the Bronstein Mogain can allow the father to perform the cut and then they do the priyah and Metzitzah afterward.

It is a debate among Poskim whether when one has just perfomed the first act, whether he has accomplished a half of a Mitzvah at all.

The Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo Yevamos 8:3) and the Tashbatz (Vol. II #277) both hold that even half a Mitzvah was not performed. The Bais Yoseph 264, however, holds that one has indeed fulfilled half of the
Mitzvah here. The Ramah as well considers it a Mitzvah.

The Sefer Milah K’hilchasa (p. 64-65) lists some four requirements that are a prerequisite for a father who is not a trained Mohel to perform the cut himself.

1] The father must know definitively exactly where the cut must be made.

2] The father must know how to hold the knife and the exact angle so that tzitzin not remain

3] There cannot be any additional delays from the fact that the father is performing the cut which will cause further pain and agony to the infant (See Igros Moshe YD Vol. III #99).

4] The father must inform the Mohel at the outset that he is inviting him only to perform the Mitzvah of priyah. If he just hires him without specifying the indication is that it is for the Mitzvah of Milah and he would not be able to undo this without violating the halachic issue of going back on one’s agreement (Mechusar Amanah).

The author of Sefer Milah K’hilchasa also cites the Ramah in the name of the Terumas HaDeshen that a father may not do this on Shabbos if he has never performed a Bris before. This is true even if the father is just performing the cut.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach is cited in the Nishmas Avrohom (260) “It requires further analysis of there is a Mitzvah for the father to circumcise his son when it will cause any further pain on the infant.” The Munkatcher Rebbe stated that there is no Mitzvah whatsoever for a father to perform the Milah if he is not a Mohel and a Mohel is available.


Another issue and this is a very important one brought up by Rabbi Ephraim Perlstein, a noted mohel and member of Kollel Avreichim in Far Rockaway. Often the father will perform a halachically inadequate cut at the time and leave “tzitzin haMe-akvin”, pieces of the Orlah, that remain on the baby. The Mohel then has to do an emergency repair at the time, and the father did not appoint him.

This could possibly leave the father with no Mitzvah whatsoever. It is possible, however, that there may be a clear desire on the father’s part that in the event of a mess up, he would want to appoint the Mohel to fix it. This is called an umdana and is often used in halacha.

However, it is not so clear that he is aware of the fact he may leave tzitzin haMe’akvin that would require a redo. Therefore, ideally, the father should verbalize it and appoint the Mohel to make any repairs if they are necessary prior to the bris because there will not be time to do so at the time if there is a mess up.

There may also be an issue of the biblical prohibition of Tzaar Baalei Chaim in regard to causing excess pain to the infant. The Rashba (Vol. I #252) and the Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvos Lo Saaseh 270) write that the prohibition applies not just animals but to human beings as well.

While it is true that the Radbaz’s opinion is that it is not applicable in regard to humans (Vol. II #728), most Poskim hold that it does apply. The Shita Mekubetzes cites the view of Talmid Rabbeinu Peretz that it applies to humans on a Rabbinic level.


One final thought: The Mitzvah of Zrizin makdimin l’Mitzvos means that alacritous people try to fulfill our Mitzvos at the very first opportunity.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l was once asked whether it is preferable to perform the Mitzvah of Bris Milah immediately after a Naitz HaChama Shacharis on account of the idea of performing a Mitzvah at the first opportunity.

Rav Shlomo Zalman answered that one should also be a mentsch [in regard to making the Bris convenient for relatives]. The idea main also be germaine to our issue here regarding fathers performing a bris.

As an interesting aside, one may ask why the Bnei Yisroel did not do the Milah while still in Mitzrayim.  There seems to be a debate on this point between the Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer (Chapter 29) and teh Midrash Rabbah in Shmos.  The Midrash Rabbah states that they were negligent in this Mitzvah.  The Pirkei D’Rebbi ELiezer states that Pharoah did not allow it (but teh Bnei Levi did do it).  Perhaps they are not arguing and that in teh beginning they were negligent and ultimately Pharoah forbade it.  The lesson, of course, is not to push off things because we never know what can happen.


