Category Archives: Parshat לך לך

Parshat לך לך

Parshat בראשית – Genesis 17:13 – May a Woman Perform a Circumcision?  

Genesis:  17:13 –Those born in the house and those purchased for money shall be surely circumcised (המול ימול), and My covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting covenant.

Babylonian Talmud – Avodah Zara 27a: – It was taught as follows: From what verse do we know that it is invalid for a non-Jew to perform a circumcision on a Jew? From the verse that states “shall be surely circumcised…”

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #36:

It is possible that the exegesis is from the word “ המול” and is taken to allude to the idea of  “מהול“– one who is circumcised. This is done by swapping the first two letters of the word with each other as we find is sometimes done in rabbinic discussions. Thus, the meaning would be “one who is circumcised should perform the circumcision”. In a previous verse (Genesis 17:9) a similar lesson is learned from the phrase “And you, my covenant shall you keep” – “you and people similar to you”. See there for a fuller explanation.

The Gemora explains that there is a practical halachic ramification that depends on which verse is used as the source. The halachic difference being whether women are allowed to perform circumcisions or not. If you deduce the rule from the verse “And you, my covenant shall you keep” – then a woman would not be allowed to perform circumcisions because she isn’t included in the “covenant of circumcision”. However, if you deduce the rule from our verse of “shall be surely circumcised (המול ימול)” – then the principle of “woman are considered as circumcised” would apply. Look over there are the pertinent Gemora and Tosafot.

Note that we hold as a matter of law that women are permitted to perform circumcisions. This is the conclusion of the Gemora based on the verse in Exodus 4:25 “Tzipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son”. (Note that according to those of the opinion that women are not allowed to perform circumcisions, they understand this verse to mean that Tzipporah began the circumcision, but Moshe completed it.)

In Yoreh Deah section 264 [Yosef Karo] states explicitly that a woman is permitted to perform circumcisions with the condition that if there is a Jewish man of greater stature who knows how to perform circumcisions, then that person would have preference. The Ramah [famous Askenazic early halachic authority] states there, “there are those who say that a woman should not perform circumcisions and our custom is to seek a man to be the mohel.” The Shach and the Gra wonder about the comment of the Ramah and believe that his comment was self-evident and wonder why he commented.

It appears that the intent of the Ramah’s comments is that one is obligated to seek a man to be the mohel even if there is not one close by. This would be in contrast to the opinion of Yosef Karo who would only give precedence to a man if he were present and able to perform the circumcision but there would be no obligation to seek out a man as a mohel.

The logic of the Ramah is that he [essentially] was of the opinion that a woman is not allowed to perform circumcisions. However, the obligation of performing the circumcision on the 8th day takes precedence since the core halacha is that a woman is allowed to perform the circumcision. In spite of this fact, the Ramah’s opinion is that one should seek out a man to perform the circumcision in order to comply with the stricter opinion that a woman may not perform the circumcision.

Additionally, regarding the Shach’s comment that the Ramah stated an obvious fact “we are accustomed to seek a man to perform the circumcision” since a woman is not commonly found who can perform circumcisions, that is not a valid critique by the Shach. If it were decided that a woman is allowed to perform circumcisions even in a situation where a competent male was present, then it is probable that then more woman would learn this skill. From the decision that they are not allowed to perform circumcisions, that is why they have not learned this skill.

Translator’s Note:  I appreciated the Torah Temimah’s analysis of the Shach’s observation that there are very few women who have this skill.


Parshat לך לך – Bereishis 17:14 – Do the Descendants of Keturah Need to Be Circumcised?

Genesis 17:14 – And an uncircumcised male, who will not circumcise the flesh of his foreskin-that soul will be cut off from its people; he has annulled My covenant.

