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What is the function of the kvatter?

by Rabbi Herschel Finman

  

Library » Life Cycle » Circumcision » The Customs | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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Kvatter is the Yiddish name for the person who carries the newborn baby to the room where the circumcision will be held. The kvatter hands the child to the person who is honored with placing the baby on “Elijah’s Chair.”

The origins of the term may simply be a corruption of the German word for godfather, but it is also said to be a Yiddish combination of the words “kavod” (“honor” in Hebrew) and “tier” (“door” in Yiddish), meaning “the person honored by bringing the baby through the door.”

Being a kvatter and kvatterin is a segulah for having children
The kvatter is the male half of a husband/wife team. The wife, known as the kvatterin, takes the child from his mother and brings it to the entrance of the circumcision room, where she hands him off to her husband.1   It is customary for the kvatterin to be clad in Shabbat finery, and for the kvatter to be wearing a Tallit.

It is customary not to give this honor to a couple when the wife is pregnant.

Being a kvatter and kvatterin is a Segulah for having children. Thus, if possible, it is customary to reserve this honor for a couple who has not yet had children.

Footnotes

  • 1. Jewish law forbids a couple from handing any object from one to another when the wife is a niddah. Therefore the kvatterin should not be a niddah, as she would not be able to hand the baby to her husband.

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Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Tallit
A prayer shawl. A large four-cornered woolen garment with fringes attached to its corners in a specific manner. This garment is worn by males during the morning prayers, fulfilling the Biblical obligation of attaching fringes to four-cornered garments.
Elijah
A legendary prophet who lived in the 8th century BCE, and saved the Jewish religion from being corrupted by the pagan worship of Baal. He never died, he was taken to heaven alive. According to Jewish tradition, he visits every circumcision and every Passover Seder table.
Segulah
An act which is a harbinger of something beneficial.
Yiddish
Language closely related to German commonly spoken by European Jews.