“The Gemara asks: What is the son doing there [in the public domain]? The Gemara answers that it refers to an instance where a mother gave birth in the field. In such a scenario, they bring the infant in [to the house] by passing him from one person to another – even if there are 100 [people standing in line to transfer the child] and doing so entails great discomfort for the infant. They do so because there is no other option due to Shabbat.”
(An obvious difficulty: A newborn’s fragile condition grants it the halachic status of a choleh – a sick person – and violating the Sabbath should be permissible. Indeed, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Yellin of Lisk, in his Novella Yefei Einayim to Eruvin 97b, states that this precisely what the mishnah teaches us here. Although carrying even less than four amos is usually prohibited, it is permitted in this case due to the unusual circumstances.)
The Aruch Hashulchan concludes: “Since it causes great discomfort for the infant, why do they [hand him from person to person at the brit]? Yet,” he writes, “it is very difficult to abolish a minhag whereby each [participant] wishes to gain merit through holding the object of the mitzvah [the infant].”
Now, two things are striking about this Aruch Hashulchan. First, if the kvater is compared to the koter who offers ketoret, then how come there is no rule against someone serving as a kvater twice (like the rule about someone serving as sandak twice)? If the infant is passed through so many hands on the way to the sandak, surely people will wind up serving as a kvater more than once, even for sons of the same family.
The second striking thing is the Aruch Hashulchan’s apparent distaste of this minhag of passing the baby from one person to another – multiple kvaterim, or what the chassidim refer to as chaikas. We actually don’t generally see this custom in the non-chassidic world.
Interestingly, the Rav of Navhardok cites the Gemara in Eruvin (97b to the mishnah, 95b) as the source for this practice. And even though the city of Navhardok was a “Litvisher shtut,” this practice was the minhag. The Rav of Navhardok actually wished to abolish the custom but did not do so. Thus, in effect, he actually codified it as halachah.
Though I am a litvak by way of my father’s family (e.g. Slutzk and Minsk), from my mother’s side we descend from “groiser Rebbes” such as Reb Meilech, the Koznitzer Magid, and Reb Mordche Dovid Unger, the Dombrover Rebbe. I’ve always tried to reconcile chassidic practice to halachah. In this matter of the chaikas, you have resolved it for me by pointing out this Aruch Hashulchan who reconciles himself to the custom because of the desire of so many to derive the merit that comes along with serving as a kvater.
(To be continued)