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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Let's Talk About Honorariums


hon·o·rar·i·um (n-râr-m)
       n. pl. hon·o·rar·i·ums or hon·o·rar·i·a (--)
A payment given to a professional person for services for which fees are not legally or traditionally required.
In traditional sources, Jewish professionals - rabbis, teachers, mohels, shochets (ritual slaughterers), sofers (scribes who write Torahs, Tefillin and Mezuzahs) are not really supposed to take payment for their services rendered.
Practically speaking, if these people are not independently wealthy from other endeavors, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would continue to work in these fields. In other words, if this is their full-time line of work, or something they do from which they rely on "supplemental income," then it is important to see that they are paid appropriately for services rendered.
This is not the forum to talk about rabbis, teachers, sofers - part of their income might be a salary, and part of their income are the "honorariums" they receive.
Mohels are not usually salaried as they are more freelance operators who won't usually visit any family more than once a year, if not once every two or three years, if not once in the family's experience altogether.
As such, mohels will usually rely on a one-time honorarium. What is an appropriate amount to give for this kind of service?

As I wrote in my initial blog post on this matter, it is hard to put a price on a mitzvah one is obligated to do. Some Jews appreciate the mitzvah, and value it tremendously. Some Jews view it as "something we do" either traditionally or culturally, and still put the value of the action as high on their priority list. Some will do it begrudgingly, perhaps thinking that a family celebration is better than a 'cold' hospital procedure. Some couldn't care less, and are doing it because Mom and Pops (or grandma and grandpa) are footing the bill for the whole occasion.
So - here are factors to consider when putting a price.
I'll begin with the obvious:
Travel expenses - the mohel may make multiple trips/visits before, after, and of course for the bris itself.
Time - In our world (unfortunately) time is money. If a lawyer can charge you just for talking to him on the phone... (finish the analogy)
Supplies and other expenses - The mohel has expenses, for sterilization equipment, instruments, bandages, gloves, drapes
A Certified Professional - A "pro" usually gets paid more than someone who did not go to school for the same profession (for the record, a certification course in Israel could cost more than $15,000)
The Sensitive Nature of the Operation in Question - need I say more?
Less obvious factors:
The Ceremony - depending on your needs or desires, the mohel might be providing you with a more educational or more meaningful ceremony
His Personality - not that it makes or breaks the bris, but a mohel with a personality that enhances your bris makes the overall experience one you'll cherish
Fulfillment of a mitzvah - Following what I wrote above, this may have more or little value to you, depending on how you live your life as a Jew
Appreciation - Trusting the man, leaving your concerns in his hands, knowing the job will be done right and that your baby will be/ was taken care of every step of the way is also priceless.
Bear in Mind
All kinds of people, from all circumstances of life, might call a mohel. And mohels know this well.
* You might be a young couple just starting out, with no real profession and no money.
* You might be out of work.
* Your parents might be paying for the bris.
* You might be a young, growing family who count every dollar, who set a budget for the year.
* You might be, thank God, extremely well off.
* You might be in any circumstance imaginable that can contribute to your financial concerns or stability.
If you feel it is necessary, an open and honest conversation with the mohel will usually conclude with everyone "understanding each other." Most mohels are flexible when it comes to an honorarium.
On the other hand, it is probably not appropriate to think that things in life come free. If you have a computer, a car, a cell phone, cable television, or any other kind of luxury, you should have no problem finding a way to recompense ( - Payment in return for something, such as a service) a mohel who is providing you with such a service.
Here are some sample dollar amounts people have given as honorariums:
$250, $300, $360, $400, $500, $600, $613, $750, $800, $850, $1000

If None of This is Helpful

A rabbi who officiates at a wedding or funeral will typically get $500 or more for his services. If one were to break down what he is doing, it translates to this:
  • filling out necessary and important paperwork
  • seeing the service is done properly (aka giving a stamp of approval that the wedding or funeral followed his standard of Jewish practice)
  • MC-ing and/or speaking
In addition to similar roles a mohel will play at a bris he also has medical training and is being hired to take good care of a baby and a sensitive area...


Most people do not have a baby more than once every two years. And if one of those babies is a girl, a bris might be an even more uncommon expense for you. Consider giving 1% - 1.5% of your annual income as an honorarium for the bris.

It is my policy to say thank you and not to ask questions.
Thank you, good luck, and may you have much nachas and joy from your baby as he grows and surprises you with every new thing he learns, and every development of his long career as your son.
- Avi B.

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