By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Many people describe two types of b’ris milah. They describe the kind with waiters, hot dishes, crêpes, and fancy chafing dishes. At those affairs, they offer scrambled eggs, hot pancakes with syrup, whitefish, and all sorts of fish platters, including the much-liked sable. The other b’ris is simpler—the kind that has tuna and egg salad, assorted rolls, and danishes. Both types have fresh bagels, orange juice, and coffee.
This article is about two different types of b’ris milah, but not of the culinary type. This article discusses halachic and procedural differences in the manner in which the b’ris milah is performed, which produces different physical results as well.
The best way to characterize the two different methods is with the terms “two-step method” and “one-step method.”
Some mohalim practice the two-step method. This is the more traditional method—practiced for thousands of years. This method is near-universal among chassidish mohalim. Other mohalim practice the one-step method. In America, in the Litvish world, this is the most common method. Few mohalim practice both methods, but some do.
Mohalim are also rather territorial about their particular method. It is a somewhat thorny issue with many of them, so be careful if you bring up the subject.
Not For The Faint
What follows is not for the faint of heart, so proceed with caution. However, the material under discussion is Torah and we are obligated in learning all sections of Torah—even those that can make us a little queasy. So here goes.
Two Parts. The orlah has two parts—an upper part and an inner part. The inner part is referred to as the “or ha’priyah.” The inner part is termed a mucous membrane, similar to the inside of an eyelid.
The Two-Step Method. In the two-step method, the upper part is lifted upward and cut with the mohel’s knife. This is the first step. The inner part is peeled back and torn with the mohel’s sharpened thumbnail, and then pulled down toward the body of the baby. This is the second step. The lowered inner part eventually fuses together with the remnant of the upper part. The thumbnail’s role in the second step is even mentioned in the Midrash. The Yalkut Shimoni (#723) on the verse in Tehillim “Kol atzmosai tomarnah” states as follows: Dovid HaMelech says, “I praise You (Hashem) with each of my limbs and fulfill mitzvos with them . . . fingernails—to perform priyah with them.”
The One-Step Method. In the one-step method, the mohel uses a hemostat to grasp the inner orlah along with the upper orlah. A hemostat looks like a scissors, but it is actually a clamp type of device that allows the mohel to more easily raise the inner orlah and the outer orlah together. The mohel then takes his knife and removes them together. In this method, the milah and the priyah are accomplished at the same time. Some of the “one-step” mohalim are able to grasp it in a manner that they can cut the inner orlah as well, even without the aid of a hemostat.
Physical differences. The physical differences between the one-step method and the two-step method are not minimal. The one-step method takes off more of the inner skin. The two-step method involves tearing, peeling, and moving the inner part of the orlah downward, but not actually removing it.
History And Benefits
Of One Step
Rabbi Moshe Bunim Perutinsky, z’l, author of the Sefer HaBris, writes that although in the time of the Rishonim the one-step method was not used, it was used in the times of the Geonim. He admits that the one-step method was not commonly done in Europe or in the time of the Rishonim or Acharonim.
Rabbi Perutinsky claims (see Sefer HaBris p. 206) that there are five benefits to the one-step method:
There is less blood.
The operation is much faster.
The wound heals more quickly.
There are no problems of the or ha’priyah ever coming back to necessitate a possible (rabbinic) redo of the b’ris.
When a hemostat is used, there is no concern that too much or too little of the orlah will be cut.
He also writes that these benefits make the one-step method preferable to the two-step method. It is just that not everyone was able to do it in this manner and that the two-step method was easier and therefore more common.
The Two-Step Proponents
The proponents of the two-step method claim that the wording of both the Rambam (Hilchos Milah chapter 2) and the Shulchan Aruch (YD 264:3) makes it clear: The halachah states that first one does the milah, and then one does the priyah. The language of the Rosh is that the blessing of “l’hachniso l’briso shel Avraham Avinu” is recited in between the milah and the priyah.
Dayan Weiss (Minchas Yitzchak, Vol. IX #100) cites a number of Acharonim who condemn any changes in the traditional method of milah. He writes that Heaven forbid anyone should change the way b’ris milah has been performed throughout the ages, and he strongly urges that the milah be done with the two-step method.
Rav Perutinsky responds that this is not considered a change, since Rav Hai Gaon used to do it in this manner. He also writes that had the Acharonim seen the responsum of Rav Hai Gaon, they would never have written against the one-step method.
Rav Vosner, zt’l, the author of the Shevet HaLevi (Vol. IV #133), writes that since the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch essentially ignored the responsum, they either disagreed with it or felt that the responsum was of dubious authenticity. The Rivash in responsum #165 also dismisses a different responsum attributed to Rav Hai Gaon.
In contrast to Dayan Weiss, zt’l, and Rav Vosner, zt’l, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l (Igros Moshe YD I #155) does not consider the one-step method a problem at all, but states that “meheyos tov” to leave over some of the or ha’priyah to be removed by the fingernail—since this method is explicitly mentioned in the Midrash. Nonetheless, it is this author’s recollection that Rav Yisroel Belsky, zt’l, a talmid muvhak of Rav Moshe Feinstein, still did the two-step method.
The Sefer Milah K’hilchasa recommends that if one does the one-step method, he should actually leave over half of the or ha’priyah in order to fulfill the opinion of the Yad Ketanah in the Shulchan Aruch as to what would define priyah.
Both methods hold that the other method is valid. The question is which one is preferable. One should consult with one’s own rav or posek as to which method to pursue.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.