This author would like to add a fifth condition to the four mentioned above in light of this idea expressed by Rav Shlomo Zalman zt”l. One should only embark upon this with the full support of his spouse and parents. This is especially true in light of the opinions that performing half of the Bris may not be considered a Mitzvah and in light of the fact that some other b’dieveds are taking place.


There are halachic and procedural differences in the manner in which the Bris Milah is performed. There are two types of Bris Milahs, and they are different not only in the manner and style of how the Bris is actually performed, but they also produce different physical results as well.

The best way to characterize the two different methods are with the following terms:

• The two-step method
• The one-step method
There are mohelim that practice the two-step method. This is the more traditional method – practiced for thousands of years. This method is near universal among Chassidish Mohalim. There are mohelim that practice the one-step method. In America, in the Litvish world, this is the most common method.

Few mohalim, however, will practice both methods, but some do.

Mohalim are also rather territorial about their particular method. It is a somewhat touchy issue with many of them, so proceed with caution when and if you bring up the subject.

What follows is not for the faint of heart – so proceed with caution. However, the material under discussion is Torah – and we are obligated in learning all sections of Torah – even those that can make us a little queasy. So here goes.


The Orlah actually has two parts – the outer part and the inner part. The inner part is referred to as the “or hapriyah.” The inner part is actually termed a “mucous membrane” and is similar to the inside of an eyelid. Imagine the lip – the outer side is dryer skin, while the inner side is not.


In the two step method, the upper part is lifted upward and cut with the Mohel’s knife. This is the first step. The inner part is peeled back and torn with the Mohel’s sharpened thumbnail, and then pulled down toward the body of the baby. This is the second step. The lowered inner part eventually fuses together with the remnant of the upper part.

The thumbnail’s role in the second step is even mentioned in the Midrash. The Yalkut Shimoni (#723) on the verse in Tehillim, “Kol Atzmosai Tomarnah” – states as follows: Dovid HaMelech says, “I praise You (Hashem) with each of my limbs and fulfill Mitzvos with them.. fingernails – to perform Priyah with them..”


In the one-step method, the Mohel uses a hemostat to grasp both the inner orlah along with the upper orlah. A hemostat looks like a scissors, but it is actually a clamp type of device. Generally speaking, the inner Orlah does not go up with the outer Orlah so easily without the hemostat. When they are clamped together – it does go up. The mohel then takes his Mohel knife and cuts both off together.

In this method, the Milah and the Priyah are accomplished at the same time. There are one step Mohalim who are able to grab it in a manner that they can cut the inner orlah as well – even without a hemostat.

The physical differences between the one-step method and the two-step method are not minimal. The one step method actually takes off more of the inner skin. The two-step method involves tearing, peeling, and moving the inner part of the Orlah downward, but not actually removing it.

Rabbi Moshe Bunim Perutinsky z”l, author of the Sefer HaBris, writes that although in the time of the Rishonim, the one step method was not used, it was used in the times of the Gaonim. He admits that the one step method was not commonly done in Europe nor in the time of the Rishonim or Acharonim.


Rabbi Perutinsky claims (See Sefer HaBris p. 206) that there are five benefits to the one step method:
• There is less blood.
• The operation is much faster.
• The wound heals quicker.
• There are no problems of the Or HaPriyah ever coming back to necessitate a possible Rabbinic re-do.
• When a hemostat is used there is no concern that too much or too little of the Orlah will be cut.
He also writes that these benefits make the one step method preferable to the two-step method. It is just that not everyone was able to do it in this manner and that the two step method was easier, and therefore, more common.


The proponents of the two step method claim that the wording of both the Rambam (Hilchos Milah chapter 2) and the Shulchan Aruch (YD 264:3) is clearly like them. It states that first one does the Milah and then one does the Priyah. Indeed, the language of the Rosh is that the blessing of “lehachniso lebriso shel avrohom avinu” is recited in between the Milah and the Priyah.

Dayan Weiss (Minchas Yitzchok Vol. IX #100) cites a number of Acharonim that condemn any changes in the traditional method of Milah.
He writes that Heaven forbid for someone to change the method of the way Bris Milah has been performed throughout the ages and strongly urges that the Milah be done with the two step method.

