TAZRIA / METZORA (Leviticus, 12:1-15:33) — “Dueling Brisses”

What do you do when you have conflicting responsibilities?

G-d instructed Moses to tell the Israelites to observe the Sabbath:

The Israelites shall keep the Sabbath, making it a day of rest for all generations, as an eternal covenant (“Bris”).  It is a sign that during six days G-d made Heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested… (Exodus, 31:16-17)

On Shabbos, we rest.  We demonstrate our belief in the Genesis account of Creation by emulating G-d and resting on the seventh day.  That is part of our “eternal Covenant/Bris.” We may not engage in creative labor.  We may not cook, plant, or build.  We may not transport items or slaughter animals.  We may not shear a lamb or cause a wound.  That, too, is part of our “eternal Covenant/Bris.”

Against this backdrop, we open this week’s Torah Portion, and discover a conflicting covenant:

“…and on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin should be circumcised.” (Leviticus, 12:3)

The Torah requires us to circumcise a boy on the eighth day of his life.  This Mitzvah too is a Bris, a covenant.

Which Bris takes precedence, the Sabbath or the circumcision?  Do we transgress the Sabbath by inflicting a wound on an eight-day-old boy, or do we wait until Sunday? The Talmud tells us that the Mitzvah of circumcision supersedes the prohibition against wounding on Shabbos. (See “No ‘Short Cuts’ To The Bris”)  A Bris, which is technically work, is performed on the eighth day, even if it is Yom Kippur! (Yes, I work on Shabbos!!!)

Thus, we see that the Bris of circumcision is more important than the Bris of Shabbos.  Or is it?

It has been pointed out that one of the reasons that the Bris takes place on the eighth day of life is so that every child can experience at least one Shabbos before his Bris.  Shabbos is a special day of spirituality that uplifts us and makes us holy.


The Talmud observes that the Mitzvah of Bris has been observed by our People with joy.  It pains me that the same thing cannot necessarily be said about the Sabbath.  For some reason, strict Shabbos observance seems to be relegated to the devout few.  Perhaps the reason is that a Bris comes only a few times in a parent’s life.  Shabbos is a life-long, weekly commitment.

A Mohel once asked Rabbi Moshe Feinstein whether he should perform a Bris on Saturday if the people attending the Bris are desecrating the Sabbath (turning on lights, etc.) in his presence.  Rabbi Feinstein responded that the Mohel is obligated to perform the Bris on the eighth day, regardless of what others are doing.  However, he added, one should not be present when others violate the Sabbath.  Simply observing others engaging in forbidden activities is inappropriate, said Rabbi Feinstein.  Therefore, the Mohel is required to leave as soon as possible!

(It is interesting to note that some authorities disagree with Rabbi Feinstein’s ruling.  There are some rabbis who point out that the Mitzvah of performing a Bris only supersedes the prohibition of cutting.  It does not permit driving, music, or photography.  These rabbis rule that if performing a Bris on Shabbos will cause so many participants to violate the Sabbath in so many ways, it is better to postpone the Bris until Sunday.  One Mohel I know was requested to perform a Bris on a Saturday afternoon.  He lived ten miles away, but he was prepared to walk.  “If you make the commitment to me that all of your guests will stay within walking distance for the entire Shabbos, I will come on Saturday and do the Bris.  But if my agreement to perform the Bris on Saturday means that you will have guests driving on our holy Sabbath, I am not permitted to come.”)

Several years ago I spoke with a lady who had decided to do me a favor and act as my “representative.”  “I was talking to Mrs. _________,” she told me.  “I was trying to convince her to come to your synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, but she said she’d rather pray at home because it is too far to walk.  I explained to her that under those circumstances, I am sure Rabbi Seplowitz would agree that it is better to ride to synagogue than to stay home.  Right?”

Not quite.  I tried to explain to her that synagogue attendance, while it is a very worthwhile endeavor, is not mandatory.  One is permitted to pray at home.  Driving on the Sabbath, however, entails the violation of Biblical restrictions. (One such prohibition would be igniting flames by use of the internal combustion engine.)  One may not desecrate the Sabbath in order to “observe” it.

The Torah makes it a point to tell us that we may perform a Bris even if the eighth day comes out on Shabbos. Bris is an exception to the general rule.  Only THIS Mitzvah (and a few others that are clearly spelled out to us) permits us to “ignore” the otherwise Sabbath-prohibited activity.  In all other cases, we must adhere to the Sabbath laws.  The end does not justify the means.


