CCAR RESPONSA

New American Reform Responsa

100. The Pressured Mohel

QUESTION: A Reform mohel, who has been properly trained, is the only individual active within this community. The mother of a child wishes to have this particular mohel do the berit milah of her child because of his Reform philosophy or his surgical skill. In this instance it has not been possible for the mohel to accommodate her and she inquired whether it would be possible for him to perform the berit milah on the following day.

Should the mohel accommodate the mother or should he insist that someone else, with perhaps a different philosophy, be chosen in order to conduct the berit on the eighth day? (Mark Lebovitz, Cherry Hill NJ)

ANSWER: The pressure of time on a mohel will be as great as other practical pressures for the postponement of berit milah. We should resist all these pressures and the temptations to move the berit milah from the eighth day for any reason except the health of the child.

Berit milah maintains specific traditions and have been connected specifically with the eighth day. All other matters should become secondary. Here we follow our tradition and which assigns such significance to berit milah, it overrides the shabbat and Yom Kippur. This unique status precludes moving the ceremony to another day for personal reasons or as a convenience (W. Jacob (ed) American Reform Responsa #55 and #56). Great emphasis has been placed on circumcising a child on the eighth day. The Septuagint translated Genesis 17.14, "He who was not circumcised in the foreskin of his flesh on the eighth day that soul shall be cut off from its people". In other words the Greek text added the phrase "on the eighth day" which did not occur in our Hebrew Bible. Philo was puzzled by this and stated that the punishment fell on the parents or upon the child when it became an adult. But that caused him other difficulties because the child became an adult at thirteen while the punishment of karet was not considered possible before the age of twenty. Later, Christian commentators indicated that this had to refer to punishment of the parents which is also in keeping with a midrash found in the Mishnah. It stated that Moses was almost punished by death because he did not quickly carry out the command of circumcising his second son who was born when they were traveling from Midian to Egypt (Ned 32a; Midrash Rabbah Exodus 5.8).

The matter discussed in the legal literature in connection with the punishment of karet which could not be carried out before the age of twenty (Sab 89b, J Bik I 64c; Yad Hil Milah 1.3; etc). All of this indicates the importance tradition has placed on the eighth day for a berit milah.

Every effort should make The Reform mohel to accommodate the family even if the berit milah must be very early in the morning of the eighth day. If that is not possible then another mohel or, perhaps a Jewish physician not yet certified as a mohel, should perform a berit milah.

As a larger number of Reform mohalim are trained this question will arise less frequently.

April 1988

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.