Hayim Leiter
Mohel, Activist, and Educator

The 24-hour bris

Europe is so different from Israel. Beyond the fact that the region I visited only had two hours of dark each night in the summer, there are many other subtle nuances that a first timer, such as myself, was bound to notice. My entire 24-hour experience of the city could be summed up by the protractor I saw lying on a bench near my hotel. I mean when was the last time you saw a protractor?!

The first thing that blew my mind were the taxis. I thought we had the lap of luxury here in Israel because most of our taxis are Mercedes Benz, but the majority of the taxis there are Teslas. If you’ve yet to run into one of these, you’re in for a real treat. Not only are they a top of the line automobile, they’re 80 percent electric (soon to be 100 percent) and they drive like a dream.

But it became clear on my ride from the airport that it wasn’t just the car that made the ride so smooth– it appeared to have no potholes. There aren’t even any bumps in the road. In a sense, it’s as straight as the protractor I saw. And the traffic flow was the antithesis of Israel/New York driving. I wasn’t really watching the signs, but it felt like everyone was driving under the speed limit. No pushing, no shoving. Just a Sunday drive at rush hour on a Thursday afternoon.

Even though the drive was smooth sailing, the Jewish community there was full of its own potholes, whether readily apparent or not. I was in town for 24-hours for one purpose: to do the Brit milah of an eight-day-old boy.

You may be asking yourself: don’t they have mohelim there?’ And that they do. They even have a rabbinut. Can you see where this is going? The rabbinut refused to give this family a mohel to circumcise their son. You may be thinking: who did this family rob, steal or pillage to deserve such a fate? You won’t believe why this came about.

The father and mother of this boy are both of Jewish descent, with some question marks here and there about some of their heritage. Now, if I stopped there, one may understand why the rabbinut would hesitate in giving them a mohel, but you’d be wrong. Even at this point in the story, the family should have been able to carry out their religious life as they so pleased, and the mohel should have made his halachic decisions as he felt comfortable in this situation. But the story doesn’t end there.

Both of the parents did giur l’humra (an extra conversion) in the hopes of erasing any question marks about their lineage. And I’m sure we would all love it if the story ended there. But it didn’t. The family did their conversion with a 100 percent Kosher Beit Din. All three of the rabbis in the Beit Din are well accomplished Orthodox rabbis in their own right. But as politics go, the rabbanut there did not see fit to recognize their conversion and, therefore, they would not give the family a mohel.

That’s where I come in, for just 24-hours. One of the rabbis on the Beit Din was in touch with me a few months ago and expressed his concern about how this family would be able carry out the mitzvah of milah. I told him it would be my honor to fly there and do it.

Even though the Brit could not be held in the local shul, which was only one block away, the ceremony in the family’s home was still a special event. I was, as I said, honored to be a part of it. I’m truly at a loss as to what more the rabbinut was looking for in this case. The last time I checked, a kosher Beit Din requires three individuals who keep Shabbat and Kashrut. The members don’t necessarily have to be even close to as learned as I know these three rabbis to be.

Sadly, this story is not unique. Due to the Israeli rabbinut extending it’s political reach to all corners of the world, these issues are prevalent throughout Europe and beyond. I guess the silver lining here (if you could call it that) is that such sad political games aren’t only played here in Israel. I suppose a rabbinut is a rabbinut, no matter where you go.

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Hayim Leiter is a Rav and Mohel for the greater Jerusalem area. He also is the founder of the advocacy organization Safer HaBrit. He can also be reached at saferhabrit.com

About the Author
Hayim Leiter is a Rav and a Mohel in Israel , as well as 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.
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