This, by the way, is one of the reasons that I try to update my Torah Talks and send them out early in the week.  I try to avoid sending emails to non-observant Jews on Fridays.  While I can’t prevent others from engaging in forbidden activities, I don’t want to be the catalyst of Sabbath violation.  So please do me (and yourself!) a favor.  If you haven’t had a chance to read the latest Torah Talk before Friday at Sundown, please wait till Saturday night!  (Alternatively, you could print it out on Friday afternoon, and read it at your leisure!)


Sabbath observance is considered as testimony.   By sanctifying G-d’s holy day, we testify our belief that He is in charge.  We demonstrate our belief that He created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.  “… It is a sign that during six days G-d made Heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested…”

For six days we work and strive to build G-d’s world.  The Seventh day is special.  The Seventh day is G-d’s Day of Rest.  The Seventh day is our day to recharge our spiritual batteries.  The Seventh day is a Covenant, a Bris.

And it doesn’t hurt a bit!

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.



Some years the two Torah Portions of Tazria and Metzora are read together, and some years they are read on two separate Sabbaths.  For your convenience, here are links to both Portions:

Links to Tazria:

“A Taste of His Own Medicine” (2011)

… Many have praised the wisdom of the ancient Hebrews in realizing the importance of isolating patients with communicable diseases.  The leper was segregated from the Camp of Israel, dressed in a way that clearly identified him as contagious, and would announce“Unclean!  Unclean!” to anyone who approached. (Leviticus, 13:45) How insightful of the Israelites in the desert to realize that they could prevent an epidemic by keeping people with infectious diseases away from the general population.

Except for one problem.  It makes no sense!…

Read more


“Dueling Brisses” (2010)

What do you do when you have conflicting responsibilities?

A Mohel once asked Rabbi Moshe Feinstein whether he should perform a Bris on Saturday if the people attending the Bris are desecrating the Sabbath (turning on lights, etc.) in his presence…

Read more


“Blood Libel 2005” (2005)

I really didn’t want to write this article.

Often, the best way to react to negative PR is to ignore it.  When you respond to ugly accusations, you sometimes exacerbate the problem by giving a forum to a topic that does not deserve one.  I hoped that the story would die down and go away.  Therefore, I chose to remain silent.

Ironically, this terrible tragedy has been great for business…

Read more


“Timing” (2003)

… I approached Rabbi F’s son with a “business proposition.”  I asked him to lend me his father’s knives, to be used “in memory” of his father. … he lovingly took his father’s two Bris knives out of their cases.  Imagine the nostalgia he must have felt!  He was happy that his father’s knives were going to be used once again, and I was honored to be the vehicle through whom they were to be used… After the sterilization cycle was finished, I opened the autoclave, and took a look.  To my horror, I discovered…

Now what was I going to do?  My friend had lent me his father’s knives in good faith, and I had ruined them! …

Read more


“No ‘Short Cuts’ to the Bris” (2002)

There is an interesting dispute between two great rabbis in the Talmud…Rabbi Eliezer is of the opinion that one may do whatever needs to be done in order to facilitate a Shabbos Bris… if Rabbi Eliezer were living today, he would permit a Mohel to get into his car on a Saturday morning and drive to the Bris…

[PLEASE NOTE: RABBI ELIEZER’S OPINION IS NOT ACCEPTED.  Any Mohel who would drive to a Saturday Bris is considered a Sabbath violator, and should be disqualified from performing Brisses ANY DAY of the week.]…

Read more


Link to Metzora:

“A Pox on NONE of Your Houses” (2011)

… This spiritual disease can only happen in the Land of Canaan/Israel.  It never happened in the desert.  The Land of Israel is very sensitive to sin.  When people engage in activities to which the Land is “allergic,” the Land “breaks out” with an “infection.”

So there’s a simple solution.  Stay out of Israel!  Who needs these threats to our financial well-being?  Forget the house in Israel; buy a condo in Miami!  It’s safer.  No wall stains, no Kohain visits, no quarantines!  Why would anyone want to subject themselves to this threat?…

Read more


This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on April 13, 2010 at 6:22 am  Comments (2)  

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Why should a child experience a Shabbos uncircumcised?
    Doesn’t a “Shalom Zachor” have something to do with this?

  2. Perhaps we could flip your question: Why should a child experience a Bris unShabbosed?

    Perhaps it is only after he has experienced the infusion of Sabbath sanctity that he is qualified to be entered into the Covenant.

    We could, of course, argue this both ways. Life is a progression; we continue to grow. Apparently Shabbos is the first step. The next step is Bris. A person without a Bris is not qualified to eat the Passover offering.

    So what’s holier, a Bris or Shabbos? Do we see that the Covenant of Shabbos is holier because it is a prerequisite to receiving the Covenant of Circumcision? Or do we assume that the Covenant of Circumcision is holier because it’s the next step up?

    My heart tells me it’s the former, but my mind hasn’t yet come up with the proof to back it up!

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