Rav Perutinsky responds that this is not considered a change since Rav Hai Gaon used to do it in this manner. He also writes that had the Acharonim seen the responsum of Rav Hai Gaon they would never have written against the one step method.

Rav Vosner zt”l, the author of the Shaivet HaLevi (Vol. IV #133) writes that since the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch essentially ignored the responsum, they either disagreed with it or felt that the responsum was of dubious authenticity. The Rivash in Responsa #165 also dismisses a different responsum attributed to Rav Hai Gaon.

In contrast to Dayan Weiss zt”l and Rav Vosner zt”l, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe YD I #155) does not consider the one-step method a problem at all, but states that “meheyos tov” to leave over some of the or haPriyah to be removed by the fingernail – since this method is explicitly mentioned in the Midrash.

Nonetheless, it is this author’s recollection that Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l, a talmid muvhak of Rav Moshe Feinstein, still did the two step method.

The Sefer Milah K’hilchasa recommends that if one does the one-step method that one should actually leave over ½ of the or hapriyah in order to fulfill the opinion of the Yad Ketanah in the Shulchan Aruch as to what would define priyah.

Both methods hold that the other method is valid. The question is which one is preferable. One should, of course, consult with one’s own Rav or Posaik as to which method to pursue in this regard.

Contact Dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin.

In 1889, Caroline Hampton, a 28-year-old surgical nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital developed Contact Dermatitis on account of her reaction to the Mercuric Chloride that was used at the time as an antiseptic. A doctor, William Halsted, who was soon to marry her, asked the Goodyear Rubber Company to produce a thin rubber glove – so that she could continue to work effectively and yet also be protected. In 1894, Halsted implemented the use of the gloves throughout the hospital.

The situation remained virtually unchanged until 1964. In that year, an Australian company, Ansell, developed a disposable latex glove – and an entire industry was born.

Since the development of these gloves, a new issue has arisen. Some parents want the Mohel to perform the circumcision while wearing these gloves. What is the halacha? May a Bris Mila be performed while the Mohel is wearing gloves? Is it a breach, or is it perhaps even recommended?

Rabbi Mordechai Yaakov Breisch zt”l, author of the Chelkas Yaakov, is one of the first to address the issue in a responsum (Chelkas Yaakov YD #148) published two years after the invention of the disposable latex surgical glove. Rabbi Breisch forbids the use of gloves for a number of reasons. He maintains that the priyah would have to be done with a vessel and not with the fingernail
– which is a violation of the minhag. In addition, since Birs Milah is likened to a Korban, he considers it a bizayon of the Mitzvah, based upon the Gemorah in Psachim 57a.

There the Gemorah cites a braisah where the Rabbis had taught:

The people in the Temple courtyard had four attacks against various families of Kohanim. The first cry was: Leave here, sons of Eli, who defiled Hashem’s Sanctuary (see Shmuel Aleph 2:22). The Kehunah was then transferred to family of Tzadok. Another cry: Leave here, Yissachar from Kfar Barkai, who honors himself and desecrates the items consecrated to Heaven. On account of his delicateness and his disrespect for the Avodah in the Beis HaMikdash, he would wrap his hands in silk [shirai] and perform his Avodah. This would invalidate the Avodah because the silk was a Chatzitzah, an interposition, between his hands and the vessels of the Beis HaMikdash. Furthermore, his conduct demeaned the Avodah of the Beis HaMikdah, as he actively showed that he was unwilling to dirty his hands for it.

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein Shlita, in his Chashukei Chemed Psachim 57a, on the other hand rules that it is permitted. He explains that there is a difference between our case, where the Mohel wishes to protect the baby and that of Yissachar from Kfar Barkai – where he covered his hands for his own purposes. In the case of Psachim it would be forbidden, but here it would be permitted.

In regard to the issue of the priyah being performed without the fingernail, if the priyah and milah are being done simultaneously as in the one step method – it would seem that it would not be a problem. For those who perform the two step method – it might be an issue.

It is perhaps a quandary of many mohelim. How much must one give up of one’s Oneg Shabbos or Oneg Yom Tov to perform a Bris Milah on time?

