A Bris In Homel


…Reb Elchonon continued his holy work, bringing young Jewish children into the Covenant of Avraham. A certain bris he performed soon created a sensation in Homel.

In those days, many Jews, even communist party members, retained outward appearances to show they were good communists, but deep within them burned the eternal Jewish spark. It once happened that a certain individual sued his wife for divorce soon after she gave birth to their first child, a son. The reason: his wife had the baby circumcised!

The communists finally had a chance to display to Homel’s Jewish population how a young man was prepared to sacrifice family ties for his party. They immediately planned a trial. The trial was well publicized and when the day arrived the galleries were filled to overflowing.

The judge, himself a Jew, called the husband first.

“Tell me, comrade, are you a loyal party member?” he asked.

“I am indeed,” said the husband, and he went on to describe his important post in the government hierarchy.

“Until now, have you been on good terms with your wife?” asked the judge.

The husband answered in the affirmative.

“What then, comrade, has happened that you wish to divorce her?” the judge asked.

“Comrade judge, my wife gave birth to a son. I looked forward to bringing him up as a true communist. One day, I came home and to my utter consternation found that he had been circumcised! Was I supposed to stand guard all day, neglecting my important work for the advancement of communism? I hold her responsible!” the husband said emotionally.

Loud hissing filled the courtroom as the spectators shook their heads in sympathy. Here and there, a young mother furtively wiped her tears

“Let the wife step forward, “ the judge ordered.

“Comrade, are you guilty of perpetrating this heinous crime?”

“Comrade judge, “ she wept, “it isn’t true. He won’t listen to me. We live in a single, rented room in someone else’s house. One day I had to go shopping for food and I left my baby sleeping in his crib. I made sure to lock the door before I left. It took me longer than I expected.

She lowered her voice dramatically.

“Just imagine how frightened I was when I found the door of our room wide open and looked around and saw that nothing had been touched. Then suddenly, I realized that my baby was gone!”

“There was no one else in the house, no one to ask, no sign of any theft. I ran madly out into the street and then I suddenly saw my parents and my husband’s parents. Imagine my relief when I noticed my mother carrying the baby. She tried to calm me, they had just taken the baby for a walk, she told me.”

“I believed them. But when I brought him home and changed his diaper I had a fit. How could my parents do this to me!” she cried.

“Terrible,” the judge shook his head. “Unbelievable that in the modern Soviet Republic these religious practices still exist. Let the child’s grandparents come forward.”

All four grandparents stood together. Both grandfathers had gray beards and wore long black coats. The grandmothers’ heads were covered with kerchiefs. One of the grandmothers, who knew a little more Russian than the others, spoke for them all.

“ Honorable comrade, I admit that I can’t see what’s wrong with our grandchild having a bris like all Jewish boys, but you should know that we didn’t mean to do it. It just happened.”

The public galleries reverberated with laughter. The judge called for silence and asked sarcastically:

“How, Babushka, does a circumcision just happen?!”

“We took our little grandson out for some fresh air and we came to streets where we hardly ever go. Suddenly a young Rabbi walked over to us, a stranger, and asked: ‘Do you want your grandson to have a bris like every Jewish boy?’

“Of course,” we answered. So he quickly took out a knife and before we knew what was happening our grandson had a bris!”

The gales of laughter from the galleries could hardly be contained.

“Babushka, have you finished your ridiculous story?” asked the judge in annoyance.

“I have told you all,” said the grandmother. “But I want you to know that I am very happy.”

“Happy?” roared the judge “About what?”

“Happy that our dear little grandson had a bris, just like you, your honor! Aren’t you proud to be a Jew?”

Try as he might, the judge could do nothing to stop the titters and snickers. Eventually the courtroom was brought to order. The husband was called back to the witness stand.

“Tell me, comrade, hero of communism, if not for this most unfortunate affair, is there any other reason you have for divorcing your wife?”

“No, comrade judge, none whatsoever.”

“If I tell you that she is not guilty, will you consider returning to her?”

“Of course, comrade.”

“Then, here is the decision. Your wife is innocent. It is entirely the fault of the grandparents. I hereby fine them fifty rubles for their persistence in observing these religious practices. This is the decision of the Soviet court of Homel.”

As the spectators filed out of the court, they quietly admired the ingenious plan of the young party member and his wife to have their son circumcised while still retaining his high ranking job and party membership.

The bizarre story about the stranger was, of course, to protect the Mohel’s identity, but it was no secret.

Everyone knew that there was only one Mohel left in the city: Reb Yitzchak Elchonon Shagalow.

From A Life of Sacrifice Reb Yitzchak Elchononon HaLevi Shagalow by Rabbi Elchonon Lesches

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