Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Always a Good Idea to Think Before Speaking?

It was as innocent a mistake as they come.

I don't think I did anything wrong here.

Your thoughts? In the comments, please.

With very rare exception (such as if the Bris goes so perfectly and I can leave the baby without a bandage) I always visit the baby a few hours after the Bris to remove whatever bandage I left on him at the Bris. Some times the bandage falls off on its own before my visit - a circumstance I actually LIKE because the bandage's job has finished, and it means I don't need to bother the baby again.

Today was one such case, and when I opened the diaper I said (referring to the bandage) "O wow! It completely fell off!" And I had a big smile on my face. No need to bother baby! = Happy mohel!

Then I turned to baby's mom, whose face fell completely, and who had begun to cry! Yikes! What did I do?!

Quickly rewinding the moment's events, I VERY quickly clarified for her that everything was fine and that my words referred to the bandage!

Oy - the ways we can be misunderstood!!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Delaying Bris, and When the 8th day is Shabbos or Yom Tov

A bris takes place on the 8th day of life, because that is the Torah's rule. This means that we don't usually pick the day of the week for the bris as it is dependent on when the baby is born.

However, there are other rules which might prevent this from happening per schedule.

1. Since we only do a bris on a healthy baby, if baby unfortunately has a medical condition that needs attention, the bris will be delayed until he is clear. If the issue was systemic, the bris will be delayed to a full week after he is medically cleared.

2. If the baby was delivered via C-section, his bris MAY NOT TAKE PLACE ON SHABBOS or a Torah-mandated holiday (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Pesach (1st and last days), Shavuos, Sukkos (1st days), Shemini Atzeres/Simchas Torah), and will instead take place the following day, either Sunday or the day after

What happens when the bris is supposed to take place on Shabbos or Yom Tov, but it is inconvenient for the mohel, who does not drive on those days, to have the bris take place at the right time?

There are a few options.
1. The mohel or baby's family can make arrangements for mohel to stay nearby
2. Even if it's several miles, the mohel can offer to walk to the bris
3. The family might come to the mohel*
4. The mohel can say, "Look. It's your job to hire someone for the 8th day. I can't do it at that time. However, if you can't find anyone, I'm available the day afterwards." (This is what I often tell people)
5. The mohel might say, "Forget it. We'll do it after Shabbos or Yom Tov." (I find this to be disingenuous. If the parents want the bris on the 8th day, that should be presented as an option for them to pursue with someone else.)

* If the family plans to drive with the baby on Shabbos or Yom Tov (though 2nd day of yom tov raises an interesting question), that is certainly not within the spirit of the day. However, if it is the 8th day, and the baby is brought to the mohel (parents' choice), he (the mohel) does have an obligation to facilitate the fulfillment of the mitzvah of bris on the child.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

An Insider View: When Two Mohels are Involved

I recently had a problem with an appliance in my house. Being a good American citizen, appreciative of how the free market works, I brought in a few repairmen to assess the situation and provide me with a quote. One will get the job. The others will not. That's called "the cost of doing business."

In the mohel world, things operate a little differently. While parents are encouraged to do their research before the baby is born (to call and interview the "repairmen"), once the baby is born the crunch time sets in. Because the mohel needs to be booked ASAP. And the bris needs to be prepared for the 8th day.

How many times does it happen that people call me, asking for my availability at a certain time - but, alas, there's another bris, elsewhere, at the same time? It happens a lot. (There are some mohels who book both without telling anyone - which causes delay and inconvenience to a lot of people. I saw that a lot in Israel!) So I have to decline - first come, first served is how things work.

But what happens when different family members take upon themselves to hire the mohel? Sometimes parents do the hiring, while a grandparent is looking for the mohel s/he likes! Unlike the analyzing repairmen, who come at different times and await a booking, a booked mohel pencils a bris into his calendar, and he expects to do the job!! Once that happens, he might turn down other opportunities as well, which is why some mohels have a cancellation fee.

I had this recently - had a set of twins bris booked in Miami for the Sunday after Rosh Hashana weekend (Rosh Hashana was Thursday and Friday, leading into Shabbos). I turned down another bris at the same time. And then got a text-message (!) Saturday night informing me that the baby's grandfather had booked a different mohel. Disappointing? Of course. But what can I do?

