CARR 51-53


Contemporary American Reform Responsa

31. Rabbi or Mohel at a Moslem


QUESTION: May a rabbi or mohel participate in the

circumcision of a Moslem boy? (Rabbi E. Sapinsley, Bluefield, WV)


question involves a number of different matters which should be discussed separately. We must ask about the status of Islam in Jewish eyes, the responsibility of Jews toward non-Jews, and the extent to which a Jew may become involved in conducting ceremonials or rituals for another religious group under extraordinary conditions.

The ancient statements dealing with

idolaters do not apply to followers of Islam. Their status is clearly that of ger toshav, one who has rejected the worship of idols (A. Z. 64b; Isserles to Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 146.5; D. Hoffmann Shulhan Arukh, pp. 20 ff; J. Lauterbach, “The Attitude of the Jew Towards A Non-Jew,” C.C.A.R. Yearbook, Vol. 31, 1921, pp. 200 ff). As Islam is strictly monotheistic and has no doctrine akin to trinitarian Christianity, it is even closer to Judaism than the latter, though Christianity has also been considered as non-idolatrous monotheistic religion (Rabenu Tam in the Tosefot to San. 63 f; Bekh. 2b; Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 156, etc.) We would, therefore, treat all followers of Islam as monotheist or as gerei toshav.

There is, of course, no problem with a Jewish doctor treating non Jewish

patients and we have examples of such medical practices from early times. A Jew named Theudas was a famous physician in Alexandria (J. Betzah I, 60). The emperor, Antonius Pius (96-161), asked Judah Hanasi to send him a physician for his slaves from among his own students. The great scholar Samuel, who died about 254 C . E ., was an outstanding doctor who served the general community. This tradition continued and perhaps reached its climax with Moses Maimonides who was the physician at the court in Cairo. Any Jewish encyclopedia will provide a long list of physicians past and present, many of whom attended non-jews as well as Jews. In this instance, however, we are not dealing with general medical practice, but specifically with circumcision. This rite has always been of unusual significance for us as Jews, so it is treated differently than other medical procedures. The Shulhan Arukh presents contradicting opinions about a Jew circumcising non-Jews. Joseph Caro prohibited such a circumcision (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 268.9) as did Moses Isserles (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 263.5.) However, Isserles’ later notation (Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 268.9) concluded, “in those lands where it is permitted to heal Gentiles, it would be permitted to perform a medical circumcision for them,” (also Yad Hil. Milah 317 and Shakh. to Yoreh Deah 268.9). It is clear, therefore, that this medical procedure can be performed by a Jewish physician or mohelupon non-Jews.

In our case, however, the procedure is not

purely medical, but is intended as the circumcision required by Islam, called khitaan. Although there are several different sets of rules for Islamic circumcision, it is clear that circumcision is obligatory. Although it is not prominently treated in books of Islamic law, it is of great importance to the followers of Islam. The operation is performed at varying ages from seven days to thirteen years depending on the specific sectarian and national tradition. When the ceremony takes place at a mosque in the presence of an Ima’m, it is accompanied by prayers for the preservation of the child (H. A. R. Gibbe and J . H. Kramers, Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, pp. 254 f). The ritual has religious significance with folklore overtones. Is it appropriate for a Jew to involve himself in this?

We might make a number of distinctions here

from a practical point of view. It would be fully permissible for a Jewish physician to participate and let a Moslem recite the appropriate prayers. He would clearly be there only in his medical capacity. This, of course, would also be true for a mohel, although his presence might raise some confusion in the community, as a mohel specializes in circumcising Jewish youngsters. It would be permitted mipnei darkhei shalom – “for the sake of peace.” We must remember that this statement refers to positive deeds done for our fellow men (Git. 59b) and not merely avoiding ill-will. That thought is expressed through the phrase mishum evah(A. Z. 26a).

It would not be proper for a Jew to recite the prayers normally

said at the Islamic circumcision for a number of reasons. As the Islamic circumcision may be conducted during such a long span of time, it can be arranged when an Ima’m or other appropriate Islamic religious leader is present. In addition, it does not seem to be a rite which is absolutely essential, so it is not akin to baptism, which must be given to a dying new-born Catholic infant or final rites which must be given to a dying Catholic adult. In both those cases under special emergency circumstances, such as wartime, a Jew could be the agent for the Catholic Church–at least from a Jewish point of view (S. B. Freehof, Recent Reform Responsa, 1963, pp. 67 ff). He would not consider himself as an “agent for sin” (Kid. 42b) as Catholicism is a monotheistic religion. In this instance we are, however, not dealing with an emergency.

We would, therefore, conclude that nothing would restrain a Jewish

physician from participating in an Islamic circumcision. It would, however, not be appropriate for a Jew to say the words of prayer which generally accompany this rite.

February 1978

If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.