If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times; no one looks for the cheapest brain surgeon. And it would seem that the same would apply to brit milah. No one nickels and dimes their way to the most affordable bris. But something weird happens when the mohel says he won’t accept payment for his services. It shifts from being perceived as sketchy to being perceived as honorable. The public sees this mohel as the highest level.
There’s a great deal of conversation on Facebook whenever anyone asks who they should use as their mohel. And although I did see one post where the father asked who was the cheapest mohel around (and believe me, the conversation that ensued was extensive and heated), the majority of the advice given sounds something like “He’s a great mohel and he doesn’t even take money!” It’s perceived as a badge of honor and some of the mohelim wear it proudly.
Now don’t get me wrong, both of my teachers don’t accept money for doing britot, and I don’t think that is wrong. Luckily they have full-time jobs that make it so they don’t need to be paid for their work as Mohalim. But whatever the reason might be, the mohelim refusing payment are affecting those of us who are making a living from it. To put it simply, it makes us look bad.
For some reason the social consensus appears to be that you should not accept money for performing mitzvot (commandments) — or at least not for this one. The truth is there has been a lot more ink spilled about how one should not get paid for teaching Torah, the Rambam being one of the main proponents of this stance. He felt that one should have another source of income and teach Torah for free. So should we look down on all of our rabbis and teachers for taking a salary? It would be crazy to. And that’s a profession for which it is halachically questionable to receive a wage. While at the same time, what if a full time educator actually did work for free? Wouldn’t we worry for the sanity? So why is it so revered in regards to brit milah?
When it comes to what is actually permitted, the official stance is that a mohel cannot demand a wage. Interestingly, one of the Halacha sefarim (law books) says just that — the mohel cannot demand a wage. But immediately after that the author writes a message to the parents, stating, “You’re paying all that money for the food and the hall, and the DJ, and to the person who actually performs the mitzvah you’re giving him nothing? It doesn’t seem right.’” So perhaps a mohel shouldn’t demand a wage, but there’s nothing wrong with him taking what people offer him.
As for those who do not accept a wage, I think we can all agree that it’s 100% their choice. The issue I have isn’t so much the refusal of pay but the public nature of the refusal. Usually what happens is the mohel says something like “Whatever you were going to give me, please donate to charity.” I’m not sure this is as humble as it is perceived. I think these Mohelim should take the money and quietly donate it themselves. First of all, that would be much more humble because the clients would not be the wiser. But it would also help out their fellow mohelim because it would be a unified front. People pay for brit milah and we, the mohalim, accept that pay. Not to mention, just think of the tax write-off these mohalim would get.
These notions may seem like nothing more than my own insecurities speaking, but I’ve actually gotten disparaging comments like, “The mohel I use doesn’t think it’s right to accept money, and I agree with him.” I don’t believe that a mohel is against people accepting pay for work done. When a mohel chooses to refuse pay he has not elevated the mitzah in some way; all he has done, in effect, is a favor for you. And that does not detract at all from what we salaried mohalim do because by the way, having money to feed one’s family is also mitzvah.
Hayim Leiter is a Mohel for the greater Jerusalem area and he also teaches at The Pardes Institute. You can contact him at email@example.com