First Women Trained as Ritual Circumcisers

Three women are among the seven physicians officially certified last October as New York’s first formally trained Reform mohalim (ritual circumcisers).

The group of doctors—which includes a urologist, plastic surgeon, pediatrician, gynecologist and obstetrician — had completed an intensive 14-week course designed by the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion to educate medical practitioners regarding the Halachic (Jewish legal) aspects of the brit milah (ritual circumcision). Graduates of the course are certified by the Reform brit milah board, and are required to maintain an affiliation with a hospital, as well as active membership in a Reform congregation.

In the past, “most liberal Jews either had their baby boys circumcised in the hospital by a resident physician or would call in an Orthodox mohel,” said Susan Fletcher, a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College, and coordinator of the mohel program. “Reform mohalim will recognize that often a family has a tenuous relationship to Judaism. They will seize the opportunity and make it an educational experience, and introduce the family to Judaism.”

Women are encouraged to participate in the program, and several female physicians are registered in HUC’s mohel course this spring. Moreover, according to Fletcher, “We pay attention to feminist issues and encourage equal participation of women in the brit milah ceremony. Traditional mohalim tend to ignore a mother’s feelings, and most mothers spend the time outside the room.”

Conservative Jewish leaders, who are considering the establishment of a training course for mohalim at the Jewish Theological Seminary, would recognize a circumcision performed by a female mohelet, according to Rabbi Joel Roth, Associate Professor of Talmud at the Seminary and Chairman of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. “Halachically, women are entitled to perform ritual circumcision,” said Roth. “If and when the Seminary starts a program of mohalim, there are strong grounds to include women in the program.”