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 one individual more than once.
The Shach (Yoreh Deah ad loc. sk 22) clarifies that Rema does not mean that one may not be a sandak more than once. Rather, if a person has served as sandak for a boy, he should not serve as sandak for any of his brothers in the future.
The Rema also talks about the honorary role of the kvaterin and kvater, the female and male messengers who bring the baby to the synagogue for the brit.
Last week we continued with Rabbi Ari Enkin’s discussion of this matter in his new sefer, Shu’t HaShulchani, which we now conclude.
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Rabbi Enkin continues his discussion of whether someone should serve as sandak twice (Shu’t HaShulchani 154-156):
“There is also a variation of this custom, seemingly of Turkish and Greek origin, in which one refrains from honoring the same person to serve as sandak twice in a single year – should another boy be born to the family within that time – but allows him to serve as sandak once again after a year has passed.
“There is also an opinion that the custom does not apply to relatives. According to this approach, one can invite a relative to serve as sandak more than once. This is especially true with regard to the baby’s father. Indeed, a father shouldn’t hesitate to be the sandak for all of his children should he so desire.
“Although the custom of restricting a sandak to once per family is widely observed, there are some exceptions to the rule. In some communities, the local rabbi is designated as the exclusive sandak and this includes serving as sandak for multiple children from the same family. It is explained that such an arrangement is not truly a deviation from the supposed custom, for the community rabbi can be compared to the Kohen Gadol, who was indeed permitted to perform the incense offering over and over. Similarly, very prominent, world-renowned rabbis are often repeatedly invited to serve as sandak for the same family.
“It is also noted that the custom to restrict someone form serving as a sandak twice likely originates from Rabbi Yehuda Hachassid, whose rulings are often understood as being optional in nature. So too, the custom of restricting someone from serving as sandak more than once is not found in the Talmud. As a general rule, though there are many exceptions, a restriction that doesn’t have its origins in the Talmud is not truly binding.
“Indeed, the conclusion of most halachic authorities is that one may indeed serve as a sandak more than once for the same family should one be invited to do so.
“There is also a view that it is the mohel, not the sandak, who is comparable to a kohen offering the incense in the Beit Hamikdash. Even according to this approach, however, there is no restriction on using the same mohel more than once.”
(To be continued)Rabbi Yaakov Klass