Hayim Leiter
Mohel, Activist, and Educator

The world within

“The children are still in foster care,” the grandmother told me.  “The parents haven’t gotten their drug habits under control.”  This particular family was one of the first britot I did years ago when I was just starting out.  I get updates like this one every now and then when I bump into a family member.

This one truly broke my heart.  But what blows my mind now is that, when I first met them, I never would have pegged these parents as drug users.  And that made me think: “Do I really know any of the families I work with?”

Obviously, I have clients who are close friends, so they’re not part of this discussion.  But when it comes to the cold call I get for a Bris, or even the casual acquaintance that requests my services, do I really have any idea what goes on behind closed doors?

I guess it’s confusing because, as a mohel, it would seem that people let you into their private worlds.  You meet with them multiple times in their homes — once before the Bris and twice after, in my case.  So you feel like you really get to know them.  In fact, when I see former clients on the street, it feels like I’m bumping into old friends.  And in some cases, what you see is what you get.  Or at least you never hear otherwise.  But in a small fraction of these cases, the world within is very different from what the outside world sees.

So the question for me is, does this affect my work at all?  The Halacha (legal ruling) on Milah that I keep coming back to deals with agency.  When the son is an infant, the father has primary agency and responsibility for the Bris, and no one is allowed to perform it against his will or without his knowledge.  This is true, so long as the father is agreeing to do the Bris on time.  But if he refuses, the Beit Din (religious court) can step in and make sure the Bris is done on the eighth day.

What’s interesting about this family I worked with years ago is that everything is flipped.  The parents had every desire and did carry out the Bris on the eighth day.  The problem was everything thereafter.  What is the Beit Din meant to do when the legal guardians aren’t doing what needs to be done from the eighth day onwards?  We know what our civil court does to protect children in this situation and thank God for that. But as we can see, there’s a lot more to life than just a Bris.

I suppose the thing that’s breaking my heart in this particular case is that I can still see these beaming parents.  They had just as much hope for their son’s future as any other parents I’ve worked with.  Only, now, they haven’t seen their children for years.  And what’s an even harder reality to deal with, is that because of their addiction, there’s a good chance that their hearts are not even breaking as much as mine.  The silver lining, if there is one, is that the grandparents were recently granted visitation rights from Family Services.  There’s no doubt that these children are going to need lots of extra help.  But maybe the point here is that whenever we see our family and friends at their happy occasions we’re only seeing the happiest slice of their life.  It’s each of our responsibilities to ‘check in’ after the eighth day.  We may be kept at a distance, never being fully let in.  But perhaps our reaching out will be the opening they need to allow us into the world within.

About the Author
Hayim Leiter is a Rav and a Mohel in Israel , as well as an activist, and a Jewish Educator. He founded Magen 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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