Saturday, February 04, 2006

Metzitzah B'peh Part 10

This was written in a British Newspaper! (Wow! This is becoming an international topic.) Somthingjewish: Now that I have just become a grandpa again (the sixth time) my total delight is tempered by the thought of another circumcision, a Brit.....As part of my rabbinic training I had to study the laws of ritual slaughter. It was required of me by my teacher that I witness the real thing. I have to tell you I was sick for weeks afterwards....And if the Temple was rebuilt tomorrow and the sacrifices brought back, I think I’d make sure I got a doctor’s certificate to justify my absence. I have never been able to understand those individuals at a Brit who get up close to have a look and examine the differing expertises. Neither can I fathom that recent phenomenon of bringing a video camera in as close as possible to record every last snip and then digitally send it off around the world to the delight of aficionados.....Recently the New York City Health Department has said it is issuing warnings. This is because one particular Mohel (that’s the guy who does it) has infected three children over a ten-year period, one fatally, by giving it herpes when he put his lips to the cut to draw blood. This practise, called Metzitzah, traditionally disinfects the wound and helps the healing. (Indeed, it is one of the amazing things about circumcisions how quickly they do heal). It is a tradition as old as the Mishna and probably the Torah. In most Orthodox circles it is still adhered to, ‘though repeated fears of infection led many rabbis to permit the use of a glass tube to do it. Every Mohel I have ever seen washes his mouth out with disinfectant beforehand (once upon a time vodka was considered enough, no longer!) so perhaps the New York fellow was rogue and you do get rogues in any profession. But of course human life is so precious and Halacha so insistent on preserving life that I believe that if there is reasonable doubt custom should be dispensed with. Not a fashionable point of view in resurgent orthodoxy nowadays.The Mohel is a highly trained professional, often a medical man, usually pious as well as skilled. The actual operation takes seconds. With the millions of circumcisions it is exceedingly rare for accidents to occur although they do. But then people die after piercings and tattoos and in hospitals as a result of errors or hospital bugs. I do not find the ritual aesthetically pleasing or even religiously uplifting. But I am a believer, in my tradition, in Torah. I also know that it is a fundamental of Torah that whatever the command, if there is any question of health risk it is suspended or waived altogether. I do not believe Torah laws are utilitarian or necessarily logical. I realize I am disagreeing with Maimonides, but then so have others far greater than I. So I do not accept circumcision because of the evidence that it inhibits cancer of the cervix, STD’s and is healthier for men and women. I accept it because if I want to belong to a tradition and derive the benefits of its greatness, spirituality and beauty, then to pick and choose demolishes the structure and makes it no more than another human, transient fashion.
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