Thursday, October 28, 2010

Star of Davida Interviews Mohelet Carol Roberts Gerson

There has been debate in the Jewish community since the time of the Egyptian enslavement as to whether or not a woman can perform a brit milah (ritual circumcision). Most commentators believe that they can within the confines of halakha (Jewish law). In recent years, women have embraced the ability to perform the brit milah ceremony and become mohelot (female circumcisers). One such woman is Carol Roberts Gerson, a Chicagoan mohelet who I had the honor of interviewing.

Talia bat Pessi: Did you aspire to be a doctor when you were a child, or did you fall into it?
Mohelet Carol Roberts Gerson: When I was quite young, I wanted to be a pathologist like my uncle. That went away for a long time and eventually I decided to go to medical school after working in a state mental hospital. I thought I would be a psychiatrist, but ended up a surgeon. Instant gratification won out over long term psychotherapy with uncertain results.

Why did you become a mohelet?
With a husband and daughter who are both rabbis, it seemed like the perfect melding of the two halves of my life, Judaism and surgery. It is a unique role that as a physician I am able to fulfill and is a privilege. It is a real honor to have people welcome you into their homes and trust you with their newborn. It is also a time of great emotion linking generations.

Does your family - parents, husband, children - support you?
My family supports me completely, except that my daughters say that no one they ever date will know what it is that I do. Too likely to scare them away.

Do you find that being female adds or detracts from your role as mohelet?
Women are often less threatening as surgeons in general. We tend to be more nurturing as well, which is a very good thing for a new mom and dad dealing with post-partum emotional ups and downs. A Jewish mother appreciating your little new baby may be easier for them to hand the little guy to.

Do you have an opinion on how girls should be welcomed in the Jewish community in a celebration parallel to a brit milah?
My husband has always done lovely baby naming ceremonies for little girls. Most of my ceremony is adapted from his baby naming ceremony. If you don’t have to expose your newborn to a lot of people, I would recommend not doing a brit bat (girls’ naming ceremony) on the eighth day, like necessary with a boy's brit milah, but waiting a bit longer. It is not time bound, so you have great flexibility in planning it.

What advice would you give to other women who want to follow your lead and pursue a position as mohelet?
Any physician (all Reform mohalim are physicians), whether male or female, can attend a few britot (circumcisions) with another Reform mohel/et and see if it is appealing. You have to prove that you know how to do the surgery and then apply to the Berit Mila Board of Reform Judaism to take the course offered in the religious aspects of brit milah. There is then a process after that to demonstrate you have the medical and Judaic knowledge and once that is done, you are then certified. It's a gratifying experience and I would recommend it to anyone in the medical field who is also an affiliated Jew.

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