Often it is quite difficult to get a Mohel to come for a Shabbos or a Yom Tov. The Mohel and or his family would have to spend Shabbos away from home and perhaps other family.

Is a Mohel obligated to go when there is no other available Mohel willing to do so in order for the Bris to take place on the eighth day itself?

Does it push aside Oneg Shabbos or Oneg Yom Tov – not only of his own, but of his family’s as well?

One should realize that this is only when there is no other Mohel available. Generally speaking it is the parents’ obligation to ensure that their child receive a Bris Milah on time– not that exclusively of the Mohel.


Some parents believe that the Mohel is obligated to fit to the schedule of the parents. This is not true. The issue is primarily that of the parents but when there is no available Mohel – the issue is on others as well.
And while it is true that we want the Mitzvah to be performed as early as possible on account of Zrizim Makdimim l’Mitzvos – that requirement does not push off the Mohel’s Oneg Shabbos or Simchas Yom Tov.


The Avnei Naizer (OC Vol. II 392) writes that a Mohel is exempt because of Osaik BaMitzvah patur min haMitzvah – he is already involved in a Mitzvah – that of Oneg Shabbos or Simchas Yom Tov.

The Chayei Odom (Klal 68:19), however, is unsure.

The Maharsham (Vol. I #209) in an attempt to resolve the Chayei Odom’s question rules that it is, in fact, obligatory.

Dayan Weiss in Minchas Yitzchok volume II Siman 75 cites two views. The Bais She’arim (OC #120) writes that there is, in fact, an obligation. His logic is that since Milah pushes aside Shabbos it should certainly push aside Kavod Shabbos!

What about walking two and a half hours to a Milah? In this case most Mohelim would do it and are of the opinion that one is obligated to do so.

What about if the location is past the Techum of Yom Tov? The answer is that it is prohibited. Rav Chaim Oizer Grodzinsky zt”l once ruled, however, that if it is unknown whether the location is, in fact, past the Techum and it is not possible to find out – then one may be lenient and count this as a safaik on a derabanan.


So where does the word “Sandek” come from?

The Yalkut Shimoni and the Midrash Tehillim on Tehillim (35:10) state that Dovid HaMelech recited the verse, “All my bones shall declare, ‘Who is like You, Hashem!’ I shall praise You with all my limbs. With my thighs I become Sandiknus to the infants that are
circumcised on my lap.”

But what does Sandiknus actually mean? Many commentators identify it as a Greek word, which certainly makes sense. The Ohr Zaruah (Vol. II #107) and the Maharil Hilchos Milah (64) both write that it is a derivative of a Greek word to mean that he holds the baby on his thighs as he is circumcised.

But which Greek word?

The Latin word patrinus, which means godfather is “synteknos” in Greek– which is similar enough to Sandiknus to be a good possible source. Dr. Hillel Newman, in an article published in the Jewish Quarterly Review (Winter 2007) suggests that the original word was “sandyx” which meant a box for the infant.

Some of the more secular advocates of the “synteknos” origin claim that the term was born from an influence of a Christian ceremony – the sponsors of a child at a Baptism were called co-parents. This is extremely unlikely, as anyone familiar with the socio-religious outlook of observant Jews knows that Christian influence on Jewish practice is particularly remote. It may be argued that they adopted the Greek name of Sandek for it because there was no other name, but this too seems unlikely.

Dr. Newman’s proposed origin may fit better with the Ramah’s understanding of Sandek.

The Ramah writes that (YD 265:11) that the Sandek is equated to the Kohain who offers the incense in the Temple, and it is a segulah for becoming wealthy.

The incense that the Kohain offered was placed in a pan and it is likely that the infant was placed on a solid type of box with edges when the Bris Milah was actually performed, so that the baby would not fall off.

In regard to the latter point of the Ramah, of Sandekaus being an origin for wealth. The Vilna Gaon points out that we have not seen Sandekaus responsible for gaining wealth.

