Hayim Leiter
Mohel, Activist, and Educator

License to mohel

My name is Hayim Leiter and I am an unlicensed mohel.

Now I know what you’re thinking, ‘Shouldn’t he be arrested or something?’ Actually, that’s not the case at all. In truth, it’s completely the opposite; no one in Israel is licensed to be a mohel. The Rabbanut has an optional certification process, but the issue of licensing is something which is presently under debate.

In response to last year’s story of a mohel in Hadara letting ‘students’ do Britot by themselves with no training, some members of Knesset are pushing for new legislation to regulate mohalim. And at first glance it seems like the right thing to do. But believe it or not, the Chief Rabbinate is pushing back against the legislation. I never thought I’d say this, but I am in complete agreement with the Chief Rabbinate.

MK Rachel Azaria was quoted as saying, “It’s unthinkable that there can be a law against fraud in kashrut and not a law for fraud in circumcision,” There is a huge flaw in that statement. Mohelim who choose not be certified by the Rabbinut are not frauds. A story came out on the same day as this news broke about the Knesset’s desire to license mohalim. It was a case in Samoa where a medical student who had not finished his studies started performing circumcisions. THAT is fraud. Not having proper training is wholly unsafe and duplicitous but that is far from what the mohalim are doing in this country.

The mohalim we’re speaking of are all trained and, in effect, certified by their teachers. That is the way it has worked for thousands of years; and to eliminate that possibility is to negate all that came before. But that’s not the only result of this proposed legislation. This would mean that fathers could not circumcise their own sons, which is their halahic mandate, much more so than that of the mohalim. It would also mean that students of milah would not be able to learn. Learning for milah has always been an apprenticeship and it needs to remain that way. This means the teacher is responsible for deciding when the student is ready to do each step of the Brit Milah process, and not the government.

But beyond our history, the first question that comes to mind with legislation like this is who will be responsible for the regulation and what will the requirements be? It is almost certain that the Rabbinut will assume this responsibility. There are many of us who try to limit our interactions with the Rabbinut for a whole host reasons. But when it comes to Britot, the issues of using sterile gloves and Metzitzah B’Peh (Oral Suction) are just two of the reasons I wouldn’t want this legislation to pass.

I would never conduct a Brit Milah without gloves nor would I ever do Metizizh B’Peh. It’s an issue of basic safety for the child because doing Metzitzah orally puts the child in a life threatening situation. And the Rabbinut has come out on the wrong side of both of these issues. At present, if the Rabbinut makes a decision, such as, all mohalim have to do Metziztah B’Peh, those with certification who refuse to do so, simply stand to lose their certification. But if the Rabbinut were given complete control of all mohalim, than someone who opposed the legal ruling would stand to lose their entire income. And that could happen simply because they are trying to protect the children they work with.

One of the articles on the topic of legislation had a staggering statistic. It claimed that of the 65,000 Britot done in this country every year 60 end up in the hospital, and of that 60, only 1-2% are critical.  The remainder are due to nervous, first-time parents. I don’t know about you but that number is mindblowing. I would have assumed the number to be much higher than that. And I work in the field. But this number proves one very important fact: our training system works. The issue at hand is the Hadar teacher who conducted himself in an atrocious way. Maybe the Knesset needs to focus more on this anomalous case and less on how to regulate the rest of us because these numbers don’t lie.

About the Author
Hayim Leiter is a Rav and a Mohel in Israel , as well as an activist, and a Jewish Educator. 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 Jerusalem with his wife and children.
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