Written in honor of the Bris of Larry Gordon’s Grandson this morning, Sunday February 22nd,
So where does the word “Sandek” come from?
The Yalkut Shimoni and the Midrash Tehillim on Tehillim (35:10) state that Dovid HaMelech recited the verse, “All my bones shall declare, ‘Who is like You, Hashem!’ I shall praise You with all my limbs. With my thighs I become Sandiknus to the infants that are circumcised on my lap.”
But what does Sandiknus actually mean? Many commentators identify it as a Greek word, which certainly makes sense. The Ohr Zaruah (Vol. II #107) and the Maharil Hilchos Milah (64) both write that it is a derivative of a Greek word to mean that he holds the baby on his thighs as he is circumcised.
But which Greek word?
The Latin word patrinus, which means godfather is “synteknos” in Greek— which is similar enough to Sandiknus to be a good possible source. Dr. Hillel Newman, in an article published in the Jewish Quarterly Review (Winter 2007) suggests that the original word was “sandyx” which meant a box for the infant.
Some of the more secular advocates of the “synteknos” origin claim that the term was born from an influence of a Christian ceremony — the sponsors of a child at a Baptism were called co-parents. This is extremely unlikely, as anyone familiar with the socio-religious outlook of observant Jews knows that Christian influence on Jewish practice is particularly remote. It may be argued that they adopted the Greek name of Sandek for it because there was no other name, but this too seems unlikely.
Dr. Newman’s proposed origin may fit better with the Ramah’s understanding of Sandek.
The Ramah writes that (YD 265:11) that the Sandek is equated to the Kohain who offers the incense in the Temple, and it is a segulah for becoming wealthy.
The incense that the Kohain offered was placed in a pan and it is likely that the infant was placed on a solid type of box with edges when the Bris Milah was actually performed, so that the baby would not fall off.
In regard to the latter point of the Ramah, of Sandekaus being an origin for wealth. The Vilna Gaon points out that we have not seen Sandekaus responsible for gaining wealth.
In answer to the Vilna Gaon’s point, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l in his Emes L’Yaakov explains that the reason why no one is becoming wealthy is because the intent is for the Sandek to be the Baal Bris as well, in other words picking up all the expenses of a Bris. This is no longer done, however.
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