A mohel (Hebrew: מוֹהֵל [moˈhel], Ashkenazi pronunciation [ˈmɔɪ.əl], plural: מוֹהֲלִים mohalim [mo.haˈlim], Aramaic: מוֹהֲלָא mohala, "circumciser") is a Jewish person trained in the practice of brit milah, the "covenant of circumcision."
Etymology of the Hebrew and Aramaic term
The noun mohel (mohala in Aramaic) "circumciser", is derived from the same verb stem as milah "circumcision." The noun appeared for the first time in the fourth century as the title of a circumciser (Shabbat 156a).
Origins of circumcision
For Jews, circumcision is mandatory, as it is prescribed in the Torah:
- In the Book of Genesis as a mark of the Covenant between God and the descendants of Abraham: "Throughout all generations, every male shall be circumcised when he is eight days old...This shall be my covenant in your flesh, an eternal covenant. The uncircumcised male whose foreskin has not been circumcised, shall have his soul cut off from his people; he has broken my Covenant"
- In Leviticus: "God spoke to Moses, telling him to speak to the Israelites: When a woman conceives and gives birth to a boy ... on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised."
Biblically, the infant's father (avi haben) is commanded to perform the circumcision himself. However, as most fathers are not comfortable or do not have the training, they designate a mohel. The mohel is specially trained in circumcision and the rituals surrounding the procedure. Many mohalim are doctors or rabbis (and some are both) or cantors and are required to receive appropriate training both from the religious and medical fields.
Traditionally, the mohel uses a knife to circumcise the newborn. Today, doctors and some non-Orthodox mohalim use a perforating clamp before they cut the skin. The clamp makes it easier to be precise and shortens recovery time. Orthodox mohalim have rejected perforating clamps, arguing that by crushing and killing the skin it causes a great amount of unnecessary pain to the newborn, cutting off the blood flow completely, which according to Jewish law is dangerous to the child and strictly forbidden, and also renders the orlah (foreskin) as cut prior to the proper ritual cut.
Under Jewish law, a mohel must draw blood from the circumcision wound. Most mohels do it by hand with a suction device, but some Orthodox groups use their mouth to draw blood after cutting the foreskin.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recently (2012) issued a warning about the health implications of this practice, citing 11 cases of neonatal HSV and two recorded fatalities. A review (2013) of cases of neonatal HSV infections in Israel identified ritual circumcision as the source of HSV-1 transmission in 31.8% of cases.
Women as mohels
According to traditional Jewish law, a woman should not be used as a mohel if a male mohel is available. However, most streams of non-Orthodox Judaism allow female mohels, called mohalot (Hebrew: מוֹהֲלוֹת, plural of מוֹהֶלֶת mohelet, feminine of mohel). In 1984, Dr. Deborah Cohen became the first certified Reform mohelet; she was certified by the Berit Mila program of Reform Judaism.
- Simeon J. Maslin, Central Conference of American Rabbis. Committee on Reform Jewish Practice Gates of Mitzvah: A Guide to the Jewish Life Cycle 1979 Page 70 "The term mohel (ritual circumciser) is derived from milah (circumcision). "
- Abraham P. Bloch The Biblical and historical background of Jewish customs- 1980 -p10 "Beginning with the fourth century, the term mohel (mohala in Aramaic) appeared for the first time as the title of a circumciser (Shabbat 156a). "
- Genesis 17:9-14
- Leviticus 12:1-3
- Gesundheit et al. Neonatal genital herpes simplex virus type 1 infection after Jewish ritual circumcision: modern medicine and religious tradition.Pediatrics. 2004 Aug;114(2):e259-63
- Gesundheit et al Infectious complications with herpes virus after ritual Jewish circumcision: a historical and cultural analysis (Article in Hebrew) Harefuah. 2005 Feb;144(2):126-32, 149, 148
- Circumcision: What should be done? Hanoch Ben-Yami J Med Ethics 2013;39:459–462
- Death spotlights old circumcision rite K.Hertog JewishJournal.com 2005
- Rabbi probed for circumcised infants' herpes
- Distel R, Hofer V, Bogger-Goren S, Shalit I, Garty BZ. Primary genital herpes simplex infection associated with Jewish ritual circumcision. Isr Med Assoc J 2003;5:893–4
- Penile herpes simplex virus type 1 infection presenting two and a half years after Jewish ritual circumcision of an infant. Sex Transm Dis. 2013 Jun;40(6):516-7
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Neonatal HSV Infection from Circumcision-Related Orogenital Suction Baum SG: Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2012 Jun 8; 61: see page 405- 409
- Neonatal Herpes Simplex virus infections in Israel Pediatr Infect Dis J 2013 32:120-123
- Fishkoff, Sue. "Are Female Mohels Halachically Okay". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 2 October 2013.