Circumcised At The Hand Of Heaven?
‘A Drop Of Blood Must Be Taken’
During the course of a bris milah, a child’s blood is drawn. The resultant wound forges a covenant of blood between the Jewish people and Hashem. Of this covenant, the pasuk states, “If not for My covenant by day and night, I would not have made the heavens and the earth” (Yirmiyahu 33:25; see Shabbos 137b). Our sugya discusses at length whether a bris milah must be performed for a child who is born circumcised. The Gemara concludes that although there is no orlah to remove, it is still necessary to forge the bris milah covenant by extracting a drop of blood.
The Rishonim discuss at length whether one must perform a bris on a child who was improperly circumcised – for example, he was circumcised at night or before the eighth day. Must we draw blood from such a child just like we do for a child born without an orlah?
The Beis Yosef (Y.D. 262:1) presents what appears to be a debate among the poskim. The Hagahos Maimoniyos rules that if the circumcision was performed at night, the child must undergo a second bris. The Rosh, however, rules that if the circumcision was performed before the eighth day, the child need not undergo a second bris. Since there seems to be no reason to distinguish between a child who was circumcised at night and one circumcised before the eighth day, the Beis Yosef concludes that the Hagahos Maimones disagrees with the Rosh.
Orlah Before Eight Days?
The Rema (Darkei Moshe, ibid), however, suggests that a distinction may be drawn between the two cases. He does not explain what the distinction would be, though.
The Acharonim offer a number of suggestions. The Eimek Yehoshua, for example, cites the Yerushalmi (also cited by Tosefos, Yevamos 70a) to the effect that the orlah only halachically exists from the eighth day onward. If a child is circumcised before the eighth day, he is halachically considered as if he was born without an orlah when the eighth day arrives. As such, he need not have another bris since he does not have – nor did he ever halachically have – an orlah to remove. This is the case of the Rosh.
(This is not similar to the Gemara’s case of a child born without an orlah who must have a bris. The reason is because, as the Gemara explains, we suspect that a child born without an orlah actually may have some amount of orlah hidden beneath the skin).
The Physician In The Mix
The case of the Hagahos Maimones is different. His case concerns a child whose bris was performed at night (after the eighth day). In other words, the obligation to circumcise him existed. And since the bris was performed at the wrong time, that obligation still exists. That’s why drawing blood from the child is necessary.
This case is very relevant in modern times when some Jewish children from unobservant homes are circumcised by doctors in a manner that does not fulfill halachic requirements. However, if the doctors believe they must perform the circumcision before the eighth day for medical reasons, then this becomes unimportant. It can even be done by a non-Jew or at night. (See Chazon Yechezkel 15:7 citing the Beis Halevi; Encyclopedia Talmudis, volume IX, page 35, and Beis Halevi 2:47).
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. RABBI GERSHON TANNENBAUM, rav of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, Boro Park, Brooklyn, is the Director of Igud HaRabbanim – The Rabbinical Alliance of America.
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