In answer to the Vilna Gaon’s point, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l in his Emes L’Yaakov explains that the reason why no one is becoming wealthy is because the intent is for the Sandek to be the Baal Bris as well, in other words picking up all the expenses of a Bris. This is no longer done, however.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger explains that the Sandekaus must be also during the time that the baby is named and during all the blessings.


It is a tradition among Jews that the child at a Bris Milah develops to be like the Sandek that held him at a Bris Milah. This is perhaps the reason why an attempt is made to obtain a great Tzaddik to serve as the Sandek. But from where did this idea originate? And what should someone do who has irreligious parents or grandparents and wishes to honor them with being Sandek?

The Ramah (YD 264:1) writes that a person should get a Mohel and a Baal Bris (i.e. a Sandek) who is yoser tov (very good) and a Tzaddik, a righteous person. It is unclear to this author whether the term “very good” as it applies to a Sandek is in terms of capability or in terms of moral character.


The issue, however, is clearer elsewhere. Rabbi Mordechai Yoffe (1530-1612), author of the Levush, (Yore Deah 264:1) writes: “A person should take measures to find a Mohel and Baal Bris (i.e. a Sandek) who is a good and righteous in order that they have the highest and loftiest of intentions in their kavana and it will cause that the child will be like them.” We see then that good means that it affects the child.

The original source of the Ramah is the Ohr Zaruah (Milah 107). There, however, the need for a good Sandek is for a different reason. It is so that they merit that Elijah the prophet will come. In other words, according to the Or Zaruah, it seems that it is not that the child will emulate the Sandek and or mohel – but that the greatness of the Sandek will effect the presence or absence of Eliyahu HaNavi!

The Maharil as well indicates that the issue is not one where the child will be influenced by the Mohel and the Sandek, but rather in terms of the health of child in his being additionally cured by the presence of Eliyahu HaNavi.

Rav Moshe Shternbuch, in his Teshuvos v’hanhagos (Vol. I #603) is of the opinion that the irreligious person should not be offered Sandek, and that it could affect the child. He writes that the Mitzvah of honoring his father does not allow him to endanger his own son.

The Sefer Milah K’hilchasa questions this position on many grounds. He also does not see how a mere Segulah should set aside the Mitzvah of Kivud Av ‘v’aim – honoring one’s parents. Also, even in the Levush’s own words we do not see that it effects the child negatively – we only see that a great person effects the child positively.

Finally, it is interesting to note that Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein in his Chashuchei Chemed on Yuma (9b) suggests that one can honor an irreligious relative with being Sandek if he elicits a promise from him to keep one Shabbos after the bris. The merit of observing the Shabbos, according to Rav Zilberstein, will more than make up for any possible drawback.


Chazal tell us (BaMidbar Rabba 20:22) that the reasons the Jewish people were redeemed from Egypt was because they did not change their names, their language, and their mode of dress.

Indeed, the Maharam Shick (YD responsa 169) and the Darchei Teshuvah (YD 178:14) understand that the prohibition of naming a child a non-Jewish name is a biblical one stemming from the prohibition of UbeChukosaihem lo sailachu.

[As a parenthetic note, it is said of the Maharam Schick that when the temporal authorities decreed that every family must take on a last name, he specifically chose Schick – which is an acronym for Shaim Yisroel Kodesh.]

Clearly, having a Jewish name is important.


The Sefer Chassidim (244) writes of the tremendous importance for the parents to think carefully as to what to name their child. The name itself can not only cause or remove psychological barriers, it can also become a factor in the spiritual growth of the child too.

The Midrash Tanchuma in Parshas HaAzinu explains that a person should look to give a name that would help the child become a Tzaddik – because at times the name can be influential in this. The Gemorah in Brachos 7b cites Rabbi Elazar that there is a verse to this effect that Shma Garim – names do matter.


The Chazon Ish would advise parents not to name a child – either a boy or a girl, with a name that is very strange or different to ensure that the child not suffer in the future or be embarrassed. If it is necessary to do so such as naming after a parent – then one should do so (Sefer Mishnas Yehoshua p. 85).


Professor Dalton Conley of NYU is a well-known sociologist and author. He named his son, “Yo Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles” – reportedly the longest name in New York City’s official archives. It is a name that, had he been Jewish and had he posed the question to Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky Shlita, he would have been advised against against it.

