Like a desert sprouting life after the rainy season, Pittsburgh, it appears, has begun an age of plenty when it comes to mohels.
The newest mohel to join the community is Rabbi Mordechai Jaffa, a Steel City transplant born in Lakewood, New Jersey, who studied in South Fallsburg, New York, before moving to Israel where he attended Mir Yeshiva. He made his way back to Lakewood before relocating to Pittsburgh in 2021 to study at the Pittsburgh Kollel.
While his might be a new name to the community, Jaffa has a strong local connection: His wife, Chedva, is the daughter of Young Israel of Pittsburgh Rabbi Shimon Silver.
“I grew up expecting to be a rabbi,” Jaffa said. “I was interested in learning all the different parts of being a rabbi.”
Jaffa isn’t necessarily talking about the typical life cycle events that other rabbis might cite when describing the reasons they became rabbis.
“I learned how to slaughter chickens,” he said, adding that he also acquired less esoteric skills, like writing scroll.
There is one aspect of Judaica in which he is now more than knowledgeable — that of brit milah, or circumcision.
When Jaffa came to Pittsburgh, he said, he was recruited to learn the skill by Rabbi Elisar Admon, a mohel who noted then that the city needed more people trained in the ritual.
Jaffa was first uninterested after learning that there was nearly a two-year wait to begin training at the London School of Circumcision. He eventually decided the delay made sense for him and, after spending a year-and-a-half on the waitlist, traveled across the pond for his training.
“It was a beautiful experience,” he said. “I didn’t have much time for sightseeing but instead spent a lot of time going from house to house with a mohel learning the trade.”
Jaffa isn’t a doctor, but said he learned everything he needed to perform safe circumcisions.
“Part of the training,” he said, “is actually performing the job. You’re tested on the medical procedure before you receive an official certificate.”
The rabbi said that while waiting to get into the London school, he shadowed Admon. Jaffa assisted the mohel during that time, so he had already learned a lot before boarding a plane to England.
Jaffa wanted to ensure that he was performing the safest and best circumcisions possible, so he had a medical doctor present when he performed the ceremony several times, earning the doctor’s endorsement.
So important is safety that Jaffa named his website safecircumcisions.com. Its tagline is “Where safety and care come together.”
“My top concern is making parents feel comfortable about circumcising their son,” he said. “I know, as a parent, the big concerns are ‘Is it harmful?’ and ‘Are there any aftereffects?’ It’s not painful. We use anesthetics, and it’s extremely safe.”
Jaffa said the procedure is also extremely quick, pointing out that speed is one of the benefits of employing a mohel instead of having a circumcision performed at a hospital.
Jaffa recognizes the significance of serving families as they perform the first life cycle ritual of their new sons’ lives.
“I feel very honored and privileged to be a part of bringing boys into the covenant of Judaism, of bringing them into the covenant of Abraham,” he said. “It’s something that makes me feel proud and humbled.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.