Did You Know?
By Rabbi Fabian Werbin
In 1972, the movie “The Godfather,” directed by Francis Ford Coppola, won three Oscar Academy Awards. Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton among others starred in that movie. It is one of the greatest gangsters movies ever.
The Godfather represents a completely different image in our Jewish tradition.
For the Jewish people, the Sandak (Godfather) is the person who holds the baby during a circumcision. Being the Sandak is a great honor. There is a very traditional belief that the Sandak (who should be any adult Jewish male) blesses other people on the day of the circumcision. After the ceremony, people make a line to receive the Sandak’s blessing.
Where does the word Sandak come from?
The origin of the word is unclear. According to the Encylopaedia Judaica, there are two theories. The first is that the root comes from the word Syndicos, which is related to the English word syndicate. The Syndicos is an advocate in a trial, and also, a backer or supporter. Syndikos was a word commonly used in Greek to translate the Latin patronus, which also could mean either a legal counsel or a social patron – and just as the Roman Patronus (Spanish: Padrino) had a moral if not legal obligation to assist whomever the person to whom his patronage is extended, so the Jewish Sandak was originally thought of, it would seem, as responsible for the circumcised child throughout his life. The alternative is that the origin is the root synteknos, meaning companion of the father, similar to the role of godfather that has developed in Christian ceremonies.
During the Bris Milah ceremony there’s also another special honor. The Kvater and Kvatterin. The Kvater and Kvatterin are the people who bring the child to the room where the Bris is held; usually a married or engaged couple is chosen. The woman takes the child from his mother’s arms and in turn hands him to the man who brings the child into the room. The child is then placed on the special chair designated for Elijah. It is a Jewish custom to refrain from having a pregnant woman as Kvatterin. On the other hand, tradition has it that giving the Kvater to a childless couple confers upon them a special blessing that they conceive and have children of their own.
The word Kvater itself comes from medieval German Gottvater or “godfather” but there’s no doubt that for the Jewish tradition the Kvater is the “carrier’ and Sandak is the Godfather.
Finally, I could find a relation between the movie and the Bris. Here’s a quote from Don Corleone: “My godson has come all the way from California. Give him a drink”