The Israeli Rabbinate has apparently weighed in on the the Metzitza B’Peh issue (MbP). Sort of. A complaint was filed by an anti-circumcision activist against Yehudah Teichtal, a Habad rabbi in Germany who did this procedure on a baby immediately after circumcising him.
Rabbi Teichtal contacted the Chief Rabbinate in Israel requesting a response. He got one. From the Forward:
Moshe Morsiano, chair of the Division of Circumcision for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, emphasized in a letter dated April 22 that there is no justification for avoiding metzitzah b’peh “unless the mohel has a sore in his mouth, or some infectious disease.”
What is interesting about this response is the deceptive nature of it. (Although I do not believe it was purposely done that way). From the tone it sounds like MbP should almost always be done. And that only in the rarest of circumstances should it be avoided.
I suppose the reason they framed it this way is because of the centuries old tradition of doing so. But the second part of that letter is of no less significance. In fact I would say it is the most important part of it and indicates the exact opposite. It says that MbP should be avoided if the mohel has a sore in his mouth or some infectious disease.
To me that tells the whole story. Those who carry the herpes virus cannot always tell when it is present in the mouth. It is not always symptomatic in the early stages. A mohel can have the virus and not be at all aware of it. To me that says loudly and clearly that MbP should be avoided at all times. If cold sores can be asymptomatic there is always a risk of it being there.
It should also be clear from Rabbi Morsiano’s statement that he too believes that MbP is not a requirement. Or he wouldn’t have suggested using an alternative method of doing metzitza under any circumstances.
In an era where so much more is known about transmission of diseases by the mouth… and where there are strong indications that some babies have contracted herpes around the time they were circumcised from an infected mohel … and where the CDC advises against it, I don’t see how anyone can do MbP. Even by the Chief Rabbinate’s standards.
The fact that this happened in Germany where circumcision itself is being challenged is significant. I think it highlights the damage that is done by equating MbP with circumcision itself as those who are fighting the New York City Department of health are saying. More than once I have heard that equation being made. Some accuse outright that New York is trying to outlaw circumcision. Others either imply it or say that outlawing MbP is a slippery slope that could lead to outlawing circumcision completely.
If we give the those who oppose circumcision this kind of ammunition, they will have something to base their accusations that a bris is a barbaric procedure that endangers the lives of innocent little babies! No doubt that is what the anti circumcision activist who filed a complaint in Germany was thinking. If a mohel insists on a dangerous procedure that he says is a religious requirement, he will have a leg to stand on. This is not a leg that we should concede. Because aside from the tragic results that may occur on a baby and his family, the impact it could have on Bris Mila itself could be devastating.
Even though there are so many Poskim that do not – including the Chief Israeli Rabbinate I realize that Chasidim do consider MbP to be a Halachic requirement. This is why I would oppose any legislation that would outlaw it. But I do support the NY health department requirement that parents be informed of the danger honestly. And by honestly I would include the concession that the chance of infection is indeed very low. But I would at the same time insist that as low as it is, it is real.
I therefore reassert my plea that the Agudah withdraw its opposition to this requirement. Because the more we oppose requirements by experts in the field with no axe to grind against Judaism; people whose intentions are only the health and welfare of the public – the more we endanger circumcision itself. The anti circumcision people are no doubt looking very carefully at what is happening in Germany… and that will certainly influence their actions here. Eizehu Chacham? Ha Roeah Es HaNolad!
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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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