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Q & A: The Sandak (Part VI)


Our original question, however, concerns a person serving as sandak for his own child, so the grandfather’s objection cannot be based on such a consideration and is not applicable.

* * * * *

I have to admit that I have been at many brit milah and I don’t recall a father ever serving as sandak for his own son. Let us see how the Shulchan Aruch sets forth the order of the brit milah ceremony.

The Mechaber (Yoreh De’ah 265:1) states: “The mohel should recite the blessing ‘asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al ha’milah – who has sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us regarding the milah.’ The father of the child, between the time that the foreskin is cut and the priyah (the revealing of the corona), should recite ‘asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hachniso b’vriso shel Avraham Avinu – who has sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us to bring [the child] into the covenant of our patriarch Abraham.’ ”

The Rema (in his glosses, ibid) adds: “If the father of the child is not present at the brit, there is one (Rambam in Hilchot Milah) who says that another person should recite this blessing since [in the absence of the father] beit din is obligated to circumcise the child. And the custom in such a circumstance is that the one entrusted with holding the child [i.e., the sandak] recites this blessing. Similarly, if the father does not know how to recite the blessing, the [sandak] should recite the blessing even if the father is present.”

The father and the mohel are required to stand while they recite the blessing. However, if the sandak recites the blessing, then the custom is for him to sit. Custom also dictates that all present during the brit should stand. We derive this from the verse (II Kings 23:3) “vaya’amod kol ha’om ba’brit – and all the people stood at the brit.” (The brit referred to in this verse is the covenant that Josiah, king of Judah, reestablished between the people and God when he removed and destroyed all the idols from the Temple.)

A second reason for the father to stand at the brit is cited by the Mechaber (infra, Y.D. 265:9): in order to make known to the mohel that it is the father’s wish to appoint him as his agent to perform the mitzvah.

Now we seem to be faced with a contradiction. On the one hand, all present at the brit are required to stand (the father, mohel, and all others), and yet the sandak sits – even if he is the one reciting the blessing. There is no real contradiction, however, for two reasons: first, the verse is only an asmachta brought as a support for the practice, as the passage in Kings II is not discussing brit milah but another covenant with God. Second, the sandak, when reciting the blessing, is doing so at the instruction of another, whether it is the father or beit din. Thus, in either case, the sandak need not stand next to the mohel. We can add a third reason, which is probably the intent of the Rema, supra, 265:1. That reason is that, in actuality, there is no absolute requirement for the one reciting the blessing to stand, whether it is the sandak or the father himself.

In truth, even though the Mechaber and the Rema seem to take it as a given that the father does not perform the milah but rather appoints another (the mohel) to do the mitzvah on his behalf, what we see in the mishnah (Kiddushin 29a) is something different. It states: “All mitzvot of the son upon the father: men are bound by but women are exempt. All mitzvot of the father upon the son: both men and women are bound by.” The Gemara seeks to clarify: Surely it can’t be that only a son is duty bound in the mitzvah of kibbud av va’em but a daughter is exempt. The Gemara therefore explains that “what is meant is that regarding mitzvot incumbent upon the father to do for his son, men are bound by but women are exempt.”

The Gemara then lists the responsibilities of the father that are implied in our mishnah: “The father is obligated to circumcise his son, to redeem his [first born] son [from the kohenpidyon haben], to teach him Torah, find him a wife, teach him a trade [that would lead to gainful employment], and some even say to teach him how to swim. R. Yehudah adds: One who fails to teach his son a trade teaches him thievery.”

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 yklass@jewishpress.com.

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