Reuven Unger, Germany’s only mohel, is on the road a lot in Deutschland.
“I’ve had four bris in a day — one in Berlin, the other in Hamburg, the third in Cologne and the fourth one — I didn’t make it,” said the soft-spoken Unger. “They had to bring in a mohel from Brussels.”
Unger has been performing brit milot in Germany for 10 years. Until he came to Germany, those who wanted a bris had to bring in a mohel from Zurich.
An Israeli doctor in Berlin’s Jewish Hospital performs circumcisions, but does not say the ritual prayers or conduct the naming ceremony involved in a brit milah.
Germany’s only mohel came to the country from Israel in late 1985 as a shochet, the person responsible for the ritual slaughtering of livestock.
He had seen an advertisement for a shochet in an Israeli newspaper placed by Berlin’s Jewish community.
“I spoke with the rabbi and told him that I can read Torah and that I’m a mohel. He said [yes], but I need a shochet,” Unger said, adding, “I didn’t want to be a shochet.”
A year later, a similar ad for a shochet appeared in the paper, this time for the Frankfurt community. Unger thought it over and decided to apply for the job.
In late 1985, he came to Frankfurt as a shochet and performed a bris on the side.
A few years ago, the city closed its slaughterhouse. So now, Unger is a full- time mohel.
Unger is strictly Orthodox and performs ritual circumcisions only for families in which the mother is Jewish.
If only the father is Jewish or if there is a question about the mother’s Jewishness, he will perform a circumcision, but ask the couple to delay the accompanying party until he has left.
He also has done non-religious circumcisions for sons of U.S. Army personnel, because baby boys are not routinely circumcised in Germany.
Circumcision is so uncommon here that many German pediatricians are unfamiliar with the practice and become concerned when confronted with a baby who has been circumcised.
Unger said he often gets calls from young mothers after their babies’ first post-bris visit to the pediatrician. The women wonder whether something went wrong with the circumcision because the doctor has expressed concern.
“I tell them there’s nothing wrong and not to worry,” said Unger.
Unger says if he had stayed in Jerusalem he could perform perhaps eight brit milot a year — at most.
“In Jerusalem there is no lack of mohelim. The yellow pages lists at least 25,” he said.
“I have the satisfaction of being in a place where I’m needed,” he said of his work in Germany. “That makes me very happy.”