Latest update: January 15th, 2015
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“Now,” the Divrei Malkiel continues, “since the sandak in actuality accomplishes two mitzvot – the act of sandika’ot and the act of securing the infant’s feet and holding them in place, significantly assisting the mohel in the physical part of the mitzvah – he is [of greater importance than] the mohel and the father, as they each perform only one mitzvah.
“Indeed, we see the same in Tosafot in Berachot (19b, s.v. “amarta lo yitamei”), as they write that one who is imbued with two kedushot [referring here to a nazir and kohen gadol] is greater than one who possesses only one kedushah. Therefore, it actually would be proper procedure for the father to serve as sandak because in all truth he is the one upon whom the mitzvah of milah is incumbent. In fact, there are poskim who [go so far as to] write that it is prohibited for a father to appoint a shaliach [i.e., a mohel] to perform the milah when he himself is able to do so [see Ketzot Hachoshen, siman 382].
“Now in light of what we have explained – that sandika’ot is a physical part of the act of the milah – even though the father can’t perform the actual act of milah, nevertheless, he is required to serve as sandak and do everything possible as relates to the actual act of milah.”
The Divrei Malkiel further strengthens the argument: “It is precisely because of this that in the event the father is unavailable [to attend the brit], the custom is that the sandak recites the [main] blessing ‘l’hachniso b’vrito shel Avraham Avinu – to enter him into the covenant of our patriarch Abraham,’ because he is then doing the majority of the mitzvah [between the sandika’ot and collaborating in the milah]. And just as the father [ordinarily] gives over the infant to be circumcised, similarly the sandak prepares the infant for the circumcision. This is the reason that the sandak is referred to as ba’al brit – because he prepares the child for the brit just like the father.”
The Divrei Malkiel, who was also a mohel, presents his own personal conduct in these matters. Interestingly, his minhag is somewhat at variance with the one stated above. “My own personal minhag when I serve as mohel is that in the event the father is unavailable, I recite the blessing and not the sandak, since in such a circumstance the actual responsibility to circumcise the child lies with the beit din.”
The Divrei Malkiel also addresses the significance of the sandak. He notes that the Talmud and poskim (Rema, Y.D. 264) explicitly state that it is prohibited to have a non-Jew perform the milah. As such, it follows that if a non-Jew were honored with sandika’ot, it would be a defective sandika’ot and any blessing that was recited would be a berachah l’vatalah. In fact, the Rema (ibid.) goes so far as to say that in such a case there would be need to draw some blood again at a later point – hatafat dam brit. The reasoning is simple; the non-Jew was not commanded to perform the mitzvah of milah, and one who is not commanded obviously has no part in the performance of such a mitzvah.
In any event, what we do see is that the father, when he is unable to personally circumcise his son – since it is clearly his obligation – should correctly perform the other functions he is able to do. If so, 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.
(To be continued)Rabbi Yaakov Klass
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 email@example.com.
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