The Berakhot on the Brit Mila (2)

  • Rav David Brofsky
Last week, we began our discussion of the blessings said over the circumcision of a child. The Talmud (Shabbat 137b) teaches that there are three blessings recited at a brit mila: al ha-mila, le-hakhniso le-verito shel Avraham Avinu, and koret ha-brit.
This week, we will discuss the third blessing, koret ha-brit, whether the Shehechiyanu blessing should be said at a brit mila, and other questions related to the blessings.
Birkat Koret Ha-Brit
After the mohel performs the mila and the peri'a and places the foreskin in sand or dirt, someone is honored to hold the child during the recitation of the "koret ha-brit" blessing, followed by the naming. This "kibud" is referred to as "amida le-verakhot."
Although the Talmud does not instruct that the blessing should be reciting over a cup of wine, this practice is mentioned by the Geonim (Shaarei Tzedek 3:5:9) and the Rishonim. As we shall see, the custom to say the borei peri ha-gafen blessing before koret ha-brit has aroused numerous halakhic dilemmas.
Koret ha-brit is clearly not a birkat ha-mitzva, as is indicated by its nosach and the fact that the berakha, as described by the gemara, is not recited by the father or the mohel. The Rashba (Shabbat 137b, s.v. avi ha-ben) describes the blessing as “praise and thanksgiving for allowing him the merit to enter his son into the covenant of Avraham.”
Interestingly, the Shakh (Yoreh De’ah 265:5) explains that this blessing is a prayer for the safety and welfare of the child. Therefore, the phrase “as a reward for this, the living God, our Portion, commanded to deliver the beloved of our flesh from destruction,” should be said in future tense (tzaveh) – “should command” – and not in past tense (tziva) – “commanded.” The Sefer Ha-Ittur (Hilkhot Mila 53b) cites two views regarding the proper text of this blessing. It is customary to say the phrase in accordance with the interpretation of the Shakh (tzaveh), in both Ashkenazic (Arukh Ha-Shulchan, Yoreh De’ah 265:17) and Sephardic communities (Yalkut Yosef, Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, p. 896).
After the conclusion of the blessing, a prayer for the child (found in early Rishonim including the Ittur, Shibolei Ha-Leket, Machzor Vitrei, and Ohr Zaru'a) is recited, during which the child is named.
Since the borei peri ha-gafen blessing is recited over the wine, someone must taste the wine. The Tur (YD 265) cites the Ittur, who mentions three practices regarding tasting the wine. While some siddurim apparently instructed the person who said the ha-gefen blessing to drink the wine immediately after concluding the koret ha-brit blessing, some were accustomed to give the child a sip of wine after the blessing, in order that the prayer for the child should not constitute an interruption. Others assume that the prayer for the child is not a hefsek; therefore, the wine may be tasted after the conclusion of the prayer. Although the common practice is to drink the wine after the prayer for the child, some sip the wine after the blessing, refill the cup, and then recite the prayer.
The Acharonim disagree as to how much wine the person reciting the blessing should drink. The Mordekhai (Eiruvin 496) writes that the person who says the blessing should drink a cheekful (melo lugmav) of wine. Rashi (Teshuvot 53) disagrees, as do numerous Acharonim (see Taz 265:10, Gra ibid. 28).
The Shulchan Arukh (YD 265:1) cites a custom to recite a blessing over a "hadas.” This custom, attributed to the Ari z"l, is also cited by the Beit Lechem Yehuda and the Birkei Yosef (ibid. 3). The Mishna Berura (OC 559:27) notes that this is not the custom of Asheknazim.
Birkat Shehichiyanu
In addition to the blessings described above, the Rishonim debate whether the Shehechiyanu blessing should be recited at a brit mila. Tosafot (Sukka 46a, s.v. ha-oseh) asks why the Talmud explicitly mentions that the Shehechiyanu blessing is said upon performed certain mitzvot – such as making a sukka, lulav, pidyon ha-ben (Pesachim 121b), and keriat ha-Megilla (Megilla 21b) – but not on others – such as making tzitzit and tefillin, Hallel, and, apparently, a brit mila. A full discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this shiur.
The Rishonim offer numerous reasons why the Shehechiyanu blessing should not be recited at a brit mila.
The Ran (Sukka 22b, s.v. ve-katvu), for example, explains that brit mila, like tefillin, is not a mitzva that is performed “from time to time” or at a specific time, and therefore Shehechiyanu should not be recited. Tosafot (Bechorot 49a, s.v. le-achar) explains that while Shehechiyanu is said at a pidyon ha-ben because it is such an uncommon mitzva, since mila is so common, Shehechiyanu is not said. Interestingly, Tosafot seemingly refer to how often the community participates in a brit mila, not the specific father.
The Raavia (see Hagahot Maimoniot, Hilkhot Mila 3:3) suggests that since we are concerned that the child may not survive (i.e., a nefel), it is not appropriate to say the Shehchiyanu blessing.
Some Rishonim suggest that the Shehechiyanu blessing is only said when the performance of the mitzva is accompanied by “simcha.” For example, Tosafot (Eruvin 40b, s.v. dilma; see also Raavia, Shabbat 289, and Hagahot Maimoniot, ibid.) cite the Ra”sh of Shantz, who held that that Shehechiyanu is not recited at a brit mila due to the tza’ara de-yenuka, the pain caused to the child.
