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Q & A: The Sandak (Part VI)

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

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.

M. Renkin
(Via E-Mail)

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.

The Shach (Yoreh Deah ad loc. sk 22) clarifies that the Rema does not mean that a person may not serve as sandak more than once. Rather, he should not serve as sandak for more than one boy per family.

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.

We quoted Rabbi Ari Enkin’s discussion of sandika’ot in his new sefer, Shu’t HaShulchani. He writes that serving as a sandak enriches one with material wealth, as well as long life full of spiritual wealth. 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. In some communities, the local rabbi is designated as the exclusive sandak for all children.

Rabbi Enkin concludes his discussion by pointing out that the custom of restricting someone from serving as sandak more than once is not found in the Talmud, and therefore is not truly binding.

We then returned to the original question about the dispute over who would serve as sandak. Proverbs (3:17) states, “Deracheha darkei noam vechol netivoteha shalom – Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.” 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.

Last week we cited a case discussed by Rabbi Moshe Stern, the Debreciner Rav, zt”l (Responsa Ba’er Moshe vol. 1, 60:9), 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.

Q & A: The Sandak (Part V)

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

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.

M. Renkin
(Via E-Mail)

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.

The Shach (Yoreh Deah ad loc. sk 22) clarifies that the Rema does not mean that a person may not serve as sandak more than once. Rather, he should not serve as sandak for more than one boy per family.

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.

We quoted Rabbi Ari Enkin’s discussion of sandika’ot in his new sefer, Shu’t HaShulchani. He writes that serving as a sandak enriches one with material wealth, as well as long life full of spiritual wealth. 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. In some communities, the local rabbi is designated as the exclusive sandak for all children.

Rabbi Enkin concludes his discussion by pointing out that the custom of restricting someone from serving as sandak more than once is not found in the Talmud, and therefore is not truly binding.

Last week, we returned to the original question about the dispute over who would serve as sandak. Proverbs (3:17) states, “Deracheha darkei noam vechol netivoteha shalom – Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.” 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, discusses a similar situation where the mitzvah of kibbud av v’em and the mitzvah of sandika’ot came into conflict (Responsa Ba’er Moshe vol. 1; 60:9). The case concerned an individual who was ready to accept an offer to serve as sandak, but his father protested in the strongest terms that he did not want him to. Rabbi Stern was asked if the son must listen to his father.

In his response, Rabbi Stern cites the Knesset Yechezkel (Responsum 35), who was asked the same question. The Knesset Yechezkel answered that the son need not listen to his father and cited Kidushin 32a as his source. In that Gemara, Elezar b. Masya states: “If my father requests, ‘Get me a drink’ and there is another [passing] mitzvah to be done, I will put aside my father’s honor and perform that other mitzvah because both my father and I are obligated in that mitzvah.” Isi b. Yehuda says, “If the [passing] mitzvah can be done by others, then let them do it and I will do my father’s honor.”

The Sandak (Part IV)

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

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.

M. Renkin
(Via E-Mail)

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.

The Shach (Yoreh Deah ad loc. sk 22) clarifies that the Rema does not mean that a person may not serve as sandak more than once. Rather, he should not serve as sandak for more than one boy per family.

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.

We quoted Rabbi Ari Enkin’s discussion of sandika’ot in his new sefer, Shu’t HaShulchani. He writes that serving as a sandak enriches one with material wealth, as well as long life full of spiritual wealth. 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. In some communities, the local rabbi is designated as the exclusive sandak for all children.

Rabbi Enkin concludes his discussion by pointing out that the custom of restricting someone from serving as sandak more than once is not found in the Talmud, and therefore is not truly binding.

* * * * *

Let’s address your original question regarding a dispute between a father and grandfather over who should serve as sandak.

The Gemara (Sukkah 32a), in seeking to determine if we may use something other than the traditional palm for a lulav, discusses the possibility of using flowered palms. Abaye rejects this idea because flowered palms are prickly to the touch and Proverbs 3:17 states, “Deracheha darchei noam vechol netivoteha shalom – Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.” The Metzudas David explains: “In no way or manner is it possible for a mishap to come from one’s observance of Torah dictates.”

This rule applies to all mitzvot. Performing a mitzvah is supposed to bring both pleasantness and peace. If there is strife involved, then the entire act is marred. For example, one who steals a lulav cannot properly fulfill the mitzvah since a mitzvah that is performed through a sinful act is tainted (Sukkah 29b).

