Question: May the same person serve as sandak for two children in the same family?
Short Answer: While the Rama appears to disallow it, many allow an important person or close family member (such as a grandfather) to serve as sandak more than once for the same family.
I. The Rama vs. The Vilna Gaon
The Rama (Yoreh Dei’ah 265:11) cites the Maharil and rules that a father should not have one individual serve as sandak for more than one son. In other words, each son should have a different person serve as sandak. The Rama explains that serving as sandak is comparable to offering k’tores, incense, on the mizbei’ach, and a kohen could only offer k’tores once.
The Vilna Gaon (ibid) challenges the Rama because if it truly was based on k’tores, a person would only be able to serve as sandak once in his life, regardless if it is for two children of the same father or two children for different fathers. Rather, explains the Vilna Gaon, this custom has nothing to do with the k’tores, but rather has its origin in the Will of Rabbi Yehudah HeChasid, who writes – without giving any reason – that one should not serve as sandak for two children of the same father, unless the first child died.
[As an aside, the sefer Mei’ein Omer (Vol. 12, p. 98) cites a machlokes how to interpret the Rama: the sefer Beis David (122) understands the Rama as prohibiting a person from serving as sandak twice in his life, even for children from different fathers, while the Shach (Yoreh Dei’ah ibid) limits the Rama to two children from the same father].
II. No Real Disagreement
Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita (Hilchos HaGra U’Minhagav, 203) suggests that there really is no disagreement between the Rama and the Vilna Gaon. Indeed, even the Rama agrees that there is no prohibition for an individual to serve as sandak for two children of the same family. Rather, the Rama is simply providing advice for a father: Don’t give this special z’chus to one person, but preferably spread the wealth. However, if there is an individual, such as a rabbi or family member, who is very important, and it would be an honor for the child to have this person be a sandak for him, despite the important individual being the sandak for his older brother, then it is permitted for this important individual to be sandak twice for one family.
Notably, Rav Sternbuch cites the Targum Yonasan who learns that Yosef HaTzadik was sandak for all the children of Ephraim and Menashe, implying that a grandfather/important individual may be sandak more than one time for the same family.
III. Attack on the Rama
Indeed, the Chasam Sofer (cited in P’ninim MiBei Midrasha, Parshas VaY’chi) also rules that it is permitted for the rav of a town to serve as sandak more than one time for the same family. Since a Kohen Gadol may offer the k’tores at any point – even multiple times – surely a rav of a town is no different vis-à-vis serving as sandak. Moreover, the Levush (see ibid) also rules that one should seek the most righteous mohel and sandak, implying that an important person may serve as sandak more than once for the same family if he is the best option. This is also the opinion of the Yad Shaul (cited in Mei’ein Omer ibid).
Additionally, the Noda BiYehudah (Kama, Yoreh Dei’ah 86) notes that the prevalent custom was to give the rabbi of the town the honor of being the sandak, regardless if he already served as sandak for an earlier son in the family.
More recently, the sefer Mei’ein Omer (ibid) cites a story about Rav E. M. Shach zt”l who was asked to be sandak for one of a set of twin boys. Rav Shach only accepted on condition that he serve as sandak for both boys because he didn’t want the other boy to feel bad when he grew up that Rav Shach was sandak for his twin brother and he got stuck with so-and-so.
Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Y’chaveh Daas 3:77) likewise is lenient for a family member or an important person to serve as sandak twice for one family. [However, the implication is that he would be stringent for a different individual. See Otzar HaBris V’HaDrush (p. 135).
Furthermore, Rav Hershel Schachter shlita told my father that he feels that it is perfectly fine for a person to serve as a sandak twice for one family.
IV. In Defense of the Rama
The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Dei’ah 265:34) defends the p’sak of the Rama. He suggests that the Rama likely analogized to the k’tores in order to give an easily understood reason for the prohibition, which likely originates from “chochmas ha’nistar” – a kabbalistic or non-logical basis. The Aruch HaShulchan thus recommends that it is advisable to follow the ruling of the Rama.
New Series Next Week: Aveilus: May a mourner wear t’filin after burial where the burial takes place the day after the death?