Gemora Sanhedrin 59b: From the verb “annulled” we learn that this verse includes the sons of Keturah in the requirement to be circumcised.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #46

It is not clear how this verse alludes to the idea that the sons of Keturah are obligated in the commandment to be circumcised. Further, I haven’t seen any commentators who attempt to explain this, even superficially. It appears to me that [perhaps] it can be explained based on the grammatical meaning of the verb “annul”. According to grammarians, “annul” [הפר]  refers to something that is totally null and void. This can be contrasted with the word “invalidated” [בטל] which refers to something that is declared void for a given period of time, but might be renewed or return to be valid. See Tosafot in Gemora Shabbat 20b.

So, consider that a Jewish person who is not circumcised for whatever reason, is more referred to as invalid rather than annulled. Thus, for example, it is possible that he might circumcise his own sons and resuscitate the commandment of circumcision [in his family] for later generations. This is not the case with the sons of Keturah, according to Rashi. Rashi’s opinion is that the obligation for the sons of Keturah is only on the six sons of Keturah explicitly mentioned [in verse Genesis 25:2]. In other words, the sons of Keturah were not commanded to be circumcised in perpetuity, but rather just her immediate sons. Therefore, if for some reason they were not circumcised, whether by accident or with intent, then the commandment of circumcision would be wiped out [from that family]. There would be no further command to circumcise her [later] descendants. As we explained above, this complete nullification is what is referenced with the word ‘annul’ and thus we see how this verse alludes to the sons of Keturah.

However, the opinion of Maimonides in Chapter 10, Halacha 10 in the Laws of Nations states that the sons of Keturah are obligated in perpetuity to circumcise their sons. Thus, according to his point of view, it does not make sense to say that the verb “annul” refers to the sons of Keturah. One could perhaps say that the reason the verse is teaching regarding the sons of Keturah is not due to the verb “annul” but rather due to the word “et”. [Editor’s note: this connecting word has no translation, it is used to indicate a direct object for a verb.] Thus, according to Maimonides the use of the word “et” [which is optional] refers to an additional inclusion in the command. The additional inclusion being the other wife of Abraham. Normally, the children of the maidservant [secondary wife] would be considered her children rather than the father’s children. [That would be why a special command was needed to state that the sons of Keturah are included in the commandment of circumcision in perpetuity.]

The core disagreement between Rashi and Maimonides is whether the sons of Keturah are commanded in perpetuity or not. The Shaagas Arye wrote at length on this issue. It appears to me a slight proof to Rashi from the Midrash concerning Yitro {Moshe’s father-in-law]. The Aggadah (Section 94:1) states that when the verse states that Yitro “joined” (ויחד) the Jewish people, he passed a sharp (חדה) sword over his flesh. {Meaning that he circumcised himself at that point.] Further, it is stated in Seder Olam Rabba and in Midrashim that Yitro was descended from Keturah. Thus, we see that Yitro did not circumcise himself until he decided to join the Jewish people. This would be a support for Rashi’s point of view.

Also note that Rashi exact phrasing is not entirely clear. Rashi states that this verse “comes to include the sons of Keturah, only those six alone and not in perpetuity. But Abraham was commanded for everyone who was born to him in perpetuity.” It is not clear what Rashi meant by adding the phrase “but Abraham was commanded…” In fact, this [additional] phrase is hard to understand. It appears that it was unclear to Rashi himself how it would be possible that the sons of Keturah were not commanded in perpetuity. The choice would seem to be either the sons of Keturah are from the seed of Abraham, then why would they not be commanded in perpetuity. Or, they they aren’t counted as “seed of Abraham”, then why would they themselves be obligated to be circumcised? It is for this reason that Rashi explains that they are not considered as “seed of Abraham”. If you would then ask why then do they have to be circumcised themselves, the answer would be “Abraham was commanded for everyone who was born to him…” This answer seems a little forced.

Editor’s Note: I think that it is interesting that Rashi and Maimonides have different opinions as to whether or not the sons of Keturah (and their descendants) are commanded to be circumcised.