The same is true of sandika’ot. The brit milah itself is of course valid no matter how bitterly a father and grandfather may fight over who should serve as sandak. But the sandika’ot – which the Rema (Yoreh De’ah 265:11) refers to as a mitzvah that one should actively pursue – will not have been properly fulfilled because of the strife; pleasantness and peace did not surround it.

The grandfather in your scenario acted wrongly because the right to bestow any honor associated with the brit milah belongs to the father, as the Mechaber (Yoreh De’ah 260:1) notes. Thus, neither the grandfather nor anyone else may “grab” this honor if the father wishes otherwise.

What about the mitzvah of kibud av, of honoring one’s father? Naturally, all sons have this obligation, but the Mechaber (Y.D. 240:19) is emphatic that parents are prohibited from weighing down heavily on their children and being exacting on the honor due them so that they not create a stumbling block for their children (i.e., tempting them to disobey by making excessive demands).

Q & A: The Sandak (Part III)

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

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.

M. Renkin
(Via E-Mail)

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.

* * * * *

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)

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter Nineteen: A Trail of Tomatoes

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

The indefatigable woodchopper, Goliath, provided the posts and slats for the fence which the settlers began erecting around the kibbutz. Ben Zion adamantly opposed the idea, claiming a fence would turn the settlement into a ghetto and curtail any further expansion.

“If the fence is intended to keep our enemies out, I have a better way,” Ben Zion declared, holding up his rifle. “And if the fence is intended to keep us inside its borders, we left the ghettos of Europe and Russia behind us. Fences are for frightened people. If we want to build a proud and brave nation, we have to start acting like one.”

While even the philosopher, Gordon, said that Ben Zion was right, Perchik insisted on honoring the agreement, arguing that they could purchase additional land when their economic situation improved. To keep Shoshana’s end of the bargain, he arranged for a loan from the older, more established Degania kibbutz on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Several days later, the goodwill money was paid to the Arabs.

As it turned out, peace was achieved on another front as well. Miraculously, Tevye did not have to go to war with Bat Sheva. She apologized on her own. She confessed that she loved Ben Zion, but she was not going to run after him like a chicken without a head. Until he was ready to marry her, she did not want to see him again.

“Hodel is right,” she said. “Ben Zion is so in love with himself, he doesn’t have room in his heart for anyone else.”

So that’s what caused the turnaround, Tevye thought. Thank the good Lord. Bat Sheva had been speaking with her sister. That was a smart thing to do. As King Solomon said, “Wisdom comes from increased advice.” The girl had some intelligence and sechel after all. What a pity that Hodel herself had not confided in someone before running off with her own egotistical shpritzer.

“He will never have any respect for me if I don’t first have respect for myself,” Bat Sheva said.

Tevye was pleased to hear his little girl speak with such common sense. If he had uttered the very same words, Bat Sheva would have protested and bolted angrily from the house. In retrospect, Tevye realized that he should have been more patient with his other daughters. With a little more tolerance and trust on his part, they might have been less rebellious.

It seemed that any day now Hodel would have to give birth. Her belly was so swollen, when she walked, she waddled back and forth like a duck. If she sat down in a chair, she needed help getting up. With a feeling of great expectation, Tevye drove his wagon out to the fields for another morning’s work. Who could tell? Perhaps his Hodel would give birth to a boy. A year ago in Anatevka, who would have dreamed of celebrating a brit milah in the very Land where the covenant of circumcision between God and the Jewish people had been forged?

The day’s chore was to harvest the tomatoes which had been planted in a rocky field at an edge of the settlement. Because there was no private ownership on the kibbutz, Tevye’s wagon had been appropriated to serve the needs of the community. He had reluctantly agreed, with the stipulation that he be the only driver. And he made it clear to the appropriations committee that if he were to leave the kibbutz, the wagon would depart with him.

As usual, the kibbutzniks riding in his wagon sang happy songs about Zion and about the glory of working the Land. Spirits were especially high in expectation of the harvest ahead. What greater joy for a farmer than gathering the fruits of his labor? Imagine everyone’s shock upon reaching the field of tomatoes and finding every vine bare! The tomatoes had already been picked! Not a vegetable remained on a stalk. The shattered fence and fresh wagon tracks leading north toward the Arab camp were clues any blind man could read. During the night, while the Jews of Shoshana were sleeping, the Arabs had come and harvested the entire crop.

Q & A: The Sandak (Part II)

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

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.

