A mohel (Hebrew: מוֹהֵל [moˈhel], Ashkenazi pronunciation [ˈmɔɪ.əl], plural: מוֹהֲלִים mohalim [mo.haˈlim], Aramaic: מוֹהֲלָא mohala, "circumciser") is a Jew trained in the practice of brit milah, the "covenant of circumcision."


The noun mohel (mohala in Aramaic) "circumciser", is derived from the same verb stem as milah "circumcision."[1] The noun appeared for the first time in the fourth century as the title of a circumciser (Shabbat 156a).[2]

Origins of circumcision

For Jews, male circumcision is mandatory, as it is prescribed in the Torah. In the Book of Genesis as a mark of the Covenant between God and the descendants of Abraham: "Throughout all generations, every male shall be circumcised when he is eight days old...This shall be my covenant in your flesh, an eternal covenant. The uncircumcised male whose foreskin has not been circumcised, shall have his soul cut off from his people; he has broken my Covenant".[3] In Leviticus: "God spoke to Moses, telling him to speak to the Israelites: When a woman conceives and gives birth to a boy ... on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised."[4]


Biblically, the infant's father (avi haben) is commanded to perform the circumcision himself. However, as most fathers are not comfortable or do not have the training, they designate a mohel. The mohel is specially trained in circumcision and the rituals surrounding the procedure. Many mohalim are doctors or rabbis (and some are both) or cantors and are required to receive appropriate training both from the religious and medical fields.

Traditionally, the mohel uses a knife to circumcise the newborn. Today, doctors and some non-Orthodox mohalim use a perforating clamp before they cut the skin. The clamp makes it easier to be precise and shortens recovery time. Orthodox mohalim have rejected perforating clamps, arguing that by crushing and killing the skin it causes a great amount of unnecessary pain to the newborn, cutting off the blood flow completely, which according to Jewish law is dangerous to the child and strictly forbidden, and also renders the orlah (foreskin) as cut prior to the proper ritual cut.[5][6][7]

Under Jewish law, a mohel must draw blood from the circumcision wound. Most mohels do it by hand with a suction device, but some Orthodox groups use their mouth to draw blood after cutting the foreskin.[8][9][10][11] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning in 2012 about the health implications of this practice, citing 11 cases of neonatal HSV and two recorded fatalities.[12] A 2013 review of cases of neonatal HSV infections in Israel identified ritual circumcision as the source of HSV-1 transmission in 31.8% of the cases.[13]

Female mohels

According to traditional Jewish law, in the absence of a grown free Jewish male expert, a woman, a slave, or a child, that has the required skills, is also authorized to perform the circumcision, provided that she or he is Jewish.[14] However, most streams of non-Orthodox Judaism allow female mohels, called mohalot (Hebrew: מוֹהֲלוֹת, plural of מוֹהֶלֶת mohelet, feminine of mohel), without restriction. In 1984, Dr. Deborah Cohen became the first certified Reform mohelet; she was certified by the Berit Mila program of Reform Judaism.[15]


  1. Maslin, Simeon J. (1979). Gates of Mitzvah: A Guide to the Jewish Life Cycle. Central Conference of American Rabbis. Committee on Reform Jewish Practice. p. 70. The term mohel (ritual circumciser) is derived from milah (circumcision).
  2. Bloch, Abraham P. (1980). The Biblical and historical background of Jewish customs. p. 10. Beginning with the fourth century, the term mohel (mohala in Aramaic) appeared for the first time as the title of a circumciser (Shabbat 156a).
  3. Genesis 17:9-14 at
  4. Leviticus 12:1-3 at
  5. Gesundheit; et al. (August 2004). "Neonatal genital herpes simplex virus type 1 infection..." (PDF). Pediatrics. 114 (2): e259–63. doi:10.1542/peds.114.2.e259. PMID 15286266. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  6. Gesundheit; et al. (February 2005). "Infectious complications with herpes virus after ritual Jewish circumcision: a historical and cultural analysis". Harefuah (in Hebrew). 144 (2): 126–32, 149, 148. PMID 16128020.
  7. Ben-Yami, Hanoch (2013). "Circumcision: What should be done?" (PDF). J Med Ethics. 39: 459–462. doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-101274. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  8. Hartog, Kelly (17 February 2005). "Death spotlights old circumcision rite". Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  9. Rabbi probed for circumcised infants' herpes,, 2 February 2005. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  10. Distel, R; Hofer, V; Bogger-Goren, S; Shalit, I; Garty, BZ (2003). "Primary genital herpes simplex infection associated with Jewish ritual circumcision". Isr Med Assoc J. 5: 893–94. PMID 14689764.
  11. Yossepowitch, O; Gottesman, T; Schwartz, O; Stein, M; Serour, F; Dan, M (June 2013). "Penile herpes simplex virus type 1 infection presenting two and a half years after Jewish ritual circumcision of an infant". Sex Transm Dis. 40 (6): 516–17. doi:10.1097/olq.0b013e31828bbc04. PMID 23680909.
  12. Baum, SG (8 June 2012). "CDC: Neonatal HSV Infection from Circumcision-Related Orogenital Suction". Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 61: 405–409. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  13. Amir Koren; et al. (2013). "Neonatal Herpes Simplex virus infections in Israel" (PDF). Pediatr Infect Dis. J. 32: 120–23. doi:10.1097/inf.0b013e3182717f0b. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  14. Talmud Avodah Zarah 27a; Menachot 42a; Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, Milah, 2:1; Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah, 264:1
  15. Berit Mila Program of Reform Judaism Retrieved 2 February 2015
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