Hi Rabbi, we are expecting our first child – a boy. How do we decide who should be Sandak (the person who holds the baby at the circumcision)? Each of our fathers wants the honor. But it’s stressing my wife out! Any advice you have about how to decide whom to choose, while also avoiding family politics and drama, would be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.
Firstly, may God bless you and your wife that she will have an easy pregnancy, a quick and painless birth and that your new baby be a constant source of nachat (Jewish happiness) to you and your entire family.
I hope that you view this “dilemma” not as a “problem” but as a true blessing. I wish that all the difficult decisions I need to make in life would be about happy occasions such as the birth of a child, and the best way to enter him into the covenant of our Forefather Abraham.
The most important focus for you now is to do all that you can in order to make sure that your wife is not upset and “stressed out” about whom will be the Sandak. There is already enough pressure dealing with the pregnancy and the birth, and disagreements about the choice of Sandak are the last thing that your wife (or you) need right now. Therefore, I would suggest that if your wife particularly wants her own father to be the Sandak, then that is what you should opt for (despite there being a fairly widespread custom that this honor goes to the father’s father for the first son, whereas the baby’s name is generally chosen by the wife). Why do I suggest this? Because your own shalom bayit (marital harmony) is more important than other considerations regarding the identity of the Sandak.
If your wife has no particular preference, then you really have two options. One is to give the honor of being the Sandak to someone other than either father (for example, a great Rabbi) and hope that both your father and your father-in-law accept the idea that someone greater than them is being honored. The other alternative is to give the honor to either your father or your father-in-law and then to make sure that you honor the other grandfather in a different manner. He should be given the honor of holding the baby when the baby is given his formal name and special blessings are recited, as that is considered the second most important honor at the ceremony. Which grandfather should be given which honor? In this case I suggest that the person who is least likely to understand why the other grandfather got the greater honor of Sandak should be the one to be the Sandak, as that hopefully will make your lives as calm and “low-stress” as possible — before, during and after the brit milah.