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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Shemot -The Rosh Yeshiva Responds – Woman as a Mohelet

by Rabbi Dov Linzer (Posted on January 3, 2024)
Topics: Rosh Yeshiva Responds, Sefer Shemot, Shemot, Torah

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וַתִּקַּח צִפֹּרָה צֹר וַתִּכְרֹת אֶת עָרְלַת בְּנָהּ וַתַּגַּע לְרַגְלָיו וַתֹּאמֶר כִּי חֲתַן דָּמִים אַתָּה לִי:

“Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.“ (Shemot 4:25)

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QUESTION-Alon Shvut, Israel

Rav Linzer, a convert is in need of hatafat dam brit – a pin prick on the corona of the penis which takes the place of circumcision for a male convert who is already circumcised. The only two choices are a non-frum male mohel or a frum female urologist. Which is the better of the two options to perform the hatafah?

ANSWER

Thank you for your question. To give a little background – the Gemara (Avoda Zara 27a) quotes two opinions as to whether a woman can serve as a mohelet. According to one opinion she may do so, because she is considered to be “circumcised,” insofar as she does not have a foreskin. The opposing position argues that she may not do so because she is obligated in the mitzvah of circumcision.

Rambam (Milah 2:1) and Shulkhan Arukh (Yoreh Deah 264:1) rule like the first position that a woman may serve as a mohel, but Rambam writes that this is only if non man is available, a qualification echoed in Shulkhan Arukh. The preference for a male mohel does not seem to be sourced in the Gemara, and apparently emerges from a sense that this mitzvah is highly “male” in its nature, and hence should be performed by a man, when possible. It is also worth noting that Tosafot (Avoda Zara, 27a, s.v. Isha) is inclined to rule like the opinion that a woman is invalid to serve as a mohel, and Rema notes this position, although he, too, indicates that in the end a woman may serve in this capacity if a man is not available.

As to a Shabbat violator – the argument to invalidate such a person rests on many assumptions. First, that a mumar li’kol ha’Torah, someone who rejects the Torah, is invalid as a mohel. This is how Rema rules, but it goes against the simple sense of the Gemara and Tosafot, as noted by Rabbi Akiva Eiger in his commentary on Shulkhan Arukh. Second, it assumes that a Shabbat violator is to be treated as a mumar li’kol ha’Torah. This may have been true when all Jews were Shabbat observant, but nowadays, it is standard practice to assume that someone who does not keep Shabbat is still very much a part of the Jewish community. Nevertheless, Rav Moshe Feinstein is strict when it comes to having such a person serve as a mohel. In cases when there are no other good options, however, I would definitely permit such a mohel, provided that he is traditionally trained.

So, based on the earlier sources, we should conclude that a woman and a non-Sabbath observant male are equally valid. However, given the way halakha has developed, a frum woman is clearly preferable to a non-frum man, as everyone agrees that a woman is kosher, at least bi’dieved. And of course, we have the example of Tzipporah, Moshe’s wife, who performed a milah on their son, averted tragedy, and helped bring about our redemption from Egypt!

Finally, I should note that the above all assumes that the laws of hatafat dam brit for a conversion follow the same laws as they do for a brit milah. It is possible that the parameters of who would qualify to do the act would be different, however. Since this is not about being obligated in the mitzvah of milah, an argument could be made that a woman should be good li’chatchilah according to all the opinions. Whereas there might be even more reason to invalidate someone who does not keep Shabbat from being part of the conversion process, especially considering the role of acceptance of mitzvot that is central to conversion. This would further argue for preferring the woman to do the hatafah over the man in this case.