Parshat לך לך Genesis 14:23 – Sanctifying God’s Name

Genesis 14:23 – Neither from a thread to a shoe strap, nor will I take from whatever is yours, that you should not say, ‘I have made Abram wealthy.’

Gemora Sotah 4b: Rava derived from this verse that as a reward for not taking neither a thread nor a shoe strap Abraham children merited two mitzvot as rewards. For not taking a thread, they merited the blue thread of the tzitzit. For not taking a shoe strap, they merited the straps of tefillin.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #19:

Rashi explains that the reward was due to the fact that Abraham totally avoided [even a hint of] theft. At first glance, this explanation does not seem to make sense.  How can this be called a great act by Abraham in just avoiding theft? Also, it is difficult to understand what type of theft is involved here. Lawfully, Avraham was entitled to the spoils of the war. This is in accordance with the general principal that ‘he who saves something from an idol worshipper or from robbers, it is his to keep’. Therefore, it seems that one must say that Abraham refused to take any spoils of the war in order to sanctify God’s name. That being the case, then it would be necessary to return all property, no matter what the circumstances. This is also in accordance with Choshen Mishpat Section 267 – ‘in a place where there is an opportunity to sanctify God’s name, one must return lost property to an idol worshipper even if he has already despaired of ever finding the lost object’. Since Abraham, in this situation, wanted to sanctify God’s name, he was obligated by law to return the spoils of war. This was the action that deserved the reward: since he wanted to sanctify God’s name, he caused an obligation upon himself that could have been avoided.

[The above explanation satisfies and fulfills the comments of Rashi.]

Were it not for Rashi’s comments, it would be possible to explain the merit of Abraham in a different manner, as follows. Abraham won this war in a supernatural means with only 318 soldiers, or as some say with only one soldier – Eliezer.  Additionally, as is explained on verse 15, an angel and the stars of the night fought on his behalf. All these point to the fact that Abraham’s victory was a miraculous one. As it notes in Gemora Taanit 24a, it is forbidden to materially benefit from miracles. This then would explain why Abraham merited a reward. From the fact that Abraham refused to benefit from the spoils of the war shows that he attributed the victory not to his own strength and power of his hand, but rather he attributed the victory as a miracle of God. That was why he declined to benefit from the spoils of the war, because one is forbidden to benefit materially from a miracle.

[By the way], note that Rashi and the Rambam disagree on one particular in the law of tzitzit. Rashi’s opinion is that two of the four threads should be blue. The Rambam’s opinion is that only one of the four threads should be blue. Behold, even though one can’t bring clear halachic proofs from aggadic stories, nevertheless, the simple meaning of the phrase ‘Abraham merited the thread of blue’ shines forth supporting the view of the Rambam. This supports the view that, by law, there should only be one thread of blue in the tzitzit.

Regarding Rashi’s view that there are two threads of blue, perhaps Rashi also realized the implication of the phrasing in the verse and the midrash. That would explain why Rashi noted that the thread in the verse alluded, in general, to the commandment of tzitzit. For the Rambam, however, the phraseology is more forcefully specific.

Note also that in the Yalkut and in the Tanchuma this braita is phrased slightly differently: the shoe strap is associated with the shoe of the halitzah ceremony rather than with the strap of tefillin. Perhaps this version of the braita is this way because the author did not feel that a ‘shoe strap’ in the verse aligned well with the ‘strap of tefillin’. (Their only common feature is that they are both made of leather.) On the other hand, the author of our version quoted above did not feel it appropriate to associate the reward with the shoe of halitzah since the shoe of halitzah is essentially used as a punishment. That being the case, it would be unusual to associate that with the idea of something that was given as a reward.

Editor’s Note: I chose this note because of the idea mentioned in the initial section. Since Abraham wanted to sanctify God’s name, he did not accepted even lawful gains from the war. The Torah Temimah notes that we too, if we want to sanctify God’s name, should not act in the strict accordance with the law but rather go beyond the letter of the law.