M. Renkin
(Via E-Mail)

Answer: Last week we examined the source of the word “sandak” as well as the sandak’s role at the brit.

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.

* * * * *

I am very fortunate to have recently received the newly published sefer, Shut HaShulchani, a collection of very relevant halachic responsa in English authored by my esteemed chaver, Rabbi Ari Enkin of Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. (The sefer is available directly from the author. Contact Rabbi Enkin at rabbiari@hotmail.com or call 011-972-52-579-1773.)

Rabbi Enkin discusses the matter of the sandak in great detail. He writes as follows (pg. 154-156):

“The sandak is the individual honored with holding the baby during the brit milah ceremony and it is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon at a brit. Although sandak is often translated as godfather, it likely comes from the Greek word suntekos, which means companion. The sandak is seated during the brit ceremony and holds the baby on his lap while the mohel performs the circumcision It is taught that when the sandak holds the baby on his lap, thereby including his knees and thighs in the performance of the mitzvah, he embodies the verse (Biur Hagra, Yoreh De’ah 265:44) ‘All my bones shall say, Who is like You, G-d?’ ”

Rabbi Enkin discusses the custom not to honor the same individual as sandak more than once within the same family. He agrees with the sources that compare the sandak to the kohen offering incense in the Beit Hamikdash and explains: “A kohen was only given the opportunity to perform this mitzvah once in his lifetime. This is because whoever offered the incense would become wealthy. Therefore, in order to offer as many kohanim as possible the opportunity of becoming wealthy, it was decided to appoint a different kohen to perform the incense offering every day.”

Likewise, the sandak, who represents the kohen offering the incense, will become wealthy. In addition, Rabbi Enkin continues, it is “a segulah for a long and good life. Therefore, we offer the opportunity of serving as sandak to as many different people as possible.”

Rabbi Enkin explains that once a certain individual is invited to serve as sandak, the baby’s parents should not renege and give the honor to another person. However, if the original offer was made before the child was born, and once the child is born the parents decide to honor a different person instead, it is permitted to do so.

There are a number of authorities who disagree with the restriction against appointing the same sandak twice. Rabbi Enkin discusses their reasoning as follows:

Q & A: The Sandak (Part I)

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

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.

M. Renkin
(Via E-Mail)

Answer: The source of the word “sandak” is important to our discussion, as is an examination of what exactly the sandak’s role is at a brit. We find the following in the Midrash (Tehillim pg. 723): “With the tender [young infants] I do sandikus at the time of milah and priyah.”

“Sandak” is clearly a Greek word, as are many words found in the Midrash. It means “companion of child” or “advocate.” Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Spira of Dinov explains that it is an acronym: “Sanegor na’aseh din kategor,” which means “The defense emerges victorious vis-à-vis the prosecutor.” This is explained in the Zohar (Parashat Pikudei pg. 255b): “At the time that a person is cut [circumcised], the sitra acher, the one on the other side [Satan], is broken and no longer empowered to cause any harm because the defense of Israel has been performed.”

In answer to your question, we find that the Rema (Yoreh De’ah 265:11) writes as follows: “It is customary for one to pursue this mitzvah to hold the infant at the time of circumcision. And the sandak is considered even greater than the mohel in that he is given the honor of being called up to the Torah even before the mohel. This is because every sandak is compared to a kohen who offers ketoret [Temple incense]. It is customary not to give sandika’ot to someone more than once, as we find in regards to offering ketoret.”

The Rema is referring to the mishnah (Yoma 26a) and Gemara (ad loc.) that relate that the ketoret was never offered by the same individual more than once since it enriched the one who offered it, and everyone wished to benefit from this blessing. The Temple used to conduct a lottery for kohanim who had never offered ketoret to ensure that everyone had an equal share in this avodah.

The Shach (Yoreh Deah, ad loc., sk 22) clarifies that the Rema does not mean that one may not serve as a sandak more than once. Rather, he means that a father should not give the honor of sandika’ot to the same person more than once.

The Rema notes the possibility of a woman serving as sandak and cautions against it, especially where a man is available. He explains that it is immodest for a woman to serve as sandak. Rather, he writes, the woman serves as the companion to her husband as she is given the honor of bringing the baby to the synagogue where she hands the infant to him. (This husband and wife are commonly referred to as the kvater and kvaterin, which mean, respectively, “in place of the father,” his messenger, and “in place of the mother,” her messenger.)

(To be continued)

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