July 20, 2024
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Sephardic Delayed Brit Milah

Introduction: A Surprising Delayed Brit

Everyone at Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, was ecstatic. A first child was born to one of our young couples, a beautiful little boy. We all eagerly awaited the brit.

The boy, however, suffered from jaundice, and the mohel decided that the brit could not take place on the eighth day. Moreover, the mohel determined that a seven-day wait was necessary after the boy had recovered from his jaundice. Finally, the seven-day wait was over on a Thursday and the kehillah expected the brit to take place that day. However, Sephardic practice calls for a brit in such circumstances to be delayed to Sunday, and everyone wondered why.

Talmudic Background: Shabbat 19a

The Gemara (Shabbat 19a) prohibits embarking on a boat that will travel through Shabbat if the trip begins within three days of Shabbat. However, the Gemara limits this restriction to trips taken for one’s own needs (dvar hareshut), whereas one may set out for the sake of a mitzvah even in the latter half of a week. The Shulchan Aruch codifies the Gemara’s rulings (Orach Chaim 248:1).

Belated Circumcisions

When a brit milah (circumcision) takes place later than the eighth day of a boy’s life, the Tashbetz (1:21) forbids performing it on a Thursday. He notes that on the third day after a brit (including the day of the brit), the baby is presumed to be in tremendous pain (see Bereishit 34:25 and Rashbam ad loc.). Thus, a baby who underwent a brit milah on Thursday may require medical treatment that will entail transgressing Shabbat (see Shabbat 86a). The Tashbetz is cited as normative by Rav Yosef Karo in the Bedek HaBayit portion of his commentary to the Tur (Yoreh De’ah 262 and 266) and the Taz (Yoreh De’ah 262:3). Significantly, Rav Yosef Karo does not cite the Tashbetz in the Shulchan Aruch.

According to the Taz, this problem exists when circumcising on Friday, too, as the baby suffers pain every day through the third day. The Shach (Yoreh De’ah 266:18) notes that some Rishonim do indeed assume that the baby suffers through the third day, but the Tashbetz explicitly permits circumcising on Friday even when it is not the eighth day.

The Shach himself rejects even the Tashbetz’s position. He asserts that circumcising constitutes a mitzvah, so one may perform it even when it will later require violating Shabbat to save a life, just as one may embark on a trip for the sake of a mitzvah even during the latter half of the week. The Chacham Tzvi (Teshuvot Nosafot 14) and Mishnah Berurah (331:33) rule in accordance with the Shach.

In defense of the Tashbetz, both the Chida (Birke Yosef Orach Chaim 248) and Chatam Sofer (commentary to Shabbat 137a) argue that the Gemara permits embarking on a trip on a Thursday or Friday only when the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah will not be available the following week. However, in a case of brit milah it should be delayed until Sunday since the mitzvah can be fulfilled on Sunday just as well as Thursday or Friday.

Current Practice: Sephardim and Ashkenazim

Common practice among Ashkenazic Jews is to circumcise on Thursday and Friday under all circumstances, as noted by the Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh De’ah 262:12). The Aruch HaShulchan cites the absence of support for the Tashbetz in other Rishonim as evidence for the Shach’s criticism of Tashbetz.

Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer, Yoreh De’ah 5:23) rules that Sephardic Jews should not perform a belated circumcision on Thursday or Friday unless their community has a custom to do so. Chacham Ovadia writes that we should follow the Tashbetz since it is cited as authoritative by Maran—Rav Yosef Karo—in the Bedek HaBayit, even though it is not presented in the Shulchan Aruch. He cites the custom to follow the Tashbetz ruling from a wide range of Sephardic communities such as Salonika, Turkey, Egypt, Aleppo and Iraq. Moreover, major Sephardic icons such as Maran HaChida (Birke Yosef Yoreh De’ah 262:2), Rav Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (Teshuvot Rav Pe’alim 4: Yoreh De’ah 28) and Kaf HaChaim (Orach Chaim 331:31) rule in accordance with the Tashbetz.

Rav Shmuel Khoshkerman reports that the accepted custom of all Sephardic Jews has emerged to prohibit belated circumcisions on Thursday and Friday. Rav Mordechai Lebhar (Magen Avot Yoreh De’ah p.161) confirms that this is the practice of Moroccan Jews.

Chacham Ovadia (following the Kaf HaChaim), though, limits his ruling to performing a milah two days before Shabbat. He writes that this ruling does not apply to Yom Tov, which is not as strict as Shabbat. In addition, he does not believe that it is necessary to postpone to Sunday a brit for a boy born on Wednesday evening during bein hashmashot (the time between sunset and nightfall, which is considered both night and day; the brit is delayed until Thursday is such cases).

Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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