Our parashah includes the instruction of Bris Milah, which was given to Avraham and his offspring (Bereishis Chap. 17). The Rambam cites the verses of our parashah in his opening to the laws of Milah: “Milah is a positive mitzvah, for which one is liable for the punishment of kareis, as it is written, “an uncircumcised male, who does not circumcise the flesh of his foreskin—that spirit shall be cut off from its nation.”
As mentioned in our parashah, and as the Torah writes in Parashas Tazria, the time for fulfilling the mitzvah of Bris Milah is on the eighth day after the infant’s birth: “On the eighth day you shall circumcise the flesh of his foreskin” (Vayikra 12:3). This is ruled by the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 262:1): “He is not circumcised until the sun rises on the eighth day after his birth; the entire day is valid for fulfilling the mitzvah of Milah.
However, in many cases the Bris is not performed on the eighth day, but after it. In this case the Milah is termed milah shelo bizmanah, or a delayed circumcision. In this article will will seek to clarify the laws of a delayed circumcision, and investigate in which ways it is different from an ordinary Bris.
Circumstances for a Delayed Circumcision
In cases of illness, a baby is not circumcised until he recovers from the illness, and seven days are counted from the time of recovery until the circumcision. This halachah, whose source is in the Gemara (Yevamos 71a), is ruled by the Shulchan Aruch (262:2): “A sick baby is not circumcised until he recovers, and seven full days must pass from the time of his recovery until the Bris is performed.” The Rambam (Milah 1:18) explains that a sick baby is not circumcised: a Bris can be performed later, but a life cannot be brought back.
The Shulchan Aruch explains that only for an “illness of the entire body” must seven days be counted before the Bris is performed. If only one of the baby’s limbs is affected, the circumcision is performed as soon as the baby recovers.
In defining which illnesses are included in the category of “an illness of the entire body,” the Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh De’ah 263:4) explains that in cases of doubt over whether or not an illness affects the entire body, doctors should be consulted—if we rely on them for matters of eating on Yom Kippur and for violating Shabbos, surely we must rely on them for the timing of the Bris.
We will not discuss the halachic status of different illness in this article. Many conditions are discussed in Nishmas Avraham, and of course, in practical situations one should always consult with both doctors and halachic experts.
A baby with high fever (38.0 Celsius/100.4 Farenheit) is considered as being ill, and a full week must pass from the time of recovery until the Bris is performed. According to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, a baby with slightly lower fever (37.5C/99.5F) is considered as being only partially ill, and although the Bris must be delayed until the fever goes down, there is no need to wait a week after the time of recovery.
Delaying a Postponed Bris
One of the central questions concenring a late Bris is whether or not it is permitted to delay the Bris further. After the Bris has been delayed, due to illness, past the eighth day, it is permitted to plan the Bris for a desired day, or must it be performed at the first opportunity?
The Noda Biyhuda (Tinyana, Yoreh De’ah 166) discusses the question of a baby whose Bris was delayed because of illness. Upon his recovery, the father wished to defer the Bris until the eve of Pesach so that firstborns will be able to participate in the se’udah of the Bris, and will therefore be exempt from fasting.
The Noda Biyhuda rules that even for a postponed Bris, it is forbidden to delay the Bris beyond the medical need. In addition to the basic prohibition of delaying the Bris from one day to the next, he adds that one must be concerned lest the child die, and the mitzvah will be entirely annulled. Moreover, the Noda Biyhuda adds that there is no permission for firstborns to eat from the meal of a postponed Bris, and rules that it is entirely prohibited to perform a Bris on the eve of Pesach, for fear that people will delay a Bris for this purpose.
The priniciple established by the Noda Biyhuda whereby “each day is the time for the Bris,” and it is therefore forbidden to delay the Bris without medical need, is echoed by the wording of the Rambam (Milah 1:2): “When he grows up he must circumcise himself, and each day that passes after he has grown up without his circumcising himself is a transgression of a positive mitzvah.”
According to the Rambam, the punishment of kares stated with regard to Milah is limited to somebody who dies without circumcising himself. The Raavad (loc. cit.), however, writes that the punishment applies for every day of a person’s failure to circumcise himself.
Which Baby Comes First
The Devar Avraham (Vol. 1, no. 33) writes that for a postponed Bris, not only does a person transgress a prohibition in delaying the Milah from day to day, but there is even a prohibition in delaying the Bris on the same day. Since the eighth day has already elapsed, there is no longer a daily obligation to perform the circumcision, but rather a constant obligation that applies each and every moment of the day. There is therefore an obligation to bring forwards the Milah and perform it as early as possible.
The wording of the Rambam in his Commentary to the Mishnah (Shabbos 19:7) appears to concur with this position: “There is no exemption from the mitzvah after the eighth day passes; rather, he is constantly instructed and obligated to circumcise him.”
The novel ruling of the Devar Avraham is stated in relation to the question of which of two babies takes precedence in performing the Bris: a baby that is being circumcised on the eighth day, or a postponed Bris of an older infant.
The Pischei Teshuvah (Yoreh De’ah 265:9) cites from the Yad Eliyahu that the Bris on the eighth day takes precedence, for there a mitzvah at its designated time carries a special chavivus (favor). This ruling is also cited from Shut Bris Avraham. However, the Devar Avraham writes that on the contrary, the postponed Bris should be performed first. With regard to an eighth-day Bris, the Torah apportions the entire day for the purpose of Milah, and other than the virtue of zerizus (diligence in performing mitzvos), there is no problem in delaying the Bris. For a postponed Bris, however, delaying the Milah is more stringent, for once the baby is capable of undergoing the Bris every delayed moment involves a transgression.
