Members of the small but revitalized Jewish community of Warsaw recently had an opportunity to attend the first brit milah to be performed in Poland in over 30 years.
And it wasn’t just one brit. It was 11.
The ritual circumcisions, which were performed Aug. 31, took place without fanfare or notice by the community at large — which put the event in striking contrast to the last circumcision performed in Poland.
On that occasion, in 1962, the mohel was arrested and interned for several days by the Polish government for performing the ceremony.
Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer, executive director of the International Bris Milah Association, was flown in from Monsey, N.Y., to perform the procedure last week. Eleven men, ranging in ages from 15 to 40, took part in the ritual.
The International Bris Milah Association has performed circumcisions on more than 2,500 male infants in the former Soviet Union during the past several years, when restrictions were eased.
The organization has also performed thousands of circumcisions on older emigres to the United States and Canada, and is expanding its program throughout the world.
During the past several years, following the collapse of Communist rule in Poland, Warsaw’s Jewish community has expanded its activities.
After more than two decades during which Poland did not have a single rabbi, there are now two working in Warsaw full time.
Circumcisions, like many other Jewish religious rituals, were forbidden or severely limited under the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe.
In the 1920s, shortly after the Bolshevik revolution, when anti-religious persecution was near its highest point, circumcisions were attacked as “barbaric” rites and restricted.
When persecution was at its most extreme, several mohalim and parents were put on public trial for “maiming and deforming” children.
After World War II, nearly all circumcisions in the Soviet bloc were performed without the knowledge of the Communist authorities.
In 1962, one rabbi, Tzvi Bronstein, traveled to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to perform clandestine circumcisions. Though he performed the ceremony many times in the Soviet Union without being discovered by the authorities, he was caught by the Polish police and deported from the country.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.