The article below was copied from The Seattle Times (



Local News : Monday, July 24, 2000

'Microsoft mohel' rediscovers ritual

by Stuart Eskenazi
Seattle Times staff reporter

Dave Bolnick's name appears on patents for Microsoft Windows. He has testified before Congress and the Federal Communications Commission on the company's behalf. He has helped create systems that make computers easier to use for blind, deaf and other disabled people.

None of that matters to Scott Elliott Glickman, who is only an infant.

What matters most to Scott is that Bolnick's other profession is "mohel," someone who has studied the laws, traditions and techniques of Jewish ritual circumcision, called a bris. Bolnick performed his first circumcision in 1987 and does about one a week.

Of the approximately eight certified mohels in the Seattle area, Bolnick believes he is the only one who is neither a rabbi nor a physician. He certainly is the only one who has the distinction of being called the Microsoft mohel.

At the Kirkland home of Steve and Stephanie Glickman, Scott's parents and guests congregate to witness a 4,000-year-old tradition that celebrates a covenant between God and the Jewish people.

"Today is a very special day," says the bearded Bolnick, draped in a prayer shawl.

Bolnick was studying for his doctorate in physiology at the University of California, Davis, in the mid-1980s when a friend invited him to her newborn's bris. His laissez-faire approach to Judaism was challenged upon learning the baby had been circumcised at the hospital and the ceremony was to consist simply of a rabbi coming to the house to recite a few prayers.

"I felt there was a void in what I was witnessing," recalls Bolnick, 44. He was surprised it bothered him so much because he wasn't a religious Jew.

His friend told him she and her husband opted for the nontraditional approach to circumcision because the only mohel in town was Orthodox and they were not.

"So I told her, 'The next time you have a child, if it's a boy, I will find a mohel for you,' " Bolnick said.

Instead of finding a mohel, Bolnick studied to be one. He served as an apprentice, shadowing a mohel to each bris. He also observed a pediatric urologist.

Bolnick earned official mohel certification in 1987, a designation only another mohel may bestow.

Bolnick and his wife, a family doctor, moved to Seattle a year later. He learned of a job opening at Microsoft in 1989 while performing a bris on the son of a Microsoft employee. Bolnick, government-affairs manager for the accessibility and disabilities group, is leaving the company this year to work as an independent consultant.

Bolnick's wife, who performs circumcisions for non-Jewish babies, was looking over his shoulder when he performed a bris on two of their sons. Bolnick called them the two easiest circumcisions he has done.

"When I do a circumcision, I'm also trying to look after the parents to make sure they are calm and comfortable," he says. "With my own sons, I got to focus purely on the meaning of bris."

The surgical removal of the male foreskin, performed on approximately 65 percent of boys born in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, is increasingly a subject for medical and ethical debate.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said in March 1999 that no overwhelming medical grounds exist for routine circumcision.

For most Jews, however, circumcision is not open to debate, even among parents who are not devout, says Jonathan Greene, whose two sons were circumcised by Bolnick.

"The concepts of fairness and ethics just don't come into play," Greene said. "We do it because we are commanded to do it by God. Fulfilling that obligation and entering our sons into the covenant is a great joy."

Circumcision for a Jewish boy occurs eight days after birth and takes place either in the family home or a synagogue. Rather than the private, unceremonial, quick-snip approach performed by a doctor in a hospital, the Jewish ritual circumcision is a public celebration in front of family and friends, brimming with tradition and symbolism.

A chair, for example, is set aside for the prophet Elijah, who is said to descend from the heavens during every bris to ensure the well-being of the baby and to be God's witness that Jews continue to fulfill the commandment.

At Scott's house, Bolnick wipes the dining-room table clean with a sterilized towelette. He meticulously lays out a collection of gauze, cotton swabs and silver-plated medical instruments.

Bolnick hums an Israeli tune and checks his watch.

Scott is sleeping soundly in a bassinet in the family room as the women in the house rush past him on their way to setting patio tables with platters of food covered in plastic wrap.

Steve Glickman's hands are shaking. Scott blinks his eyes open.

Everyone is smiling at him, albeit nervously.

Scott begins to cry as any child might who has been nudged awake. The Microsoft mohel implores those gathered to sing a Hebrew song to help calm the baby and his parents.

"And if you sing very loudly," Bolnick said, "you can even calm the mohel."

Scott, a yarmulke on his head, sits on the lap of his uncle, who gently holds the baby's legs apart. Steve Glickman puts a finger in Scott's mouth to distract him from the pain he is about to endure.

The baby cries. The grandmother cries. The mother cries. With a song in the air and surgical instrument in hand, Bolnick makes a perfect cut. The men flinch. The baby cries louder.

Scott falls asleep again after a few minutes. His father's hands have stopped shaking. Bolnick leads everyone in claps and song as friends and family form a ring around mother and baby and dance around them.

During the procedure, Bolnick placed the excised foreskin in a small box containing soil from Jerusalem. He will wrap a piece of bloody gauze and the foreskin and give it to the parents. They are supposed to bury the package under a tree. Later in life, they are to remove branches from that tree to help build a canopy under which the son eventually will be married.

Stuart Eskenazi's phone message number is 206-464-2293.