HOW I BECAME A MOHEL

By Hazzan Yogev Nuna

Since the time of our forefather Abraham, the act of circumcision has served as the physical symbol of the covenant between Hashem and the Jewish people. The honor of playing an integral part in the entering of a newborn child into the covenant of Abraham has always held great appeal to me. Several years ago a good friend from my Yeshiva days in Bnei Brak had told me of his father, Rav Yehuda Giat, who trained mohelim, shochtim (kosher butchers) and sofrim (scribes). Little did I know back then that I would one day become one of his father's students.

Rabbi Giat is a master teacher who is sought out by students from around the world. He is a man constantly on the move, traveling as far as Argentina and Brazil to train students. A certificate of being a qualified mohel by Rabbi Giat is accepted and recognized by Jewish religious authorities worldwide as a superb endorsement of skill and expertise.

As the less demanding summer months approached this year, the opportunity arose that would make my dream a reality. The synagogue leadership endorsed this endeavor and a group of kind and generous individuals offered to lead tefila and read sefer in my absence.  My long ago connection to his son undoubtedly played a role in Rabbi Giat's willingness to accommodate my short training window.

I left for Israel in early June, looking forward to the intensive course of study I would soon be undertaking. Upon my arrival on a Sunday I contacted Rabbi Giat to find out when I could begin. Rabbi Giat informed me that he was currently in Russia training students but would be back late Tuesday evening. The 65 year old Rabbi told me to be at his house at 9:30am Wednesday morning to begin my studies. I knew that Rabbi Giat held himself to a grueling schedule that would sideline a man half his age, usually rising for prayers before sunrise and working and teaching until 11pm each night. Nevertheless his willingness to start my training so soon after his lengthy journey caught me by surprise.

But there I was at Rav Giat's home at 9:30 am Wednesday morning. Not one for small talk, my teacher proclaimed "you will perform your first mila at 2:00pm, if all goes well you will perform your second at 4:00pm." My jaw barely had time to drop before the Rabbi began to prepare me for my debut. We dove into the laws of circumcision, how to perform the procedure, how to use the utensils, how to treat the wound and how to follow up.

Just as promised at 2:00 pm I was performing my first mila.  it looked to me like I had performed the task well but the final arbiter would be my teacher, he looked up at me and said, "Your next mila will be at 4:00 pm", I had indeed done well. I was later asked if I was nervous and the truth is I had no time to be nervous. Although my first mila was on a Jewish child, my second would be on a Muslim baby. Muslims also perform circumcision on their children and it turns out, at least in Israel, they prefer having it performed by a Jewish mohel over a co-religionist or a physician. Again the Rabbi told me I had done "very well".

And so it went for each day I was there, a nonstop schedule of performing circumcisions with intensive classes and training in between. I recall one occasion while on our way to Tel Aviv to perform a circumcision that Rabbi Giat stopped at a farm. Rabbi Giat was training several of his students in shechita at the farm and asked for my assistance. I was told to hold the wings of a plump and feisty turkey while the butcher completed his task. I am told that a turkey cannot fly, but this feisty fowl did all he could to dispel that stereotype. His huge wings flailed, tossing me to and fro as I struggled to keep the bird still while trying to maintain my dignity. Even though Rabbi Giat is a man of few words, his look of displeasure informed me that at least for now I should stick with circumcisions and Hazzanut.

There is no specific timeframe for the length of the course of study, you are done when Rav Giat says you are done.   I was aware that some prepare for as long as six weeks before being awarded their certificate of completion. I had been studying and practicing from morning to night for three weeks when Rabbi Giat announced that I was ready. I was presented with my Certificate as a qualified mohel signed and presented to me by Rav Giat.

One of our community's prior mohels is Rabbi Salomon Cohen-Scali, our synagogue's esteemed former Rabbi. Rabbi Cohen-Scali happened to be in Seattle last week to perform a wedding. We chatted about our mutual profession and I mentioned that I had been trained and certified by the famed Rabbi Giat. Rabbi Cohen-Scali's mouth spread into a wide smile as he exclaimed that some thirty years earlier he too had received his own training and certification from none other than Rabbi Yehuda Giat!

Please share with your friends and family that I am now a fully certified mohel and am available to perform circumcisions. I may be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or at 206-660-8481.