Friday, October 7, 2016

Holiday Season

This time of year always brings with it frantic calls from people whose timing has them needing to schedule a bris on a holiday.

I got a couple of calls for Rosh Hashana bris.
I'm doing a bris on Erev Yom Kippur (YK Eve).

And I am sure that come this Monday and Tuesday I will get calls seeking my availability for the holiday of Sukkot.

Alas, unless you come to me for the holiday (and you are always welcome!) I serve as a pulpit rabbi and cannot leave for the holiday. :(

Wishing everyone well, Shana Tova, and a year of healthy babies!!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Bedside Manner Mohel

After my post-bris visit (which SHOULD BE a given with every mohel, but is not), I spent about 20 minutes talking to the baby's father, who gave me the whole history of how they found me. [a.k.a. "best kept secret in Florida" - flatterer]

There are a few mohels who have been in Florida for a very long time, such that "everyone" in certain circles uses them. In fact, before calling me, this couple called my friend Rabbi Howie Seif (the Knife), who was unable to serve because he was leaving town, but he gave them my name.

I do the same for him when I get calls when I am away.

But even Rabbi Seif wasn't the first mohel they lined up. All of their friends use a certain mohel, about whom they heard - from those very same friends - that his bedside manner is not what they need. Breaking the mold of just calling the guy everyone hires, they called around, got a few names, did their research and eventually got confirmation from a friend about me.

The phone calls: Baby's grandfather called. We spoke. Heavy focus on bedside manner being important.
Then the baby's father spoke. Again, assurances that the kind of bedside manner they'd be getting is what they are looking for.

And after the fact, after I spend 1/2 hour in their home the day before the bris, plenty of time at the bris (in minutes before and after) explaining what will happen, what did happen, and of course in caring for the baby, as well as another visit to their home to see the baby a few hours after the bris (to remove his bandage and make sure all was well), the father of the baby told me, "You were just what we needed."

I wish for all parents of a boy to have a similar experience as this one. Many mohels have a wonderful bedside manner, and give the time to the parents and explain everything, and address their concerns. 

Some, obviously, do not. Which is unfortunate. 

The bris is a holy act, a defining experience of the Jewish people for close to 4,000 years - in fact, the OLDEST TRADITION WE HAVE. Of course it should be joyous, of course it should be celebrated properly, and of course it is something we should be proud of and we should never need to defend it.

But for the parents of the baby, there is a natural tension and unease. Because the baby is, after all, undergoing surgery, and we want that to go well, and for the baby to be in a good place as far as his healing is going, as quickly as possible after the bris. And the parents sometimes need to be coddled through the experience, because as much as we want to do it, it doesn't make the experience an easy one.

Enter the Bedside Manner Mohel. And all will be OK!!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Twins again - and French origin

Judging by most of the population's proclivity for having children in single doses, multiple births are not very common. Of course, with IVF and other fertility advancements, multiples have probably become more common these days - nonetheless, most people have one baby at a time.

In the last few years I've presided over brisses of twins around 10 times (with a few additional situations where one of the twins was a girl - so it was only one bris).

In two cases (two separate sets of twins) the parents were living in the US but had relatively recently moved here from France - can't get into all the reasons why, though I'm sure that one reason is obvious to everyone. 

What's up with French Jews having twins? :)

It is most fun for me for two reasons as well. My last name is a European word which means "ticket" - and it is so French of a word that these lovely families feel an additional connection with me owing to my French origins, beyond our being Jewish. (FTR, I know of no Billets from France, and I speak as much French as Huckleberry Finn)

The second reason is harder to explain, but it is 100% true. While I speak a decent Hebrew and with an undistinctly American accent (living in Israel for a year as a kid helped me fashion my own version of an Israeli accent - though my vocabulary limitations are a dead giveaway), every time I'm in Israel and find myself in Jerusalem, whether in conversation with a vendor or when either asking for or giving directions to someone, I'm inevitably asked "Ata Tzorfati?" (Are you French?) Maybe it's a complexion thing, or maybe it's a style of Hebrew-speak, but it has happened so many times I don't even wonder what it's all about anymore.

Anyway - point is, there is a connection beyond words that exists between me and French Jewry. And I am always honored to be the mohel for the twins - and even enjoy the occasional single bris that life brings my way. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

How I explain what happens in a bris

Letting the cat out of the bag here will take away a little of the entertainment factor from those who will hear this shpiel in the future, but I imagine that this, like all blog posts, will eventually get lost in the blogosphere.

For the record, I've described how things look after the bris here and here and here, and I've even offered a link to a medical website that shows textbook images (computer generated, not photos) of a pre-circumcised and post-circumcised penis.