Other Rishonim disagree and insist that the Shehchiyanu blessing is, in fact, recited at a brit mila. The Raavia (Shabbat 289), for example, writes that when the mitzva is performed by an agent – i.e., a mohel – the Shehechiyanu blessing is not said. However, if the father himself performs the circumcision, or if one circumcises himself, he should say Shehechiyanu. He explains that since most people are not trained to perform the circumcision, this berakha has fallen out of practice.
The Rambam (Hilkhot Mila 3) also writes that the father says the Shehechiyanu blessing, but implies that he recites the berakha even if he does not actually perform the circumcision. Elsewhere (Hilkhot Berakhot 11:9), the Rambam explains:
The Shehechiyanu blessing is recited [before] fulfilling every mitzva that we are obligated to fulfill only at a specific time, such as shofar, sukka, lulav, reading the Megilla, and [lighting] Chanuka candles. [It is also recited before fulfilling] every mitzva that involves the acquisition of property, such as tzitzit, tefillin, and a guardrail. [It is also recited before fulfilling] every mitzva that we are obligated to fulfill infrequently, for this resembles a mitzva that we are obligated to fulfill only at a specific time, such as circumcising one's son and redeeming him.
The Rambam maintains that one says the Shehechiyanu blessing upon circumcising one’s son, as it is a mitzva which is performed infrequently.
The Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 265:7; see also Bi’ur Ha-Gra 265:36) cites the Rambam and relates that it is customary in the Land of Israel to recite the Shehechiyyanu blessing at a brit mila. This is indeed the current practice of all communities in Israel. Although Sephardic communities around the world also say Shehechiyanu at a brit mila, Ashkenazim outside of Israel generally follow the opinion of the Shakh (265:17), who insists that Shehechiyanu is not said at a brit mila.
The Shehechiyanu blessing is said by the father immediately after the le-hakhniso blessing. The Chatam Sofer (2:298) discusses whether the mohel may say the Shehechiyanu blessing when the father is absent. 
Kisuy Ha-Erva and Excrement During the Blessings
The Torah, when describing the laws of the wartime, presents special instructions regarding the military camp. God is present in the camp, and standards of hygiene and modesty must therefore be of a higher standard:
You shall have a place also outside of the camp where you shall go forth abroad. And you shall have a paddle among thy weapons; and it shall be, when you sit down abroad, you shall dig therewith, and shall turn back and cover that which comes from you. For the Lord your God walks in the midst of your camp to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you; therefore, your camp shall be holy, that he should see no nakedness in you, and turn away from you… (Devarim 23:13-15)
Jewish soldiers are to take care of their bodily needs outside of the camp, and to cover their excrement. In addition, since God travels in their camp, they are warned to maintain their modest behavior, lest He withdraw His presence.
The rabbis understand that these standards apply not only to the military camp, but also to one's own spiritual environs. Accordingly, the gemara derives from the verse, "that He should see no nakedness in you" that one should not recite keri’at Shema (or other devarim she-bekedusha) while naked or in a form of nakedness (see Berakhot 25b).  Furthermore, the gemara learns from the words, "your camp shall be holy" that one should not recite keri’at Shema in the presence of excrement (Berakhot 25a), in a bathhouse or bathroom (Shabbat 150a), or near an unpleasant odor (Sifrei).
The Rishonim disagree as to whether these laws are relevant to the brit mila ceremony, where the ceremony is performed on a child’s erva and where there is a possibility of there being excrement.
Some Rishonim write that the mohel should cover the child while saying the blessings (Rabbeinu Yona, Berkahot 17a, s.v. ha; Yere’im, cited by Kolbo 73). The Kol Bo (73) cites Rabbeinu Peretz (Hagahot Semak 158; see also Ittur 52:4), who writes that we are not concerned about erva of a boy under the age of nine. Furthermore, the Rosh (Berkahot 3:52) adds that since one’s intention is to perform a positive act (le-tekunei ha-mila ka’atei), it is still considered to be a “holy camp.”
Interestingly, while the Rambam (Hilkhot Keri’at Shema 3:16) writes that one may not say the keri’at shema in the proximity of a child’s erva, the Bach (Yoreh De’ah 265) notes that in Hilkhot Mila (3:5) the Rambam only mentions covering an adult man’s erva (adam gadol). Furthermore, in his teshuvot (Teshuvot Ha-Rambam 332), the Rambam writes that it is not customary to cover the nakedness of the child while saying the blessings.
The Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 265:18) rules that it is unnecessary to cover the erva of a child while saying the blessing. Some Acharonim (see Bach, ibid.) cite the Raavia (Shabbat 289), who writes that it is a midat chaissidut to cover the child during the blessing, unless it causes the mohel unnecessary pressure (bahul).
The Kolbo (ibid.) cites Rabbeinu Peretz, who writes that if a child is soiled, he should be cleaned before reciting the blessings. The Rema (ibid.) cites this ruling, but the Gra (39) notes that this is a stringency (chumra be-alma), as the halakha teaches that there is no need to distance oneself from the excrement of such a small child, certainly when he is covered.
Next week, we will discuss the festive meal held in honor of the brit mila.