A mohel is a person who performs ritual Jewish circumcisions. They are required to have both religious and surgical training and while traditionally they were almost always men, these days women are also being trained.
It’s normal to be a little nervous about circumcising your son, and knowing more about the procedure and the mohel can help you feel more comfortable. So, here are some questions to ask as you get ready for your son’s bris.
1. What is your background and training?
Determine whether the mohel is part of a national mohel organization, and whether he has undergone proper training. Certain mohels are also doctors, which some parents prefer. Make sure that if your mohel is also a doctor, that he has a current medical license and is board certified. In addition, you’ll want to know how many circumcisions your mohel has performed, and how often he performs them.
2. How do you sterilize medical instruments?
Be sure your mohel follows proper medical protocols, including sterilization through autoclave and use of surgical gloves.
3. Is there any preparation that you perform on the baby? Do you recommend the use of anesthesia?
You’ll want to know if the mohel prepares the baby by using wine, sugar water, or anesthetic cream. There is a debate about the use of topical anesthetic cream in the circumcision world. Some say that it helps babies relax and stay calm because they do not feel the pain as much. Others say that the cream can cause problems, including redness and swelling that make it more difficult to achieve a proper circumcision. Discuss this with your mohel.
4. What techniques do you use for the circumcision? Is the baby restrained on a board? Do you use a clamp?
Some mohels use a board to be sure the child stays in one place during the circumcision. Others place the child on a pillow and have a relative hold the baby’s legs. For the ritual cut itself, mohels use different kinds of clamps and shields, which hold the penis in place in order to make the cutting easier and more precise. Certain clamps are also reported to prevent some potential pain. You want to be sure that what your mohel does makes you feel comfortable.
5. What is your policy on metzitzah (suctioning)?
The word metzitzah means suctioning and is a practice which draws blood away from the wound. It can be done using gauze or by mouth (metzitzah b’peh). Metzitzah has provoked controversy in recent years; there were a few cases of herpes contracted by babies within the New York ultra-Orthodox community when metzitzah was done by mouth. Therefore, it’s important to find out what your mohel plans to do and be sure that his method makes you comfortable.
6. Are you comfortable working with interfaith couples? With same-sex couples? With multiracial couples? With adopted children?
Be sure your mohel knows your concerns and addresses them. If you feel uncomfortable, then he might not be the mohel for you.
7. Please describe the ceremony for me.
Beyond the ritual cut, there is significantly more to the ceremony of brit milah. Your mohel might ask you to talk about the name you’ve chosen for your son, to choose individuals to have different honors during the ceremony, and to think about what your goals are for the ceremony.
8. What supplies do I need to have for the bris? What, if anything, should I do to prepare my baby for the bris? What kind of after-care will I need to do?
It’s just good to know what you will need to have to take care of your baby before, during, and after the bris. That way you can be sure everything has been purchased and is in your home.
9. What is your fee structure? Do you have references that I can call?
The range in major cities like New York seems to be between $600 and $800, and many mohels have a sliding scale. It is always a good idea to speak with references to help figure out if this mohel is the right choice for you. Speak with at least one or two people who have used this mohel in the past.
10. What if you aren’t available when I schedule my son’s bris?
Since you can’t give a mohel more than eight days of advance notice, it’s hard to guarantee that he’ll be available when you need him. Ask him if he has a back-up plan in case he’s busy.