This is why only one person should book the mohel.

On the other hand, I have also been that second mohel in a number of circumstances. And while when I find out there's another mohel in the picture I typically bow out (out of courtesy for the other mohel), here are reasons for why I will take the job.

1. The parents had a bad experience before, and just discovered they could use a different mohel
2. The parents heard about a bad experience their booked mohel gave to a friend of theirs, and they are worried. They've cancelled him and are reaching out (usually late in the game) to find someone
3. The mohel is delaying the bris for his own convenience, while the bris need not be delayed (THIS ONE IS THE MOST COMMON)

So here are the easy guidelines for how to book a mohel
1. Make sure ONE PERSON in the family is booking
2. While you can interview as many people as you want before baby is born, once baby is born make sure YOU KNOW WHICH MOHEL you are hiring. Communicate this to family and avoid double-booking!
3. Please be respectful of mohel's time and schedule. If you book a mohel, assume he is giving up another bris for you. A cancellation on your part at the very least deserves a PHONE CALL (don't do it by text or email). (I'm torn about the cancellation fee - it's hard to expect people to pay for nothing... on the other hand, if a different bris was lost on account of the booking, that is significant to anyone who counts on the bris at least supplementing one's parnassah)
4. However if you're talking to a mohel who is using delay tactics, when your bris should be on time, and another mohel you speak with accepts the job at the right time, the delaying mohel is owed nothing. As far as I can see, if the bris was supposed to take place Friday, and he is trying to push it to Sunday, he was never booked.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Halakhah v. Hashkafah

Bris Milah is one of the more unique mitzvahs, in that while in the world of people who fulfill it the desired results are the same, the permutations in terms of how to get to those results are as varying as languages. Aside from the simple order of the ceremony, which varies from Ashkenazic, to Sefardic, to Yemenite and other Middle Eastern cultures, and is even different inside or outside the Land of Israel, every step of the bris has its own adherents, some of whom are militant in their hashkafah (worldview), even though the halakhah (Jewish law) is flexible and fluid - often focused much more on the result than on the method of getting there. Hashkafah is guided significantly more by method than by result.

When the Talmud discusses how a bris milah is performed, it mentions three stages - milah (excision of foreskin), priah (removal of mucosal membrane from the glans), and metzitzah (drawing of blood from circumcision spot, following the acts of milah and priah).

In order to do each of these properly, different surgical instruments and methods have been created or introduced over time to make the experience easier for the mohel, and, in consequence, for the baby.

All of these have been addressed before, but here are the links for the items utilized, presented in their order of use - each has its own "debate" attached to it, summarized as briefly as I can

NUMBING - to numb or not to numb, that is the question. There are those who argue it is forbidden. Those who argue it is obligatory. And those who say it is optional. (And those who argue that injections cause more pain to the baby than the circumcision, and that a topical cream does more for the parents than for the baby (who will cry anyway), as cream makes things more slippery (not a good ingredient for something precise as circumcision)

GLOVES - to wear or not to wear, that is the question. There are those who argue it is forbidden (never done before, chatzitzah). There are those who argue it is obligatory (sterility). And there are those who argue it is inconvenient (slippery, or can't do priah properly). See this article by Rabbi Aryeh Leibowitz, in which he weighs all the pros and cons. 

MARKER - to mark or not to... (OK. I won't use the joke anymore). I can't even present the side against this, because it is beyond stupid. Anyone who argues that marking the edge of the foreskin with a surgical pen is anti-tradition is a full-scale idiot. I've seen too many babies have either not enough, too much, or an uneven (right v left sides) amount of skin removed, a problem alleviated by just using a little common sense plus a marker.

PROBE - The probe is used to separate the membrane from the glans so the circumcision can more likely remove the membrane at the same time as the foreskin. Those who don't use a probe argue that it is painful. And then they stick their fingernails underneath the foreskin to accomplish the same job. 馃槕.

