More than 3,300 years after Moses’ wife Zipporah circumcised their son, Dr. Kerra Doyle has begun performing brit milot, or ritual circumcisions, as Pittsburgh’s first female mohel, or mohelet.
Doyle, an obstetrician and gynecologist, decided to become a mohelet at the suggestion of Rabbi Keren Gorban, associate rabbi at Temple Sinai.
“I never thought I would do this, become a mohel, but I have a son and know how important having the brit is,” Doyle explained.
Gorban approached Doyle after learning that Dr. Ya’aqov Abrams, the last practicing “doctor mohel” in Pittsburgh, was retiring and making aliyah to Israel, leaving the city without a mohel with a medical degree.
“Particularly within the liberal Jewish communities, and after an incident a number of years ago, there is a significant preference for mohels who have medical training,” Gorban explained.
That medical training was far more important to Gorban than Doyle’s sex.
“An OB-GYN is technically a surgeon and they do circumcisions all the time,” Gorban said. “They are the best candidates. Dr. Doyle was happy to do it. She stepped up.”
Doyle said that she has performed “hundreds of circumcisions, probably five or six a week in the hospital.”
As a new mother herself, Doyle understands the importance to a family of having the option to employ a mohel that is also a doctor.
“I would never have considered someone who wasn’t a physician to do my own son’s brit, so I felt a physician mohel would open the door for people who otherwise would not be able to have the traditional brit.”
Doyle took a 12-week online course through the National Organization of American Mohalim. The training required participants to be physicians.
NOAM’s Brit Milah program is certified by the Brit Milah Board of Reform Judaism but that doesn’t mean only Reform Jews take the course.
“It’s Reform but there were people of all movements — Conservative, Orthodox. There aren’t a lot of classes like that, so I think a lot people want to take the online mohel class,” Doyle said. “It’s two hours a week for 12 weeks, so it’s pretty intensive.”
“At the end you have to write an essay and you have to submit your privileges to do circumcisions, as well as credentials, from the hospital you work in to be a part of the class.”
The doctor said that she uses the same medical tools for the religious ceremony that she does at the hospital.
Part of Doyle’s training included the traditional prayers and blessings, but she encourages families to have their rabbi at the ritual to “help elevate the ceremony,” she said.
The mohelet is comfortable performing a brit milah for a family regardless of its denominational affiliation.
“There aren’t a lot of rules to make it kosher,” she said. “It should be on the eighth day and there is a drop of blood, that’s really all you need. Other people may have other cultural traditions they want to adhere to in terms of the gender of the mohel, but they should check with their rabbi if they think it’s an issue.”
Rabbi Elisar Admon is an Orthodox rabbi and a Pittsburgh mohel who also works with families regardless of denomination.
He agreed with Doyle, that “if families have a question about anything with the brit milah, they should contact their rabbi.”
He is not opposed to a female mohel, he said.
“It was Zipporah that circumcised Moses’ son,” Admon pointed out. “When I heard that there was a new mohel in town, I reached out and offered help in whatever way I could provide.”
Rabbi Aaron Meyer of Temple Emanuel of South Hills is happy a mohel with a medical degree is available to Pittsburgh families.
“The Pittsburgh Jewish community is blessed to have Dr. Kerra Doyle,” he said. “Her training, as both a medical doctor and a mohelet, leaves her uniquely poised to guide families through this important, emotion-laden rite of passage.“
Doyle has performed four brit milot so far and looks forward to working with Pittsburgh families of all, or no, religious backgrounds.
“The important thing is for families to not be afraid to reach out to have a brit, even if they’re not religious, even if only one of them is Jewish, same-sex couples, unmarried, anybody. As long as there’s one parent, of either gender, who is Jewish,” she said. “People should reach out and not feel like there are restrictions on how Jewish they are. My goal is always to say yes.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.