Paying a Mohel


Lech Lecha 5781


This is My covenant which you shall keep between Me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. (Bereishis 17:10)

One of the fundamental principles of Mitzva observance is that one may not charge a fee to perform a Mitzva. This is derived from the Pasuk, “See, I have taught you decrees and ordinances, as Hashem my God, has commanded me” (Devarim 4:5) upon which Chaza”l (Bechoros 29a) expound, “Just as I [Hashem, teach you Torah and] do not charge so should you [emulate me and perform Mitzvos] without charge”. Therefore, Dayanim, witnesses, and all those who are occupied in performing Mitzvos, may not charge for their services.

            Nevertheless, the Gemara rules that while one may not charge for performing a Mitzva, he may collect Schar Batala (the amount he could have earned by working during that time) and Schar Tircha (compensation for the effort and trouble required to perform the mitzva, including any necessary travel). Similarly, the Gemara in Nedarim (37a) rules that although Melamdim may not charge for teaching Torah to children, they may charge a fee for watching the students during those hours, and for teaching them subjects other than Torah.

            The Issur to charge a fee is not restricted to the Mitzva of teaching Torah. There is a clear consensus amongst the Rishonim and Acharonim that the same applies to the performance of Mitzvos. This is clearly stated by the Ramban (Toras haAdam, Inyan haSakana) and ruled by the Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 336:2). This includes the Mitzva of Refua which is a fulfillment of “vaHasheivoso Lo” (Sanhedrin 73a), and at times “Lo Sa’amod Al Dam Rei’echa”. Therefore, a physician may not charge a direct fee for medical treatment or advice, but only Schar Batala or Schar Tircha. The same should apply to a Mohel, which is the subject of this essay.

            The earliest source that discusses whether a Mohel may charge for performing Bris Mila is the Teshuvos haRashba (1:472). The Rashba fiercely criticized a certain Mohel who refused to perform a Mila without pay:

You ask regarding a Mohel who had been a Mohel throughout his life without charge. He has now altered his practice and refuses to perform a Bris Mila unless the father pays his fee. Is this permissible? Moreover, if the father does not have the means to pay the demanded fee and he is the only Mohel, do we say that the father should solicit donations in order to pay the fee, or should the Beis Din force the Mohel to perform the Mila gratis?

 

[Answer:] This Mohel has deviated from the ways of the descendants of Avraham Avinu. Throughout the history of our nation, a poor Mohel would always seek out a father to whom a son had been born to ask him for a Chesed and allow him to perform the Mila gratis. In fact, he would try to influence people to convince the father [to allow him to perform the Bris Mila] so that he could be rewarded for performing the Mitzva.

 

This Mohel who lives in a place where he is the only expert, and is refusing to perform the Mila unless the father solicits donations from the public and pays him, is demonstrating that he is not a descendant of Avraham Avinu. He should be severely rebuked that he is not interested in performing Mitzvos. In fact, in his desire to earn a Dinar he is casting aside the “ten gold coins”[1] for every Bracha, as the value of every Bracha is ten gold coins”…

 

This child, whose father cannot afford to pay the Mohel’s fee, is considered as though he has no father and the Beis Din must therefore arrange for his Bris Mila. This [Mohel] who knows how to perform circumcision and nobody else does – the obligation rests on him to a greater degree. Therefore, if he doesn’t want to perform the Mila, the Beis Din may compel him.

 

The Rashba clearly rules that a Mohel should not charge a fee for the Mitzva of performing a Mila. However, if he wrongfully charges for his services (and there is no Mohel available who would perform the Mitzva without charge), a father has no choice but to pay him, as he is obligated to arrange a Bris Mila for his son. If he doesn’t have the means, “it is as if the child has no father” and the Beis Din must assume the responsibility. They have the authority to force the Mohel to perform the Mila without charge.

The Rashba’s ruling is cited by the Rema (Y.D. 261:1)[2]. The Gra (ibid. 7) explains that the reason that the Rashba accused the Mohel of “demonstrating that he is not a descendant of Avraham Avinu” is because he wasn’t willing to perform a Chesed, and acting kindly to others is a characteristic trait of the descendants of Avraham Avinu[3]. The Pischei Teshuva (ibid. 4) cites the Yaavetz (Migdal Oz) who rules that if a Mohel refuses to work without charge, the Beis Din may mislead him to believe that he will be compensated even though he will not actually be paid.

Today, there are various customs amongst Mohelim. Some are extremely careful to fulfill this Halacha exactly and do not accept any remuneration for their services. There are even those who pay the parents of the child for the opportunity to earn the great merit of the Mitzva.

Other Mohelim will accept payment although they will not demand it. There are those who hint to the parents about the possibility of payment or suggest to them that they support Torah scholars or other needy people who are dependent upon them.

