Hayim Leiter
Mohel, Activist, and Educator

A Slice of Perfection

Am I nervous?  You better believe it.  With every Bris I do I’m nervous.  But you know what?  That’s a good thing.  A Mohel needs to be on edge to some degree so that he can perform at top level.

Now, of course, he can’t be doubled over in fear.  That would be paralyzing.  But a certain level of butterflies in the stomach can certainly help you realize the weight of the endeavour you’re about to undertake.  But the question is– why am I nervous?

At some level there’s a purity to it.  I’m nervous because I’m a perfectionist.  I want to perform the Bris perfectly because that’s a standard I set for myself.  There’s also an element of realizing that what I’m doing has a level of lifelong effect on the child.  But there’s also a level of anxiety that comes from how the parents will react.

The parents I’ve worked with, thank God, have been amazing. They’ve been inquisitive about the religious meaning of the Brit Milah ceremony, and they have an understanding and sense of trust about the work I am doing. I honestly feel that, in some way, I still have a great connection to every family I’ve worked with.  And thankfully this has led to good reputation in my community.  But I realize that this reputation is as fragile as eggshells.

In some ways the relationship is a lot like a marriage and if, God forbid, things go wrong, it can be very public and very painful.  In that respect I’m always nervous.  Every family I work with holds my entire future in their hands.  Every Bris is a make or break moment where I have to hit it out of the park.  It’s a huge amount of pressure.

But the question I’ve been asking as of late is, even though everything I said until now is true, does that mean that a mohel has to be perfect?  Now obviously a Mohel cannot perform at such a low level that the child is in any danger or permanent harm. But what if the Mohel’s cut is minimally uneven?  Is that a margin of error that we should allow?

Just to put things into perspective.  If we say that a Mohel’s margin of error is zero, that would be akin to saying that an actor who missed his lines once would never be permitted to perform again.  Seems a bit extreme, no?

The question really depends on the lasting effects of this margin of error.  And what I’ve learned in my time as a Mohel is a few things.  Biology is dynamic and, in that regard, no two children I’ve worked with are identical.  But as much as that is true, the healing process is at least 10 times more dynamic.  After each Bris I come back at least twice to check the healing process.  And almost every time the results are different. It’s not anything that you can plan 100%.  Each time things heal in their own way.

But that’s exactly the point — each time it heals.  So this margin that we’re discussing is not so relevant.  The body has an amazing way to heal.  It’s what it’s meant to do.

But at the end of the day, the value placed on the minor differences in healing is not up to me.  It is in the hands of the people I work with. They get to choose how good my work is.  So, am I nervous?  Of course I’m nervous.  But I trust those that have asked me to be their Mohel just as much as they trust me to be their Mohel.  I guess you could call it a perfect union.

About the Author
Hayim Leiter is a Rav and a Mohel for the greater Jerusalem area , an activist, and a Jewish Educator. He founded Safer HaBrit, an organization committed to protecting both our sacred ceremony of Brit Milah and the children who undergo it. He made Aliyah in 2009 and lives in Jerusalem with his wife and children.