[I am taking a break from our regular series to present some articles on various halachic issues that have arisen because of the coronavirus. May the z’chus of these halachic discussions bring a r’fuah sh’leimah to all those who need it].
Question: We unfortunately cannot have a minyan of people for a bris milah these days due to the coronavirus, but is a minyan of men even required for a bris milah?
Short Answer: While ten men are preferred, they are not required, and a bris milah should take place in a coronavirus world without ten men.
I. Testimony and Publicizing
The Maharil (Hilchos Milah) writes that there should be ten people at a bris milah because ten people are necessary to “testify” that the father is performing this wonderful mitzvah of performing a bris milah on his son. This is based on the Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer (19), which writes that all “testimony” that Hashem gave the B’nei Yisrael should take place in front of ten men. Similarly, the Or Zarua (Milah 107) and the Rikanti (cited by the Radal on the Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer) rule that there should be ten people at a bris milah for the same reason.
A similar reason is given by the Darchei Moshe (Yoreh Dei’ah 265:1) in the name of Rav Tzemach Gaon. He suggests that ten people are necessary to publicize this amazing mitzvah that the father is performing. The sefer Bris Avraham HaKohen (p. 253) cites the Ri HaGozer who takes it one step further: that since a bris milah is called an “os” – a sign – we want a quorum of men to witness and publicize this sign.
The sefer D’rushim L’Chol Cheftzeihem (p. 203) adds that this reason fits nicely with the pasuk concerning Avraham Avinu that states “b’etzem ha’yom ha’zeh” – that Avraham performed the bris milah in the middle of the day so that everyone could witness this amazing mitzvah. Similarly, he cites the Aruch HaShulchan who connects the requirement of ten men at a bris milah to the requirement of ten men at a wedding, as both are meant to publicize the mitzvah.
II. Escaping Jail
However, a second reason is given by the Darchei Moshe (ibid) in the name of the Hagahos Alfasi. We compare the birth of this child to a prisoner leaving jail. Just as a prisoner must bentch Gomel in front of ten men, so, too, the bris milah should take place in front of ten men, as the baby “escaped” the dangers of his mother’s womb. [As an aside, this fits nicely with one of the reasons why we make a shalom zachar. See my earlier article, Bris Milah #1].
Between These Reasons
The Avnei Derech (11:148) suggests an unbelievable ramification between these reasons: whether a person may participate in a bris milah of a child who was conceived through an aveirah or improper relationship. According to the first reason, to publicize the mitzvah of the parent, one should not attend a bris milah of a child who was the result of an aveirah, because we do not want to publicize the aveirah. However, according to the second reason, of bentching Gomel, one should attend the bris milah, as it helps the innocent child fulfill his obligation to thank Hashem in front of ten people.
Perhaps another ramification is whether the child counts towards the ten men. According to the first reason, to publicize the mitzvah, the child likely does not count to the quorum, and ten additional, bar-mitzvah-aged men are required. However, according to the second reason, of bentching Gomel, perhaps the child counts towards the minyan. Indeed, the sefer Os Shalom (cited in Tz’funos HaParshah, p. 250) writes that since the whole point of ten men (according to this reason) is to enable a one-day-old baby to bentch Gomel, an obligation that is certainly not incumbent upon him, he should also count as part of the ten, as obviously age is not a factor.
Perhaps another ramification is whether one should push off a bris milah until after midday of the eighth day in order to perform the milah with a minyan. This is a big dispute among the poskim. See P’sakim U’T’shuvos (Yoreh Dei’ah 262:3). According to the first reason, there would be no reason to push off the milah just for a hiddur (extra aspect) of publicizing the mitzvah. However, according to the second reason, of bentching Gomel, perhaps there is room to push off the mitzvah past midday for this special bentching of Gomel.
IV. Practical Halachah
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 265:5) rules that one should try to have ten men at his son’s bris milah, but if this cannot be done, the bris milah should take place regardless. Thus, in a coronavirus world, one should have a bris milah without a minyan. This is the p’sak of Rav Hershel Schachter shlita as publicized on TorahWeb, available at https://www.torahweb.org/torah/docs/coronavirus-letter.pdf.
V. Additional Notes
The Yaavetz (cited in the sefer Yaldei Kodesh, p. 180) gives a completely different reason for the requirement of ten men at a bris milah. He writes that ten men are needed for a practical reason: Each one performs a part of the bris milah, whether it is the brachos, being sandek, the mohel, etc.
The Avnei Yashfe (4:102) writes that one who is performing hatafas dam bris on an older person need not have ten men witness this procedure.
Next Week’s Topic: To Be Determined – more practical coronavirus issues