Rav Hayim Leiter
Business As Usual...?
Being a mohel is its own animal. It’s different from your run-of-the-mill business. A standard business model focuses on getting the word out. If people know there’s a new coffee shop in town, for instance, chances are they’ll at least try it. And then the goal of the business is to keep those clients coming back, build a client base, then spread the net wider until you hit the famed tipping point. It just takes elbow grease (albeit a lot of elbow grease) and capital.
Establishing yourself as a mohel is nothing like that. There are so many factors that go into a mohel’s success it’s almost mind numbing. And the majority of these factors are out of his control. First of all, no one just ‘tries out’ a mohel. The thought never crosses new parents’ minds, “Let’s just try it? What do we have to lose? And if it doesn’t work out, there’s always the other coffee shop down the street.”
Some of the factors that go into choosing a mohel are aesthetic. The mohel could be too religious, or not religious enough. He could sing too much or not enough. The mohel could be too American or too Israeli. Even having written a blog like this could be a factor. There’s no way to know exactly what people are looking for and there’s certainly no way to please everyone.
Familial pressures also influence the decision to use one mohel over another. For example, one partner might want to use me while the other prefered someone else. Good friends have even told me, “I really wanted to use you, but my in-laws are really close with the other mohel, so we had to go with him.” When I think about the decisions these parents have made, I 100% understand their perspective. I don’t fault them in any way. People have a million reasons why they choose a mohel.
And still none of this touches on one of the largest challenges for a mohel: sex. Now let’s just say that a couple sees something I write or sees me in action and decides to someday use me. Shoe-in, right? Not exactly. Not only does this couple have to get pregnant, bring the child to term, but that child has to be a boy. And if those stars align, I may see them sometime in a 10-15 year time span, but I may not. That’s like saying you own coffee shop just for men and your client base only drinks coffee once every two to three years, maybe. They might also want tea that time around. It makes it quite a bit more challenging to get things off the ground.
But we left out the most important challenge to being the new mohel in town: the competition. When you’re working with great people around you, who the majority of the community calls ‘the guy’, building trust is a slow process. No matter how much you ‘dance’ or take a different approach from your competition, in this business, a good name goes further than anything. And that takes a long time to build. In addition, having spoken to the competition, the progression of becoming ‘the guy’ is completely organic-- the community might choose you or or it might not. So, elbow grease may have very little to do with your success.
Although one can use traditional business tactics, because of all the afore mentioned, doing so doesn’t have the same systematic output. It’s a different process, and just for the record, I respect the process. Maybe one day I’ll look back on this and laugh, but maybe not. For those who own a business, you’ll understand what I mean when I say, “הכל בידי שמים”, “Everything is in God’s hands.” You never know where that next job will come from. So for everything which is out of my hands, I guess the only ‘business model’ left is good old fashioned prayer. And when it comes to Judaism, that’s business as usual.
This first appeared in the Times of Israel