The Pasuk writes, in reference to Yitzchak: “The child grew and was weaned; and Avraham made a great feast on the day Yitzchak was weaned (higamel)” (Bereishis 21:8).
Sefer Hamanhig (laws of Milah) notes that this Pasuk serves as a support for the custom to serve a se’udas mitzvah, a celebratory mitzvah feast, after a Bris Milah even though the Pasuk refers to weaning.
This is based on the Midrash, which notes that the word higamel, “was weaned,” can be split into the words “on the eighth day (because hey is five and gimmel is three) [when he] circumcised his son.” This interpretation is also mentioned by Tosafos (Shabbos 130a). Sefer Hamanhig adds that this custom is already referred to in the Gemara (Kesubos 8a).
In this week’s article we will discuss the se’udas mitzvah of a Bris. What is the nature of the mitzvah to hold a celebratory meal in honor of the Bris? Are others obligated to participate in the meal? Should a meat meal be served? And why are some careful not to invite others to their Bris celebration? These questions, among others, are discussed below.
The Se’udas Mitzvah of a Bris
The Beis Yosef (Yoreh De’ah 265:12) notes the idea mentioned above from the Avudraham. Based on this source, the Shulchan Aruch rules: “It is customary to hold a feast on the day of the Bris” (Yoreh De’ah 265:12).
The Rema adds that the custom is to have a minyan present at the se’uda, and that it is called a se’udas mitzvah.
The Beis Yosef notes that another source for this seuda is found in the Gemara (Shabbos 130a), which mentions that any mitzvah that the Jewish people accepted upon themselves with joy, such as Milah, they continue to perform even today with joy. Rashi explains that the joy of Bris Milah refers to the feast that is held at the Bris.
Moreover, Pirkei De’Rabbi Eliezer (brought in the Gra’s commentary to Yoreh De’ah 265, 47) notes that performing a Bris for one’s child is akin to offering him on an altar before Hashem, as Avraham did with Yitzchak. Just as Avraham accompanied the Akeidoh with a celebratory feast (according to the Midrash), so we celebrate the Bris with a se’udas mitzvah.
A Torah Mitzvah?
What is the nature of the mitzvah to participate in the se’udas bris?
The Shaarei Teshuva (Orach Chaim 551:33) cites Shut Beis Yaakov and many others that the mitzvah of a se’udas bris is rabbinic in nature (the biblical source mentioned at the outset is only a hint, and not a full source or support).
The Shaarei Teshuva brings an interesting opinion of the Shut Or Ne’elam (no. 9), who writes that although the obligation to eat at the Bris is only rabbinic, the meal itself is a Torah-mandated mitzvah. The distinction between “eating at the meal” and “the meal itself” is strained, and the above-mentioned Shaarei Teshuva points out the difficulty.
The authorities, noted above, call it a custom to eat a se’uda at the Bris, and the Shaarei Teshuva concludes that this is a universal custom, which gains the force of rabbinic law.
Participating in the Meal
Although hosting a se’udas bris is a custom-based rabbinic mitzvah, attendance at the festive meal has a special level of stringency.
The Rema writes (Yoreh De’ah 265:12) that whoever does not participate in the festive meal that accompanies a Bris is viewed as if he is “excommunicated from Heaven.” He adds that if people who are not worthy to sit with are participating in such a meal, one is not obligated to join them.
The source for this ruling is a Gemara in Pesachim (113b), where we learn (according to one opinion) that someone who “does not partake in a chabura shel mitzvah is excommunicated from Heaven.” Tosafos explain that this refers to somebody who does not join a mitzvah meal.
It is noteworthy that the Rema does not issue a similar ruling concerning the festive meal at a wedding, though the Gemara refers specifically to “the wedding of a Torah scholar, and the daughter of a Kohen to a Kohen.” The Levush (Orach Chaim, Minhagim 34), for instance, equates the two, mentioning both examples: a wedding meal, and a se’udas bris.
