The commandment to circumcise one’s son on the eighth day of life falls to the father. Fortunately, the rabbis of the Talmud understood that it is a rare man who can remove the foreskin of his infant son’s penis. That is where the mohel (ritual circumcisor) enters. A mohel is one who is trained in both the ritual and surgical aspects of a circumcision.
Unlike physicians, mohels in the United States are not regulated. So anyone with the ability and knowledge to perform a circumcision is permitted to do so. Among the Orthodox, mohels are most often rabbis who train with mohels to learn the practical and medical skills. Both the Reform and Conservative movements have developed training programs and require participants to be licensed physicians or certified nurse-midwives. Their programs focus solely on the religious text, Jewish law, and ritual concerning circumcision.
Finding a mohel is easy; it’s selecting the right one that takes time. If you belong to a synagogue, your rabbi is the best source of information. He or she can not only provide contact information, but will be able to give you his or her thoughts on an individual based on experience. If you don’t belong to a synagogue, the internet will bring up links of mohels, both local and ones who are willing to travel. Check with your friends. See who they used and if they were happy with the experience.
If the mother is not Jewish according to halacha (Jewish law), Orthodox and most Conservative mohels will not perform the circumcision unless the infant goes through a conversion process. This is something to address in the very first communication in order to make certain that there are no issues.
Additionally, same-gender couples will want to make certain that they choose a mohel who doesn’t have religious objections to homosexuality.
Another option is to have a rabbi handle the ritual aspect of the ceremony and leave the circumcision itself to a doctor. This works especially well if you have a particularly close relationship with a doctor and would like to extend the honor to him or her. When our sons were born, they had the advantage of having a grandfather and their mother who are rabbis. I wanted to honor my childhood pediatrician, an active member of our synagogue, by having him perform the actual cutting. This option worked especially well because the doctor had known our family for several decades, and it was meaningful to have him participate in the next generation’s life.
Ultimately, the right mohel is the one with whom you feel most comfortable. Yes, he or she needs to be medically-competent and able to perform the ritual parts of the ceremony. But it’s also critical to select someone who will create a sacred experience for you as well as put you at ease as you hand over your precious newborn for what is a minor surgical procedure. Someone who will patiently answer all of your concerns and question and will genuinely rejoice as you bring your son into the covenant.