Trump Versus Clinton
To circumcise a non Jewish baby or not
Circumcision of a non Jewish baby
Nothing portrays our dilemma of circumcising children of non Jewish mothers in our generation better than the grandchildren of both contenders to the presidency.
Ivanka Trump, converted by an orthodox bet din circumcised her child according to halacha. But what about Chelsea Clinton’s non Jewish son? Are we allowed to do a modified circumcision ceremony with no bracha if the parents want him circumcised? In theory why would we want to? However in practice it is heart rendering when confronted by a non-Jewish mother raised in a Jewish manner and often has been a part of her Jewish community for her entire life. We see this so often in Europe where intermarriage is rampant yet the offspring are not only active in the Jewish community but often times even run it. Their entire identity is Jewish and they can be heartbroken and feel rebuked by halachah and Jewish life if they are told we are not allowed to circumcise your son.
This is where the Talmud’s dictum of “koach deheterah adif”, “the power of leniency is preferable” should be employed. In fact, it is much easier to be stringent; all you need to do is to say something is forbidden. It is the scholar who can study the texts and find the leniency. A cold, indifferent and black and white reading of the halachah might indicate that is forbidden to circumcise such a child. But a concern for Am Yisrael and compassion for the people might engender a search to find a solution.
The Talmud ( Avodah Zarah 26b) states that its ok for a Jew to to perform Circumcision of a non Jewish baby for conversion but not for health reasons. The question left unmentioned is what if the parents want him circumcised for neither conversion nor health but for the sake of circumcision like the Muslims and many westerners do today?
The Mechaber in the Shulchan Aruch forbids Circumcision of a non Jewish baby (Yoreh Deah 266). Maimonides though, says that any “Ben Noach who wishes to do a mitzvah in the Torah for spiritual reward, one should not prevent him from doing so”(Hilchot Melachim 10:10) Asked if it is permissible to circumcise Christian or Muslim children he says it is ok and responded to the question “ Since any mitzvah a non Jew performs he receives schar for…. on the condition that he does it believing in the prophecy of Moshe rabeinu and that he is doing it as a mitzvah of the exalted Lord and believes in it and not for another reason”. “And there is no difference between a Christian or a Muslim and whenever they come to us we can circumcise him even though he remains a non Jew”. (Responsa of the Rambam 148)
All of this was written in a time when intermarriage meant one spouse taking the religion of the other spouse. There were no mixed religion couples. About 200 years ago, all of this changed, intermarriage dramatically increased and many mixed religion couples had sons and wanted them circumcised despite the fact the mother was not Jewish. This became a great problem in Western Europe and the young United States. In a telling description of his resonsa dealing with many such individuals and similar situations, the great Rabbi Bernard Illoway (1814-1875) called them “The Wars of the Lord”. He saw this issue as a threat against religion. His response, like that of the more conservative eastern European Jews when confronted by perceived leniencies and erosion of the traditional way of life, was to circle the wagons and prevent it. The Jewish Messenger newspaper, of New York, in November 11, 1864, ran an article called “The Suspension of a Mohel”. In which Rabbi Illowy is discussed mentioning that he suspended a Mohel who was willing to do such circumcisions. And after much discussion back and forth Rabbi Illoway explains his power to do so is granted to him by quoting the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 334). It is the case of a man placed in excommunication. The law is that the bet din’s power is so great that it can even prevent the man from circumcising his own children.
However a Great Torah scholar of the 19th century in Europe thought very differently. That was Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Kalisher, best known for his Drishat Zion on the centrality of Eretz Yisrael in Jewish philosophy and whose gloss Tzvi Latzadik on Choshen Mishpat is printed in the Vilna edition of the Shulchan Aruch. After proving that there is no prohibition to do such a circumcision he actually says that it is a mitzvah to do it.
“ Even more so it should be done to the child whose father is Jewish and his mother is not, one should not erase doing the circumcision since we are commanded to open a opening of hope and circumcise him upon his fathers will and when he will mature he will be easily fulfill his fathers wishes and immerse himself (to convert) properly. If we do not circumcise him we are pushing him away from Am Yisrael with our own hands and we should hearken to the verse ״and don’t push a way those who have been pushed away” (Shmuel 2, 14:14). He also says this might be the opportunity of the father to do tshuvah. And even more than that, by not doing the brit we might be preventing a potential great Jewish leader from emerging. ( Responsa of Rabbi Azriel Hildeshiemer 230-231)
הרב צבי הירש קלישר (בתוך שו”ת רבי עזריאל הילדסהיימר, בחלק א – יו”ד סימן רכ”ט, רל)
ואחרי אשר בררנו שמותר ומצוה למול נכרי אערכה שוב לדין זה אשר השכל יסכים לה….
