Question: May a father who is capable of performing a bris milah on his son (i.e., he is a doctor) hire a mohel to perform the milah?
Short Answer: Although there are many poskim who rule that a father who knows how to perform a bris milah must perform it himself, others rule that he may hire a mohel to serve as his agent. Moreover, if the father is scared to do the milah himself, he can certainly hire a mohel, even if he knows how to perform the milah himself.
I. Father’s Obligation
The Gemara in Kiddushim (29a) teaches that it is the father’s obligation to perform a bris milah on his son. The source of this obligation is from the pasuk in Parshas VaYeira (21:4), that Avraham himself circumcised Yitzchak his son. The Gemara then explains that if the father does not circumcise his son, the obligation falls to beis din, and then to the son himself to ensure that circumcision is performed.
But can the father appoint a mohel to act as his shaliach – agent – to perform the milah?
II. Father Must Do It
The Gemara in Chulin (87a) rules that the same person who slaughters an animal must perform the mitzvah of kisui ha’dam, covering the blood. If someone else covers the blood, he must pay the person who slaughtered the animal “ten zehuvim” for stealing his mitzvah/b’rachah. The Rosh (ibid) cites a story where a father hired a mohel to perform a bris milah on his son, but a second mohel did it first. The Rosh ruled that the second mohel does not owe anything to the first mohel because that first mohel does not have a monopoly on the mitzvah, despite the request of the father. This is in contrast to the case of the slaughtering and covering of the blood, where the Torah explicitly requires the slaughterer to cover the blood. However, the Rosh adds that if a father wants to perform a bris milah on his son himself, and another mohel does it first, the mohel owes the father ten zehuvim.
Based on this Rosh, the Shach (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 382:4) rules that any mohel who delegates his own son’s bris milah to another mohel has violated the mitzvah. He suggests that the beis din stop this widespread “custom.” Notably, the Shach adds that this is the opinion of the Rambam as well. The K’tzos HaChoshen (ibid) elaborates on the proof of the Shach: If a father was allowed to delegate his mitzvah of bris milah on his own son to a different mohel, then the second mohel essentially stole the father’s mitzvah and would owe the father (or the first mohel) the ten zehuvim. The K’tzos likewise defends the Shach from attacks from the Rama (see infra) and notes that, based on a Tosfos Rid, we do not allow shlichus with the mitzvah of bris milah, just as we do not allow an agent to perform other mitzvos of a person’s body, such as putting on t’filin or sitting in a sukkah.
Similarly, the Darchei Moshe (Yoreh Dei’ah 264:1) cites the Or Zarua (Milah 107) who rules that if the father himself is a mohel, it is forbidden for him to delegate the milah to another mohel.
III. Appoint an Agent
Although the Darchei Moshe cites the above-mentioned Or Zarua, he questions such a ruling based on the concept of shlichus, agency. Why can’t a father simply appoint a mohel to act as his agent to perform the milah? Thus, the Darchei Moshe appears to allow a father who is capable of performing a milah himself to appoint another mohel to perform it instead.
Similarly, the T’vuas Shur (Yoreh Dei’ah 28:14) questions the ruling of the Shach based on the concept of agency. Why can’t the father appoint an agent to perform the milah, just as one can ask another person to put up mezuzos in his home for him?
Additionally, the sefer Toras HaBris (260:1) cites numerous Acharonim who rule like this Darchei Moshe, including the Kreisi (Yoreh Dei’ah 28), the Vilna Gaon (Yoreh Dei’ah 265:35), the Chasam Sofer (159), and the Beis HaLevi (1:10). Moreover, the Chasam Sofer explains that the Shach (and the Rosh) would agree that a father can appoint a shaliach to perform the milah; but rather, they are just discussing a case where the father didn’t officially appoint the other mohel as a shaliach.
IV. Another Opinion
The sefer Simchas HaTorah (Journal, Vol. 5773, Kiryas Sefer, p. 317) has an article by Rav Avraham Stern, where he explains the machlokes of the Shach and Rama as follows: The Shach understands that milah is a mitzvah on the father specifically, and thus cannot be performed by an agent; while the Rama understands that it is no different from other mitzvos that can be performed by agents.
However, Simchas HaTorah cites a third opinion – that of the Tosfos Rid, that milah is a mitzvah on the father, but the mitzvah is for the father to ensure that the child has a milah, and to be involved in the necessary preparations. There is no obligation, however, for the father to perform the mitzvah himself. [Note, though, that the K’tzos referenced above understands the Tosfos Rid differently]. See also Toras HaBris (ibid). According to this opinion, a father certainly can hire a mohel to perform the milah.
V. Practically Speaking
Even according to the opinions that a father must perform the milah himself if he is capable, the P’sakim U’T’shuvos (Yoreh Dei’ah 260:1) cites Acharonim who rule that a father is not obligated to learn how to perform a milah in order to perform it himself. Moreover, if the father is nervous that he will mess up the milah, he is certainly allowed to hire a mohel. See also Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Dei’ah 261:5).
Next Week’s Topic: If the father of the baby is returning from a business trip overseas on the eighth day, can others perform the milah without the father, or must they wait for him to arrive?