Sunday, August 31, 2014

Wild Opinion Piece

Haaretz published an opinion piece that is so wild, it is indicative of where some elements of the Jewish world are headed. (Reproduced below in case it gets lost behind a paywall.)

  A few false assumptions at the end (the suggested paradox), and then of course, this line:
 Here are the facts: there is no Jewish death penalty. We do not put out eyes or cut off hands. There are no rabbinic executioners, or people who amputate limbs for violations of Jewish law. All that are left are the mohalim – those who are specially trained to perform circumcisions." 
 We never put out eyes or cut off hands in all of our history (an eye for an eye was always interpreted to be a monetary punishment). And the Talmud flatly rejects death penalties, for all cases except murder, and even winces at the suggestion that we have such a right in murder cases.

But there is no evidence anywhere prior to the advent of Reform Jewry (which today has Berit Milah Boards and hundreds of certified mohels) as well as post-modern liberal (read emotional and not intellectual or religious) "Jewish" thinking which supported such a notion that Bris Milah is to be rejected. The Talmud unabashedly praised Bris Milah assigning it numerous Covenants, blessings and rewards, as well as saying that when the Jewish people sacrificed for it (as we have for millenia), it was maintained in our ranks.

  The Covenant has always reigned supreme.

 The author is correct that absent the religious reason there is probably no justification for circumcising our sons. But the religious reason, especially when understood, is quite profound.

 And equating pro-life to anti-circumcision is twisted thinking. It is the people who are pro-choice, who see nothing wrong in killing a fetus that are all up in arms about "harming" a child. Robbing it of the gift of life is not a problem. But if you dare touch his foreskin, we will call down hell and high water upon you! Hypocrites.

 If they truly believed you can't touch a body, they could not cut the umbilical cord, cut fingernails or hair, pierce ears for earrings, or feed the child anything but mother's milk (hey - I'll agree to the last one, at least for several months). Do they? No. Of course not. 

And the comparison between "Female Genital Mutilation" and "Circumcision" is disingenuous. FGM is never a medically advocated procedure (except perhaps in very rare cases of cancer), which when done for non-therapeutic reasons (again, which are very rare) changes a woman's essence.

Circumcision, on the other hand, has plenty of medical evidence supporting its benefits (see also here), and even without such support (because as the article points out, we are not doing it for any supposed benefits), it doesn't change a whole lot in terms of function and sensation. (Surely it does change sensation, as Maimonides says , but (see the eighth paragraph of this next link which describes) men who underwent the procedure for the sake of science (see the eighth paragraph), and argued against what Maimonides could not have personally known - he certainly did not have the comparative experience they had) (And o my goodness check this out) And it is a normal procedure done all the time for medical purposes, in addition to for non-medical reasons (religion or personal preference).

The comparison of the two procedures has no place in any rational conversation.

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Is this the generation that rejects circumcision? 

 There is no Jewish death penalty. There are no rabbinic executioners, or people who amputate limbs for violations of Jewish law. Ritual circumcision is the only act of physical harm that remains. 


 By Avraham Burg

 A debate has come into being quietly here about the place of Brit Milah (the ritual circumcision of Jewish baby boys on the eighth day after birth). The debate is not taking place abroad, not in “anti-Semitic” Germany, but here in the State of Israel.

When one mother refused to have her son circumcised, the rabbinical court tried to force her to do so, and the High Court of Justice countered the rabbis in the name of liberty. This topic, which vanished when the fighting in Gaza broke out, could have toppled governments at other times. I think the issue runs much deeper than a legal battle.

 On the day that my fourth grandson was circumcised, I wondered whether the institution of circumcision would be the next one to fall. Observance of the Sabbath, kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), mikveh (family purity laws), and the religious prohibitions against same-sex relations have not been obligatory social conventions for quite some time. They became the preserve, and means of preservation, of a diminishing minority. Will the same processes cause circumcision to follow suit? 

Something about the institution of ritual circumcision is no longer all that convincing for young parents of this generation.

In my family, all the males were always circumcised, without exception. My parents never thought about it. My own heart was pained at my sons’ circumcision, though it was no more than a young father’s heartache over the pain of his newborn baby. The discourse is different among my children. “Maybe we won’t do it. What for, anyway?” they have asked themselves four times already. The first time we talked about it, I realized that many of their friends had the same questions. Although they did it in the end, their questions are still real and require thought.

 I approached the topic with a great deal of curiosity, and conducted a kind of man-in-the-street poll for several weeks. I asked my questions with care and got detailed responses. The many answers I received all pointed in a single direction: that the institution of circumcision is coming to an end. Or, to be more precise, the institution of circumcision has no real hold among the segment of the Israeli population that is not conservative and religiously observant.