HEMOSTAT - The hemostat allows for two of the stages of Bris Milah to be accomplished in one action - what is known in Hebrew as 诪讬诇讛 讜驻专讬注讛 讘讘转 讗讞转.  Very skilled mohels often do this when they grab the foreskin with their fingers. Otherwise the hemostat grabs them together. Those who are against it are adamant that the two stages be done separately, AND that priah be done using fingernails - tearing the membrane and folding it beyond the corona, AND they argue that the hemostat is painful to the baby. Those who use it argue that there is an ancient tradition of doing Milah and Priah at the same time, AND that tearing the foreskin with fingernails (method of those who don't use a hemostat) is also quite painful, AND that NOT removing all of the priah membrane could cause problems for the child down the line, either as a child or an adult requiring corrective skin removal surgery. In other words, the pain argument is a question of quantity and degree against both sides (short term v long term e.g. corrections)

SHIELD - The use of the traditional Shield is a hallmark of most Orthodox mohels. It's purpose is to isolate the foreskin (what we are removing) from everything else that we don't want to touch (shaft, glans, scrotum, etc) Some who do not use it opt for a clamp, which accomplishes the same thing in terms of protection (when used properly) but it has its own halakhic, hashkafic and safety issues. Others who do not use the shield do the entire procedure freehand, putting everything near and dear to the baby's safety at risk. As to the clamp - I don't use it nor do I recommend it. I've written plenty of things against clamps in this website. As to the shield, those who argue to use it are concerned for the baby's safety and are doing their due diligence to protect the baby from an unfortunate mishap. Those who argue against it claim that it hurts the baby (see previous paragraph for cost/benefit ratio question), and that it's an innovation from 400 years ago (or so) that has no place in this ancient tradition.

KNIFE - The idea behind using a double edged knife is based on a "drasha" from the verse 讜讞专讘 驻讬驻讬讜转 讘讬讚诐. In general, the sharpest knife should be used, so the incision is as quick as possible. Using a double-edged knife is entirely a hashkafic issue, as the rules of bris say anything can be used to excise the foreskin (except a reed which could give the baby a splinter), "but the custom is to use a knife."

TUBE - Metzitzah, the third Talmudic stage of the bris, can be accomplished in a number of ways. The most common methods utilize the power of the mouth, while the less common method uses a sponge or gauze. The most common methods either have the operator putting his mouth directly on the open wound, or have a sterile tube serving as a barrier between baby and mohel. Both of these methods are halakhically "metzitzah b'peh (or b'feh)," while hashkafically, the tubeless method is deemed by purists to be the "only acceptable method." To those who are sterility conscious, the tubeless method is wholly unacceptable - potentially putting baby, and sometimes mohel, at risk of spreading an infectious disease. In this view, metzitzah should be done with a sterile tube.

This post is in response to a recent phone conversation I had with a new father in Florida who personally was interested in the circumcision taking place, but did not particularly care about methods - only results. His parents, however, who hail from a very right-wing Orthodox community in the Northeast, carry every hashkafic notion of bris in a manner that clearly views other methods as unacceptable. As a colleague of mine told me, "If people ask, you let them know that 'hiring me means you get this kind of service, and if you don't want that, hire someone else.'"

Not that I believe for one second that anyone wants any harm to come to a baby. However, a hashkafa that proclaims that achieving circumcision results using methods that don't conform to safety and sterility are IDEAL - when I have heard plenty of stories from people who had very negative consequences (hospital visits, infection, baby on antibiotics post bris) - troubles me personally and deeply.

My method, thank GOD, has a perfect track record in terms of no-infection post-bris. Because everything that needs to be protected is protected, and nothing is exposed to bacteria that could have negative consequences.

I certainly wish everyone well, and hope that everyone hires the right mohel for their purposes, with the best interests of their baby in mind. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Different Type of Busy

I don't know what triggers them specifically, beyond my existence, but every now and then my Facebook page is attacked by anti-circumcision activists, some of whom are respectful, some of whom are curious as to why we do what we do, some of who can not fathom how we don't view Brit Milah as a human-rights violation, and some of whom are vile human beings who spew filth and the most hate-filled language and invective towards me (as a representative of Brit Milah) and our backwards ways.

