By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
This article is dedicated in honor of the Bris Milah of the author’s grandson, Simcha Daniel Hoffman
Warning: The article found below is not for the faint of heart. Indeed, the author himself needed to recover twice while writing it.
“You did WHAT??”
“I didn’t want to tell you because I didn’t want to get you nervous. And besides, it is my Mitzvah..”
“It’s your Mitzvah if you are a Mohel! But you aren’t a Mohel! I can’t believe that you would..”
The above conversation, in one form or another, has taken place thousands of times in recent years. More and more fathers are having the Mohel just set up the Bris Milah for them so that they themselves can perform what they believe is the halachically preferable thing to do. They believe that it is halachically preferable to do the cut on the baby themselves, based upon the Gemorah in Kiddushin (41a) that it is better to perform the Mitzvah oneself than through a messenger. In this article, we will examine how it is possible for untrained people to perform the cut and if it is, indeed, halachically preferable.
The idea of a father who is not a Mohel being able to actually perform the cut was made possible because of a device called the Mogain or shield. The Mogain was introduced in Europe in the 1700’s in order to protect against accidental excess cutting. The Pri Magadim in his commentary on the Mogain Avrohom (AA YD 75:8) approves of its use. The circumcision shield, however, has gone through many different incarnations, some of which are halachically acceptable, unacceptable, or a debate.
When doctors perform circumcisions they generally use a device called a Gomco clamp or a Plastibell clamp, which has been rejected as a valid method of Bris Milah by the majority of Poskim (see, for example, Igros Moshe YD II #119, Tzitz Eliezer VIII #29). One reason why the Gomco clamp is deemed unacceptable by some is because it does not involve the drawing of blood, a necessary component according to some Poskim. The Gomco and Plastibell clamps require multiple incisions and cause the baby more pain as well.
In contemporary times some Mohelim used something called the “Bronstein Mogain” or a similar device, which provides for both protection yet allows for the flow of blood. This clamp was invented in 1954 and received the approbation of Rav Eliezer Silver zt”l (HaPardes Vol. XXX #1). Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe YD Vol. III #98) allows it b’dieved but was unhappy with its use. On this account many Mohelim do not use the Bronstein Mogain.
Many Mohelim use a hemostat with a regular Mogain. A hemostat is a surgical instrument that looks like a scissors but can lock in place and is used primarily to control bleeding. The hemostat allows the the Milah and priyah to be done at the same time.
It is the various Mogains and the hemostat which allow Mohelim to “set up” the cut for the father who performs the cut. More on this later.
DIFFERENT THAN STANDARD BRIS
The bris performed with a Bronstein Mogain, however, is different than one performed without it. The Bris Milah involved another process called Priyah which means the removal of the under layer of skin found beneath the foreskin. When the Bronstein Mogain is used, the priyah is performed with an instrument, not the fingernail. Many Poskim hold that although it is permitted to perform the priyah with an instrument, it is preferable to use a fingernail and not an instrument (See responsa of Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky zt”l, Achiezer Vol. III 65:12 and responsa of Rav Ovadiah Yoseph zt”l, Yabia Omer Vol. VII #22).
Another issue is that with modern Mogains and hemostats, the Milah and the priyah happen simultaneously, which although is permitted, is not how the Shulchan Aruch describes the procedure. The priyah follows the Milah in Shulchan Aruch and is a second procedure.
Mohalim who use a shield other than the Bronstein Mogain can allow the father to perform the cut and then they do the priyah and Metzitzah afterward. It is a debate among Poskim whether when one has just perfomed the first act, whether he has accomplished a half of a Mitzvah at all. The Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo Yevamos 8:3) and the Tashbatz (Vol. II #277) both hold that even half a Mitzvah was not performed. The Bais Yoseph 264, however, holds that one has indeed fulfilled half of the Mitzvah here. The Ramah as well considers it a Mitzvah.
The Sefer Milah K’hilchasa (p. 64-65) lists some four requirements that are a prerequisite for a father who is not a trained Mohel to perform the cut himself.
1] The father must know definitively exactly where the cut must be made.
2] The father must know how to hold the knife and the exact angle so that tzitzin not remain
3] There cannot be any additional delays from the fact that the father is performing the cut which will cause further pain and agony to the infant (See Igros Moshe YD Vol. III #99).
4] The father must inform the Mohel at the outset that he is inviting him only to perform the Mitzvah of priyah. If he just hires him without specifying the indication is that it is for the Mitzvah of Milah and he would not be able to undo this without violating the halachic issue of going back on one’s agreement (Mechusar Amanah).
The author of Sefer Milah K’hilchasa also cites the Ramah in the name of the Terumas HaDeshen that a father may not do this on Shabbos if he has never performed a Bris before. This is true even if the father is just performing the cut.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach is cited in the Nishmas Avrohom (260) “It requires further analysis of there is a Mitzvah for the father to circumcise his son when it will cause any further pain on the infant.” The Munkatcher Rebbe stated that there is no Mitzvah whatsoever for a father to perform the Milah if he is not a Mohel and a Mohel is available.
A SIXTH CONDITION
Another issue and this is a very important one brought up by Rabbi Ephraim Perlstein, a noted mohel and member of Kollel Avreichim in Far Rockaway. Often the father will mess up at the time and leave tzitzin haMe-akvin, pieces of the Orlah that remain on the baby. The Mohel then has to do an emergency repair at the time, and the father did not appoint him. This could possibly leave the father with no Mitzvah whatsoever. It is possible, however, that there may be a clear desire on the father’s part that in the event of a mess up, he would want to appoint the Mohel to fix it. This is called an umdana and is often used in halacha. However, it is not so clear that he is aware of the fact he may leave tzitzin haMe’akvin that would require a redo. Therefore, ideally, the father should verbalize it and appoint the Mohel to make any repairs if they are necessary prior to the bris because there will not be time to do so at the time if there is a mess up.
There may also be an issue of the biblical prohibition of Tzaar Baalei Chaim in regard to causing excess pain to the infant. The Rashba (Vol. I #252) and the Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvos Lo Saaseh 270) write that the prohibition applies not just animals but to human beings as well. While it is true that the Radbaz’s opinion is that it is not applicable in regard to humans (Vol. II #728), most Poskim hold that it does apply. The Shita Mekubetzes cites the view of Talid Rabbeinu Peretz that it applies to humans on a Rabbinic level.
RAV SHLOMO ZALMAN STORY
One final thought: The Mitzvah of Zrizin makdimin l’Mitzvos means that alacritous people try to fulfill our Mitzvos at the very first opportunity. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l was once asked whether it is preferable to perform the Mitzvah of Bris Milah immediately after a Naitz HaChama Shacharis on account of the idea of performing a Mitzvah at the first opportunity. Rav Shlomo Zalman answered that one should also be a mentsch [in regard to making the Bris convenient for relatives]. The idea main also be germaine to our issue here regarding fathers performing a bris.
A SIXTH CONDITION
This author would like to add a fifth condition to the four mentioned above in light of this idea expressed by Rav Shlomo Zalman zt”l. One should only embark upon this with the full support of his spouse and parents. This is especially true in light of the opinions that performing half of the Bris may not be considered a Mitzvah and in light of the fact that some other b’dieveds are taking place.
May the zchus of performing Mitzvos in their ideal manner bring the Geulah speedily in our days.