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The Ritual Circumciser - The “Mohel”

The Ritual Circumciser - The “Mohel”

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Photo: Chana Lewis
Photo: Chana Lewis

Who?

We read in the bible, “And Abraham circumcised Isaac his son.”1 From this verse, our Sages2 derive that it is incumbent upon the father to circumcise his son. Since most men do not know how to perform a brit milah, ritual circumcision,3 the father elects a deputy to circumcise his son instead. The one who performs the circumcision is called a mohel.

The task of the mohel is not taken lightly. The mohel is required to study Jewish law, be familiar with the ancient traditions included in the circumcision ceremony, and must have expertise in the surgical process.4

He undergoes intense training, learning the latest hygienic and medical techniques needed for the circumcision. He also receives instruction for evaluating the infant prior to the circumcision, and for providing post-procedural care. All this is done under the close supervision of a veteran expert mohel.

The infant needs to be in good health for the circumcision to be performed.5 Common issues in newborns include high levels of jaundice, fever or infections. A trained mohel will know how to evaluate the health of the infant, and will visit at least once during the week before the circumcision to make sure everything is okay. If the mohel is unable to visit, he will advise the family to take the infant to a doctor who will evaluate his health.

If there is any doubt whether the child is healthy enough, we are stringent about the child’s welfare, and delay the ceremony until we are sure he is healthy.6

Expertise

While the sandek, the one who holds the infant during the circumcision, ideally should be a pious and spiritual person, the mohel must be an expert in circumcision. In fact, if one has a choice between using a righteous mohel, who will have in mind lofty and spiritual intentions, but whose hands are old and not quick anymore, and a mohel with steady hands but not well-versed in the spiritual aspects of circumcision, it is preferable to use the one with better hands and technique.7 Today we are fortunate to have many professionals who are also righteous in their deeds and fear of Heaven.

FOOTNOTES
1.

Genesis 21:3

2.

Talmud Kidushin 29a.

3.

If the father does know how to circumcise, opinions vary as to whether the father is obligated to perform the circumcision himself (see Otzar Habrit, pp. 133-135).

4.

Koret Habrit, pp. 264 and 106.

5.

Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 262: 2.

6.

Tzemach Tzedek, Piskei Dinim 253. See Igrot Kodesh, vol. 7, p. 143. See also Heichel Menachem, vol. 1, p. 47. According to Maimonides, if the delays were mandated by Jewish law, then when the brit is ultimately preformed it is retroactively considered as though it was done in its proper time (see Tzofnat Pa'aneach to Mishne Torah, Hilchot Milah, ch. 3).

7.

Torat Menachem, vol. 2, p. 279.

Dovid Zaklikowski is the director of Lubavitch Archives, a freelance journalist and public speaker. Dovid and his wife Chana Raizel are the proud parents of four: Motti, Meir, Shaina & Moshe Binyomin.
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Circumcision is the first commandment given by G-d to Abraham, the first Jew, and is central to Judaism.