Hatafat dam brit: The Role of Drawing Blood at the Brit Mila

  • Rav David Brofsky
In previous shiurim, we discussed the details of the circumcision, including the mila, peria and metzitza. In addition, we briefly related to the nature of the mitzva, the possible difference between the mila and peria, and whether Halakha focuses on the cutting of the or ha-mila or revealing the glans by removing the or ha-peria. In addition, we discussed the use of clamps and shields, and whether clamps which prevent bleeding undermine the validity of the mila.
This week we will discuss hatafat dam brit, drawing covenantal blood outside of the act of circumcision. As we shall see, the Talmud discusses hatafat dam brit in two contexts, regarding a child who is nolad mahul (born circumcised, i.e. without a foreskin) and a convert who was previously circumcised. The Rishonim discuss whether blood should be drawn in other cases of doubt, or when the brit mila was done improperly, such as a case in which a child has been circumcised at night or before the eighth day. We will question the function and nature of hatafat dam brit in such cases.
Hatafat Dam Brit in the Talmud
The Talmud (Shabbat 135a) discusses whether a child who is nolad mahul is completely exempt from the mitzvah of brit mila, or whether hatafat dam brit is necessary. The Talmud relates different understandings of a debate between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel regarding whether it is necessary to perform hatafat dam brit, as well as different opinions regarding the conclusion.
According to the Tanna Kamma, Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagree as to whether a child who is nolad mahul requires hatafat dam brit.
Regarding a child who was nolad mahul, there is a dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel, as Beit Shammai say that it is necessary to draw blood from him, in lieu of circumcision of the foreskin, and Beit Hillel say that it is not necessary, as he is already circumcised.
The Gemara cites Rav, who rules according to the Tanna Kamma, and relates the following story in support.
To Rav Ada bar Ahava was born a circumcised child. He inquired after thirteen mohalim, but they refused to circumcise him, until ultimately, he circumcised his son himself and rendered him one with a severed urethra.
Rav Ada bar Ahava said: I have it coming to me [I deserve to be punished], as I violated the ruling of Rav.
According to this position, a child who is nolad mahul is exempt from hatafat dam brit.
Alternatively, R. Shimon ben Elazar offers another interpretation of the debate between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai.
R. Shimon ben Elazar said: [That was not the subject of their dispute, as] Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel did not disagree over the fact that from one who was born circumcised, it is necessary to perform hatafat dam brit, because they agree that it is a case of a concealed foreskin [i.e., the child is not actually circumcised; it is just that his foreskin is not visible].
With regard to what did they disagree? With regard to a convert who for some reason was circumcised when he was a non-Jew and converted when he was already circumcised, as Beit Shammai say drawing blood from him is necessary, and Beit Hillel say drawing blood from him is not necessary [and he needs only a ritual immersion to complete his conversion].
The Gemara explains that the mohel must draw blood from the child because of orla kevusha, a concealed foreskin. Shemuel accepts this version of the debate, according to which Beit Hillel requires a child who is nolad mahul to undergo hatafat dam brit.
However, there is an additional debate whether the obligation to draw blood is based upon the fear that there may be an orla kevusha, i.e., a doubt, or whether there is definitely assumed to be an orla kevusha.
Rabba said: We are concerned lest there is a concealed foreskin [and therefore there is uncertainty whether or not he is considered uncircumcised, and therefore it is prohibited to circumcise him on Shabbat].
Rav Yosef said: In that case, there is certainly a concealed foreskin [and therefore, it is permitted to circumcise him even on Shabbat].
The Gemara continues and relates that according to R. Eliezer Ha-kappar, all agree that while a child who was nolad mahul must undergo hatafat dam brit, Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagree as to whether this is performed on Shabbat. 
There are four opinions in the Rishonim regarding the final ruling. Tosafot (s.v. Lo; see also Yere’im cited by Hagahot Maimoniyot, Hilkhot Mila 1:2) rule that neither a child born without a foreskin nor a convert who was previously converted require hatafat dam brit. The Rif (Shabbat 53-54) and Rambam (Hilkhot Mila 1:7) rule that hatafat dam brit is required in both cases. The Ba’al Ha-maor (Shabbat 53b) and Rabbeinu Chananel (Tosafot, ibid.) rule that while a child born circumcised requires hatafat dam brit, a circumcised conversion candidate does not. The She’iltot and Behag (Tosafot, ibid.) rule that only a convert requires hatafat dam brit.
Different Understandings of Hatafat Dam Brit: Orla Kevusha or Dam Brit
It is important to understand the role of the orla kevusha. Regarding a previously circumcised conversion candidate, there is no reason to believe that he has a concealed foreskin, and therefore hatafat dam brit is either unnecessary or is performed for a different reason. This is clearly implied by the Talmud (137a), which teaches that when circumcising a convert, the blessing is “la-mul et ha-gerim u-lhatif meihem dam brit,” “to circumcise the converts and to draw from them the blood of the covenant,” is recited. The Rambam (Shabbat 135a, s.v. Ve-nireh li) explains that the blessing implies that “drawing blood is not due to a doubt (i.e., regarding whether he has a concealed foreskin), rather, we are obligated to draw blood of the covenant as he enters under the wings of the Divine Presence.”
As for a child who was born circumcised, the Shulchan Arukh (YD 263:4) rules that he should undergo hatafat dam brit due to the concern that there is a concealed foreskin. Apparently, the act of hatafat dam brit may prevent any remaining membrane from covering the glans. In addition, he rules that aside from a previously circumcised convert, hatafat dam brit is not performed in other cases, such as when the brit mila was performed before the eighth day (262:1) or when the circumcision was done by a non-Jew (264:1). The Sha’agat Aryeh (52-54) explains that if a circumcision is done improperly, it cannot be corrected by drawing blood.  
