This Shabbat, Parshat Tazria, we read about the birth of a baby boy or girl, the procedures of purification after birth and the commandment to give the baby boy a brit mila, a ritual circumcision.
The brit mila ceremony for a baby boy and the simchat bat celebration for a baby girl are momentous occasions for the parents of the new baby, yet they can be very difficult ceremonies to attend for couples suffering from infertility.
There is a custom at a brit mila to delegate the honors of Kvatter and Kvatterin (a man and a woman who are given the honor to bring the baby boy in the door of the room where the brit mila will take place) to a couple who is seeking to have a child. This is based on a Midrash in Bamidbar Raba.
There are a few possibilities for the origins of the word Kvatter and Kvatterin:
Kvatter and kvatterin are a Yiddish combination of the words kavod (honor) and tier (door) since a man and a woman bring a baby boy in the door and take the baby out after the ceremony.
Rabbi Asher Anshil Grunwald in his book Zocher HaBrit derives “kvattar” from “gevattar,” the German word for intimate friend.
The Talmud Kritot 6b teaches that the ktoret (incense) is described as koter v’oleh, burning and ascending to heaven. Those involved with the brit are compared to the Kohen who performed the incense burning in the Beit HaMikdash. Over time, the word koter was mispronounced and became kvatter.
Was being a Kvatter and Kvatterin always considered a segula for a couple with fertility issues?
The Aruch HaShulchan mentions many women being involved in passing the baby but does not mention the idea of it specifically being a segula for a childless couple, rather an honor and a mitzvah.
For the integrity of the minhag, it is important to include friends who have children as well and not turn it into a stigma for childless couples.
Concerns for specifically inviting a fertility-challenged couple to be the kvatter/kvatterin:
They may be uncomfortable attending the brit.
They may feel put on the spot when asked and feel obligated to say yes.
They may feel like everyone’s eyes are upon them/ feeling sorry for them.
A woman in niddah may be uncomfortable, as she may be concerned about passing the baby to her husband.
The couple may be going through medical treatments that require them to be at the doctor/ hospital or may not feel up to waking up so early in order to attend.
Some people connect to segulot while others do not and everyone should be respected for their belief.
The minhag was not originally about inviting a couple without children, it was about giving friends the opportunity to participate in the mitzvah. For the integrity of the minhag, it is important to include friends who have children as well and not turn it into a stigma for childless couples.
Only ask a couple to serve as Kvatter and Kvatterin if you are sure that they would feel comfortable being invited (ex: very close friend or relative) and leave an opening for them to turn down the honor if they are not interested.
The time of the brit milah is looked at as an et ratzon (auspicious time), a time when all of those present have the opportunity to pray for what they need. In the book Aderet Eliyahu, Rabbi Eliyahu Guttmacher explains that the time that the baby cries at the brit is an “et ratzon.”
Rabbi Shlomo Efraim, author of the Kli Yakar wrote in his book Olelot Efraim that Mizmor 6 of Tehillim, La’menatzeach beneginot al HaShminit Mizmor L’David is an appropriate Psalm to recite at the brit.
We must keep in mind that couples who are experiencing fertility challenges have different ways of coping with attending friends’ life cycle events, especially a brit milah or simchat bat. We must be sensitive to their needs and leave the door open for them to choose if they want to attend at all, take part in the ceremony if they do attend, or quietly say a Psalm or their own private individual prayers.
Yesh Tikva Infertility Awareness Shabbat
This Shabbat, Keren Gefen Mind-Body Fertility Organization and Midreshet Nishmat are pleased to partner with Yesh Tikva’s Annual Infertility Awareness Shabbat which will be taking place in over 300 Synagogues in the USA, Canada and Israel. The goal of this Shabbat is to enhance communal understanding and facilitate empathy for those who have not yet been blessed with children or who are struggling to expand their families. On Shabbat morning, April 6, 2019, Rosh Hodesh Nisan, over 300 Synagogues in the USA and Israel will share a message or D’var Torah that helps enhance communal understanding and facilitate empathy for those who have not yet been blessed with children or who are struggling to expand their families.
Sharona Margolin Halickman holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College and an MS in Jewish Education from Azrieli Graduate School, Yeshiva University. Sharona was the first Congregational Intern and Madricha Ruchanit at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, NY. After making aliya in 2004, Sharona founded Torat Reva Yerushalayim, a non profit organization based in Jerusalem which provides Torah study groups for students of all ages and backgrounds. This blog is reposted from the Fertility Hevruta Workshop at Keren Gefen“Fertility Hevruta” Workshop at Keren Gefen.
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