Rethinking the Dairy Seudas Bris

The letter came from a talmid chacham who insisted on anonymity. He wondered whether at a time when bris milah is coming under attack, in addition to the Yom Tefillah that was declared, and the requisite hishtadlus being undertaken by the askanim, shouldn’t we be reflecting about how we can improve the way we perform this mitzvah?

This letter-writer suggested that it is time for the community to reflect on ways to improve our performance of this mitzvah as a source of merits. Specifically, he suggested rethinking the fact that at many a seudas bris in our community, a dairy meal rather than meat is served.

There are various views expressed by the halachic authorities whether a meat meal is indeed mandatory. According to one view — which is quoted by the Magen Avraham (249) in the name of Harav Shlomo, the rebbi of the Shelah Hakadosh, and is based on a Rambam — one cannot fulfill the mitzvah of a seudas bris without eating meat. In his siddur, Harav Yaakov Emden also unequivocally states this view.

However, other authorities disagree; namely, the Olos Shabbos and Chemed Moshe, based on a Beis Yosef, do allow a dairy meal. This was apparently the custom in some communities, and some prominent contemporary poskim also are quoted to have allowed it.

In that case, is there any reason some of us should reconsider and adopt the more stringent view in this matter?

It really comes down to a matter of mesorah.

A few months ago I attended the bris of a son of an acquaintance. With cheese and milk products on every table, there could be no doubt that it was a dairy seudah. I looked at the grandfathers and great-grandfathers who were gracing the simchah, and realized that each of them traces his roots to kehillos who were very makpid to serve meat at a bris. In many cases, the dairy menu may stem from a lack of awareness about one’s own mesorah.

The Chassidishe Rebbes, in particular, were very stringent in this matter. The Shineve Rav, zy”a, is quoted as saying that when participants eat meat at a bris, it has a positive effect on the spiritual future of the infant. His son, the Cheshinover Rav, zy”a, is said to have stated that eating fish at a bris helps ensure that the child will learn Chumash; eating meat helps ensure that the child will learn Gemara.

Some of the same individuals who serve dairy at a bris would never consider serving dairy at a Yom Tov seudah during Sukkos. Yet the halachic authorities clearly indicate that a seudas bris has the same status as a Yom Tov seudah, and the Rambam and the Beis Yosef quoted by each side respectively actually refers to Yom Tov.

Harav Yaakov Emden indicates that there is even more reason to eat meat at a seudas bris than at other types of seudos mitzvah. The passuk in Tehillim (50:5) says: “Gather My devout ones unto Me, sealers of My bris through zovach.” The word zovach is understood as alluding to meat.

It is interesting to note that some of the authorities who allow a dairy menu at a seudas Yom Tov or seudas bris appear to obligate the drinking of a reviis of wine. Yet, while many drink a few ounces of wine on Yom Tov to fulfill this view, one rarely if ever sees wine being drunk by the participants of a dairy seudas bris.

One of the primary reasons cited by latter authorities for adopting the more lenient view is not applicable in contemporary times. The Toras Chaim writes that the dairy meal is due to the fact that many have undertaken not to eat meat outside their own homes. While some have this practice today, it certainly does not appear that they are in the majority, as chasunos and seudos bar mitzvah are still very much meat affairs.

Some have cited a responsa of the Chasam Sofer (Orach Chaim 69) as proof that the Chasam Sofer allowed dairy to be served at a bris. However, one noted talmid chacham, an expert in the sefarim of the Chasam Sofer, stressed to me that in reality the Chasam Sofer does not do so.

“The teshuvah is discussing the permissibility of eating a seudas bris on Shabbos before davening Mussaf, and according to the questioner, the custom in that particular city was to eat a dairy seudas bris in the morning and eat fish and meat at Shalosh Seudos. The question whether one should eat meat at a bris was asked, and the Chasam Sofer did not address it,” he told me.

One question that is often asked is: Do people really have an appetite to eat meat in the early morning, when most brisos take place?

In many kehillos, a pareve meal is served, such as gefilte fish, farfel and kugel. On each table a plate of chicken is presented, and those who wish to perform the mitzvah of seudas bris according to all opinions have the opportunity to do so. But serving cheese and milk totally eradicates the mesorah to eat fleishigs.

Finally, there are some who point to financial considerations in having a dairy meal at a bris. But in reality, while bagels and cream cheese are relatively inexpensive, platters of lox and sable are a costly affair. Gefilte fish, kugel and a couple of plates of chicken are actually easier on the wallet, and it may turn out in the case of some readers to be in keeping with their particular mesorah.

As is true regarding all matters of Halachah and hashkafah, readers are urged to consult with their own halachic authority and not draw any conclusions from this article.