By Belda Lindenbaum
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of the JOFA Journal.
When my daughter had her first child, a boy, sixteen years ago, she called and asked me to fill the role of sandak, or, in my case, sandakit. I was excited to take part in this ceremony, as I remembered from the britot of my own three sons that I had been pretty much a nonparticipant.
Quite apart from that memory, it seemed so right to be performing this mitzvah. I remember hearing Reuven Kimelman, a Brandeis professor of rabbinic literature, speak at the first JOFA Conference about the Israelite women in Egypt holding their babies for the brit until the men complained. They said it was a dishonor for the men to be passed over, and so the women were excluded. I think women sandakot were the norm until the thirteenth century.
On the day, I held my grandson, watched the mohel enter him into the brit, without feeling the angst a male might have felt, and comforted him tenderly as his mother would have and as I had tended her as a child. My son-in-law’s mother held him for the naming, as he was named in memory of her husband. My husband was given a separate role, and so we were all represented on the bima.
Since that brit I have been sandakit at number of my grandsons’ ceremonies, and the thrill of holding and comforting them has never diminished. We have found mohalim who were sympathetic to the practice of using a woman as sandakit, and the synagogues we attend are welcoming, which is, of course, a precondition for such a service. Moreover, expanding one’s rabbi’s vision of what is permissible within halakhah is also satisfying to me.
Belda Lindenbaum, a JOFA board member, is past president of American Friends of Bar-Ilan University and past president of Drisha Institute.