There are, however, indications that hatafat dam brit is not performed to remove a concealed foreskin. As we mentioned previously, Rashi (Shabbat 134a, s.v. Hakhi) implies that drawing blood is an integral part of the mitzva, derived from the verse “You too, with the blood of your covenant” (Zekharya 9:11). Indeed, the Yerushalmi (Shabbat 19:2) derives the obligation to draw blood from a child born circumcised from the verse (Bereishit 17:13) “He shall surely be circumcised” (Himol yimol). While the Korban Ha-eda explains that this verse teaches that we are concerned about the possibility of a concealed foreskin, others suggest that the Yerushalmi may include cases in which blood must be drawn, despite the current absence of a foreskin (see Zekher Yitzchak 31).
In this context, we might understand the position of the Rema, who requires hatafat dam brit when the circumcision was performed at night (262:1) or when performed by a non-Jew (264:1). Interestingly, the Rema does not require hatafat dam brit when the circumcision was performed before the eighth day. The Shakh (2), however, disagrees and requires hatafat dam brit in this case as well, although it is not to be performed on Shabbat.  
R. Yechezkel Abramsky (1886-1976), in his commentary to the Tosefta, Chazon Yechezkel (Shabbat 16:7), cites R. Chayim Soloveitchik, who offers a novel interpretation of the Rema’s view. He suggests that the Rema maintains that there are actually two separate mitzvot. The verse “himol yimol” teaches that the foreskin must be removed, while hatafat dam brit is derived from “et briti tishmor” (Bereishit 17:9).
He explains that there is a difference between these two obligations. The removal of the orla must be performed on the eighth day; therefore, on the eighth day, this obligation overrides the laws of Shabbat. Hatafat dam brit does not necessarily need to be performed on the eighth day, and therefore does not override the Sabbath. Therefore, if the entire circumcision is performed before the eighth day, although the mitzva of mila is not fulfilled, as it is not the eighth day, the mitzva of hatafat dam brit has been fulfilled and therefore it is unnecessary to redo it. However, if the circumcision is performed at night, it is completely invalid, and therefore while obviously the mila cannot be redone, hatafat dam brit must be performed, during the day.
The Rambam appears to have a unique position regarding this matter. On the one hand, he rules that a child born uncircumcised and a previously circumcised conversion candidate require hatafat dam brit, while those circumcised improperly, e.g., by a non-Jew or at night or before the eighth day, do not. Elsewhere (Hilkhot Terumot 7:11), however, he writes that one who was born without a foreskin may eat teruma even before undergoing hatafat dam brit. As an arel may not eat teruma, this ruling is somewhat troubling.
There are two basic approaches found in the Acharonim. Some assume that a nolad mahul must undergo hatafat dam brit because of orla kevusha. According to this approach, we must explain why one born circumcised may eat teruma. The Keren Ora (Yevamot 72a, s.v. Ela) explains that a nolad mahul is actually considered to be circumcised, and the requirement to draw blood is only mi-derabbanan, and therefore he may still eat teruma. Alternatively, the Peri Yitzchak (1:30) claims that the fear of a concealed foreskin is only relevant to children; an adult, however, certainly doesn’t have an orla kevusha, and therefore he may eat teruma.
Other, Acharonim, however, assume that even a child who is nolad mahul does not require hatafat dam brit due to the fear of a concealed foreskin, but rather due to an independent obligation to draw covenantal blood. Although the child requires hatafat dam brit, he is technically not considered to be an arel, as he never had a foreskin, and he may therefore eat teruma.
As we discussed last week, a number of Acharonim prohibit the use of clamps which might prevent bleeding during the act of brit mila. They suggest that hatafat dam brit is an integral part of the act of ritual circumcision, and therefore one should not perform a brit mila during which there will be no drawing of covenantal blood.
Definition of Hatafat Dam Brit
From which part of the penis is blood drawn during hatafat dam brit? The Avnei Nezer (YD 334) writes that blood should be drawn from “the place where the glans meets the shaft.” He explains that since the blood is usually drawn from that spot during a regular brit mila, that is where hatafat dam brit should be performed.
The Chazon Ish (Hilkhot Mila 154) claims that blood should be drawn from the atara, the glans. He claims that this halakha has been forgotten, and mohalim generally draw blood from the area of care on the shaft, which is no different than “drawing blood from one’s finger.” In addition, he adds that hatafat dam brit doesn’t need to actually draw blood, but rather, even a scratch which causes the area to become red or bruised (nitzrar ha-dam) is sufficient.
R. Eliezer Weinberg, in his Tzitz Eliezer (8:28:4), disagrees, as do R. Chayim Elazar Spira (Ot Chayim Ve-shalom 263:5) and R. Yosef Eliyahu Henkin (Kol Torah 5723). They all accept the view of the Avnei Nezer, who rules that the blood should be drawn from the shaft, and not the glans.
Interestingly, R. Asher Greenwald, in his Zokher Ha-brit (16:12) suggests that this should depend on the reason for performing hatafat dam brit. If hatafat dam brit is performed on a child who was born mahul, then the hatafat dam brit should be on the glans, where we fear that there may be an orla kevusha; while if the hatafat dam brit is performed because of any other doubt, blood should be drawn from the remaining layers of orla, found at the end of the shaft, below the glans.
The custom is to draw blood from the area above the glans, i.e., the shaft. Although R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l and R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l reportedly ruled that blood should be drawn from both the glans and the shaft (Sefer Otzar Ha-brit, Vol. 2 page 349), this is not the common custom.
Next week, we will discuss metzitza.