Cleveland Doctor Claims to be Ohio’s Only Mohelet



[Halachic considerations discussed below.] Angela Townsend of The Plain Dealer reports that Dr. Karen Jaffe, an OB-GYN who practices at University Hospitals Suburban Health Center in South Euclid, Ohio, is a mohelet, or a female mohel. Jaffe is the only female mohel in Ohio and one of only a few dozen mohelets in the United States. Almost all mohelim are men.


The push for female mohalim, not surprisingly, has come from the Conservative and Reform movements.  “There was a dearth of trained mohelim in America,” said Rabbi Gary Atkins, a Shaker Heights native who now lives in Hartford, Conn., and has been a Conservative rabbi for more than 35 years.

To address these issues, the new crop of mohelim being established by the Reform and Conservative movements are primarily made up of physicians.

“They’re the only ones able to do this because of malpractice and other issues,” said Atkins, who himself claims to be mohel.

In 2003, Atkins and Dr. Neil Pollock, a mohel and physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, launched their own program, which provides instruction to doctors in both surgical technique and so-called religious training. Two other programs in the United States account for nearly 400 new mohelim in the past 15 years. Female mohelets make up roughly 10 percent of that number. Non of these mohelim are trained in accordance with strict halacha.

Jaffe, an OB-GYN in the Cleveland area for more than 20 years, said “she longed to fill a need there, where the only other mohel is Orthodox.”

“At some point it became clear to me that I had another service that I had to offer,” she said. “I feel that’s really my role. It is a lovely ceremony, and people feel very strongly about it.”

Unfortunately, this is just anoteher example of the Reform and Conservative movements wreaking havoc on the treasured and pure mesorah passed down from generation to generation. In this case, they’ve taken on the precious mitzvah of bris milah. 

Jaffe performs the brisos regularly in the hospital, on – get this – babies of all faiths, often right before mother and baby are discharged.

Yom shmenini l’milah is unheard of apparently.

For her “religious training,” Jaffe turned to the Berit Mila Program, which ostensibly trains “Jewish physicians and certified nurse midwives with the appropriate surgical backgrounds who also are in good standing with a synagogue,” reports The Plain Dealer. “Jaffe completed a four-day intensive course in May 2007 in Chicago and performed her first bris a few months later.”

“I found over and over people who really wanted their son circumcised and would like to have a Jewish ceremony that didn’t fall under the auspices of the Orthodox mohel,” she said.

The Plain Dealer reports: “When she first became a mohelet, Jaffe met with Reform and Conservative rabbis in the community to let them know about her services. In her first full year, Jaffe performed 20 brit milahs. Jaffe has performed twice that amount already this year, the most recent one on Sept. 8.”

May a Woman Halachically Be a Mohel?

Leaving aside the issue of brisos performed according to Reform and Conservative standards, which are obviously invalid, let us explore the general issue of women serving as mohalim. Can, according to halacha, a woman perform a bris?

Many readers will immediately respond that in Parshas Shemos, we read how Tzippora gave her son a bris.

The Gemara in Avodah Zara (27a) brings a machlokes whether a woman can be a mohel. The Gemara asks, according to the opinion that a woman can’t do the mila, how are we to understand the episode with Tzipporah?

The Gemara gives two answers: Either

a) Tzipporah asked someone else to do it, or 

b) Tzipporah started and Moshe finished the milah.

Machlokes Rishonim

How do we pasken?

There is a machlokes Rishonim on this issue. Tosafos brings the opinion that a woman may not do the milah. This is also the shitta of the S’mak and Hagahos Mordechai. The Rif and Rosh (at the end of Perek 19 in Shabbos) and the Rambam pasken that a woman may do the mila only if a man is not present. If there is a man around, the man should do the mila.

Mechaber vs. the Rama

Both the Mechaber and Rama (Y.D. Siman 264) pasken that a may could do the mila . However, the Rama adds that the minhag is that a woman should not do the mila. The Shach asks what the Rama is adding to the Mechaber; the Mechaber would not disagree with the Rama.

The Aruch Hashulchan writes that the difference between the Mechaber and the Rama is in a case where there is no male mohel in town, but there is a male mohel in a different town. According to the Mechaber, one would not need to go to a different town to find a mohel, while according to the Rama, one should go to the other town, because that is how the minhag evolved. According to this, the Rama would hold there is nothing wrong with a woman doing the mila,but that the minhag is that she doesn’t.

The Sefer HaBris gives a different explanation based on the Ra’avyah. The Ra’avyah understands the Rama that he is being machmir for the shitta that a woman is posul. Therefore, we don’t use a woman, because maybe she really can’t do the mila. The Mchaber would hold that m’ikkar hadin, a woman is kosher to do the mila, but it is better to use a man.

Techilas Bipsul Vesofo B’Kashrus

The Gemara in Avodah Zara suggests that Tzipporah started the mila and Moshe finished the mila. This leads to the question: Can a posul (an akum) start the mila if a kosher mohel finishes the job?

