In some of the smaller and more remote Jewish communities around the world there is simply no mohel available to perform britot. In such communities, it is necessary to “import” a mohel when a baby boy is born. In most situations, a mohel can be flown in and out on the same day, thereby minimizing the disruption to his schedule and other responsibilities.
Nevertheless, since a brit must be performed on the eighth day after birth, it will occasionally fall on a Shabbat (or Yom Tov) morning. It goes without saying that in such a situation a mohel cannot be flown in and out the same day. Therefore, there would be no alternative but for the mohel to arrive before Shabbat and only return home once Shabbat has ended. Such an arrangement is, to say the least, unattractive to the mohel, who would have to forgo spending Shabbat with his family in order to perform an out-of-town brit for a stranger.
Is a mohel required to perform a brit in such a circumstance?
According to a number of authorities, a mohel is not required to inconvenience himself and forgo spending Shabbat with his family in order to perform a brit. Among the reasons for this approach is that although performing a brit is a tremendous mitzvah, enjoying Shabbat in one’s preferred manner is, as well. Moreover, the mitzvah to enjoy Shabbat comes into effect immediately at the start of Shabbat, while the mitzvah to perform a brit only comes into effect the next morning.1
Closely related to this discussion is the general rule that a person is not obligated to travel to another city in order to perform a mitzvah that is unavailable to him in the city in which he resides. According to this approach, the father is not obligated to travel to another city with the baby and spend Shabbat there in order to circumcise his son on time.2
Other authorities disagree and rule that a mohel is obligated to accept the job and travel out of town in order to perform the brit.3 These authorities argue that since a brit is something that supersedes the laws of Shabbat,4 it is reasonable to suggest that one should diminish his Shabbat enjoyment in order to perform one. Furthermore, it can be argued that the mohel may bear some personal responsibility for the brit being delayed and not being performed on the eighth day as commanded by the Torah. So too, a mohel should consider accepting the assignment if the family would be forced to hire an incompetent mohel who may cause the baby harm5 or one who is not shomer Shabbat.6 It is interesting to note that there is an opinion that one should not live in a city that has no mohel.7
- Avnei Nezer, OC 2:392.
- See for example Chayei Adam 68:19 and Maharsham 1:209.
- Levushei Mordechai 1:57.
- The brit mila procedure requires one to violate multiple Shabbat prohibitions. Nevertheless, one is permitted to do so since the Torah specifically states that a brit must take place on the eighth day even if it falls out on Shabbat.
- See Chayei Adam, 68.
- Be’er Moshe 5:94.
- Sanhedrin 17b, Rashi.