 On what basis do I make these statements? Let us begin with the explanations that people give themselves and that were given to me. “It’s healthy.” “It’s hygienic.” “It’s aesthetic.” “Half of American Christian men are circumcised.” “So the kid won’t stand out.” “So he won’t be embarrassed in the shower, at the pool, on the annual school trip, in the army.” My innocent question, “Is any one of these answers sufficient reason to maim a child?” was met with silence. I asked, “Would you take out a child’s appendix soon after birth? Or implant a pacemaker in his body in order to play it safe?”

The answer, with an embarrassed smile, was, “Oh, I never thought about it that way.” Nobody, but nobody, cited religious obligation as justification for the act. But the only reason to harm a defenseless child in that way is the religious reason: the covenant between God and the Jewish people. Besides all the difficult restrictions I mentioned above (the Sabbath, dietary laws and the Jewish family that does not contain only Jews or only heterogeneous relationships) that are violated in public, we would do well to take note of the common thread that underlies many of these nullified commandments, whose examples include an eye for an eye, the Jewish death penalty, the sorcerous ordeal whose purpose was the public humiliation of a woman suspected of adultery. They are all concerned with the physical aspect of the religious conventions.

 Generations of Jews have lived since those ancient commandments were almost completely abolished.

Here are the facts: there is no Jewish death penalty. We do not put out eyes or cut off hands. There are no rabbinic executioners, or people who amputate limbs for violations of Jewish law. All that are left are the mohalim – those who are specially trained to perform circumcisions. Ritual circumcision is the only act of physical harm that remains. For how much longer? The acts of physical harm I enumerated above, and many others, fell into disuse as the social and cultural conditions in which the Jews lived changed.

Is our generation the one that is ripe for the abolition of ritual circumcision?

 A challenging opponent has arisen against the ancient rite of circumcision: the concept of rights. Recent generations have deepened and broadened the discourse of rights – the rights of a human being to his body and dignity. Rights and liberties are the true strength of Western society.

This is a society that fights with all its might against female genital mutilation, which is customary in other parts of the world and still widespread among immigrants who refuse to assimilate and internalize the values of the new world to which they moved.

 The fight against female genital mutilation is highly complex; the woman’s right to do as she pleases with her own body, her right to enjoy sexual relations at least as much as her male partner does, the freeing of the woman from any form of ownership by men (such as her father, brother, husband or pimp).

 The way the fight against female genital mutilation radiates to the struggle against male circumcision is well known and extremely significant. After all, what exactly is the difference between them? The difference is that male circumcision has positive branding compared with female genital mutilation, even though the issues are no different. On the one hand is the parents’ right to raise their children according to their faith. On the other is children’s inborn rights over their own bodies. On the strength of that right, violence against children was prohibited, and corporal punishment at home and in school utterly condemned.

 It is likely that many people will continue circumcising their sons for religious or behavioral reasons, and many will look for other ways to express their membership in the Jewish collective without compromising on universal principles, which include the child’s right to an intact body.

 Let us conclude with a paradox. An important part of the religious argument against abortion is the fetus’ right to life. According to this argument, the fetus is a living creature in every way. And, they claim, every child – inside or outside the womb – has the right to be born and to live.

 So if the fetus, which is connected to the placenta, already has rights within the womb and may not be harmed for religious reasons, how is it possible to harm him, for religious reasons, from the moment he is born?

The Special Role of Mohel

Of the last few brisses I have performed, a number of them have been for people I have known for a very long time. Of the fathers: A friend from college (15 years), a former camper of mine (18 years (though I know the mother's family for almost 30 years)), family friends (I know the father since he was 6 - for over 20 years).

Being brought into the family circle when I'm already in the family circle is super special. Not too many people know their mohel personally. And the truth is, it it probably awkward for people to make the phone call out of the blue to a person who is in this line of work.

But as my college friend remarked at his son's bris - when he first found out I was a mohel (I already was when we were in college), all he could think was (long before he was married, and long before any child was on the way) "You are never going near my child." And now, all he could think was, "I wouldn't want anyone else to serve as my son's mohel."

It is ALWAYS an honor to serve. I try to get to know everyone in the time I spend with every family. Some families are very straightforward. Some families have an infectious sense of humor. Some like to hear as much information as I can provide. Some have very few questions and are very trusting. Some are more nervous. Some are chilled out.

