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Bris in the Time of Corona

(Originally published in the Jewish Press)

There are many legendary stories of bris milah being performed during challenging times throughout our history. Growing up, I heard them in Pirchei, camp, and school, and while I have participated in many remarkable brisin, I never could have imagined the types of brisin I have been performing during this unprecedented and difficult time. It has been challenging, albeit rewarding, guiding families through this milestone, in a very different way than they imagined just a few months ago. What once promised to be a lively and festive celebration has instead turned into a private, lonely ritual as they welcome their son into briso shel Avraham Avinu.

As I reflect on the past few weeks, my mind keeps focusing on a young couple who just welcomed their first child, a baby boy, under the stay at home guidelines in New York. A normally jubilant call about kibbudim, minhagim, and timing turned into a cautious discussion about PPE and whether the bris could take place at all. What was constant, however, was the degree to which I was inspired by these parents’ commitment to our mesorah in ensuring that their new addition was properly introduced into our nation. The images of a mom, just days removed from the delivery room, serving as the kvatter and handing her newborn directly to her husband for the bris and then standing alone while he, himself, served as the sandek are still fresh in my mind. As are the ones of joyous grandparents on a computer screen, trying to catch each precious moment via an internet connection. So much of it was reminiscent of a different time, when Jews were forced to be secretive in the practice of Torah and mitzvos. I cannot help but be moved by the personal commitment and, indeed sacrifice, this family, and so many others, are demonstrating.

I have also witnessed a remarkable amount of chesed. Newly named Refael Ezra (how appropo) is sheltering in place with his parents in an empty home in Great Neck. The owners are quarantined in Florida and graciously allowed the new family to return from the hospital to a warm, spacious home rather than their small Queens apartment. Families have been ordering food to their home and dropped off shalom zachor and bris related needs outside the new address to ensure they could focus on caring for their newborn. I have heard of many similar instances throughout our community. Mi ki’amcha Yisrael.

Personally, I could not serve in this capacity without the constant guidance of my rabbonim and the counsel of local doctors. I have leaned heavily on the great gedolim Rav Asher Weiss and Rav Hershel Schachter, my local rabbonim Rav Tzvi Sobolofsky and Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger, and venerable mohelim Rabbi Michoel Rovinsky and Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst, to ensure that the highest halachic standards are carefully balanced with a sensitivity to the most current medical guidelines.

The most common questions I have received concern how many layers of personal protective gear I will wear during the bris, if can honor a family member or Rav with krias ha’shem via Zoom, if gloves and masks will be removed for priah and metzitza, if metzitza should be adjusted at all, do the harachamans require a mezuman, and if follow up visits will be possible under the circumstances. Talking through these questions with new and veteran parents eases anxiety and inspires confidence that their sons will be brought into our mesorah safely and according to halacha.

The brisin being performed during these weeks add a new dimension to the tremendous dedication klal yisrael has shown to this mitzvah and another chapter in its long history. Just last week I had the privilege of bringing another Ezra into briso shel Avraham Avinu. His father was the sandek while his grandfather stood outside the window watching anxiously from a distance. Family from Morocco, France, Israel, and America watched via Zoom, among them his great-grandfather and namesake, himself a survivor of the Spanish flu of 1918.

I daven that the time will come soon when, be”H, we will once again celebrate this special mitzvah together as it should be. Until then, each family can be sure that their son’s bris can and will be done to the highest standard, and this sacred mitzvah will continue on.

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