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Wednesday
Sep062017

CHABAD ANGELS OF THE COVENANT

They aren’t just mohalim; they’re also shluchim, roving ambassadors who bring Torah and mitzvos together with their responsibilities at a bris mila. One of them is expert mohel Rabbi Gideon Kaye, who tells for the first time about the less-known aspects to the work of circumcision. Behold, I send an angel of the covenant before you…

Translated by Michoel Leib Dobry

The commandment of bris mila is one of the most treasured mitzvos of the Jewish People. Even in the most difficult days of the various exiles, and even when Jews were under the threat of various decrees, including torture and execution, Jews circumcised their children. Bris mila is a sign between G-d and Israel.

One of the busiest Chabad mohalim is Rabbi Gideon Kaye. Over the years, Rabbi Kaye has circumcised thousands of Jewish infants. About a thousand mohalim operate in Eretz Yisroel, among them only twenty-four are classified as “experts” with certification after passing a complex examination by a team of specialists from the Israel Chief Rabbinate and the Ministry of Health.

I sat with Rabbi Kaye on Motzaei Shabbos a couple of weeks ago and asked him about his work, his innovations, and the aspect of shlichus in his mohel responsibilities.

It turns out that alongside his work among Anash families in Chabad communities, he serves as a highly demanded mohel at kibbutzim and moshavim throughout northern Eretz Yisroel, using the opportunity to spread the wellsprings of Chassidus and strengthen Yiddishkait.

FROM A REGULAR MOHEL TO AN ‘EXPERT MOHEL’

Before we talk about your work, how did you decide to get into this field?

“At a very early age, I became interested in the work of mohalim. I felt that this was an exciting field, wrapped in holiness. It can safely be said that I was meant to be a mohel. I started studying the art of mila when I returned to Eretz Yisroel in 5754 after completing my year on ‘k’vutza.’ I learned from one of the experts in the field, Rabbi Emanuel Meshulam from Rechovot. He taught me the basics. The person who strengthened my knowledge was the Chabad mohel Rabbi Menachem Fleishman, an authority in the field who has earned much respect and appreciation among mohalim from all sectors due to his professionalism.”

Rabbi Kaye escorted Rabbi Fleishman at many bris ceremonies. In his words, he owes him a debt of gratitude. With his blessing, he even began learning in a course sponsored by the chief rabbinate and was examined in order to achieve the designation of being an “expert mohel.” “This was a very complex examination. It wasn’t just questions on mila or the relevant halachos; there were also questions relating to the medical side. In the committee that gives the course, top-notch skilled mohalim sit alongside medical experts who check the professionalism and medical knowledge of mohalim during unconventional circumcisions.”

In light of medical developments, is doing a bris mila today different from what it was in years past?

Absolutely not. A G-d fearing mohel does his work as has been done for the past three millennia. Recent medical developments do help in preventing complications, and if ch”v complications occur, we can control them. I give this considerable emphasis and spare no expense on appropriate medical aids.

THE ADDED VALUE TO A MOHEL BEING A CHABAD CHASSID

Is there a difference between a Chabad mohel and a mohel who does not belong to a Chassidic community?

“As I noted earlier regarding the bris mila itself, there is no difference between a Chabad mohel and another mohel. However, as the Rebbe noted, one thing that a Chabad mohel does have is the study of Chassidus. When we learn Chassidus in general, and the Rebbe’s teachings in particular, everything appears differently, including a bris mila.”

Rabbi Kaye has many stories connected with this matter, and he chose to share one with us that took place some time ago. “At the suggestion of one of the shluchim in northern Eretz Yisroel, I came to Kibbutz Merom Golan to bring a child into the covenant of Avraham Avinu. When I spoke on the phone with his father, I didn’t know who he was or what he did for a living. After speaking with him and those around him, I realized that the father was a very affluent man who headed one of the largest fruit companies in Eretz Yisroel.

“To my great regret, this family was very detached from the path of Torah. Without skipping a beat, he told me about the family pastime of hunting pigs in the nearby fields and forests, and consuming their flesh. One thing that particularly bothered me was that there were no mezuzos affixed to the front door or any other door of the home where the bris would take place. In the meantime, until the invited guests congregated in the backyard, the child’s father came up to me and we spoke. In matters of Yiddishkait, I always operate in a manner of L’chat’chilla Aribber. I asked him directly why there were no mezuzos on the doorposts, adding that it was inconceivable that the home of a Jew would have no mezuzah. He agreed with me, and by Divine Providence, I had a mezuzah in my car for outreach activities and I put it up on the front doorpost. After performing the bris, we sat together for a while, discussing Judaism. As I left the kibbutz, I thought to myself: Who knows if these people ever spoke with someone about Yiddishkait before? They weren’t the type to invite someone Torah observant into their homes just like that. Thus, I was privileged to do ‘Mivtza Mezuzah’ in addition to the bris.”

Rabbi Kaye recalled another episode that occurred a few months ago, “I got a phone call from Moshav Amirim – a vegetarian/organic settlement whose residents are known for their left-wing political leanings – to come and make a bris mila. A few hours before the ceremony, the child’s father called me and asked all kinds of questions about the tools used to perform the circumcision and the various customs. When such a thing occurs, I know that someone who opposes circumcision by a mohel had put doubts in the father’s mind.

