By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER
During the Bris (Brit Milah) ceremony, the Sandek is the individual (often a grandfather or great-grandfather) honored with holding the infant on his lap (or firmly securing the infant, who has been placed gently on a table) during the actual circumcision procedure.
The Sandek is also referred to as “Baal Ha-Berit” – “Master of the Covenant.” The Sandek has been compared to the Temple Altar – so sacred is the rite performed “atop” him. Though it is a bit unconventional to serve as Sandek more than once (so intense is the blessing derived from that function!), I have had the great joy and privilege of serving as Sandek three times: for each of two grandsons, and for the son of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who had no family members in attendance to honor.
The Sandek’s joy permeates the community. If the Bris takes place on a weekday, and the Sandek attends a minyan that day, the congregation refrains from the penitential “Tachanun” prayers – as it would on Rosh Chodesh, Shabbat, or Holy Days – as such somber prayers are inconsonant with the festive occasion.
The “office” of Sandek reminds us that one who joyfully (and firmly) plays a personal, hands-on role in transmitting the Covenant to future generations represents a walking Holiday… and a living Altar.
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)