Latest update: January 15th, 2015
If the father is unable to personally circumcise his son, he should perform the other functions if possible. Thus, the sandika’ot or any other part of the mitzvah is entirely his to perform or, at his discretion, to offer to another individual as an honor.
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I have received many interesting e-mails regarding this topic, a few of which are quite relevant to this discussion. What follows is the first of these e-mails and my response:
Dear Rabbi Klass,
I always read your column’s halachic articles with great interest. I find them most informative. In your most recent article, you mention that the meaning of the term “kvater” is “like-father” (what, I assume, non-Jews term a “godfather”).
Since you did not mention it, it is interesting to note that the Aruch Hashulchan states in siman 265:35 (commenting on the Rema who writes that playing the part of sandak is like being maktir ketores) that the name kvater comes from the word ketores. The person bringing in the baby (the ketores) is called a “koter” with one vav, which got corrupted to two vavs: “kvater”!
An interesting tidbit: After discovering this Aruch Hashulchan, I mentioned it a few years ago at my grandson’s bris milah in Lakewood, NJ. Many chashuva rabbonim were at the bris. None of them had ever heard this Aruch Hashulchan. They all actually came up after to see it in the sefer for themselves!
Continued hatzlacha! Good Shabbos.
Rabbi Mayer Kurcfeld
STAR-K Certification, Inc.
Dear Rabbi Kurcfeld,
I am most humbled by your remarks. You are extremely keen in finding a “hidden” Aruch Hashulchan, which is plainly there for all to see. I suspect that everyone is so busy searching through the Mishnah Berurah that they forget that the Aruch Hashulchan wrote extensively on all four chelkei Shulchan Aruch.
Indeed, it is important that we turn to the Aruch Hashulchan at the beginning of the above-mentioned se’if (265:35), who cites the Rema’s statement: “It is not proper for a woman to serve as sandak due to modesty. Nevertheless, she helps her husband in the mitzvah – she brings the infant to the synagogue and then her husband takes the infant from her. [Thus] he becomes the sandak. However, the man may do it all without the woman [i.e., bring the infant to the synagogue].”
The Aruch Hashulchan comments: “But as for us, the custom is not like that. As far as the sandak is concerned, the woman does not assist him. Rather, this is a separate honor – when the infant is brought to the synagogue, women come with the infant and they stand at the doorway of the room where the brit will take place. A woman securely holds the infant on a cushion or pillow and then hands him over to her husband, or [even] a young unmarried man or an unmarried woman, and he/she carries the infant to the chair of Elijah. This one is referred to as kvater.”
He continues: “My understanding is that this term [kvater] is derived from ketoret, the frankincense offering, as the Talmud (Kerisot 6b) states: What is this term ketoret? It is a matter that is ‘koter’ and rises. Rashi (to the Gemara) explains that it rises like a stick. Therefore, the one who brings [the infant] closer to the place of milah [is referred to as kvater]. But what happened is that due to translation, the word koter – spelled with one vav – became interchanged with kvater – with two vavs.
“And know that our custom is that one takes the infant from the kvater and hands him to another, who then hands [the infant] to yet another, until the child is finally handed to the one honored with kisei shel Eliyahu, who places the infant on the chair. The father then steps forward and lifts up the child – or he may appoint another to do so – and hands him to the sandak.
“And I suspect that the source for the infant being handed from one to another is the Talmud Eruvin (97b), which refers back to the mishnah (95b), which states that when there is a need to transfer an infant in the public domain [on Shabbat], one hands him from one person to another, even 100 times [with each person remaining in his four cubits so that no Sabbath violation is incurred].
About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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