Question: How should a bris milah with social distancing be performed in a COVID-19 world?
Short Answer: While the father may recite the brachah of “l’hachniso bivriso” even remotely (e.g., over Zoom) and anyone may recite the k’rias sheim (baby naming) supplication remotely, all the other brachos must be recited by someone physically attending the bris. The father of the baby should be the sandek unless it is medically safe for the grandfather of the baby (or someone else) to be sandek.
One week ago, my son Meir Avraham prompted this article. Indeed, over the last few months of COVID-19, many practical questions concerning bris milah have arisen. While we previously discussed bris milah without a minyan (see Coronavirus Problems #1), thankfully, the situation nowadays allowed for there to be a minyan (with social distancing) at the bris milah.
Nevertheless, even with a minyan present, because we are adhering – and should continue to adhere – to rules of social distancing, the following issues needed to be addressed.
II. Remote Brachos
Which brachos may be recited over Zoom or over the telephone?
First, if the father is not able to attend the bris milah in person (e.g., he must quarantine), the Eishel Avraham (Orach Chayim 131) writes that he may not recite the brachah of “l’hachniso bivriso,” even if he knows the time that the bris is taking place. Indeed, the sefer Milah Sh’leimah (p. 430) cites Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg zt”l as ruling similarly. However, Rav Scheinberg does allow Sefardim to recite a She’hecheyanu remotely over the telephone (or Zoom), but suggests that the father wear a new item of clothing in order to prevent any safek brachah.
On the other hand, the sefer Milah Sh’leimah (ibid) cites Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l as ruling that it is permissible for the father to recite “l’hachniso bivriso” (and She’hecheyanu for Sefardim) remotely. The sefer Milah Sh’leimah explains that according to Rav Elyashiv, the Eishel Avraham is not applicable, as he was discussing a case (in his time) where the father was not – and could not be – 100 percent sure that his son was alive and having the bris at that moment. Nowadays, since the father knows the exact moment that the bris is taking place, as he sees it on Zoom or hears it on the telephone, even the Eishel Avraham would agree that the father may make the brachah remotely. Accordingly, the Milah Sh’leimah adds that even according to Rav Elyashiv, a father may not recite the brachah of “l’hachniso bivriso” remotely on Shabbos, as he does not know for sure the exact moment that the bris is taking place.
Based on the above, the author of the sefer Milah Sh’leimah asked Rav Asher Weiss shlita (Corona Pamphlet, ed. 3, #3) whether a grandfather may recite the brachah of “asher kidash y’did mi’beten” over Zoom, as well. Rav Asher Weiss responded that while there is likely no problem in the grandfather reciting the brachah of “asher kidash y’did mi’beten” over Zoom, based on the ruling of Rav Elyashiv, it is better that someone who is present at the bris milah recite this brachah. Since this brachah is not specifically for the father, it is possible that we do not allow this dispensation of remote reciting as we do for the brachah of “l’hachniso bivriso,” which was set up specifically for the father to recite. Moreover, allowing a grandfather to recite “asher kidash y’did mi’beten” over Zoom could lead to other breaches in halachah if observers follow this concept of remote recitation for other brachos.
Likewise, Rav Hershel Schachter shlita (Piskei Corona #22) has ruled that a grandfather may not recite the brachah of “asher kidash y’did mi’beten” over Zoom. Rav Schachter, however, allows the grandfather to recite the k’rias sheim (baby naming), as it does not entail any brachos. Rav Schachter does note that the k’rias sheim may be recited remotely despite that the supplication includes the words “yeled ha’zeh” – this child – which implies that the child is directly in front of the reciter. This is the ruling of my rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Willig shlita (found on the Kol Corona website), as well – that the grandfather (or another individual) may only recite the k’rias sheim remotely and no other brachah.
III. Who Should Be Sandek?
Rav Willig also ruled, at least in the worst months of coronavirus, that it is preferable that the father of the baby serve as sandek, thereby decreasing the need for outside members to come close to the baby. In truth, there is a debate in general whether it is preferable for the father to serve as sandek himself or for him to honor someone else with being sandek.
The sefer Mishnas Yehoshua (Bris, p. 55) cites the sefer Tirosh V’Yitzhar who queries why fathers give the honor of being sandek to others when the Rama (Yoreh Dei’ah 265) writes that it is a tremendous honor to be sandek. He explains that if the father was sandek, he would be forced to recite the brachah of “l’hachniso bivriso” sitting down. Yet, the brachah should be recited while standing. Indeed, the Tirosh V’Yitzhar criticizes those mohalim who circumcise the baby while they themselves also serve as sandek, thereby reciting the brachos on the milah sitting down.
Moreover, the sefer Shiras Ben Levi (p. 214) posits that even though we say “mitzvah bo yoseir mi’bishlucho” – that it is greater to perform a mitzvah yourself than to have an agent perform it for you – this rule is not applicable where there is a competing mitzvah, such as kibud av va’eim. Thus, it is certainly l’chatchilah better to give the honor of sandek to a grandfather (or great-grandfather) of the baby (assuming it is medically safe to do so).
On the other hand, the Mishnas Yehoshua (ibid) cites the Divrei Malkiel and Leket Yosher who rule that it is preferable for the father to serve as sandek. This comports with the ruling of the Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 8) that b’diavad it is fine for a brachah on a mitzvah to be recited while sitting.
Next Week’s Topic: May one answer Amen to a brachah that he hears over the phone or over Zoom?