ואחרי אשר רצה ית’ לזכות יצוריו ולא זכו, בלי ספק פתח תקוה פתוח למו שכל מי שיבוא להתגייר ולהסתפח בנחלת ד’ יזכה לאור אין סוף, כמו אונקלס שמעי’ ואבטליון ודומיהן, וע”כ כאשר בא עכו”ם להמול פותחין לו בזה בחירה חפשית כאשר ישים אל לבו באמת ובתמים לבוא לעדת ישראל בנקל יקבל הטבילה והמצוה לאור באור הצפון, ואם אין מלין אותו מבטלין את בחירתו כי לא בנקל ימסור נפשו לצער מילה בזקנותו, וכאשר מלין אותו נסיר מחיצת ברזל מלפניו, והבחירה קיימת לרצונו ומה שאמרו קשים גרים וכו’ היינו אם לבו בל עמו באמת ובתמים. ועתה אם בעכו”ם הדין כן שאין בזה עון רק מצוה כל שכן בילד אשר אביו ישראל ואמו הנכרית לא תמחה מהמצוה שמצווין אנו לפתוח לו פתח תקוה למולו כעת ע”ד אביו וכשיגדל יוכל מהר לעשות כרצון אביו לטבול עצמו כדת וכדין ואם אין מלין אותו דוחין אותו בידים מעדת ישראל, ולא ככתוב ואל ידח ממנו נדח.
Years ago, an Israeli living in Bulgaria asked me to do such a brit. The Yemenite grandparents flew in and were heartbroken that their grandson was not Jewish and could not bear the fact that he would not have a circumcision. I agreed to do the circumcision. I sang some verses and made a Boreh Pri hagafen on the wine and the father made a shehechiyanu on a piece of new clothing. All were happy. Months later I heard from the father that his wife had started conversion classes. Now, instead of general anesthesia to do a circumcision when the young boy and mom convert, all that is needed is to draw a drop of blood.
This topic really touches on philosophical questions of how we should relate to zerah Yisrael. Rav Uziel, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel is concise.” For the sake of their children we must bring them close…they are from Jewish stock and they are lost sheep” When Yechezkial the prophet castigates the nation he says “Those that are pushed away you did not bring close and those that are lost you did not search out”
פסקי עוזיאל סימן ס”ה
גם אם לא נחוש (לתקנת האבות העברינים שנשאו נכריות) ונאמר “ילך החבל אחר הדלי”, מכל מקום למען בניהם ודאי שאנו חייבים לקרבם. לא מבעיא עם הם בני ישראלית (שחיה עם נכרי) שבניה הם ישראלים גמורים. אל אפילו הם בני גויה (שנשאה לישראל) הרי מזרע ישראל המה, ואלה הם בבחינת צאן אובדות. וירא אנכי שאם נדחה אותם לגמרי על ידי זה שלא נקבל את הוריהם לגירות, נתבע לדין בפני ה’ ויאמר עלינו “את הנדחת לא השיבותם ואת האובדות לא ביקשתם” (יחזקאל לד).
So what is the correct thing to do? Circumcise or not? At a conference for mohalim in Tel Aviv, where the vast majority were chareidi mohalim, I was impressed by the message of one of the speakers. Milah may be the only religious interaction in the life of a non religious person until marriage. If we can relate to them in an elevating manner and not a denigrating one, we can affect their perception of religious Jews and Judaism for their life. Given that the Rambam permits it even for a Muslim child with no Jewish genes, it would seem to me that a Jewish father who wants his non Jewish son to have a circumcision is a step towards his coming back to Judaism.
My view from the trenches as a mohel doing britot for over 30 years and after interacting with many types of Jews is; koach dehetera adif. If we can find a leniency to help Jews return to the fold, lets do it for one never knows how great can be the impact of our actions.