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Saturday Circumcision

Rabbi Yehoshua Alt

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Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg ztz”l. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications and is the author of the books, Fascinating Insights and Incredible Insights. His writings inspire people across the spectrum of Jewish observance to live with the vibrancy and beauty of Torah. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes, and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

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Saturday Circumcision


In the year 1947 in Cairo, Egypt, R’ Ovadia Yosef wrote:[1] “Here, in Egypt, the mohel is allowed to perform bris milah only by being certified by the health department. The Jewish population in Cairo is around 50,000 and at times there are several brisos (circumcisions) on Shabbos throughout the city.[2] The mohel in Cairo, who was the only one certified by the health department, drives in his car from bris to bris and therefore violates Shabbos publicly.” R’ Ovadia was asked by some G-d fearing community members if they could employ this man as a mohel for their babies even though he didn’t observe Shabbos or if they were obligated to travel to Alexandria, which was more than three hours away, where there were mohelim that were Shabbos observant. R’ Ovadia ruled that the circumcisions he performed were valid. However, he advised his students to travel to Alexandria where the bris would be performed by a fully observant Jew. “And for the bris of my son, Avraham, who was born in Egypt in 1949, I asked R’ Maatuk Dhabi[3] of the Alexandria rabbinate and he traveled to my house in Cairo from Alexandria and circumcised my son.”[4] R’ Ovadia then wrote, “I gathered my courage and spoke to this mohel who drove in order to circumcise. I spoke to him very gently and explained that he shouldn’t drive. I later heard that after I spoke to him, instead of driving himself if he needed to get to a distant circumcision on Shabbos, he hired a non-Jew to drive. I didn’t reprimand him for this.”


If a mohel was invited to perform a bris milah on Shabbos at a place where he may see Chillul Shabbos, what should he do? R’ Moshe Feinstein[5] writes that even though it is forbidden to go to a place where they are transgressing Torah prohibitions, nevertheless since the mitzva of milah in its proper time is an obligation placed upon every Jew, the mohel is obligated to go and perform the bris—especially if there is no other mohel.


The Shulchan Aruch tells us that one is allowed to perform the needs for bris milah on Shabbos.[6] If it is known that because of the bris there will be Shabbos desecration, such as people driving to the bris, pictures being taken at the bris, and the like, what should be done? The opinion of the Shevet Halevi[7] is that although it is permitted on Shabbos to perform the bris of a child of those who desecrate Shabbos, it is still better to postpone it to Sunday. If this may cause an improper mohel to perform the bris, the Minchas Yitzchak[8] writes that the mohel is obligated to do it on Shabbos, since either way there will be Shabbos desecration, while deferring will only add to the already sub-optimal situation that the mitzva will not be done properly.


Another interesting question regarding a bris milah on Shabbos concerns a child whose 8th day does not fall out on Shabbos. For example, let’s say the child was born on Friday, yet they performed his bris nine days later on Shabbos. According to halacha, a bris may only be performed on Shabbos if and only if Shabbos is the 8th day from the child’s birth. In the example we cited, such a case is called a milah shelo b’zmanah (“circumcision not in its correct time”).[9] But the question arises what happens if it was nonetheless illegally performed on Shabbos? Is such a bris valid post facto or would the child need “another” bris in the form of drawing blood (hatafas dam bris), just as halacha calls for in a case where a non-Jew performed the milah?[10] In a lengthy responsum about this question, R’ Akiva Eiger concludes the bris milah is still valid, and it is not even considered a mitzva habaa b’aveira (“mitzva which came through a sin”).[11]

[1] Yabia Omer, volume 10, Yoreh Deah 25.

[2] R’ Ovadia Yosef resisted pressure put on him to study to qualify as a mohel when he was younger. Although the course of study was short, this skill would leave him running from one bris to the next. What would become of his Torah? In later years he expressed his satisfaction with this decision.

[3] R’ Maatuk Dhabi once asked R’ Ovadia Yosef a question that gives us a glimpse into the life of Jews living amongst the Arabs. He asked R’ Ovadia if it was permissible to do circumcisions with milah and priah for Arabs as a paid job. R’ Ovadia replied that it is permissible to do it for Arabs and Christians even for free but one who refuses to do so תבוא עליו ברכה (Yabia Omer, volume 2, Yoreh Deah 19).

[4] The evening before the bris, R’ Maatuk arrived after a three-hour trip from Alexandria, only to diagnose the baby with a light case of jaundice. Together with R’ Ovadia, he arranged to postpone the bris. When the baby was healthy, he returned from Alexandria to perform the bris.

[5] Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah, 1, 156.

[6] Orach Chaim 331:1.

[7] 1:205,331. See 4:134-5. 9:210.

[8] 3:35.

[9] Orach Chaim 331:4.

[10] Yoreh Deah, 264:1, Rema.

[11] Shu”t R’ Akiva Eiger, Mahadura Kamma, 174.

Author of the books Fascinating Insights and Incredible Insights

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