However, there are Mohelim who charge a fixed fee for their services without which they will not accede to performing the Bris Mila. There are various justifications offered for this approach:

Some say that if the Mohel is not financially secure, then by dedicating himself to this Mitzva he is entitled to compensation for not undertaking other means of earning a living as Schar Batala (Yad Shaul, comments to Y.D. 261, based on the Ra’avad in Hilchos Shevuos 6:9). However, some say that Schar Batala is only appropriate for a Mohel who actually loses reimbursable time (such as by traveling from one city to another to perform a Bris Mila), but if he does not have another form of employment, he is not entitled to Schar Batala[4].

The Aruch haShulchan (Y.D. ibid, Se’if 6) tells of a community that found an excellent resolution to the issue of compensating Mohelim:

I have heard of a certain large city where there are many Jewish residents and very few Mohelim. The Mohelim are refusing to perform [the many] circumcisions because of the loss of work they suffer. The Tovei Ha’Ir (town elders) hired one Mohel who would not earn any other Parnasa and who [would be enlisted to perform every Mila and] would receive a set fee for each Bris Mila he performed. He was practically an employee of the members of the city to circumcise their sons. This is a very good solution, particularly in these times…

 

This solution is similar to the Mevakrei haMumin (those who would check the animals that had been brought as Korbanos for blemishes) discussed in the Gemara in Kesubos (106a) who would receive a wage from the Beis haMikdash. This wage obligated them to dedicate themselves purely to this task and not take on any other form of employment (see Tosfos ad. loc.) and was not a payment for the task itself. A similar arrangement was made with the Mohel of this city who wasn’t actually paid for performing Mila but rather to ensure that he was at the community’s disposal at all times and to not engage in any other form of employment.

Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul zt”l (cited in Mila Shleima p453) offered another justification for a Mohel to demand compensation for his services. He maintains that it is only prohibited to demand payment for performing a Mitzva when the Mitzva is brought to him. However, he is under no obligation to go to the location where a Mitzva can be performed. Therefore, a Mohel may charge a fee for the Tircha of traveling to that location.

Rav Elyashiv zt”l[5] suggested three additional reasons why a Mohel is permitted to accept payment for his services (though he maintained that it isn’t correct for the Mohel to ask for payment in the first instance).

  1. If there are a number of Mohelim who are available, a Mohel can charge a fee on account of the fact that the parents have chosen him in particular for the Mitzva above all of the other Mohelim. His fee isn’t a charge for the Mila itself (as they could have enlisted somebody else), but for his distinct expertise.

  1. A Mohel is only obligated to perform a Mila on the eighth day of a baby’s life. If he so wishes, he may choose to do so a few minutes after Haneitz haChama or a few minutes before Shkia. Parents who ask that he arrive at a certain time of day, may compensate the Mohel for the associated Tircha in needing to arrive at a specific time.

  1. Aside from performing the Mila, a Mohel usually comes to check the baby on one of the days following the Bris. He also makes himself available to the parents for questions or advice during those days. His fee can be attributed to those services and not to the Mila itself.

Regardless, a Mohel is certainly allowed to charge for his travel costs and for the surgical equipment he uses for the Mila (such as bandages, medications, and ointments).

)In Israel, a Mila may be performed by a doctor in a medical setting, such as a hospital or clinic (“Mila Refuit”)[6]. In this case, there may be more justification for compensating the doctor, as the parents’ desire for his services is not solely for the performance of the Mila (as this could have been performed by a regular Mohel), but also because he offers a sterile environment and medical expertise in case of complications.(

In summary, it is clear that Mohelim should ideally have another means of employment (or teach aspiring Mohelim who will pay for the training) and not to receive or charge a fee for performing a Bris Mila in spite of the multiple justifications for doing so. R’ Ahron Leib Steinman zt”l (k’Ayal Ta’arog p120) was once asked whether paying a Mohel on the day of the Bris fulfills the Mitzva of “b’Yomo Titein Scharo” (paying a worker on the very day that he completes the work). R’ Steinman replied, “I see an upside-down world. In Brisk, the Mohel R’ Nasan would pay for the merit of performing a Bris Mila, and today the opposite occurs”.

The Sefer Bris Avraham relates that in Europe before the war it was unheard of for a Mohel to ask for money for performing a Mila. On the contrary, it was considered a great honor and a merit to serve as a Mohel, and the Mohelim would trudge from city to city and to distant places for the merit of circumcising Jewish children.

[1] See Bava Kama 91b and Chulin 87a

[2] As stated, if the father does have the means to pay the Mohel the Beis Din will not interfere and force the Mohel to work for free. This is clearly implied by the Rashba and is an explicit ruling of the Birkei Yosef (261:5).

[3] See Yevamos 79a and Avos 5:19.

[4] See the Sdei Chemed (6, Rosh haShana 2:17). Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (cited in Nishmas Avraham, Y.D. 336: 2 in footnote) similarly permitted a doctor to receive Schar Batala from Jewish patients on account of the money he could have earned by treating non-Jewish patients during the time (whom he is permitted to charge for his services).

[5] See Mila Shleima 12:6.

[6] There are places where this is carried out in a manner that does not conform to Halacha.


Rabbi Yossi Sprung

Rabbi Yossi Sprung

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