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A mohel (Hebrew: מוֹהֵל [moˈhel], Ashkenazi pronunciation [ˈmɔɪ.əl], plural: מוֹהֲלִים mohalim [mo.haˈlim], Imperial Aramaic: מוֹהֲלָא mohala, "circumciser") is a Jew trained in the practice of brit milah, the "covenant of circumcision".[1]


A historiated initial E featuring a mohel performing the circumcision of Jesus, accompanied by Mary (c. 1350)

The noun mohel ('mohala' in Aramaic), meaning "circumciser", is derived from the same verb stem as milah (circumcision).[2] The noun appeared for the first time in the 4th century as the title of a circumciser (Shabbat (Talmud) 156a).[3]

Origins of circumcision in Judaism[edit]

For Jews, male circumcision is mandatory as it is prescribed in the Torah. In the Book of Genesis, it is described as a mark of the covenant of the pieces between Yahweh and the descendants of Abraham:

And God said unto Abraham: 'And as for thee, thou shalt keep My covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male throughout your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any foreigner, that is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken My covenant.'[4]

In Leviticus:

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: If a woman be delivered, and bear a man-child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of the impurity of her sickness shall she be unclean. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. And she shall continue in the blood of purification three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification be fulfilled.[5]


Biblically, the infant's father (avi haben) is commanded to perform the circumcision himself.[citation needed] 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 scalpel 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.[6][7][8]

Mohel booklet from Hegenheim (F), dated between 1805 and 1849. Today in the Jewish Museum of Switzerland’s collection.

Under Jewish law, a mohel must draw blood from the circumcision wound. Most mohels do it by hand with a suction device,[9][10][11][12] but some follow the traditional practice of doing it by mouth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning in 2012 about the health implications of the latter practice, citing 11 cases of neonatal Herpes simplex virus (HSV) and two recorded fatalities.[13] A 2013 review of cases of neonatal HSV infections in Israel identified ritual circumcision as the source of HSV-1 transmission in 31.8% of the cases.[14]

Even up until today, many mohalim list the names and birthdates of the boys they circumcise in little booklets. These books have become important documents for genealogical scholarship. Increasingly, these notes on circumcision are being digitalized.[15]

Female mohels[edit]

According to traditional Jewish law, in the absence of a Jewish male expert, a woman that has the required skills is also authorized to perform the circumcision, provided that she is Jewish.[16] Non-Orthodox Judaism allows female mohels, called mohalot (מוֹהֲלוֹת, plural of מוֹהֶלֶת, 'mohelet', feminine of mohel), without restriction. In 1984, Dr. Deborah Cohen became the first certified Reform Jewish mohelet; she was certified by the Berit Mila Program of Reform Judaism.[17]

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Lawrence, Eliezer (December 18, 2019). "What is A Mohel?".
  2. ^ Maslin, Simeon J. (1979). Gates of Mitzvah: A Guide to the Jewish Life Cycle. Central Conference of American Rabbis. Committee on Reform Jewish Practice. p. 70. The term mohel (ritual circumciser) is derived from milah (circumcision).
  3. ^ Bloch, Abraham P. (1980). The Biblical and historical background of Jewish customs. p. 10. ISBN 9780870686580. Beginning with the fourth century, the term mohel (mohala in Aramaic) appeared for the first time as the title of a circumciser (Shabbat 156a).
  4. ^ Genesis 17:9–14
  5. ^ Leviticus 12:1–3
  6. ^ Gesundheit; et al. (August 2004). "Neonatal genital herpes simplex virus type 1 infection..." Pediatrics. 114 (2): e259-63. doi:10.1542/peds.114.2.e259. PMID 15286266. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  7. ^ Gesundheit; et al. (February 2005). "Infectious complications with herpes virus after ritual Jewish circumcision: a historical and cultural analysis". Harefuah (in Hebrew). 144 (2): 126–32, 149, 148. PMID 16128020.
  8. ^ Ben-Yami, Hanoch (2013). "Circumcision: What should be done?". J Med Ethics. 39 (7): 459–462. doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-101274. PMID 23760731. S2CID 8878760. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  9. ^ Hartog, Kelly (17 February 2005). "Death spotlights old circumcision rite". Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  10. ^ Rabbi probed for circumcised infants' herpes,, 2 February 2005. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  11. ^ Distel, R; Hofer, V; Bogger-Goren, S; Shalit, I; Garty, BZ (2003). "Primary genital herpes simplex infection associated with Jewish ritual circumcision". Isr Med Assoc J. 5 (12): 893–94. PMID 14689764.
  12. ^ Yossepowitch, O; Gottesman, T; Schwartz, O; Stein, M; Serour, F; Dan, M (June 2013). "Penile herpes simplex virus type 1 infection presenting two and a half years after Jewish ritual circumcision of an infant". Sex Transm Dis. 40 (6): 516–17. doi:10.1097/olq.0b013e31828bbc04. PMID 23680909. S2CID 9800836.
  13. ^ Baum, SG (8 June 2012). "CDC: Neonatal HSV Infection from Circumcision-Related Orogenital Suction". Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 61: 405–409. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  14. ^ Amir Koren; et al. (2013). "Neonatal Herpes Simplex virus infections in Israel" (PDF). Pediatr Infect Dis J. 32 (2): 120–23. doi:10.1097/inf.0b013e3182717f0b. PMID 23334339. S2CID 46492038. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  15. ^ Lubrich, Naomi, ed. (2022). Birth Culture. Jewish Testimonies from Rural Switzerland and Environs (in German and English). Basel. pp. 54–123. ISBN 978-3796546075.
  16. ^ Talmud Avodah Zarah 27a; Menachot 42a; Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Milah, 2:1; Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah, 264:1
  17. ^ "Berit Mila Program of Reform Judaism". Archived from the original on 7 October 2013. Retrieved 2 February 2015.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Mohels at Wikimedia Commons