By COLlive reporter
Crown Heights mohalim are fretting over Metzitzah b’peh which has come under government scrutiny after the death of a Brooklyn infant by contracting herpes.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Health Department say the practice where the mohel performing a bris removes the blood from the baby’s circumcision wound by mouth is potentially dangerous to newborns.
“We are extremely concerned,” said Rabbi Moshe Klein, a mohel and sofer, who attended a meeting about the topic at the Crown Heights Beis Din this week.
He explained that Metzitzah is one of the three requirements of fulfilling the Mitzvah, which traces back to Avrohom Avinu and has been in practice in Jewish communities throughout the ages.
Klein said there was no room to compromise and that the authorities aim to either punish the mohalim or demand of parents to OK the practice on their infants, in which case they can be accused of negligence.
His opinions was reiterated by other leading local mohalim – Rabbi Eliyahu Shain and Rabbi Israel Heller. Rabbi Levi Heber, chair of the International Bris Association, was not in town.
The mohalim along with Rabbi Moshe Dovid Niderman, known askan and head of UJO – United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, urged the Beis Din to publicly support the practice.
Following the intense meeting, Beis Din members Rabbi Yaacov Schwei and Rabbi Yosef Braun issued a letter stating that Metzitzah is not to be a concern, rather “a great benefit, even according to medical wisdom.”
They called upon all mohalim “to continue the tradition of the bris as in the past, without any change whatsoever.”
Some of the letter translated to English by Debbie Maimon:
We are deeply troubled by current efforts on the part of New York City health officials to implement laws that would bring the mitzvah of bris milah under government regulation. The immediate point of contention is the practice of metzitzah b’peh, [oral suction], during circumcision, which the New York City Department of Health wants to ban.
The proposed laws would require a mohel to inform parents of the baby of the supposed “dangers” of the practice. The parents would then have to sign a document of “informed consent.”
The claim that metzitzah b’peh endangers newborns, although untrue, has been raised in the past. People seeking to prohibit or curb the custom have slandered it as being dangerous. But the great leaders of the previous generations stood firm in defending our holy customs, determined to perpetuate metzitzah b’peh in the manner it was performed since the days of Moshe Rabbeinu.
Our leaders also wrote at length about the great importance of metzitzah, specifically b’peh; explaining that it is of critical importance to the bris, according to p’shat, remez, drush and specifically, sod.
Some are of the opinion that it is a vital and integral part of the mitzvah, deemed halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai–a Divine command given to Moshe Rabeinu. This view appears in many sources, the most popular being “Kuntres Ha’metzitzah,” a treatise on metzitzah, in the Sdei Chemed Encyclopedia.
The central reason for metzizah b’peh, our sages tell us, is to prevent infection or complications in the newborn after the bris, as explained in the gemara and by the Rishonim. This has been confirmed by many doctors and scientists who have debunked the negative hype disseminated by so-called experts relying on outdated and inaccurate medical data.
Thousands upon thousands of Jewish children over many decades have been circumcised with metzitzah b’peh, with not a single proven instance of a baby falling ill as a result. One of the most prominent pediatricians in our city who has tended to newborns for decades testifies that the claim of children getting sick due to metzitzah b’peh is bogus.
Regardless of whether doctors agree or not, from a legal and moral standpoint, it is utterly unacceptable for the government to presume the right to regulate bris milah or any other religious custom or ceremony.
And as the Rebbe noted in a letter regarding this issue (6th of Elul 5709): “When governments get involved in how a Jew runs his [religious] life, it is never good for Jews, not for their soul nor their body, as can be confirmed by many examples [of government interference] throughout Jewish history.”
The right to be free of government regulation in the realm of religion is especially important in our country, the United States of America, which was founded on the principle of freedom of religion, and the separation between the government and religious bodies.
Some practical steps should be taken to offset the campaign against metzitzah b’peh:
1) Publicize to all Jews, especially those who are not aware of the importance of metzitzah b’peh, that this practice poses no medical hazard whatsoever. On the contrary, many doctors consider it beneficial.
2) Mohalim should continue performing bris milah in the traditional manner, without changing anything at all, Heaven Forbid. Whoever does not have the courage to withstand the pressure and uphold our traditions, should retire from the job. If he did not perform all three parts – milah, pri’ah and metzitzah b’peh, he is not qualified to be a mohel. In case of medical danger, the mohel should ask a rov in his city, and follow his directive. Obviously, if a mohel is sick or has an infection, he should not do metzitzah b’peh.