Question: I was at a brit where the father and grandfather of the boy argued over who should be sandak. The grandfather had served as sandak once before, but he persisted and, as they say, “might makes right.” I am curious as to your view on this matter.
Answer: The Midrash (Tehillim pg. 723) contains the term “sandikus,” a Greek word meaning “companion of child” or “advocate.” Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Spira of Dinov explains that sandak is an acronym of “sanegor na’aseh din kategor – the defense emerges victorious vis-à-vis the prosecutor,” referring to the brit’s function as a protection from Satan.
The Rema (Yoreh De’ah 265:11) writes that the sandak is given the first honor of being called up to the Torah, even before the mohel. The Rema explains that the sandak is compared to a kohen who offers incense in the Beit Hamikdash. All kohanim wished to benefit from the blessing of the incense, which enriched the one who offered it. Therefore, a lottery was established to assure that all had an equal opportunity to perform it. Similarly, it is customary not to give the role of sandak to someone more than once – at least not for two members of the same family.
In his new sefer, Shu’t HaShulchani, Rabbi Enkin cites several authorities who argue that a person may serve as sandak twice; he states that the custom not to do so certainly does not apply to relatives. In fact, a father shouldn’t hesitate to serve as sandak for all of his children should he so desire. Moreover, the practice not to serve as sandak more than once is not found in the Talmud and therefore is not truly binding.
Returning to the original question about the dispute over who would serve as sandak, we quoted. Proverbs 3:17: “Deracheha darkei noam vechol netivoteha shalom.” A mitzvah should bring about pleasantness and peace; if it doesn’t, it has not been fulfilled properly. Therefore, strife over the sandika’ot detracts from the full fulfillment of that mitzvah. The Rema (Yoreh De’ah 265:11) refers to sandika’ot as an actual mitzvah that one should actively pursue.
The Mechaber (supra, Yoreh De’ah 260:1) states that the right to bestow any honor or segment of the mitzvah of brit belongs to the father alone. Thus, a grandfather may not “grab” this honor for himself if it goes against the father’s wishes. Even the mitzvah of kibud av has limits, and a parent is prohibited from insisting on specific honors from his child.
Rabbi Moshe Stern, the Debreciner Rav, zt”l (Responsa Ba’er Moshe vol. 1, 60:9), discusses a case in which an individual accepted sandika’ot, only to be faced with his father’s strong opposition. Rabbi Stern cites the Knesset Yechezkel (Responsum 35) who rules that a son is not duty-bound to accede to his father’s demands in such a case. The Knesset Hagedolah writes in the name of the Ohr Zarua that if a father tells his son to disregard a mitzvah without offering an explanation, the son should not to listen to him. He cites Tosafot (Bava Metzia 32a sv “d’kavod”) as a source for this ruling.
Rabbi Stern explains that in case of sandika’ot, a father might object because, as the Mechaber states (Yoreh De’ah 257:7), in any situation that involves the assumption of financial responsibilities, a mishap can occur, perhaps leading to false accusations. Rabbi Stern suggests that a father might worry that by his son serving in the capacity of sandak he is taking on some sort of financial responsibility, such as when appointed a guardian for orphans.
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.
Last week we examined the Shulchan Aruch’s description of the brit milah ceremony, including the blessings recited by the mohel and father. The Rema adds that if the father is not present at the brit, the sandak recites his blessing instead of him. The father and the mohel are required to stand while they recite the blessing, as are all present at the brit. However, if the one holding the child recites the blessing, the custom is that he sit.