“I promised him that when I came, I would explain everything to him. As soon as I arrived, the man came towards me and asked to check my mila tool kit. He asked a variety of questions and wanted to know what I would do in case certain complications arose. While the whole thing made me very uncomfortable, I tried to be patient and responded in a businesslike manner. The scene was a bit peculiar; the invited guests were already sitting at tables arranged in the yard, while the baby’s father conducted an investigation into my methods. There were moments when I considered packing up my kit and heading back to Tzfas. However, the fact that I am a chassid of the Rebbe, and I had been taught not to leave a single Jewish soul behind, kept me in my place as I continued to patiently answer all his inquiries.”

At a certain point, Rabbi Kaye noticed that it was getting close to sundown, and after arguing for more than two hours, he decided to get assertive. He asked for the baby, and demonstrating all his medical knowhow before the assembled guests, he circumcised the child. “I did it so quickly that no one there could believe that the bris was over. A few minutes later, the mother approached me and asked when I would do the bris… I explained to her that we were already after the procedure… When I told non-Chabad mohalim about this incident, they scolded me. ‘We would have walked out,’ they told me, ‘especially nowadays with the numerous lawsuits against mohalim.’ However, a chassid who learns Chassidus and knows the true value of a Jew receiving a bris mila – is prepared for complete self-sacrifice.”

MOHEL – NOT JUST A PROFESSION

From the previous story, I understand that you feel that the art of mila is not just a profession, but a place of shlichus?

This question brought a smile to Rabbi Kaye’s lips, and in response, he shared another bris story with us – this time from Kibbutz HaGoshrim. “A kibbutz family called me and asked if I could come and circumcise their son on Shabbos. I consented, and as in many similar cases, I did so on the condition that the bris not cause any desecration of the holy day of rest. Therefore, all the invited guests had to arrive on Friday before sundown. They agreed and promised to arrive before the onset of Shabbos, while I and my family stayed at a deluxe hotel located on the kibbutz. Since the hotel food was not strictly kosher, we brought all the food with us and prepared a Shabbos table in the hotel courtyard.

“We decided not to change our usual custom from home: we made Kiddush, sang z’miros, told Chassidic stories, and spoke words of Torah. We invited the guests to the table and they were very impressed. For the first time in their lives they saw a real Shabbos table. At a certain point, a group of Jewish tourists came and joined our group. During the seuda, we needed a ‘Shabbos goy’ and one of the tourists volunteered. When I realized that he was actually a member of the Jewish People, I started a lengthy explanation on the quality of a Jew and how all Jews are essentially equal in the eyes of G-d. The atmosphere was most uplifting, and at the conclusion of the seuda, the participants made good resolutions. It was nearly dawn when we left the table.”

In the morning, Rabbi Kaye walked to the Hasbani River to immerse himself before davening. After the bris, he farbrengened with the child’s family. He used the opportunity to talk with them about Yiddishkait and answer their questions, such as why it’s not permissible to travel on Shabbos for the performance of a mitzvah.

This story reminded Rabbi Kaye of another bris he did – at Kibbutz Bar’am, located along the border with Lebanon. This is a kibbutz with very anti-religious views: it still maintains “children’s homes” and operates on a collective basis. The local community has been educated with a deep sense of alienation towards the path of Torah and mitzvos, yet in this of all places, the call came to make a bris.

“The eighth day came out on Shabbos. The child’s father turned to numerous mohalim, including those living much closer to the kibbutz. However, none of them were prepared to spend the entire Shabbos there. One of the family members works in Tzfas and he heard about me, leading to a phone call from the father and an invitation to come to the bris. The father asked to hold the event in his home without fanfare, and he arranged accommodations on the kibbutz for me and my eldest son. We brought all the food with us from Tzfas, and my condition was that the child’s father should sit with us for the Shabbos meals. He agreed happily, and so it was.

“We sat together for hours, and it quickly ‘broke the ice.’ He had some gefilte fish and other delicacies, and he enjoyed himself immensely. Afterwards, we sat well into the night, as the man asked questions on Judaism and I answered them. It was painful to hear from him about how children are born on the kibbutz and their parents don’t have them circumcised. It required a great deal of courage not to be influenced by the overall atmosphere there and still be determined to bring his son into the covenant of Avraham Avinu.”

THE REBBE’S LETTER BEFORE EVERY BRIS

One final question: Based on your experience, what is the most important thing for parents to experience when they come to give a bris to their son?

“It’s important for parents to see their child calm, not wailing for a prolonged period of time after the bris,” he said without hesitation. “They want to see someone in control of the situation and not under pressure.

“Similarly, I learned the great importance of personal contact. Even when I have several bris milas in a single day and many throughout a week, I make every effort to visit the child both before and after the procedure. I don’t spare any time or effort explaining to each mother, especially the younger ones, how to help the child recover.”

At the bris ceremony itself, Rabbi Kaye conducts himself towards the parents and the community with calm, tranquility, and patience. “Secular parents are extremely tense both before and after the bris. They see this as an operation in every respect, while those who observe mitzvos are far calmer,” he says. Rabbi Kaye tells about complicated bris milas that come his way periodically, and despite his considerable expertise, he often seeks advice from another three expert mohalim.

Last year, Rabbi Kaye himself opened an on-line forum where numerous mohalim receive advice and direction.

At the end of the interview, Rabbi Kaye surprised us with one of his regular customs. “Before every bris, I write to the Rebbe via Igros Kodesh in request of a bracha. Above all, may the angel of the covenant come and proclaim the Redemption, as is written, “Behold, I send you Eliyahu HaNavi before the coming of the great and awesome day of Hashem.”

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