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The Proper Performance of Bris Milah

A brit mila ceremony.

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

But as intelligent human beings we must always weigh the pros and the cons. Many medical doctors claim that there is a danger of delivering the Herpes virus to an infant. As of now, one out of six Americans bears in his body the latent virus of Herpes. True the potential risk of life endangerment to an infant from Metzitzah B’Peh is exceedingly low. However, for the particular parents that this tragedy occurs to their child it is a tremendous torture. Must not every parent do his best not to enter this potential risk?

If we are dealing with a Torah law, or at least a Rabbinical enactment, certainly it is Chassidus to be stringent and rely on “Shomer Mitzva Lo Ye-da Davar Ra”. But we are referring here not to religious law but to medical advice tendered by our sages, calculated to save the child from danger. This is not a “mitzvah” per se. If as per modern medical advice we are doing the opposite, we are exposing the child to danger, how is this in any way Chassidus? True we should perform Metzizah, but why by direct contact with the mouth?

Beyond the life or death question, there is another moral problem. Five out of six of Americans do not bear in their bodies this painful Herpes virus. How are we justified to expose this infant to that one-sixth of the population who will eventually suffer painful skin eruptions, twice thrice or four times during their life? True religiosity is to be extra careful not to cause chagrin unnecessarily to any fellow creature.

I am aware that knowledgeable doctors have claimed that without absolute verification, such as DNA tests, we cannot be certain that it is the Mohel who has transmitted the virus to the infant. Especially so since there are varied types of the Herpes virus. However this does not mean that we cannot take into probability, into plausible consideration, that immediately following the circumcision these infants came out with the disease. The doubt is still there.

I would suggest that every conscientious father or mother take every true consideration for the benefit of the newborn infant, and ask the Mohel in advance to use the tube. And if he denies or objects, they should find another Mohel willing to accede to the psak of the Chasam Sofer, Rabbi Kook, of Rabbi Herzog, or Rabbi Frank. True Chassidus is not to be belligerent but to be intelligent and thoughtful, to be precautious within the limits of Torah Law.

Why is it that when taking blood samples to be tested in the medical laboratory, the nurses don nylon gloves so not to be endangered; why is it that dentists before treating another patient take off the previous gloves and exchange for a new pair of nylon gloves? Why be backwards? What is the religiosity involved to make a creed of being against anything that is modern, to stand stubbornly against any medical advances? How is it that when someone needs medical attention he chooses the best medical advice, price being no object.

However, when it comes to metzizah, which according to Chazal was only enacted due to worry for medical health, there he will stand with fierce antagonism and wish to remain as we were years ago, using a “no-no” exclamation as a standard way of life?

The paramount question is, is that what G-d wants?

It must be emphasized that the resolution of this controversy will not be achieved by government involvement or regulation. Any government entanglement with the manner in which Bris Milah is performed, would be a severe blow to the foundation of religious rights and freedom which is a cornerstone of the magnificent beacon of liberty, The United States of America. The arguments and facts cited above are directed to the parents of the infants to be able to decide for themselves, and to explain why they should not be concerned on a halachic level to use a tube (if done with a proper suction), since for 180 years, the greatest Torah authorities [from the time of the Chasam Sofer] have already permitted it.

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Sources (in Hebrew):

[1] )שבת קלג,ב): “אמר רב פפא האי אומנא דלא מייץ סכנה הוא ועברינן ליה”

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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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