Shut Iggros Moshe (Orach Chaim 2:95) suggests an explanation for the Rema, namely that in the case of a Bris Milah there is no objective mitzvah to attend the Bris, and the duty to do so applies only to one who receives a father’s invitation (see below). The main mitzvah of joy at a Bris (and therefore of feasting) applies to the father alone, who, however, requires the company of others to fulfill his own mitzvah. Having been invited by the father, non-attendance is considered as snubbing the mitzvah, and it therefore becomes obligatory (see below).
For a wedding feast, however, there is a full mitzvah to participate: there is a mitzvah to bring joy to the chasan and kallah irrespective of an invitation. For this reason, anybody going to a wedding can (formally) take a haircut even during the sefira period—a halacha that does not apply for those attending a Bris. Yet, non-attendance at a wedding does not have the same gravity as not attending a Bris.
Inviting Others to the Meal
Because of the Rema’s ruling, some Poskim write that one should not directly invite people to a Bris (using the words “you are invited to the Bris”). Rather, it is customary to simply inform friends and community members of the bris (“the Bris will take place on such-and-such a day, at such-and-such an hour”), without issuing a formal invitation.
This is done so that if the guest is unable to participate in the ceremony, his declining the invitation will not be interpreted as a refusal to take part in the festive meal, thereby sparing him the risk of “excommunication from Heaven” (Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh De’ah 265:18). The Be’er Heitev Hayashan (Yoreh De’ah 265:5) notes that when somebody will not be able to attend he should not be invited, and the Mekom Shmuel (cited in the Pischei Teshuvah) extends this to people in general even if they can attend.
However, some dispute this ruling and argue that there is no problem to invite people to a Bris, because the statement of the Rema applies only to guests who are present at the Bris—at the meal itself—yet refuse to take part. By so doing, they show disdain for the mitzvah, which cannot be said for somebody who is entirely absent from the affair.
Shut Sho’el Venish’al (Vol. 7, Yoreh De’ah 209) writes that the lenient ruling on inviting others emerges from the wording of the Rema himself, who states that somebody who does not participate in the Bris is considered as though excommunicated from Heaven. The next sentence, stating that where unworthy people are present one need not join the meal, implies that the reference is to somebody actually present at the meal.
Note also that the Kaf Hachaim (Sofer, 90:67) writes that even when formally invited to a se’udas mitzvah, one who will not be able to daven with the tzibbur (congregation) if he attends the bris should not attend the bris, and he is not looked upon as one who refuses to take part in the commandment.
There are also opinions that if there is already a quorum of ten adult Jewish males at the meal, additional guests are not obligated to take part, for the mitzvah of the meal will fulfilled without him (see Otzar Habris, p. 163).
For some, the absence of a formal, straightforward invitation can be misinterpreted as a sign of disregard, and is liable to make the person in question feel unwanted. In such cases, it is certainly better to invite him in a clear and unmistakable manner.
Meat or Dairy?
The Magen Avraham (249:6, citing Rav Shlomo, rebbi of the Shelah Hakadosh) rules that a se’udas bris is fulfilled specifically with a meat meal. This view, which is based on the principle that “there is no joy other than in meat and wine,” is also stated by Rav Yaakov Emden in his siddur and is noted by several other authorities (see Shulchan Ha’ezer Vol. 2, p. 88b; Chavas Ya’ir 70; Shut Shevet Mishimon, Beis Mishteh 15; among others).
These authorities maintain that a person will not fulfill the obligation of a mitzvah meal with a dairy meal, and in fact many contend that a fowl meal is also insufficient, and the mitzvah requires specifically a meat meal (see Mor Ukziah, Siman 696, who writes that the joy of meat cannot be achieved with fowl; Leket Yosher, p. 157, also writes that the joy of meat does not apply to fowl).
However, other authorities disagree. Specifically, the Olas Shabbos and Chemed Moshe (mentioned by the Machatzis Hashekel, Siman 249) permit even a dairy meal for a Bris.
Today it is the custom to rely on chicken rather than actual meat. Due to the fact that a Bris is often held in the morning hours, when some find it difficult to eat meat, the custom of a dairy se’uda has also grown in popularity, and Rav Elyashiv zt”l is cited as permitting it.