These latter people, some of whom go so far as calling me a pedophile, get blocked, banned, and their comments deleted. They don't call urologists and gynecologists sexual predators, so their comment in my direction is just disgusting. If no one ever hired me again for a bris, I would never see another foreskin (except on my own newborn son, I suppose) as long as I live. And I certainly have no interest in seeing my work once the healing process has completed and parents aren't asking me questions about it. (Though as long as they ask questions, it's in a professional capacity, and the physician parable remains...)

As for the rest of the people, if they have respectful comments and questions, I am happy to have the dialogue. Perhaps there is merit to trying to explain - in a respectful manner. Even though it takes time, and the conversation almost never convinces anyone of even the merits of our view.

Because the bottom line is this. People who have not bought into a. Judaism, and b. the Covenant (both of which are why we do this), as well as those who do not agree with the idea that parents who bring children into the world are allowed to raise them how they want, they don't accept that Brit Milah (which includes the act of circumcision, but is symbolically much more than a circumcision) isn't a human rights violation. 

They can argue that a child born of a Jewish mother is Jewish even without circumcision. This is certainly true. But try explaining to them the concept of 'karet' and you're viewed as a lunatic (so I don't - not worth it). They certainly don't understand why doing it this way is highly preferred over letting the child decide when he is 18. While I've met some people on FB who are disgruntled, in my personal dealings, everyone is happy their parents took care of it for them when they were babies (as per Torah law - Genesis 17 and Leviticus 12:3), so it's done and taken care of.

To these activitists, pro-circumcision views are irrelevant (not that we need them, because we're doing it anyway), and any perspective other than their own is unacceptable. One woman even said that circumcision is a form of Anti-Semitism (I can't make this stuff up!) 

They don't understand us. Period. One person told me there was a reason why Greeks and Romans outlawed circumcision. And I congratulated him on joining the ranks of the most evil people to ever inhabit this earth, who hated Judaism and (murdered) Jews on account of their being different, and for the acts they did which made them Jewish.

Most Jewish men I encounter give no second thought to their circumcision, and certainly don't obsess over how their lives would be different if they had their foreskin. Many are even proud of their circumcision, and even prouder that they had the opportunity to bring their sons into the mark of the Covenant as well. 

It's been an interesting week. But I look forward to focusing on the important work of bringing our Jewish boys into the mark of the Covenant. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Pulitzer Prize-worthy photo that went viral

The first time I posted a picture that went viral on Facebook was, post-bris, after a mom put a creative Harry-Potter themed onesie on her baby.

This time - overwhelming those numbers - the photo I posted on Friday (2 days ago), has already been seen by over 100,000 people, has been shared over 500 times and has received over 1100 reactions, according to the stats I see through FB.

I did not do this bris - it took place in Israel - but the story is so heartwarming. The great-grandfather held his own brother during WWII, as his brother died. The baby was named for that brother - what a different position to be in! To have held and lost over 70 years ago, and now to hold for life!!!

Here is the post. Am Yisrael Chai!!!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Tefillin at the Bris

Image result for bris photo
I don't know what's going on in this photo, but the person on the right is still wearing his hand tefillin
When davening leads directly into the bris, the baby's father (as well as the Sandak) will often ask me, "Do I leave my tefillin on?"

According to the Sha"kh (Y"D 265:10) "the custom was to not remove tefillin until after the Bris, because tefillin are a sign (讗讜转) and Milah is a sign (讗讜转)."

Yosef Weissberg, in his Otzar HaBris Vol 2, page 250, addresses many of the rules associated with Tefillin in conjunction with a bris. 

* The Sefardic custom in Jerusalem is that the father and the Sandak put on tefillin (or leave them on) for the Bris. If it's after davening, the Mohel leaves them on too. (This assumes the mohel davens with them, which is not always the case. Also, from experience with my first son, I'll note that I took off my hand tefillin, but left my head tefillin on, as the hand tefillin get in the way of doing a good job  - AB)

* In the book 讗讜转 讞讬讬诐 讜砖诇讜诐 (from Munkatch) concurs with my parenthetical comment about the mohel, but felt that the Sandak should keep the tefillin on. 

