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Welcoming A Son Into An Interfaith Family: What Is A Mohel And How Do You Find One?

January 1999

A child's birth brings with it all the hopes, dreams and promises we have for that child. As with any lifecycle event, the birth can also bring a bit of uncertainty regarding how to appropriately celebrate such an important family event in a Jewish context. Especially for boys, whom we welcome into the covenant with God through brit milah (ritual circumcision) on the eighth day after birth, the brief time we have to prepare for the ceremony adds a bit of anxiety. (A similar covenant ceremony for girls, called a brit bat, also can be held on the eighth day.)

Traditionally, the father is responsible for arranging his son's brit milah. Fortunately, with just a few phone calls, you can arrange for a mohel (person trained to perform ritual circumcision) who will take care of everything from calming nervous parents to helping arrange for a celebration after the brit milah.

A mohel (mohelet, if a woman) is a person, sometimes a rabbi, cantor or physician, who has specialized training in the rituals, laws and procedures surrounding ritual circumcision. Many mohelim and mohelot train through apprenticeships, while others are medical doctors who enroll in specific programs, such as the one offered by the Reform movement. A circumcision performed without a mohel and the associated Jewish rituals is just a circumcision; it is not a brit milah and does not welcome the child into the Jewish covenant with God.

The best way to find a mohel is through a personal reference, whether a rabbi or a friend. Do not hesitate to call the local synagogue for the name of a mohel, even if you are not a member. If you choose a mohel through an ad, perhaps in a Jewish newspaper, be sure to get a few references. Reform movement trained mohelim and mohelot can be found through the Berit Mila Board of Reform Judaism website at http://beritmila.org/. If you live in a remote area in which a mohel is not available, then you can use a (preferably) Jewish doctor and a knowledgeable Jew who can help you with the appropriate prayers.

The mohel is capable of conducting the entire brit milah ceremony, although often the parents will ask their rabbi or cantor to co-officiate with the mohel. If you have the desire, in addition to the time and energy, to personalize the brit milah service with special readings or participation from family members, be sure to ask the mohel if he or she is able to accommodate you. Some Orthodox mohelim will not co-officiate with liberal rabbis or perform a brit milah for a child of an intermarriage, although many will. Again, references can help you determine who is the most appropriate mohel for your son and save a lot of heartache on the day of the circumcision.

When looking for a mohel, you might want to keep the following in mind:

Availability--Will the mohel be available around the anticipated date?
Experience--Where did the mohel train and for how long?
Type of restraint--Will someone need to physically hold the baby or does the mohel use a restraining board?
Anesthetic--Some mohelim will use an anesthetic, if desired by the family.
Circumcision instrument--The circumcision may take more or less time depending on the surgical instrument the mohel prefers.
Post-circumcision care--Is the mohel available for a follow-up visit, if necessary?
Fee--This may range from $250.00 to $550.00, and may be covered by medical insurance.

Welcoming a son into Judaism is just the first of many opportunities a family has to raise a child as a Jew. Take care when selecting a mohel but remember that a wealth of Jewish tradition waits for your family in the future. After the brit milah, help your son become involved in the life of a synagogue and the Jewish community.

Hebrew for "covenant of circumcision," a ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old. It is commonly known as "bris," which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of "brit." Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hebrew for "daughter's covenant," a ceremony or ritual for welcoming baby girls into the Jewish community. Hebrew for "circumciser," the person who performs a ritual circumcision. The masculine form is "mohel." (Yiddish term is "moyel.") A member of the Jewish clergy who leads a congregation in songful prayer. ("Hazzan" in Hebrew.) Hebrew for "circumciser" (Yiddish term is "moyel"), the person who performs a ritual circumcision. The feminine form is "mohelet." Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.
Rabbi Kenneth S. Weiss

Rabbi Kenneth S. Weiss is the executive director of Houston Hillel, and serves as the co-chair of the Berit Mila Board of Reform Judaism. He is married to Rabbi Amy Weiss, and they enjoy spending time with their sons, Eli and Joshua.

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