By Karl Radl
Metzitzah B’peh is a controversial part of the brit mila (i.e. circumcision) ritual which involves the mohel (circumciser) – allegedly for reasons of “hygiene”- (1) sucking blood out of the penis of the male baby that has just undergone the circumcision process.
This ritual is widespread among ultra-Orthodox Jews, who are growing rapidly in number demographically (2) and concomitantly in power (3) in both Israel and the diaspora; the ritual is viciously defended by them. (4) This is hardly a new thing, as historically Jews and their communal institutions have pulled out all the stops to defend this ‘holy rite’ that male Jews “must go through”. (5)
This is because Metzitzah B’peh “is believed to be a commandment from God, written in the Mishnah by learned sages, elevated by mystical interpretation”. (6) This doesn’t mean there hasn’t been dissent from this position from factions within Judaism less bound by tradition, (7) but rather that the most traditional, fanatical as well as increasingly numerous Hasidim hold fast to this ritual and absolutely refuse to budge.
To quote Frimet Goldberger: “When customs and traditions take absolute precedence, no enthusiastic mayor with a stack of consent forms will change that. The parents of infants who are circumcised in this manner will overwhelmingly resist signing a consent form if they are not explicitly permitted by their rabbis to do so, or they will sign it paying no heed to the risks. A consent form has no value when the rebbe decries its perceived threats to circumcision from his pulpit, and prohibits the parents from signing it. Furthermore, mohels are venerated and treated as pure and pious. To question a mohel’s health would be unthinkable.” (8)
The problem, however – both historically and in modern times – (9) is that the health of the mohel may not be “pure” in the slightest. Doctors have documented numerous cases of infants being infected with herpes, among other diseases, by the “pious and pure” mohels who performed Metzitzah B’peh. (10) There have been documented cases of brain damage (10) and even several deaths (11). In addition to this evidence, there is a multitude of anecdotal reports of these phenomena (12).
Indeed, the New York City’s mayor’s office has had to directly order two mohels to stop conducting Metzitzah B’peh, because they keep infecting babies with herpes. (12)
So why isn’t Metzitzah B’peh banned?
Because that would be anti-Semitic!
(1) http://www.tabletmag.com/Jewish-life-and-religion/124412/birth-right-3; https://web.archive.org/web/20061120073118/http://www.theJewishweek.com/top/editletcontent.php3?artid=4591
(2) http://forward.com/fast-forward/368679/new-york-city-kept-silent-on-dangers-of-circumcision-rite-for-years as to the growth of the ultra-Orthodox; http://www.haaretz.com/news/ultra-orthodox-Jews-deliver-a-population-boom-to-the-west-bank-1.227419; http://forward.com/news/187429/orthodox-population-grows-faster-than-first-figure/; http://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/majority-of-Jews-will-be-ultra-orthodox-by-2050/; http://www.jpost.com/Jewish-World/Jewish-News/Rapid-haredi-growth-in-NY-may-not-be-sustainable
(3) Michael Lesher, 2014, ‘Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities’, 1st Edition, McFarland: Jefferson, pp. 33-52; 94-109; http://forward.com/fast-forward/368679/new-york-city-kept-silent-on-dangers-of-circumcision-rite-for-years; http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/06/israel-ultra-orthodox-netanyahu-western-wall-alliance-likud.html
(5) Robin Judd, 2007, ‘Contested Rituals: Circumcision, Kosher Butchering, and Jewish Political Life in Germany, 1843-1933’, 1st Edition, Cornell University Press: Ithaca, pp. 48-68; 158-189; http://collive.com/show_news.rtx?id=22284&hl=metzitza; http://crownheights.info/Jewish-news/47779/assault-on-bris-milah-unites-Jewish-communities/
(6) http://forward.com/sisterhood/192951/why-my-son-underwent-metzitzah-bpeh/; also http://www.tabletmag.com/Jewish-life-and-religion/124412/birth-right-3
(9) Judd, Op. Cit., p. 1 n.1
(12) For example: http://forward.com/fast-forward/365526/6-more-new-york-babies-get-herpes-after-undergoing-circumcision-rite/; http://forward.com/fast-forward/365526/6-more-new-york-babies-get-herpes-after-undergoing-circumcision-rite/; https://web.archive.org/web/20070522001308/http://www.theJewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=11539; http://www.jta.org/2014/02/02/news-opinion/united-states/n-y-newborn-contracts-herpes-from-controversial-circumcision-rite; http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/Jewish-baby-contracted-herpes-bris-article-1.2055911; https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/02/21/nyc-orthodox-Jews-in-talks-over-ritual-after-herpes-cases/23798751/