In his memorabilia-filled living room in Seattle’s Seward Park neighborhood, Rabbi Solomon Maimon reflects on his 52-year career as a mohel — one who performs ritual circumcision, or brit milah, according to Jewish law.
“I traveled wide and far, because my first wife, aleha shalom [peace be upon her], said it needed to be done,” he says. “When they called asking for a mohel, I got on the plane and I went. Because I always listened to my wife.” Alaska, California, Nebraska, tiny Jewish communities all over the Northwest: Wherever there was a family in need of a mohel, that’s where Rabbi Maimon headed.
So how did he get into the business? That goes back to 1944, when Maimon was serving as Sephardic Bikur Holim’s rabbi. The Seattle community was looking to the future, and the local mohel, Reverend Baronsky, was aging out of the job. Maimon was apprenticed to an experienced mohel in New York. “He took me on as a pupil, and I practiced circumcising cadavers in the morgue,” he says. “I graduated to assisting at the hospital, and then one day he said ‘OK! You are ready!’”
He returned to Seattle. Soon after, a baby boy named Jack Babani (z”l) was born, and Maimon’s career was launched. Up until 1998, Rabbi Maimon performed hundreds of circumcisions. If the baby was born on Shabbat, then the eighth day fell on the next Shabbat. If a mother and baby were still in the hospital on Shabbat, Rabbi Maimon walked to the hospital for the brit milah. He always found congregation members willing to accompany him on the long trek.
By the 1990s, Rabbi Simon Benzaquen succeeded Rabbi Maimon as the local mohel. But in 1998, when Rabbi Benzaquen was out of the country, Rabbi Maimon was called upon to come out of retirement for one last circumcision. Although he was 79, his hands were steady, and he performed his final brit milah on Raphael Alcabes, my son, after Shabbat morning prayers, in front of a huge gathering.
Now 98 (or 99 — it’s unclear), Maimon has passed his bag and instruments on to his great-grandnephew, the fifth generation of Maimon family mohels, Rabbi Avraham Maimon, who continues the tradition in California.