Reform mohels in North America now number 200. Dr. Susanna Walsh of North Yarmouth, Maine is the 200thmohel, and 25th woman, certified by the Berit Mila Board of Reform Judaism, an organization which oversees the training and certification of Reform mohalim and mohalot in North America. The milestone coincides with the upcoming convention of Reform mohels in Washington, D.C., October 16-18.
"We are very excited to welcome Dr. Walsh to a network of professionals who have combined their love of medicine and Judaism," commented Berit Milah Board Director Tammy Schachet-Briskin. The Berit Milah Board is based at the Los Angeles School of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, though the courses take place throughout the country.
Mohalim and mohalot are Hebrew terms for men and women, respectively, who are trained in the rituals of the Jewish circumcision ceremony, or Berit Mila. According to Jewish tradition, fathers are obligated to circumcise their sons, or may appoint a mohel to do so. Historically, women have not been trained as mohalot. There are, however, no prohibitions against women performing Jewish ritual circumcision, and many families feel more comfortable using mohalot.
Previously, mohels received only informal training from a self-chosen mentor for the circumcision procedure and ritual aspects of Berit Mila. To professionalize and standardize training of medical professionals for this ritual, the Reform movement of Judaism established the Berit Mila Board in 1984. Since then, 200 Reform mohalim and mohalot have been certified. Certified mohels join the professional organization, the National Organization of American Mohalim/ot (NOAM). Each member of NOAM is a doctor or certified nurse midwife.
"It is very important that all our members are practicing health professionals who are skilled in the medical aspects of circumcision," Schachet-Briskin said. "All must have the baby's health and safety as their first concern while creating a meaningful and religious ceremony," she added.
Each health professional enrolls in an intensive course and certification process involving more than 35 hours of instruction. He or she emerges with a deeper understanding of the meaning of the mitzvah (commandment), the sources and history of the Berit Mila ceremony as well as the theology, law and folklore of this Jewish commandment. They also learn how to conduct Berit Bat ceremonies (naming ceremonies for Jewish infant girls) and how to work with interfaith couples welcoming babies into the Covenant and Jewish life.
The first class to train Reform mohels was held in Los Angeles in 1984 and the Berit Mila Board of Reform Judaism was established the same year. Begun by Dr. David James, a New York city obstetrician, and Rabbi Lewish Barth, Dean of the Los Angeles school of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the program has filled a very real spiritual and practical need for young families in the Reform and larger Jewish community.
Members of the National Organization of American Mohalim and Mohalot (NOAM), the professional organization of Reform mohels, will convene in Washington, D.C. from October 16 to 18 for a weekend of prayer, study and discussion of religious and medical issues relating to Berit Mila.
The Berit Mila Board is a joint project of the institutions of Reform Judaism: Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
For more information about utilizing Reform Mohalim/ot, or about a course developing in your area, contact a local Reform rabbi or regional UAHC office. You may also contact Tammy Schachet-Briskin, c/o Hebrew Union College, 3077 University Ave., Los Angeles, CA, 90007, Phone: (213) 749-3424 ext. 4261, Fax: (213) 749-1192, e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org.