Both the Beis Yaakov (see Pischei Teshuva) and the Ohr Sameiach (hilchos mila) address this question. The both bring a rayah from the Gemara in Avodah Zara that one may do this. However, the Ohr Sameiach points out that it would not work on Shabbos. On Shabbos, machshirei mila that can be done before Shabbos are not permitted to be done on Shabbos. (For example, if the mila knife breaks on Shabbos, you can’t bring a new one if it involves carrying.) Therefore, when a posul starts the mila, it has the staus of machshirei mila, since there is no mitzvah for the posul to do the mila. This machshirei mila could have been done before Shabbos. (Even though it would have been before day 8, nevertheless, since a mohel posul is doing the mila, it doesn’t matter when he starts it.) Therefore, a posul can’t start the mila on Shabbos.

The Sefer Habris brings a teshuva from the Yidei Moshe who disagrees. He says that this question is based on the machlokes in Chullin whether “yesh l’shchitah m’tichila ad sof” or “aino ella l’sof.” Since we pasken that “yesh l’shchitah m’tichila ad sof,” we need a kosher mohel to do the whole mila.

Obviously the Ohr Sameiach disagrees with the comparison. How the Ohr Sameiach would answer the kasha from shechita is unclear.

{Dovid Newscenter/Chaim Markowitz-Nefesh Hachaim Site}


  1. The point of mohelet vs. mohel is definitely one of contention. Of as great concern is that these doctors most likely perform the bris in the hospital, i.e. well before the eighth day. Promoting the importance of it being done on the eighth day is paramount. (For the health of the baby too.)

  2. You’re mentioning whether a woman can give a baby a bris. I know I’ve read a story – during the war, a woman, with a newborn baby, is calling out to the Nazi guard for a “messer”. The Nazi, thinking she wants to kill herself, gives her the knife. (The story involves the Bluzover Rebbe, I think.) And she then courageously gives her son a bris.

  3. Lkwd mother – I was also thinking about that story, but it’s an exception to the rule. Otherwise her baby wasn’t going to get a bris at all.

  4. I’m wondering what exactly that means that she is performing “the brisos regularly in the hospital, on – get this – babies of all faiths, often right before mother and baby are discharged.”
    It was my understanding that circumcision is always done in hospitals before the baby is discharged to children of all faiths, unless the parents specifically request otherwise. Is she making a bracha and doing metzitza and bringing wine, or is this just a regular, run-of-the-mill hospital circumcision for health and hygiene? Because if it is the latter, then that’s not really so exciting… it’s her job.

  5. There is at least one other mohel in Cleveland besides Rabbi Koval — Rabbi Heinemann. I believe there is also a Chabad mohel there.

  6. I was just wondering if someone can enlighten me to as why this story would be posted on Matzav. It sickens me to see that these people will do anything to undermine Yiddishkeit. Run a story on a Chessed Institution instead, or on a Rebbitzen…………..

  7. normal’s right – since when does matzav have to run all the conservative/reform/otherwise enemy of G-d news out there? it seriously dampens my day – also, i do not understand how you can say that all brisim done under reform/conservative standards are posul – I, and the entire population of baalei teshuvah, most of whcih had conservative/reform or hospital brisim, are in question here.

    Rav Yisroel Reisman shlit”a told me when I asked him about a conservative ‘mohel’, that it’s not a shaila, just that lechatchila one should not use clamps, but it’s still a good milah al pi halacha bedieved. I cannot say about reform and hospital ‘brisim’, i dont know anything about them – but i guess this is an example of mitzvos ain tzrichos kevanah – the conservative apikores or reform mashchis is not intending to do a mitzvah, rather what they think is some custom or whatever

  8. I am embarassed by the article criticizing the female mohelet. The article is pure rechilus. One does not defame someone this way. Bushah is a greater sin than murder, and you are trying to murder her. Are we so afraid of other types of Jews that we need to cast such suspicion on them? OF COURSE she performs circumcisions on non-Jews in the hospital on the 2nd day– she is a doctor, and it is not meant as a bris. Are you angry that it is the 2nd day, or that it is a non-Jew? Why do we care that she does this? Then you treat us to a halakhic analysis of the Posekim which, by the way, actually helps Dr. Jaffe in her status as mohelet! The Rama clearly allows a woman to do mila. The Mchaber clearly acknowledges that a woman is halakhically kosher. It is MINHAG that the women have not been allowed. Clearly, they, the reform and conservative, have a different minhag. But, a sin? A violation of the “pure mesorah?” Not so. Why must we speak this way? Listen, I don’t know the details of this woman’s work at a bris. But, we know that a bris, even if questioned le’hatchilah, is valid be’deyavad. Should we now scare thousands of baalei t’shuvah? For what? I have seen ten different Orthodox mohalim perform the bris in ten different ways, varying in certain details one from the other. This kind of lashon horah is not fitting.

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