The Devar Avraham therefore concludes that the postponed Bris takes precedence, and adds that in every case of a postponed Bris the Milah should be performed as soon as possible, and should not be delayed for the purpose of arriving guests.
Rav Chaim of Brisk is quoted (in Hagadas Volozin, p. 162) as having qualified the ruling of the Devar Avraham. In his view, the prohibition of delaying the Bris at all is limited to a person who has the obligation to perform his own circumcision. For the Bris of a baby boy (which is performed by the boy’s father), the special stringency does not apply, and an eighth-day Bris therefore takes precedence to that of an older infant.
The Rulings of the Magen Avraham
The ruling of the Devar Avraham, who lived in the first half of the twentieth century, is found in earlier sources. Shut Teshuvah Me-Ahavah (Vol. 1, no. 85) writes that “a postponed Bris is more stringent than a regular Bris, for the time for a regular Bris is the entire eighth day… whereas the time for a postponed Bris is at every given moment.” In support of this position, the Teshuvah Me-Ahavah cites a ruling of the Magen Avraham.
Although a celebratory feast must not, in general, be conducted on Friday, the Rema (249:2) rules that a meal whose fixed time falls on Friday can (and should) be held on time. The Magen Avraham (249:5) adds that this applies even to the meal of a postponed Bris, because “its time is at every moment.” According to the Teshuvah Me-Ahavah, this implies that the obligation is constant, and not daily.
Yet, this ruling seems to contradict a different ruling of the Magen Avraham, which concerns the laws of burning chametz. If a person is on his way to perform a Bris for his son, and recalls that he has not yet burned his chametz—and he is unable to annul the chametz in his heart (because it is too late in the day for this to be possible)—the Magen Avraham (as cited by the Mishnah Berurah 444:29) he should go back to burn his chametz, even though he will be unable to perform the Bris.
The reason for this is that “the positive mitzvah of destroying chametz is more severe, for a person transgresses it each moment, which is not the case for Milah.” This implies that unlike chametz on Pesach, delaying a postponed Bris does not involve a constant transgression. The Machatzis Hashekel notes the apparent contradiction in the rulings of the Magen Avraham.
The contradiction can be resolved by explaining that in his ruling concerning the festive meal on Friday, the Magen Avraham does not mean to explain that the time for the Bris is every moment, but only that the time is every day, and therefore the meal should not be delayed from Friday. The Mishnah Berurah (Shaar Hatzion 24), however, suggests an alternative explanation, writing that although the time for a postponed Bris is every moment, the transgression is mended when the child is finally cicrumcised. This does not apply to chametz on Pesach, for which the transgression of keeping chametz cannot be mended by finally eliminating it.
It should be noted that the custom is to perform the Bris as soon as possible, but not to the degree urged by the Devar Avraham, and a postponed Bris is generally treated in the same light as a regular Bris.
Timing of a Postponed Bris
The Taz rules (Yoreh De’ah 262:3, based on the Bedek Habayis) that a postponed Bris should not be performed on Thursday, because the third day fater the Bris is particularly painful, and one must avoid causing the infant pain on Shabbos. The Taz adds that the same ruling applies to Friday, for there is even greater pain on the second day. Yet, Rabbi Akiva Eiger questions this reasoning from the wording of the Bedek Habayis, who writes (citing from the Tashbatz) that when the baby recovers on Thursday, a postponed Bris is delayed until the morrow—which surely refers to Friday!
The Tashbatz (Vol. 1, no. 21, as cited in the Beis Yosef 268) adds that the Milah should not be performed on Thursday, because this is liable to cause a violation of Shabbos in treating the baby, lest he be in danger. This principle is likewise ruled by the Birkei Yosef, who adds that the baby should not be circumcised on Friday, for all three days after the Bris are considered dangerous for the infant. The Ben Ish Chai (Rav Pe’alim 4:28) thus rules that an infant should not be circumcised on Thursday or on Friday, and adds that this was the clear custom in his town.
However, other authorities write that it is permitted to perform a postponed Bris on Thursday, and the mitzvah is not postponed further. This is the ruling of the Shach (Yoreh De’ah 267:18), who mentions the ruling of “the majority of authorities,” and this is also ruled by the Magen Avraham (331:9), who adds that only rarely does a violation of the Shabbos result from this. This ruling is also cited by the Mishnah Berurah (331:33), and it is the clear custom today to perform a postponed Bris whenever the child is ready, even on Thursday or Friday (Otzar Ha-Bris Chap. 9, no. 6, sec. 27).
Further Details of the Timing
Tana’im dispute whether a postponed Bris can be performed at night, or whether it must be performed during the day, just as a regular Bris. The halachah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 262) follows the latter opinion.
A postponed Bris does not defer Shabbos or Yom Tov, and if the baby recovers on Shabbos, the Bris is performed on Sunday. Rishonim discuss whether or not a Bris can be performed on Yom Tov Sheini (when the prohibition of labor is only rabbinic), and although the ruling on the Shulchan Aruch is to be stringent (266:8), the Shach (8) permits the Bris to be performed on Yom Tov Sheini.
Summing up, the Noda Biyhuda (Orach Chaim 50) writes that the Bris should not be performed on Yom Tov Sheini, but one does not object to those who do so.