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The One Who Holds the Baby – The “Sandek”

The One Who Holds the Baby – The “Sandek”

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Photo: Marc Asnin
Photo: Marc Asnin

What?

One of the participants at the brit milah, ritual circumcision, is honored with lifting the infant from the chair of Elijah and handing him to the father. The father, in turn, places the baby on the lap of the sandek,1 who will hold the baby during the circumcision.2

On the morning of the circumcision the sandek immerses in the mikvah, ritual bath, dresses in his finest clothing, and dons his tallit, prayer shawl.3 He also refrains from eating a proper meal that morning.

After the sandek sits down, his hands are sanitized with alcohol. He is shown by the mohel, ritual circumciser, how to sit, and is instructed to refrain from any movement during the circumcision.

It is customary for the sandek to give a gift to the child or the mother of the child. Many have the custom for the sandek to cover the expenses of the celebratory meal following the circumcision.4

Who?

The sandek should be a pious person. Our Sages teach that the good qualities5 possessed by the sandek are passed over to the baby.6 For this reason the parents do not appoint one of their friends, who may be unworthy; rather, the honor should be given to someone whose thoughts are pure and who is worthy to sit next to Elijah the prophet.7

Many observe the custom that the two grandfathers are given the honor of sandek for the first two children.8

The Great Merit

The sandek’s lap is compared to the Altar that was in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The circumcision itself is compared to the offering of the ketoret, the incense that was brought daily before G‑d. The priest who would bring the incense on the Altar was blessed with riches.9 In order that every priest be given a chance to receive this special blessing, no priest performed this ritual more than once. In a similar vein, one does not give the honor of being sandek to the same family for two of their children, so that this merit can be granted to two different individuals.10

Being sandek is also considered a blessing for long life.11

Footnotes
1.

Rama, Yore Deah 265:11. Otzar Dinim Uminhagim, p. 222, explains that in Greek, sandek means a lawyer, i.e., the representative of the father. He writes that in Germany this person was called the gefater, the godfather.

2.

Machzor Vitry. Some have the one who lifts the baby off of the chair place the baby directly on the lap of the Sandek (Otzar Habrit, p. 213).

3.

Otzar Habrit, p. 206.

4.

Orchot Chayim, Hilchot Milah.

5.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, was asked by Rabbi Chaim Meir Bukiet, of blessed memory, if the sandek could be someone childless. The Rebbe responded that only the positive is transferred from the sandek to the infant (from an unpublished manuscript of the eminent scholar Rabbi Avraham Ushpal, of blessed memory).

6.

Maharil, Hilchot Milah.

7.

Migdal Oz, ch. 9.

8.

Many say that a relative takes precedence over any other person (Otzar Habrit p. 198).

9.

Maharil.

10.

Rama 265:11..

11.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Torat Menachem 5745, vol. 3, p. 1958.

Dovid Zaklikowski is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. Dovid and his wife Chana Raizel are the proud parents of four: Motti, Meir, Shaina & Moshe Binyomin.
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Circumcision is the first commandment given by G-d to Abraham, the first Jew, and is central to Judaism.
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