* There is another viewpoint (recorded by Ateret Tzvi, and reported as practice of Chozeh of Lublin and otehrs) not to keep the tefillin on for the Bris. This is also true for the Yemenite Jews - tefillin are removed. 

* A reason for removing the tefillin follows a similar reasoning for why we don't wear tefillin on Shabbos. Since Shabbos is an 讗讜转, we don't need tefillin that day. Since 诪讬诇讛 is an 讗讜转, we don't need to have another 讗讜转 around at the same time as we are introducing a new 讗讜转. 

* In the book 讻讜专转 讛讘专讬转, he doesn't recommend taking them off. But if one is not wearing tefillin, he should not put them on, as he looks like he's seeking an 讗讜转 when he is already partaking in the marking of a very special 讗讜转. 

* Rabbi Moshe Feinstein argued with the logic of most recent bullet point, because the new 讗讜转 is not on the person wearing the tefillin - it's on the baby! So if the tefillin are on - whether kept on, or put on in honor of the bris - this is not a contradiction. 


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Bris During the Three Weeks

For babies born yesterday and for the coming three weeks, any bris will be during the period which is called "Bein Ha'Mtzarim" in Halakha, or the "three weeks" in English. This period starts on the 17th of Tammuz and ends with Tisha B'Av.

As this is a time of mourning on the Jewish calendar, some rules of the bris experience are a little different than usual.

All of the following is recorded in Yosef Weissberg's bris Otzar HaBris volume 1, pages 289-291, where he has all the footnotes supporting the viewpoints presented.

The Baalei Bris (Father, Sandak, Mohel) may get a haircut in honor of the bris. Some are of the opinion that if the bris is during the week when 9 Av will be taking place, that haircut should be skipped. [In a footnote, he essentially argues that the same rule applies to cutting fingernails]

The Baalei Bris (see above) may wear "Shabbos clothes" to the bris. The woman who brings the baby into the bris - the female half of the Kvatterin - may also wear Shabbos clothes, though the male Kvatter may not.

The wine should be given to children to drink, or to the mother of the baby. But the one who makes the bracha during the bris ceremony should not have, and neither should the Baalei Bris (see above) taste the wine. [Though he doesn't specify, I assume this rule is actually during the 9 days, when the custom is to refrain from wine, except on Shabbos, and not from 17 Tammuz until Rosh Chodesh]

Everyone who is present for the mitzvah and therefore the meal are permitted to eat meat and drink wine as part of the "seudas mitzvah" celebratory meal. The wine used for bentching may also be consumed.

However, during the week in which 9 Av falls, one should limit the size of the guest list to relatives and enough to make a minyan. The exception to this rule is if the bris is on Shabbos - even on Shabbos which is 9 Av (for which the fast will be observed on Sunday) - then everyone can participate.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Another adorable shirt choice

Easily the best shirt I've seen on a baby post bris is the one that went viral on Facebook. 
(Last link is to my blog about it. This one is to the Facebook post)

Last week, a couple with a wonderful way about them (very chilled out), with a shared sense of humor bought the "perfect" shirt for their baby to wear to his bris. And here it is.

I've written about the tasteless kind of humor that some people think belongs at the bris. But I am not against the kind of humor that eases the natural tension in the room, and the kind that is totally appropriate.  This qualifies.
Image may contain: one or more people, stripes, closeup and indoor


And the bris was perfect.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Recent travels

Thank God, some of my recent brisses have taken place out of state. Ever grateful for the traffic from travelingmohel.com and a reputation that is, thank God, growing, these brisses always turn out to be wonderful experiences.  They often include meeting Jews in further-away communities, who are, of course, grateful for the gift of their new baby. But who are also making a go of a Jewish life away from family, and sometimes, away from a mainstream Jewish community.

It's always a marvel how people manage in their own way, their own observance, their own approach to a relationship with God. And how, for all of these people, the question is never "should we do a bris?"

It is always, "Where, and when will the bris take place? And how can we make sure we have a mohel for the proper time?"

Kudos - God bless - and may you raise your children with joy.