The Mohel

This man or woman on the "cutting edge" of Jewish ritual, performs Judaism's oldest rite.

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a mohel performing a briz

A brit milah always takes place during the day, usually in the morning, in the home or synagogue. The mohel will lead the ceremony, which is brief. It is preferable to have a minyan (a quorum of ten) present, but not essential; a brit can be performed by the mohel with no one but the father present.

The procedure itself is very brief. The mohel uses a magen or shield to protect the glans and guide the knife. He may use a silver probe to loosen the foreskin before beginning. There are three phases to the procedure: me'ilah, the actual removal of the foreskin; p'riah, the tearing of the genital membrane underneath the foreskin back to the corona; and m'tzitzah--suction--the removal of blood and cleaning of the affected area. In ancient tradition, the mohel would actually suck the blood away; this was believed to have a disinfectant effect. By the 19th century, with the advent of the germ theory of illness, Jews realized that it actually had the opposite effect. Today, a mohel will probably utilize a glass tube and a cotton swab. The mohel will put a sterile bandage on the incision and then the boy is dressed.

In Jewish law it is still technically the responsibility of a father to circumcise his own sons. The mohel is merely his agent in this procedure.

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George Robinson

George Robinson, author of Essential Judaism, is the recipient of a Simon Rockower Award for excellence in Jewish journalism from the American Jewish Press Association. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsday, Jewish Week, and The Detroit Jewish News.