New American Reform Responsa

95. Caesarean and Berit

QUESTION: May a child born of Cesarean section be circumcised on shabbat, or should the circumcision be postponed? This question is asked because there seems to be a difference of opinion between the traditional sources and the response given by Solomon B. Freehof in Today's Reform Responsa. (Rabbi B. H. Mehlman, Boston MA)

ANSWER: As you have indicated, the traditional sources which deal with this question state that a child whose sexual status is doubtful, who has two foreskins or who is born through Cesarean, should not be circumcised on shabbat (Yad Hil Milah 1.11; Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 266.10; Yad Hil Milah 1.11). These statements were very clear and the commentaries on them did not present any arguments in another direction. They were based on the decision of the Mishnah (Shab 19.3) which prohibited the circumcision of an androgynous child on shabbat. It is correct that a child born of Cesarean section was not mentioned in the Mishnah nor in the subsequent discussion of the Talmud (Shab 134a) . Although there were numerous discussions of children whose sexual status is doubtful (hermaphrodites or androgynous) in the classical literature both in connection with this matter and others, there were none to the best of my knowledge which dealt with the question of circumcision of a Cesarean birth on shabbat. The tradition of not circumcising on shabbatdeveloped and was accepted.

We must now ask why Solomon B. Freehof in his last volume of responsa answered in a different vein. I have looked through his halakhic correspondence as well as various papers in order to discover some reason for his conclusion. In the responsum itself, he only indicated that he felt the decision of Maimonides and Caro "overextends the statement of the Mishnah." That is perfectly correct and we may add that no reason for this extension of the Mishnaic prohibition has been provided. We might guess that it took place for one of two reasons: a) An extension of the statement that pidyon haben was not required for those born through a Cesarean (Yad Hil Bikurim 11.16; Tur and Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 305.24); b) there was a hesitancy about violating shabbat for a child whose birth was surrounded by any doubt, not only an androgynous or hermaphrodite child, but also one who was born at twilight as it may have been born on Friday or shabbat. Such a "doubtful status" might have been extended to the Cesarean as well. In any case we do not know the reason for the traditional statement which may also have simply followed minhag.

Solomon B. Freehof s conclusion in this matter was surprising as he advocated change only when there was a specific reason. It is, of course, possible to argue that the Mishnah has limited itself to the child of doubtful sexual status, and as it did not include a child born of Cesarean section we should not either. He mentioned that Rabbi Judah disputed the conclusion of this Mishnah, however, the decision went against him.

I believe that in this instance we must respectfully disagree with the decision of Solomon B. Freehof. As there is neither a Reform ideological reason for a change nor any other reason we would state with the tradition that a child born of a Cesarean should not be circumcised on shabbat, but on the next day.

August 1990

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.