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All Hail the Mohel

January 11, 2018 | by Yonatan Levi

Mohel are vastly underappreciated. In a business where there is no margin for error, they should be admired and adored.

The circumcision ceremony, known as a “bris,” is a wonderful celebration but the person who performs the actual procedure, i.e., the mohel, remains vastly underappreciated. Mohels should be admired and adored. They should be showered with praise and appreciation. They should be allowed to park anywhere they want.

In reality, however, the average mohel lives a life devoid of fanfare and notoriety. Most mohels are not hounded by paparazzi. They do not receive requests for their autographs. They are not paid to promote products.

In many ways, the understated and under-appreciated mohel is much like a referee in professional sports; both typically go completely unnoticed unless something goes wrong. Sadly, for the mohel there is no margin for error and there are no moral victories (only mohel victories). Yes, if a mohel makes a minor but easily correctable mistake, you certainly have every right to complain vociferously, even if you are making a mountain out of a “mohel.“

One might wonder about the moment in life when a person decides to become a mohel. It probably occurs during adulthood as a by-product of education and maturity. In other words, the dream of becoming a mohel likely does not begin in nursery school. It is safe to say that few if any four-year olds have ever exclaimed: "Hey Mom and Dad, when I grow up, I want to be a mohel!" Then again, very few four-year olds exclaim the following:

  1. "Hey Mom and Dad, when I grow up, I want to have a 30-year fixed mortgage;
  2. "Hey Mom and Dad, when I grow up, I want to have a 9 to 5 job that leaves me feeling empty inside"; or
  3. "Hey Mom and Dad, when I grow up, I want to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic."

While each and every mohel should be held to the same standard, not all mohels are alike. Some are more prompt than others and some may have better bedside manners than others. It therefore is a good idea to meet the mohel before you hire the mohel. The tricky part is assessing whether a particular mohel is a good fit for you and, more importantly, for you child. As a rule of thumb, you have chosen the wrong mohel if the mohel:

  1. uses a blindfold for showmanship;
  2. asks the infant to sign a waiver;
  3. takes a mid-bris selfie;
  4. doubles as the caterer for the bris; or
  5. is the reason insurance companies offer mohel liability insurance.

The bris ceremony concludes with the naming of the child. During the naming, the mohel recites a blessing over a cup of wine and places a tiny drop of wine in the baby’s mouth. (Let’s face it, anyone who endures a circumcision certainly deserves a drink.) If, for some reason, the parents have not decided on an official name by that time, the mohel might take the liberty of bestowing a temporary name like Baby Latka, Knish Face or Bialy Boy.

It certainly is wise that circumcision is performed when a child is only eight days old because, at that early age, the child is unable to question or complain. Thus, when it comes to circumcision, infantile cluelessness is a blessing. Imagine if infants were capable of understanding the circumcision process and had an opportunity to sit down with the mohel beforehand. Let’s imagine how such a peculiar conversation might play out:

Mohel: First of all, Mr. Baby, welcome to the world. How have your first eight days been?
Infant: Splendid. I am constantly being fed and taking naps. It's like a permanent vacation.
Mohel: That's so lovely to hear. Today, however, we do have a few matters that will require your participation.
Infant: It will be my utmost pleasure.
Mohel: I doubt it.
Infant: What did you say?
Mohel: Oh, nothing. Now, before I forget, there are a few very minor administrative items to review. Nothing major, just the usual bureaucratic red tape. For example, we need to give you a Hebrew name during a special ceremony . . . that also will include a circumcision.
Infant: Excuse me?
Mohel: Don't worry. The biblical Abraham was 99 years old when he had his circumcision.
Infant: That really does not make me feel better about this.
Mohel: But when it's over, you will go right back to bottles and naps.
Infant: Well then, what are we waiting for!

Bottom-line: Technically, every time a baby boy has a circumcision, the number of Torah-abiding Jews increases. Thus, Jewish circumcision is the epitome of addition by subtraction.


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