New American Reform Responsa

106. Elijah and the Berit

QUESTION: Some young parents would like to provide a chair for Elijah for the synagogue to be used at any berit held in the synagogue. Are there any specifications for such a chair? What is the connection between Elijah and the berit? (Norman Goldberg, New York NY)

ANSWER: Elijah has been traditionally connected with the berit because of his concern with Israel forsaking its covenant with God (I Kings 19.10). This verse, when understood narrowly, could refer to the berit, so one of the early rabbinic books indicated that for this reason a chair of honor for Elijah has been provided at every berit milah (Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer 28). The connection may also reflect our Messianic hopes; there is the unspoken wish that the child about to enter into the covenant will live to see the Messianic Age and help to bring it about. In the traditional ritual and our own, Elijah is mentioned on several occasions. These passages seek a hopeful Messianic future.

The few chairs for Elijah which I have seen in museums or synagogues are nice pieces of furniture without any specific design. The oldest surviving chair is from the eighteenth century. If this young couple wishes to design a chair which may symbolize the Messianic future then any theme of peace and prosperity mentioned by the prophets, or some aspect of the life of Elijah himself, would be appropriate in the decoration. There is nothing in the traditional literature nor in the examples from the past which may guide us.

December 1989

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.