Hayim Leiter
Rabbi, mohel, misader kiddushin, beit din member

Don’t cut corners when choosing a mohel

Recently there have been two news reports in two different Hebrew publications about the dangers of Brit Milah. The first is a Haaretz article entitled “They Thought a Brit Milah Done By a Doctor Was The Safest Way. They Were Wrong.” It outlines how some people had mistakenly assumed that using a doctor-mohel was superior to using a regular mohel. The second is Channel 13’s exposé which details how the mohel Rabbi Moshe Deri mohel who, despite the prohibition of two rabbinic courts, has continued to botch circumcisions for years and the attempted cover ups of his actions. These pieces might make people think there’s no safe option for them to perform the Mitzvah. But that would be wrong. 

As the statistics show, doctor-mohalim actually have a higher incidence of complications than mohalim who aren’t doctors — and this is for good reason. Doctors may have a skilled hand in the operating room but mohalim, who don’t have a demanding alternate profession, truly are the experts in this field. We perform Britot day in and day out and have perfected our craft. There’s a singularity of focus in not being pulled in multiple directions. 

On the other hand, as the Channel 13 exposé painfully elucidates, simply contacting the Rabbinut to find the mohel in your area might not necessarily lead to the safest outcome either. In addition to this atrocious case, many mohalim who are licensed by the Health Ministry are not only permitted, but may even be encouraged, to perform Metzitzah B’Peh. This is very dangerous for a newborn baby. If the tradition is done without a sterile tube, the baby can contract Herpes Simplex 1, which can lead to brain damage — or even death.

This leaves new parents with just one solution – being proactive. Parents must research to find the most competent mohel they can. This fact-finding takes time, and should begin well before the baby is born. Asking friends for recommendations alone just isn’t enough. The investigation may start but not end there. An initial list can be compiled based on these conversations, but that is only where the work begins.

Once you have a working list, the next step is to find the Mohalim online. A basic google search is a good start. You should look over their websites and see how extensive they are. Both the Haartez article and the Channel 13 investigation spoke of how the  practitioners did not give the families any post-care instructions. If the parents had done a search like this, they would have known what was lacking well before they even chose to use him. 

Many mohalim have ample instructions listed on their websites. But beyond that, I personally send out a file with detailed information on how to care for the baby from before, to two months after the event. And I send this file to any parent who reaches out, no matter how early in the process. 

Once you’ve done the preliminary investigating, the next step should be asking for recommendations and/or feedback in Facebook mother’s groups. These groups are an invaluable resource. In those forums, no one holds back. You’ll get honest reporting from other parents and you’ll begin to get a sense of who your top candidates should be.

Warning — there’s no such thing as a perfect mohel. Every mohel is human, and there are always parents who feel less than satisfied for one reason or another. So, a single negative report isn’t an automatic disqualification. But as one mother in the Haaretz article pointed out, based on the Facebook group feedback she received, if she had thought to ask beforehand, she would have known to stay away from this particular doctor-mohel. Similarly, a mohel with a track record like the one featured in the Channel 13 report would have had multiple negative reports and that would have been a definite red flag. In fact, the reason this mohel was able to continue working for so long is because he’s Haredei and his clientele don’t have access to Facebook and thus are at a serious disadvantage. 

Once you have a pared-down list, the next step should be a phone conversation. This personal interaction will give you a sense of who the mohel is. It also gives you time to ask him questions that are specific to what you’re looking for. Direct questioning is both respected and appreciated. 

And don’t be bashful. I often receive calls that don’t lead to me being the family’s choice. Any competent professional knows there are a multiplicity of factors that go into this decision. Possible mohalim will not be insulted or disappointed if you don’t end up using them. A true mensch just wants to make sure your baby is safe and that the Bris is done properly.

When you contact a mohel you should ask questions such as: How long have you been practicing? How many Britot do you average a week? Do you use a sterile tube for Metzitzah? Do you use sterile gloves? Do you come the next day to take off the bandage? Do you have a list of instructions (if you haven’t found anything online)? You can even ask the mohel to take you step by step through the whole process, from how to prep your baby, to what happens during the ceremony, to what the aftercare should be.

During this conversation, I suggest asking the mohel for recommendations of parents he’s worked with. It is true that a mohel will only send you to people who had a positive experience, but those parents can also provide unfiltered feedback on what it’s like to work with him. 

The final thing you can do to get a sense of your specialist is to choose your mohel as you’d choose a band to play at your wedding. Go see him in action. It may be true that you’ve already been to a Bris of his, but certainly if you haven’t, take the time to go. This will help you get a sense of how he conducts himself – from whether or not he sings throughout the ceremony, to what type of bedside manner he has. 

No matter what type of mohel you choose, whether it’s a doctor-mohel or a regular mohel, your job as a parent is to treat this experience like a surgery. If, God forbid, your child needed a serious operation, you’d do everything in your power to ensure that he or she has the safest and the best care. A Brit Milah should be no different.

About the Author
Rav Hayim Leiter is a rabbi, mohel, wedding officiant, and member of a private Beit Din in Israel. He founded Magen HaBrit, an organization committed to protecting both our sacred ceremony of Brit Milah and the children who undergo it. He made Aliyah in 2009 and lives in Efrat with his wife and four children.
Related Topics
Related Posts