Shiur #21: Peria ֠The Second Stage of Mila

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Talmudic Methodology
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur #21: Peria – The Second Stage of Mila


By Rav Moshe Taragin



            The previous shiur addressed the question of whether the mitzvah of berit mila demands uncovering the makom ha-mila or merely cutting skin, the quantity of skin which must be cut being defined by the volume of flesh which covers the makom ha-mila. 


            There is, however, a second stage to mila known as peria, pulling back the white membrane underneath the foreskin.  The nature of this phase of the mitzva and its relationship to basic mila may influence the previous question. 


            The Bavli (Shabbat 137b) does not cite a source for the mitzva of peria.  The mishna (ibid. 19:6) declares that "if someone cuts the foreskin without removing the membrane, it is considered as if he did not perform mila."  The Yerushalmi (ibid. 19:2), however, does raise two potential sources for the mitzva of mila, and the gemara does not cite a source for peria.  Ha-kadosh Barukh Hu instructs Avraham about mila by commanding (Bereishit 17:13) "Himmol yimmol;" this double conjugation of the root of mila may imply the requirement of two components: basic mila and supplementary peria.  Alternatively, the Yerushalmi cites the statement of Tzippora, wife of Moshe (Shemot 4:26), in which she uses the obscure phrase "chatan damim la-mulot" to refer either to her husband or to her infant son; either way, the plural term "mulot" also suggests multiple phases of mila.  While the Bavli intuits the requirement of peria without a Torah citation, the Yerushalmi demands an explicit source. 


            Perhaps the Yerushalmi and Bavli are disputing the structural function of peria.  According to the Bavli, it is considered an integral element of the mila; therefore, it does not require an additional source.  The Yerushalmi, on the other hand, may view peria as a separate act, perhaps necessary to complete the overall mitzva of mila, but in no way an integral element of the act of mila.  As an independent procedure, it requires an additional source. 


            Viewing the Bavli's position in this light may raise certain questions regarding a Gemara in Yevamot (71a).  The gemara claims that Avraham was commanded to perform mila, but not peria.  Since Hashem commands Yehoshua to perform peria for the males of the generation entering Eretz Yisra'el, (Yehoshua 5:2), the Gemara infers that Avraham was never thus obligated.  If Avraham were commanded about mila but not peria, it would seem as if even the Bavli views them as divisible.  To be sure, there is some debate amongst Rishonim as to whether this position is rejected; Rashi quotes two variant versions of the conclusion of this gemara, one of which may conclude that Avraham indeed fulfilled peria.  (For an interesting apologetic claiming that Avraham indeed fulfilled peria, see the Gur Aryeh's commentary on Parashat Lekh Lekha). 


            Even were we to justify the omission of peria from Avraham's mitzva – since he received mitzvot in a pre-Sinaitic context – we would still question its delayed delivery to Yehoshua.  Presumably, as an integral part of the mila process, it should have been issued to Moshe at Har Sinai; after all, the Torah does repeat the mitzva of mila during Matan Torah (Vayikra 12:3).  Tosafot in Yevamot assume that Moshe received the command, but was unable to execute it, since mila was suspended for the forty years of the desert travels (Yehoshua 5:5-6).  The Ramban, however, cites an opinion which insists that Moshe did not receive the command of peria, and it was only issued to Yehoshua after forty years.  Certainly, this opinion casts peria as an element independent of mila. 


            It should be noted that even if peria is independent of mila according to the simple reading of the mishna in Shabbat it is still mandatory; the omission of peria would still disqualify the overall mila.  There are some dissenting opinions which reinterpret the mishna's statement and do conclude that in the absence of peria, mila has still been effectively performed.  However, these remain minority opinions, and most assert that even as an independent phase of mila, it is still me'akeiv - totally indispensable.


            There are several halakhic issues which may stem from the issue of whether peria is an inherent element of mila or an addendum.  For example, the Rama, in Responsum 76, questions whether peria should override Shabbat in the same manner that mila does.  He concludes that as peria is an essential component of mila, the guidelines of mila and its capacity to supersede Shabbat apply equally to peria.  Had peria been an addendum, one might wonder about the Rama's reasoning; in fact, many Rishonim do cite alternate sources to justify the fact that peria overrides Shabbat.  Perhaps they maintain that peria is distinct and requires an independent 'authorization.'


            The Yam shel Shlomo in Yevamot (8:3) raises an inverse question, but one which echoes with the aforementioned logic: can a mohel perform mila on Shabbat without completing peria?  If peria is integral to the mila, the latter is incomplete without the former, and an incomplete mila may not supersede Shabbat.  If, however, each phase is cast as independent, we may allow each to override Shabbat even without the performance of the complementary action. 


            The Tashbetz (2:277) raises an interesting option which reveals his opinion of peria.  Facing various difficulties in scheduling the berakhot of mila, the Tashbetz suggests delaying the berakha upon mila ("al ha-mila") until after the initial mila, immediately prior to peria.  He argues that this would still be considered "over la-asiyatan" – prior to the action of the mitzva — since the necessary conclusion of mila, namely peria, has yet to be executed.  He too views peria as an integral aspect of mila, allowing the berakhot of mila to be delayed as long as they are uttered prior to peria.


            In truth, the structural dynamic of peria appears to be a debate between the Ran and the Ri Migash – cited by the Nimukei Yosef in his comments to Bava Metzia (30a).  Acknowledging the ability of peria to override Shabbat, the Ran extrapolates that any act associated with a mitzva and integral to it may be able to override an aveira (prohibition) if the mitzva itself has the power to do so.  He postulates that, in theory, necessary preparations for fulfilling the mitzva of hashavat aveida, returning lost objects, may take precedence over some aveirot.  If peria overrides Shabbat, then other non-mitzvot which are nonetheless necessary may similarly override aveirot. 


            The Ri Migash thoroughly rejects the Ran's view, invalidating his proof from peria.  Peria, he claims, is not an associated act of mila, but rather the essence of this mitzva; therefore, it overrides Shabbat in the very same manner that basic mila does.  One cannot extrapolate from this instance of peria to the general ability of non-mitzva acts which are associated with mitzvot to override an aveira. 


            Having identified two very different views of the relationship between mila and peria, it is undeniable that this question impacts on the earlier issue of defining mila.  Peria's entire function is the uncovering of the makom ha-mila: unlike mila, which involves cutting skin, peria merely removes a thin membrane, casting it off the makom ha-mila but not severing the membrane.  It is clearly an act geared toward uncovering the makom ha-mila.  If it is an integral aspect of mila, then by extension mila becomes defined – in part – as an act geared toward revealing the makom ha-mila.  If peria is merely an addendum, it may not indicate the nature of the essential mila; we may still define mila proper as essentially being a mitzva to cut skin, the volume of which is defined by the flesh which covers the makom ha-mila.