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The Proper Performance of Bris Milah

A brit mila ceremony.

A brit mila ceremony.
Photo Credit: Serge Attal/Flash90

Note from Harry Maryles: The following post was submitted to me by someone who is close to Rabbi Zuriel. It is a footnoted and well sourced Halachic analysis of the Mitzvah of Bris Milah and Metzitza B’Peh.

Rabbi Zuriel lives in Bnei Brak and was a close talmid of Rav Ruderman famed founder and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Yisroel in Baltimore. He has written well over 30 Seforim on subjects ranging from Shas to Tanach to Mussar to Kabbalah.

After moving to Israel, Rabbi Zuriel learned with – and became very close with many Gedolei Torah including Rav Sraya Deblitzky, Rav Shmuel Toledano, and Rav Friedlander – the famed mashgiach of Ponovezh.

He also learned with Rav Zvi Yehuda Kook, and was the Mashgiach in Shalavim. He is very knowledgeable in all areas of the Torah, and very well informed regarding current events and history . His approach is an independent one and is solely guided by his understanding of the the Torah.

His words follow. 

It is always sad to see dispute and bickering amongst brethren. It is even more aggravating to see anger and emotional outbursts, bitter accusations and personal attacks in the public domain. The present controversy regarding how to do the metzitzah of blood during Bris Milah, if by mouth or by tube, is a case in point.

If we check the Gemarah source[1] and so too the Rambam[2] , and the Shulchan Aruch[3] , we see no mention of the “Peh,” the mouth. The Hebrew word for suction is “motzetz” and this can be performed also by the use of a tube using mouth suction. It is important to precede all discussion on this topic by “putting everything on the table”. We are not discussing a Biblical Commandment, nor are we referring to a Rabbinical enactment from the Gemarah’s time. We are referring to a hallowed Minhag from days of yore to use the mouth only.

Certainly the withdrawal of blood is a Rabbinical enactment, but the direct application of the mouth is only a Minhag. Beyond that, using a tube by mouth suction is also a utilization of the mouth and should not to be considered as abolition of the use of the mouth[4]. This understanding is important to know before we clarify what a parent should decide in cases of doubt.

The world famous Chasam Sofer wrote a responsum to permit using other methods than the mouth (“Bris Olam”, page 216)[5]. The great Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsh permitted the use of a short tube (Shemesh Marpeh, page 70). Rabbi Yitzchok Herzog wrote[6] that since the medical experts claim that there is a danger of infection in many cases, it is advisable to use a tube. He adds that those who insist adamantly that the withdrawal should be done by direct application of the mouth “are mistaken and so too cause others to make a mistake”.

The illustrious Rabbi Avraham Kook permitted the use of a tube when in doubt of infection (Da’as Kohen, 142) [also, see the words of the Aruch Hashulchan[7] and Rabbi Chaim Berlin[8]]. Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank claimed[9] that since the entire purpose of the Rabbinical enactment of withdrawing the blood from the wound is to avoid infection, this act being done by the tube is part and parcel of that healing process. May we add that this would even be a “hiddur Mitzva” since this is even safer than the personal physical contact of the Mohel to the open wound.

But why is there such a vehement outcry against the usage of the tube? The answer is that for nearly two hundred years there is fear of Gentile government intervention making the essential circumcision ritual illegal. This started in Paris in 1843, reached Germany and Poland and today in California a small group of “humanists” appealed to the State Legislature to ban the practice. This move was defeated.

The fear is that if we ourselves admit that this mitzvah could be damaging to the child, the Department of Health might make capital of our admission. The second cause of the great emotional outbursts of resistance to any change in the ceremony is the worry to keep intact all of Jewish way life, to stay as close as possible to the customs of our forefathers; to forestall all reforms.

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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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A brit mila ceremony.

When it comes to Metzitza B’Peh, we are not discussing a Biblical Commandment, nor are we referring to a Rabbinical enactment from the Gemarah’s time. We are referring to a hallowed Minhag from days of yore to use the mouth only.

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