Shabbat Parashat Miketz | 5770
Ask the Rabbi: How many times can a person serve as a sandek?
Question: Can someone serve as a sandek more than once for the same family? Are there any halachic/minhag issues involved?
Answer: The Rama (Yoreh Deah 265:11) cites from the Maharil (Mila 1, based on R. Peretz) and accepts the minhag not to have one person be the sandek for more than one child in a family.
The Maharil explains the matter as follows. The sandek, who holds the baby during the brit, is like one who offers the daily ketoret (incense) in the Beit Hamikdash. Regarding the ketoret service, the mishna (Yoma 26a) says that only a kohen who had never offered ketoret in the past was a candidate. The gemara (ad loc.) explains that this is because the bringing of the ketoret makes one rich. Thus, we “spread the wealth.” The same, say the Maharil and the Rama, is true of a sandek.
However, very important Acharonim question how authentic and binding this minhag is. The Noda B'Yehuda (I, YD 86) starts off by saying that there is no Talmudic source for it and that the rationale provided was not the source but helped justify post facto a custom that had developed. The Gra also questions its Talmudic logic. He asks that if the comparison to ketoret were true, then one should not be sandek twice, even for babies from different families, whereas the minhag allows it. He also argues that the lack of anecdotal evidence of a correlation between serving as a sandek and wealth raises questions about the sources. (Some respond that wealth can come in different forms.) The Gra, though, does not reject the minhag but says that the real source for it is the kabbalistic “Will of Rav Yehuda Hachasid.”
The Noda B’Yehuda also accepts the minhag and suggests the following midrash as a source for the comparison to ketoret. The midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Lech Lecha) says that when Avraham’s household underwent mila, they piled up the foreskins. Hashem remarked that the resulting stench was as welcome before Him as ketoret. He notes (based on Yoma 26a) that ketoret’s enriching factor is the fact that it is a rare mitzva. On one hand, that does not apply to mila, which are abundant in K’lal Yisrael. On the other hand, though, since the pool of potential sandeks is so great, it is a rare occurrence for the individual to be a sandek, just as it is for a kohen to bring ketoret. In contrast, because the small number of mohelim each perform frequent britot, it is not enriching for them, and there is no need to limit a mohel to one per family. Despite his explanation, the Noda B’Yehuda claims that not all communities accept the minhag and mentions that some communities have the rabbi be sandek at all britot.
The Chatam Sofer (Shut OC 158) deflects some of the questions and finds his own midrashic source. He responds that the minhag of having the rabbi be sandek at all the britot does not weaken the minhag. Just as regarding ketoret, the kohen gadol can bring it as he desires, so too one community leader can be the permanent choice, whereas regular people would be limited to once.
This brings us to the matter of possible exceptions to the rule. There are minority opinions that: 1) relatives can be sandek more than once (Yad Shaul 265, cited in Yechave Da’at III, 77); 2) only during a single year should one not be a sandek twice (according to some, even for different families) (Birkei Yosef, citing the minhag of Solonika); 3) the father serving as sandek himself, who thus is not giving the honor to anyone, can do so for as many of his children as he likes (Torat Chayim (Zonnenfeld) 15) (however, it is rare these days for the baby’s father be sandek even once).
In summary, those who do not have a kabbalistic orientation need not take this matter so seriously, and one need not intervene if another decides to ignore the minhag. However, except when there is a pressing need to reuse a sandek (e.g., in a remote location, where there are very few G-d fearing people), it makes most sense to follow the accepted minhag of one nuclear family having a different sandek for each child.
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