In Chassidish circles (and in many litvish circles too), multiple names are very much accepted. In many other circles, multiple names are discouraged.


In the work entitled Pe’er HaDor about Rav Avrohom Yishayah Karelitz zt”l (1878-1953), author of the Chazon Ish (Vol. IV p. 200), it is brought down that he was very much against naming a child after two people. He held that a concatenation of two (or more names) is, in effect, a new name. It thus has no benefit for the child, nor is it a fulfillment of Kivud Av v’Aim when the name of the one individual is not given. He stated that the sheaf of Kedusha – the overflow of holiness that one receives when naming after a Tzaddik only come when the exact same name is used.


Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Teshuvos v’Hanhagos Vol. I #608) Shlita cites the Chazon Ish not to name a child with two names. This is also the view commonly attributed to Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky shlita. Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul zt”l held that one should not name two names because of an entirely different reason: There is a chance that one of the names will end up not being used and the child will incur damage on account of this.


The Chazon Ish was not the first to express this idea of avoiding two names.

The great acharon, Rav Yechezkel Landau (1713-1793), writes (Noda BiYehudah MT OC 113) that nowhere in the Talmud do we find any Tanna or Amorah that was called by two names. Therefore, he concludes, that there is no point in giving someone two names. The same conclusion is made by Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762-1839) in his responsa ( Shut Chasam Sofer EH #8).

It seems that the name Yonasan Aryeh found in Yevamos 122b must either be understood as a form of a last name (such as Yehudah Maccabi) where the latter name is a family title indicating great strength. Alternatively, it could be understood as, “Hashem has given a lion.” Similarly the name Bas Sheva would be understood as one name – i.e. the seventh daughter.

Professor Conley also named his daughter “E” – the shortest name in the New York City archives. We do find, lehavdil a Tanna in Pirkei Avos that seems to have been named after a letter – in fact, twice. In Pirkei Avos, Ben Hay Hay tells us “Lefum Tzaara Agra – according to the level of difficulty involved in observing a Mitzvah is the reward.” Most people focus on his message, but let’s take a moment to focus on the Rabbi’s name.


Ben Hay Hay seems to be two names. The Torah Lishma (Responsa #402) cites this very notion as a proof that one may even name someone after a Hebrew letter.

There is a Tosfos in Chagigah 9b that states that Ben Hay Hay was actually a Ger Tzedek and that this name was given to him because it alludes to the fact that he is a descendant of Abraham and Sarah. Both Abraham and Sara received the extra letter Hay from Hashem. It could be that this would not be considered two names on account of the view of this Tosfos.


Rav Menashe Klein z”l (1924-2011) in his Mishna Halachos (Vol. V #215), on the other hand, is of the opinion that it is not only perfectly fine to have two names, but he disagrees with the contention that it was a rarity in previous times. He cites numerous examples in both TaNach as well as in Rishonim that people did have two names.

Rav Sraya Dublitsky z”l (1925-2018), a student of the Chazon Ish, is quoted in Korei Shmo (p. 149) as saying that the custom is not like the Chazon Ish and we do name people with two names.

There are even opinions that giving multiple names is beneficial for the child in that it brings more bracha from heaven (Sdei HaAretz YD Vol. III #22 as cited in Vayikrah shmo b’Yisroel p.80).

As an aside, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l in his Igros Moshe (OC Vol. V #10) uncharacteristically discusses the historical reasons for the development of two names.

It is important that if one does follow the minhag to name a child with two names that both names be used. The Sefer Ben Yehohada (Taanis 25b) writes that if one leaves out one of the names, the pouring out of blessing from the letters of his second name are prevented from reaching him. Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul zt”l even stated that leaving out the second half of the name can even cause the child damage, chalilah.

There are those who forbid a person to create a nickname based upon an abbreviation of two names. For example, if someone had the name Eliyahu Mordechai it would be improper to nickname him Elmo (aside from the issue of naming a child after a non-Jewish name, indeed, a Sesame Street character). Others disagree with this view. Indeed, Rav Chaim Kanievsky is cited in Kesser Shaim Tov (Vol. II #112) as permitting it.

