On February 24 of this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. Over one third of the population of the Ukraine have been displaced, causing the greatest refugee crisis in Europe since the second world war. Many Jews have been displaced in the war as well.
A number of Jewish organizations have initiated rescue efforts for the refugee population. Many of the Jewish refugees have arrived in Israel due to the efforts of the rescue organizations. Some of the nearly eight million refugees have been so inspired by the rescue efforts of the religious organizations that they have become ba’alei teshuva.
Some, with great mesiras nefesh, have become so inspired that they have even undergone a bris milah.
But the question arises as to what the halacha is under these circumstances. Does an adult who receives a bris milah later in life recite Birkat haGomel?
A friend of this author, Rav Shimon HaKohain Brescher, a”h, had posed this question to Maran Rav Chaim zt”l. This shailah and similar ones to it appear in a sefer published posthumously by his children, entitled “Shamanu Kain Ra’inu” on page 355 of the work.
Debate Between Gedolei Haposkim
As noted in the footnotes to the sefer, apparently, this particular question was a debate between Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l and Rav Chaim Kanievsky, zt”l.
Rav Chaim ruled that an adult undergoing bris milah does not bentsch Gomel, while Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, ruled that he does (see Minchas Shlomo Tanina #60). It is interesting to note that a ger who undergoes milah does not bentch Gomel according to all opinions. How so? Because even according to Rav Shlomo Zalman, zt”l, when he underwent it, he was not yet obligated in mitzvos.
Reb Shimon had also asked Rav Chaim zt”l if someone had been diagnosed with cancer r”l but was told by doctors that it appears that it is no longer present and will not return, is this enough to bentch Gomel on? Rav Chaim answered that such a person should recite Gomel.
He further asked about cancers that vary in severity and the likelihood of the disease returning is calculated by the doctors as approximately five percent, does one still recite it? Rav Chaim answered that it should be said without the name of God and without mentioning kingship (shaim and malchus).
Reb Shimon further asked when it could be recited with full shaim u’Malchus and he answered that when (he is told) it is a certain recovery.
There are, however, a few other questions that come up. Is the blessing of l’hachniso b’briso shel Avraham Avinu still recited at an adult’s bris milah? If so, who is to recite the bracha?
The question was posed to Rav Ovadiah Yoseph (M’Ain Omer Vol. IV #36) who answered that it is the person undergoing the bris milah who recites the blessing.
The grammar, however, is awkward. The word “l’hachniso” means to enter him into the covenant of Abraham. If he is reciting the blessing, then should he change the wording to “lehikanes,” to enter?
Rav Ovadiah, zt”l answered that the wording should not be changed.
This author posed the question to Rav Shmuel Fuerst, shlita, from Chicago who agreed that the wording should, in fact, be changed as the grammar is inaccurate otherwise.
Before Tisha B’Av or Yom Kippur
What if the bris would be done on the day before Tisha B’Av or Yom Kippur and it would prevent the adult from fasting? This question was posed to Rav Elyashiv, zt”l, who ruled that the bris should not be delayed on this account (see Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein’s Shabbos Shabbaton, p. 45).
What About Assigning a Kisei Shel Eliyahu?
Rav Shmuel Vosner, zt”l, the author of the Shaivet HaLaivi (Vol. VIII Siman 219:1) writes that it should even be done at the bris milah of an adult, based upon the source of this custom found in the Pirkei D’Rebbe Elazar, chapter twenty-nine, that Hashem had promised Eliyahu HaNavi that he would come to every bris milah. As far as a sandek goes, it is obviously impossible to hold an adult, but Rav Vosner zt”l, in the same responsum, explains that one of the essential aspects of a sandek is to reassure the child. This can be done by holding onto the hand of the person undergoing the bris milah and reassuring him. This fulfills the role of the sandek as well. It would have been interesting to have asked Rav Vosner if someone playing this role of a sandek to an adult would be allowed to take a haircut during either the three weeks or during Sefirah. The general tenor of the responsum indicates that Rav Vosner might have allowed it.
Although this article discusses some technical aspects of a rare type of bris milah, we would be remiss if this article did not make mention of two critical points. Firstly, those that gave of themselves to move from their comfortable homes to go and help the refugees are true heroes and remarkable people. Secondly, these people who have undergone such a bris milah are themselves paragons of mesiras nefesh, and the Gemara in Brachos (34b) of “b’makom sheba’alei teshuvah omdin ain tzaddikim gmurim yecholin la’amod ” (in the place that ba’alei teshuvah stand, even the most saintly cannot comparatively stand) applies quite aptly.
The author can be reached at [email protected]