Thursday, December 16, 2010

Star of Davida Interviews Mohelet Laurie Radovsky

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 opinions believe that they can. In recent years, women have embraced the ability to perform the brit milah ceremony and become mohelot (female circumcisers). One such woman is Laurie Radovsky, a Minnesotan 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 Laurie Radovsky: I always loved medicine, but since I wasn’t really a science head, I was intimidated by the concept of how difficult it would be to get into med school. Since I was more into interpersonal relationships, I studied sociology. After I graduated I went to California and got a job at the California Medical Association. I met a lot of really stupid doctors there, so I figured that if they could do it, I could do it too. A lot of doctors were also really nice and retained a sense of humanity, so I was inspired to take the college course requirements and went to med school.

Why did you become a mohelet?
I actually grew up in Venezuela, and both of my parents were atheists. My father was a very ethnic Jew, and I had always been drawn to Judaism, so I studied it and got more involved in college. I thought of becoming a rabbi, but I figured it’s easier to be a doctor with Judaism on the side than a Jew who’s a doctor on the side, so I went into medicine full-time. My son was born on Shabbat (Sabbath), and we lived in a very small town in western Wisconsin, so I circumcised him myself. The part-time rabbi we had encouraged me to be a mohelet (female circumciser), but I never really thought about it. We then moved to the Twin Cities, which has a bigger Jewish community, and I performed a brit milah (circumcision) with a rabbi. When the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) announced a mohel/et training program in 2003, I decided to go into it. Five out of the nineteen people in the class were women.

Does your family - parents, husband, children - support you?
I have two children, and they’re used to me being not-your-typical mom, so becoming a mohelet is just another thing on the list for them. My husband is also very supportive of me. My father thinks religion is kind of a crazy concept, but he’s still really proud of my accomplishments.

Do you find that being female adds or detracts from your role as mohelet?
I try not to play the female card, since I feel that both men and women have valuable qualities to bring to the table. I don’t want to say that women are better at brit milah. There’s something that a man brings to it because it was done to him, so he’s connected to the boy more than a woman could be, but on the other hand, a woman can connect with a mother in a way that a man can’t, because she knows what it feels like to have a son going through this. There are advantages to both, just like in medicine.

Do you have an opinion on how girls should be welcomed in the Jewish community in a celebration parallel to a brit milah?
My first child was a girl, so I actually did a pidyon habat (girl’s version of pidyon haben) for her. It’s very important to have parallel ceremonies. I know one family that washed their daughter’s feet to do a physical action to her like a physical action is done to a boy in brit milah, but I don’t think that’s necessary. Men and women are different, so it doesn’t have to have a physical portion for it to be parallel. The important part is welcoming the child to the community and giving the child a name.

What advice would you give to other women who want to follow your lead and pursue a position as mohelet?
Becoming a doctor nowadays is easy - even when I went to med school in 1983, it wasn’t a big deal for a woman to be a doctor. When my aunt went to medical school there were four women out of 160 in the class, but it was close to half in 1983. There weren’t the barriers that had previously existed. Men going into medicine also had clearer boundaries of family and work, both men and women are just people who have a passion about the body and people. Becoming a mohelet for a woman is a fulfilling way to fill a niche in Judaism. A lot of people can read the Torah and bake hamentaschen, but few are mohalim/ot, so it fills a niche in a way that can be very personal. A mohelet isn’t considered special any more than a woman rabbi is considered special. The gender difference is no big deal.

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