American Reform Responsa

58. Nolad Mahul (Born Circumcised)

(Vol. XXVIII, 1918, p. 117-118)

QUESTION: The following message was received by the Chairman of the ResponsaCommittee, and his wired reply is appended:

Have case of a Nolad Mahul, six weeks old; Mohel examined eighth day and said nothing to be done; then physician examined yesterday. Organ absolutely clean from Orla and prohibited operation. Am asked to name child. Please wire opinion at my expense upon receipt of this.

Rabbi Kohler's Opinion

Physician's opinion is paramount. Name child without the Mila.

K. Kohler

Rabbi Deutch dissents from this opinion:

Rabbi Deutsch's Opinion

Dr. Kohler's responsum on Nolad Mahul is wrongly conceived. No rabbinic authority can decide to circumcise, where there is nothing to circumcise. The point would be, whether the old practice of letting blood, "Matif dam berit,"should be followed.

G. Deutsch

(Vol. XXIX, 1919, pp. 74-75)

I beg leave as Chairman of the Committee on Responsa to recur to my incomplete report in last year's proceedings of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, pp. 117ff. When sending it in I was at the hospital and had then and there no opportunity of elaborating on it and of explaining my telegram concerning the Nolad Mahul. I intentionally avoided referring to the halachic rule of "letting blood" in the telegram in order not to offend the laymen for whom the Mila should always have a spiritual and not a mere physiological character. Dr. Deutsch in his remarks leaves unanswered the question whether, from our Reform point of view, "the old practice of letting blood" ("Tsarich lehatif dam berit")should be followed or not.

Here, then, I would first of all call attention to the fact that the Mosaic law, despite the term "blood circumcision" in Ex. 4:26, does by no means imply that the bloodletting is essential, as if the sacrificial blood would constitute the covenant as in Ex. 24:8. In fact, the School of Hillel, according to the older version, does not regard it as a Biblical command, and therefore, would not have it done on a Sabbath day (Shab. 135a), though Rav insists on it (Yer., Yev. 8.8d). It was considered more essential in the case of proselytes, wherefore a special benediction is to be recited at the circumcision of proselytes emphasizing the letting of blood of the covenant with reference to Jeremiah 33:25 (Shab. 137b; Yoreh De-a 268.8). Be that as it may, we can neither admit that the case of the Nolad Mahul is simply an orla kevusha("a suppressed foreskin"), as is the view of those who require the letting of blood, nor do we believe in the idea of sacrifice (as at a former Conference we have decided in the case of adult proselytes to do away with the circumcision altogether, laying all the stress on the spiritual idea of the Covenant). I hope that this opinion of mine will be ratified by the members of the committee and endorsed by the Conference.

K. Kohler


In the case of Nolad Mahul it is not necessary, if not impossible, to perform Mila, so the only question remaining concerns Hatafat Dam, the letting of blood (Ex. 4:26). And there is a very marked distinction between Mila and Hatafat Dam. Berit Mila must take place on the eighth day, even if it is Sabbath or Yom Kippur, but where Hatafat Damis required, the School of Hillel did not regard it as a Biblical command, and therefore would not have it done on the Sabbath (Shab. 135a).

Since we do not consider Hatafat Dam for a child born circumcised (Nolad Mahul) as being a Biblical commandment, we should continue to abide by the responsum of K. Kohler, as it appears in the CCAR Yearbook (vol. 28, 1918, p. 117), which clearly states: Nolad Mahul should be named without Mila.

There are also references to the early Reformers who named and consecrated uncircumcised baby boys (though we do not subscribe to this practice) in the synagogue (based on Jer. 31:30ff; see also Gunther Plaut, The Growth of Reform Judaism, p. 228). If the uncircumcised was treated so, then surely the Nolad Mahulshould pose no question.

Responsa Committee (1980)

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.