The main thing, of course, whenever deciding upon a name is to maintain shalom – and not to cause an argument when things do not go the way one wants it to. Shalom is actually one of Hashem’s Holy Names and it is something that we daven for in every shmoneh esre and in every kaddish. May Hashem bless Klal Yisroel will peace.

So what has happened of late in the naming or renaming of girls?

There are a number of Torah observant Jews that, when visiting Eretz Yisroel, try to get an audience with the Gedolei Torah of Klal Yisroel. Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita is recognized as one of the Gedolei HaDor and receives visitors on a regular basis.

When people ask for a bracha for a Shidduch, however, they are sometimes in for a shock. Rav Kanievsky is of the opinion that the names “Shira” and “Rina” are actually not Jewish names at all. He advises that they should be changed immediately.

Thus, Rinas become Raizels or Rachels and Shiras become Saras or Shifras. And we are witnessing these changes by the dozens. The word “Shira” means joyous song and the word Rina also means a musical joy.

But did previous Gedolim agree with this assessment that these names are not names and should be changed? Is it really true that Shira is not a Jewish name? Is it not possible for a name to become Jewish simply because Jews start to use it?


Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l in Igros Moshe (OC IV #66) clearly learns that names can become Jewish names by virtue of their use among Jews. He cites as an example the name of Maimon, father of the Rambam as well as Vidal the author of the Maggid Mishna. Originally, these were decidedly not Jewish names. He discusses it further in Orech Chaim Vol. V 9:10.

In these responsa he explains that the initial people who named their children with non-Jewish names were in violation of this idea. However, gradually when more Jews began doing it, the names attained a Jewish flavor.

Perhaps one could counter that Rav Kanievsky’s view is that the problems with the names Shira and Rina are not that they are not Jewish names, but that they are not names at all. In order to address this possibility, it may be worthwhile to examine some of the names found in the Mishna and Gemorah.

We find in Pirkei Avos that Ben Hay Hay tells us “Lefum Tzaara Agra – according to the level of difficulty involved in observing a Mitzvah is the reward.” Most people focus on his message, but let’s take a moment to focus on the Rabbi’s name.

What kind of name is Ben Hay Hay? The Torah Lishma (Responsa #402) cites this very notion as a proof that one may even name someone after a Hebrew letter. If this is the case, then it would seem plausible that one can also name after a full Hebrew word as well – not just a Hebrew letter. This is especially true when we have so many people doing it – there are thousands of Shiras and Rinas.

There are also quite a few Gilas and Ditzas too, but it is not known whether Rav Chaim has expressed an animadversion to these names.

There is a Tosfos in Chagigah 9b that states that Ben Hay Hay was actually a Ger Tzedek and that this name was given to him because it alludes to the fact that he is a descendant of Abraham and Sarah.
Both Abraham and Sara received the extra letter Hay from Hashem. But this does not negate the idea that one may name after non-names. The Tosfos merely provide a reason why it was done, but no one is questioning whether it may be done or not.

There may be another issue here as well. More often than not, when a child is named it is because the father and mother both agreed upon that particular name. According to some Gedolei Torah consulted, to opt not to use the name which the parents had originated and decided upon may possibly infringe or border upon issues of Kivud Av v’Aim – especially when there are halachic authorities that would have clearly permitted it.

There are also a number of Seforim that state that the name given a child by the parents constitutes the will and expression fo Shamayim (See Sefer HaGilgulim chapter 59).

It is this author’s understanding that most of the time, it is not the parents or the child who first pose the question. If, however, one had actually asked the question to Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l, then the principle of following the ruling of a Rav when one had posed the question comes into play.

Generally speaking, if someone poses a question to one Rav, he should not ask a different Rav for a ruling. In such circumstances, one should weigh all the elements together in consultation with one’s Rav or Posaik.

The author can be reached at [email protected] [If you actually read through until here, well, a yasher koach!]

3 Responses

  1. Rabbi Hoffman wrote in the above article that it is required that at the Bris of a mamzer his status as a mamzer be publicly announced the child is a mamzer. Whose responsibility is it to publicize this at the Bris? The Model, the Rov or the father?

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