No Fault Lines
“…His Father And Mother Were In Prison…’
The Torah (Exodus 12:48) states that one who has uncircumcised male children may not offer a paschal sacrifice (or have it offered on his behalf) even if he himself is circumcised. [The baraitha cited on 71a derives from this verse that having uncircumcised children also prevents one from eating the paschal sacrifice.]
Rava says that if the parents of an uncircumcised child were in prison on Erev Pesach, making it impossible for them to circumcise their child, this halacha does not apply to them. Even though their child is not circumcised, they are permitted to have the korban Pesach slaughtered on their behalf. [If the father is released from prison in sufficient time before Pesach and neglects to circumcise his child, he will be forbidden from partaking of the paschal sacrifice that was offered on his behalf.]
An Arel Nevertheless?
In the Mishna above (70a, see Rashi ad loc.) we learned that if one is prevented from undergoing milah (circumcision) because of oness (matters beyond his control), he is nevertheless called an arel and is forbidden to eat terumah and partake of the paschal sacrifice. Accordingly, a child who could not be circumcised because his parents were in prison is nevertheless considered an arel. Why, then, does Rava allow the parents of this arel to offer the paschal sacrifice?
In answer to the question, Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman (Kovetz Shiurim Vol. 1, Beitza 20b, os 54) draws a distinction between the law of milas atzmo – the obligation for the person partaking of the paschal sacrifice to be circumcised – and the law of milas zecharav – the obligation to circumcise one’s male children prior to partaking of the paschal sacrifice. The state of being uncircumcised can be compared to the state of being ritually impure (tamei). Just as a ritually impure person is unfit to eat of the paschal sacrifice even if the tum’ah is not his fault, so too, is an arel unfit even if he is not at fault for being uncircumcised.
A Matter Of Precedence
On the other hand, the Torah required to circumcise one’s children prior to partaking of the paschal sacrifice not because an uncircumcised child renders his father unfit for the korban, but because the mitzvah of circumcising one’s sons must take precedence over the mitzvah of korban Pesach. The Torah teaches that prior to performing the mitzvah of the paschal sacrifice, one must perform the mitzvah of circumcising one’s children. However, when it is not possible for one to perform that circumcision, Rava allows him to proceed with his paschal sacrifice since he is unavoidably prevented from giving precedence to the mitzvah of milas zecharav – circumcising his male children.