I don’t say this often, but sometimes I kind of wish things were more like they were in biblical times. In last week’s Torah portion, the beginning of the Book of Exodus, Tziporah, the wife of Moses, circumcises their son. I don’t remember encountering this part of the story as a child (it certainly didn’t make it past the cutting room of the film The Ten Commandments), and I imagine that many Jews have never met, seen, or even heard of a female ritual circumciser (mohelet), even though they’ve been around for a couple of decades now. Recently, however, an article posted on JTA.org brings them back into the spotlight: “Female mohels add warmth — and controversy — to old tradition.”
The article discusses training programs for female physicians and midwives offered by the Reform and Conservative movements, open to women who have performed medical circumcisions and want to learn the ritual and spiritual elements necessary to perform a bris.
Most parents probably don’t choose a mohel based on gender (though it’s possible some might feel more comfortable with a woman than a man, or vice versa). What’s important is that there is now the option. I see these training programs as welcoming not only to the women physicians who have been shut out in the past for reasons that have more to do with tradition than with Jewish law, but also as another potential way for the Jewish community to show those on the periphery that we are an inclusive people, especially at a delicate time that—for some family members—may be their first encounter with Jewish ritual.