כ״ו בשבט ה׳תשע״ח (February 11, 2018)

Avoda Zara 27a-b: Choosing a Mohel

Can a woman – who does not have a circumcision – circumcise a baby?

Must the person who circumcises a Jewish child be Jewish himself?

Two passages are brought on today’s daf that limit the kind of people who can perform circumcision. Daru bar Pappa quotes the pasuk that permits only those like Abraham and his descendants to act as a mohel (see 17:9), while Rabbi Yoḥanan quotes the pasuk that is understood to limit a brit milah only to people who, themselves, have been circumcised (see 17:13).

The Gemara suggests several differences that may stem from these different sources. For example, according to the first pasuk, women may be excluded, since they cannot be circumcised. According to the second pasuk, however, since women are considered as if they have been circumcised, they would be able to circumcise others – with Moshe’s wife, Tzippora a prime example (see 4:25).

Another suggested difference relates to a non-Jew. According to the first pasuk, a non-Jew may not play the role of someone like Abraham or his descendants, and therefore cannot circumcise. According to the second pasuk, however, nations that circumcise their children for religious reasons may be able to circumcise Jewish children, as well. Thus it is possible that an Arab or a Gavnuni who has been circumcised can circumcise others.

Although the suggestion that an Arab, that is, a descendant of Abraham’s son, Yishma’el, is circumcised and can circumcise others is fairly straightforward, identifying a circumcised Gavnuni presents more of a challenge. Some rishonim had a variant reading in the Gemara that substitute Givoni, referring to the tribe that converted in the time of Yehoshua (see Sefer Yehoshua chapter 9), although the Ra’avad objects, arguing that they are true converts and therefore Jewish themselves. The Arukh suggests that the Gavnuni are one of the children of Keturah, Abraham’s second wife (see 68:16-17), who lived in the mountains. These people may be obligated in circumcision, and keep it to this day.

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