Dear Rabbi,

My rabbi gave me the number of a mohel, an experienced ritual circumciser. We had a wonderful conversation, and he was very helpful; however, when I asked him what the charge was, he told me that I could pay however much I wanted.

I am amused and confused at the same time. I find it amusing that such a complicated procedure does not have a set charge, and on the other hand, I am confused as to how much I should actually pay.


Mazel Tov on the birth of your new child! May you merit bringing him into the covenant of Abraham.

Jewish law states clearly that it is incumbent upon the father to circumcise his son by himself. However, most fathers cannot do the circumcision by themselves, and therefore appoint a surrogate, an expert mohel, to perform the circumcision, the brit milah, on their behalf.1

Recognizing the difficulty this extra expense could cause, Rabbi Moses Isserles writes in his gloss on the Code of Jewish Law that the mohel should not refuse to perform a circumcision if someone does not have the funds to pay for it. He adds that, in fact, mohels are generally enthusiastic to circumcise a child even if there is no payment.2

For this reason, it is the custom among many mohels not to ask for any specific amount, leaving it in the hands of the family to decide how much to pay. The mohel you called is actually following an ancient Jewish custom.

I once asked the well-known expert mohel Rabbi Levi Heber: does he keep a list of those who owe him money? He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I have no such list, and if a family that did not pay would come to me in several years, I would not remember if they paid or not.”

While there are some circumcisers who have income from other sources, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, suggested that the mohel should not say that the service is free, and should let the family know that they can pay whatever they can afford.3

A reason why the circumcision should not be done free of charge might be explained by the requirement, mentioned above, that the father actually do the brit milah himself. When the father pays for the services of the mohel, it is considered as if he actually did the mitzvah himself, even more than if he were to just delegate the mohel as a surrogate.4

I could not get a straight answer from my mohel on how much to pay for the brit, but from asking around, it seems that most parents give somewhere between $360 and $600. (Though one parent explained to me that such a great procedure should not be done for so little, and he gave $1,500.)

When calculating how much to pay, keep in mind that today many mohels do this for a living. In your calculation, you should add any travel costs that he may have had.

Rabbi Heber said that in his experience as a mohel he has even lost money doing circumcisions, with sometimes even his travel expenses not being covered. “For me, the most important thing is that the young child should be circumcised; payment is secondary.”

See also The Ritual Circumciser—The Mohel, from our minisite Brit Milah: The Covenant of Circumcision.

Let me know how it works out.