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April 10, 1987 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-04-10

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beims and Cantor Greenbaum
\-] found themselves are occurring
more often than ever. Intermarried
;-, couples who choose to retain ties to
the Jewish community usually af-
filiate with the Reform movement,
many of whose rabbis will marry
interfaith couples, and whose 1983
resolution on patrilineal descent af-

firms the Jewish identity of chil-
dren with Jewish fathers and non-
Jewish mothers if they are raised
as Jews.
According to Rabbi Lewis
\--, Barth, co-chairman of the national
,-1 Brit Milah Board of Reform
Judaism, the patrilineal decision

was just an affirmation of the "de
facto situation emerging in more
and more Jewish communities
throughout the U.S. We try to in-
• /-- form people as clearly as possible
what is taking place in the entire
Jewish world," he says.
That only Reform Jews accept
patrilineal descent has set up an
ideological tension in the Jewish
world, whose legal ramifications
only surface in Israel, where
'--, Jewish law, rather than Israeli
civil law, applies in matters of per-
sonal status such as marriage and
divorce, and where Reform tenets
are not accepted by the Chief Rab-
The legal battle over control of
Jewish life is being fought under
the banner of "Who's A Jew" .be-
cause its implications reach to the
very foundations of Jewish identity.
One need look no farther than
Detroit to see the practical ramifi-
cations of this tension. The case of
Jacob Berenbeim is only one exam-
> ple. The tension is placed in bold
relief by the absence of Reform
mohelim here. A program is under
way to train Reform mohelim and
mohelot (the female equivalent),
but such an option will only paper
over the differences which divide
the Jewish people.
Currently, families where only
the father is Jewish must approach
a Conservative or Orthodox mohel
to perforni a brit. A mohel who
agrees can do so only after extract-
> ing a promise from the parents that
they will have their son immersed
in a mikveh (ritual bath) when he
is a little older, as the final step in
,D the conversion process which the
/1 brit initiates.
"I will do the ceremony with
the idea that they will convert the
baby," Cantor Greenbaum explains.
"The brit itself won't make the
baby Jewish."
It is a leap of faith over a gap
in accountability. There is nothing
to force the parents to take their
son to the mikveh, and there is not




even a mechanism in place for
automatically contacting them by
mail or phone when the boy is old
enough for immersion. Detroit's
mohelim do not refer their clients
to rabbis for counseling and mik-
veh preparation unless the parents
specifically request it. Nor do they
inform local rabbis of a family who
needs conversion counseling.
Even if the mohel did contact a
Reform rabbi, that rabbi would not
be under any obligation to follow
through with the mikveh because
the baby is already Jewish accord-
ing to Reform tenets.
Rabbi Harold Loss of (Reform)
Temple Israel says the Reform
position is not necessarily as doc-
trinaire as that. "I believe the par-
ents have a responsibility to follow
through (with the mikveh) if that
is the criterion for performing the
brit." And, he continues, even
though Reform does not demand a
mikveh, "that doesn't mean that
the child couldn't go to the mikveh.
The real essence is the commitment
by (the parents) to functioning
ceremonially as Jews."
Reform congregations use the
mikveh at (Conservative) Cong.
Beth Achim, "following traditional
Halachah (Jewish law), with a beit
din (judicial tribunal) of three rab-
bis," Rabbi Loss adds.

ome local mohelim say that to
avoid confusion they will not per-
form a brit when the father is
Jewish and the mother is not. We
take the view that we cannot make
the conversion of the child," says
Rabbi Shaiall Zachariash, a mohel
and rabbi of (Orthodox) Shomrey
Emunah synagogue. "(If we did,)
we would be asking a non-Jewish
woman to raise a child as a Jew. In
conversion it means living as the
Jewish people are required."
He calls the status quo, with
its absence of a follow-up system
and the lack of unanimity among
the mohelim, a "farce."
Although he is willing to per-
form a circumcision as a surgical
procedure, Rabbi Zachariash says it
is "misleading" for a mohel to
preside at a brit where the father is
Jewish and the mother is not. "His
presence implies that this is a
Jewish ritual."
Even if the family follows
through with the mikveh, the con-
version would be performed "before
the child is able to understand. It is
imposed on the child." This is a
very different situation than one in
which a non-Jewish child is con-
verted upon adoption by two

An Ancient Craft


mohel usually learns his
trade the old-fashioned
way, as an apprentice to
another mohel. The mohel-in-
training begins by observing his
teacher at work, and is eventu-
ally allowed to perform britot
under his teacher's supervision.
After the period of training,
which can vary in duration, but
which lasts about a year, the
teacher pronounces his student
qualified to work on his own.
Detroit's "certified" mohelim are
certified in this manner, accord-
ing to one local mohel.
Many mohelim also train at
hospitals in order to receive
medical certification to perform
circumcisions there.
There are six practicing
mohelim in the Detroit area.
Their fees generally range be-
tween $100 and $150, according
to the mohelim and parents
Whose sons have recently had a
brit. Most mohelim say they will
perform a brit for free if the fam-
ily cannot afford to pay, for the
sake of the mitzvah.
By custom, a mohel must be
an observant Jew.
Here are thumbnail sketches
of Detroit's mohelim:
Rabbi Leo I. Goldman, 69,
trained at a medical school in
Stockholm, Sweden. He has
practiced in Detroit 36 years. He
is also rabbi of Shaarey
Shomayim congregation.
Cantor Samuel Green-
baum, 43, studied at (Conserva-

tive) Jewish Theological Semi-
nary Cantor's Institute. Trained
with Rabbi Harry Bronstein,
Brooklyn, N.Y., as well as at
Beaumont and Sinai Hospitals.
He has practiced in Detroit 14
years and he is also cantor at
Cong. Beth Shalom.
Rabbi Sherman Kirshner,
51, studied with Dr. Herman
Cantor, Fort Worth, Tex. Re-
ceived certification from local
rabbis there as well as a medical
certification. A mohel for 28
years, he has practiced in De-
troit two years. He is also rabbi
at Cong. B'nai Israel of West
Reb. Hershl Roth, 60,
trained with Rabbi Harry Brons-
tein. He has practiced in Detroit
18 years.
Cantor Sidney Rube, 53,
studied at Hebrew Theological
College, Chicago, Ill. A fifth-
generation mohel, he trained
with his father, Rev. Mordechai
Rube, as well as at Sinai and
Grace hospitals. He has prac-
ticed in Detroit 15 years. He is
also a cantor at Cong. Shaarey
Rabbi Shaiall Zachariash,
54, studied at Yeshivah Torah
Vadat and Ner Israel Rabbinical
College, Baltimore, Md. Trained
at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital,
Brooklyn, N.Y. He has practiced
in Detroit 24 years and he is
also rabbi at Shomrey Emunah

Jacob Berenbeim's brit milah photographed by Bob McKeown.

Continued on Page 26


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