Having a very long history with people brings the relationship to a whole new level. And thank God for social media, I maintain contact with people now in ways that was more difficult before.

But it is such an honor, every time I meet people with their son(s) and they introduce the boy with a smile and say, "He was your mohel. Do you remember him?" I usually do, the boy usually does not. Knowing that I was able to help the father with his "shlichut" (agency) to help him fulfill his mitzvah, and that it is something which is forever remembered and appreciated, is a gift that is hard to top.

Thank you for the privilege!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

And.... We're back!

Summer is over, and we have returned to Florida.

I look forward to further servicing your bris needs... I look forward to being in touch and working with your family through this special time in your lives.

A.B.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Summer Plans 2014

I am away from South Florida for the summer.

If you are having a baby in July, it is unlikely I will be able to make the trip back to Florida for the bris.

If your baby is born in the second half of August (or if the bris will be delayed until the last week of August) I will more than likely be available in Florida.

Of course, if you'd like me to serve as your mohel in New York over the summer (I already had a bris on Friday) please be in touch. I am happy to serve as a "Mohel in New York" over the summer!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Metzitzah Clarification

Google my name and the word metzitzah and if you don't click any of the links you'd get the wrong impression.

Several years ago, I was contacted by a woman who was writing an article for a local Florida online newspaper, because news came through the wires of a baby who died on account of herpes contracted from the ritual of metzitzah as performed by a certain mohel in NY. Which obviously was not me.

The story went viral and I was quoted in many a news source, including the Huffington post!

I put together the metzitzah page because of that  story.

But I was asked today how I personally do metzitzah - and if it was unclear in my website, here is the official clarification:

I do metzitzah because the Talmud warns mohels against avoiding it.

I use a sterile tube (stuffed with gauze) to accomplish the metzitzah in a sterile manner, not putting the mohel, or the baby, at risk.

And I am grateful that my sterile technique and parents' subsequent care have kept all of my bris boys away from post-op medical care. I am unaware of any infections from my brisses. 

BARUCH HASHEM!!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Moheling Around

One of the more unknown (or undiscussed) aspects of being in the mohel field is the back story that comes with every bris.

It's true that many parents are first-time parents, or first-time-having-a-bris parents (they have a girl or girls), but some people have incredible back stories that have brought them to this day. 

For some parents it is an illness, or a spiritual journey; some babies had "issues" which were discovered by the sonogram or after birth, some babies are results of much fertilization medical intervention (a.k.a extra special miracles).

Some circumstances involve unexpected babies, either on account of age, or on account of medical history of parents. I've dealt with many IVF babies, a few surrogate babies, and a few adoption/conversions.

I've done hatafat dam brit on babies that were circumcised in a hospital, on adults who were circumcised in a hospital before the eighth day, and on adult converts.

It is always an honor to be brought into the inner circle, and a privilege to play a role in promoting the Covenant of God and Abraham, of God and the Jewish people.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Recent articles about Bris and Circumcision

I have a Facebook page to which I keep an intermittent commentary about some of my brisses, as well as a social commentary about bris milah and circumcision, when the topic is written about for newspapers and websites. Seems there's no end to this conversation.

Anyway, here are some of the articles I've posted recently on Facebook.

With the comments I shared about them in Bold
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http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/212542/a-bris-performed-by-a-mohel-less-likely-to-result-in-complications-then-if-performed-by-an-md.html

Poor writing and odd reporting, but this is something I have heard anecdotally from the touch-up people (pediatric urologists and pediatric surgeons) for a long time. 
And to the title I will add the word "Reputable" - as in "Performed by a Reputable Mohel." Carrying the title doesn't make a person perfect and not subject to human frailties.
[I am humored by the photo, which shows a "forbidden" Mogen clamp, something "supposedly" no mohels in Israel use.]

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http://www.activebeat.com/your-health/children/the-pros-and-cons-of-circumcising-your-baby-boy/?utm_source=outbrain&utm_campaign=activebeat_mobile&utm_medium=cpc

We're doing this anyway. But here are different sides to the circumcision debate. 
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http://m.forward.com/articles/195306/rabbi-performs-controversial-metzitzah-bpeh-circum/

A horrific article in the Forward. 
Every excuse the mohel gives comets from the vilest, most bigoted place. And it ignores the reality that this is AT MOST a custom that really has NO PLACE in the 21st century. 
Do metzitzah with a gauze-stuffed tube/pipette and quit legitimizing your irrational and WRONG behavior under the guise of tradition. Inauthentic Judaism at its finest turning people away.

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http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4504242,00.html - 'Intactivists' protest against circumcision in Washington

Oy vey