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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why I Love Being a Mohel

People ask me all the time why I decided to become a mohel.

Have you ever known you wanted to do something so badly? Some people know they want to be doctors from a very young age. Some know they want to be laborers. Some are destined to become teachers or clergy.

The First Reason - Why I Became a Mohel

I grew up in a home and an environment in which Judaism was very important to me. As I entered adulthood, it occurred to me that a well-rounded Jew knows how to do a few things. [In other words, somebody shared this passage from the Talmud with me, from Hullin 9a:]

ואמר רב יהודה אמר רב תלמיד חכם צריך שילמוד ג' דברים כתב שחיטה ומילה ורב חנניא בר שלמיא משמיה דרב אמר אף קשר של תפילין וברכת חתנים וציצית

"And Rabbi Judah said in the name of Rav, a wise student needs to learn three things: how to write (some say this means 'to be a scribe' while others define it as 'to be literate'), how to ritually slaughter (to make kosher animals fit for consumption: inaccurate slaughtering renders even kosher animals such as cows, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks to be unkosher), and how to circumcise. Rabbi Chananya son of Shelamya said in the name of Rav: Even how to tie the knot of the tefillin, how to recite the blessing of the groom (to conduct a wedding), and how to tie tzitzit."

I had observed many circumcisions, and had gotten over the natural squeamishness that sometimes comes when watching such things without knowing exactly what is going on. It was the right time and the right place for me to train and learn this skill.**

Reason #2

I love meeting new parents. Whether this is a first baby or a tenth child (I've done brisses for both ends, and all points in between), the joy that accompanies the arrival of a new baby is a classic example of something that unites the human condition.

It is a privilege to be invited into the inner circle so early, and an honor to bring what I hope is perceived as a calming presence to what can be the stressful (and meaningful!) ordeal of the bris.

Reason #3 & #4

I love newborns.

#3 - To my mind, there is no better evidence to the existence of God than witnessing the miracle of birth. Obviously I don't watch actual births, but I do get to see the result of (hopefully) nine months of gestation, and the constant renewal of the miracle of life.

There is a tradition that God continues to renew the world every day. Seeing newborns on a regular basis is an affirmation of God's continued role in Creation.

#4 - Newborns are so innocent, so sweet, so delightful to behold. It is true that most of my job consists of bothering them, but I also get to calm them and soothe them. I enjoy sharing with new parents some tricks to calm a baby that I've picked up over the years: fast diaper change, how to swaddle, how to avoid the ever-threatening "soaking" the baby gives those who change his diaper, and positions for holding a baby that can be calming, and can remove discomfort.

Reason #5

I am personally very detail oriented and a bit of a perfectionist, qualities which serve me well in my capacity as a mohel.

These character traits help me: run a respectful and organized ceremony, maintain cleanliness throughout the procedure, leave my workplace as neat or neater than how I found it, give you full instructions for how to care for the baby after the bris, make sure the cosmetic result is as best as I can make it.


Yes, there are other reasons as well, but these will suffice for now.

Most of all, it is an honor and privilege to be a part of your family's joyous occasion, which I appreciate very much and do not take lightly. I am grateful that you have opted to explore utilizing my services, and I look forwarding to serving your family with graciousness and sensitivity.

Mazal Tov! Best of luck to you, your baby and your family.

[**I have learned the laws, but not practical application, of how to slaughter animals. The squeamishness is different, and I don't know if I ever will learn the practical skill. It seems the Talmud is saying that a person should also know limits: If you have not learned the skill, do not undertake to do the action... It is very important for every person to be careful not to undertake tasks they are not trained to do. This may seem obvious, but in our world we hear stories all the time of people who thought something was "easy to do" or "didn't require training, skill or guided practice" and ended up with disastrous results.
As for writing, tying tefillin and tzitzit, and knowing the blessing of the groom, I am proud to put a check mark next to all of those.]

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