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The role of Sandek is defined as the highest honor an individual can have as a participant within a bris ceremony. The origin of the term Sandek has been attributed to a derivation from the Greek word suntekos which means 'companion of child'. The main role of a Sandek is to be seated during the ceremony and hold the baby on their knees.

Traditionally the honor was reserved for a single male, usually a grandfather, great-grandfather, rabbi or any other especially important male present at the ceremony. He was always a Jew but not necessarily a family member. The individual chosen was spiritually considered to be acting as a Kohen or "priestly" Jew and therefore was required to be a righteous man from an observant background. He was to wear a Tallis or prayer shawl and place the corner of the shawl over the forehead of the baby during the ceremony. The baby was placed on a pillow on the Sandek's lap and the circumcision was performed by the mohel while the Sandek held the baby.

In a non-traditional or modern setting, the Sandek may be female, or even a non-Jew. Because of this variance, some choose to honor a grandmother, both grandmothers or even the baby's aunts or cousins instead of an honored male.Usually the Sandek is one person, but may be two if the family chooses. (More than two Sandekim is not recommended because it is traditionally unfounded and disrupts the flow of the ceremony.)

Again, in a traditional setting the Sandek would actually hold the baby during the circumcision, but in the course of my ceremony the Sandek relinquishes the baby to me. The baby is then placed on a pillow on top of the ceremonial table, whereupon the circumcision is performed. The Sandek is requested but not required, to help hold the baby during the procedure on the pillow.

To reiterate, the Sandek is a necessary role to be assigned to the most important individual present at the bris. It is the highest honor and should not be given lightly. It is that person or persons I clearly identify as holding this highest honor who sit and hold the baby while seated in the chair of Elijah during a significant portion of the ceremony. They do not need to be a relative, male, Jewish or willing, capable or healthy enough to help with holding the baby during the circumcision... they need only to be the most important person in your life present at the bris.

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