Mohalim are well trained
I wish to publicly thank the Chronicle and offer “Yasher Koach” on its Dec. 26 editorial (“In defense of circumcision”) supporting and defending Bris Milah, ritual circumcision.
As the editorial indicated, the issue is training; competent mohalim are supreme professionals who are highly trained. There is no area of human endeavor that is perfect. Issues arise and unfortunate, difficult situations do occur. But Milah is unequivocally safe and there are scant few incidences of problems, so few that they are statistically insignificant — a statement that can’t be made about medical procedures and doctors’ mistakes. I know that statistics don’t help the rare person who suffers from a mistake during Milah. Indeed, I was sick for months as a 10 year old, I spent over a month in the hospital, I underwent surgery and many procedures as the result of a vaccine. It was difficult for me to take my children to be vaccinated because it reminded me of my experience. But I did so because vaccines are safe and important and the incidence of problems is statistically very, very low. I entrusted my children to a mohel because Milah is important and safe. Period.
I do not agree, however, with the opinion stated by the Chronicle that supports doctors being trained as mohalim. As a rabbi and as a father of three boys, all things being equal (which they rarely, if ever, are), I would specifically choose a mohel that is not a physician over a mohel that is a physician. Doctors are generally trained to operate under a veil of secrecy (they do not allow family members or others to watch procedures), in a controlled environment that is free from distractions. Mohalim are highly trained to operate with laser focus in an environment where everyone is watching (and taking pictures), and in conditions that are not standardized and certainly not fully controlled and to do so while interacting with those in attendance. Certainly, there are competent physician-mohalim, and those physicians certainly do receive rigorous Milah training, but it is not their core, default training. Unless, perhaps, the physician-mohel is a field trauma medic or surgeon, it is a properly trained and competent mohel who is not a physician that is the one who, all things being equal (which they rarely, if ever, are), is right for the job.
Rabbi Daniel Wasserman
(The author is spiritual leader of Shaare Torah Congregation.)