In the moments before or especially AFTER the bris, I like to explain to parents what has happened to their son.

Then I pull out my model, the one I "carry with me always" - and here it is:

Imagine my fist being hidden by the cuff of my sleeve (if you look carefully, you can detect it below the cuff). Now: CUFF = FORESKIN.  FIST = GLANS (head of the penis)

In the act of circumcision, the foreskin (imagine the entire cuff) is grabbed and excised, leaving the glans to emerge from the incision-spot, to be completely exposed and not covered by the shaft-skin, (or the shirt below the cuff.)

Watch as it emerges.
The tip emerges

It takes a second or two.
Almost completely out

And then we are free and clear!

You didn't really think I was going to cut the cuff of my shirt just for a demonstration, did you?

It is important to note that the fist (GLANS) is free and clear of any skin so that nothing will heal attached to it. Anything attached to the glans makes the bris "unkosher" and needing a repair.

It is important to also know that below the foreskin is a membrane that we aim to remove during the circumcision as well. Sometimes it comes off during the circumcision, sometimes it needs to be torn and folded back, and sometimes it needs to be excised afterwards - using hemostat and scissors.

One of the things I do is use a marker to help guide the incision so that the skin that should remain on the shaft remains, and we avoid having a significant amount of extra skin removed.

In other words - this should be avoided:

We want the glans to be revealed, but we don't need to reveal the lower layer of the shaft..

Now that I've given away my secret, what will I do for fun in explaining this stuff? Maybe not everyone will read this blog post. There is hope!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Twins - With A Twist

Yesterday I did a bris (double bris, really) for twins. Their parents have been married for 8 years (I think) and have gone public about their infertility and the herculean efforts they went through to get to this stage.

The story is explained in the video that is included here. Suffice it to say, they made the video to inspire others to see that miracles can happen in this day and age, and that having friends and family who love you can make all the difference.

And the brisses for the boys serve as a testament to the direction they're headed in the raising of THEIR SONS.

Here is how it went down on Facebook.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Topical Analgesics

I am not recommending this product. The picture is here to make this blog post more exciting
For those who want to numb the foreskin prior to the procedure, I recommend you speak with your pediatrician about what options there are, and getting a prescription for a topical analgesic.

Easily the most popular namebrand topical analgesic on the market today is EMLA cream.
Image result for EMLA cream
This is EMLA cream - probably the 5% stuff recommended in the 2nd article linked below

There are studies about other topicals used for circumcision. Of course, understand that all of these studies are done in hospitals where the circumcision procedure is typically considerably longer than a traditional bris. In these case-studies, the baby is "under the knife" or the circumcision instruments and implements for much longer.

The following options are for those who have a compounder nearby - or if your doctor has a prescription idea that sounds like something described below.

The first article I became aware of - saying a 30% lidocaine (with 70% acid-mantle base cream) if efficacious and does not have significant absorption of lidocaine in the body:

The second article notes the previous one, but suggests that a 5% lidocaine-prilocaine cream is even better:

See also this:
This one raises other options which include injections. Injections might be the most effective, but remember that no child likes shots, especially not in his penis, and that shots hurt when administered, and have the possibility of hurting later as well.

For those who want something to numb the area, I recommend topical creams as described above. The cream needs to be put on for at least 20 minutes before the procedure (though the longer it is on the more effective it is), and wrapped in place with a piece of plastic-wrap so it doesn't rub off in the diaper.

For those who opt not to do this, your baby, like millions before him through the generations, will be fine.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tzitz Eliezer's Objections to Clamps

Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg outlines very clearly his objections in one of his responsa. (Tzitz eliezer, 8:29)

A.  The mohel deceives the parents as they are hiring him to cut the foreskin with a knife as has been the custom. In fact, when the clamp is applied, the crushed skin becomes dead and limp such that, if left alone, it would fall off by itself (much like the stump of the umbilical cord of a newborn). He is therefore not cutting living tissue.
B.   There is no priah done when a clamp is applied.*
C.   There is no bleeding when a clamp kills the living tissue of a foreskin.
D.  When there is no bleeding, there is no possibility of doing metzitzah, another important component of the bris procedure.
E.  The blessings which are recited on this entire procedure are invalid because the procedure is invalid – therefore the blessings are considered brakhot levatala, blessings made in vain, a serious offense. (as per the 3rd of the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:7)
F.   There is no excuse for the excessive pain inflicted upon the child through the crushing mechanism of the clamp. He quotes a renowned doctor’s comments about the trauma such a piercing pain can inflict upon a child, and the possibility of the child going into cardiac arrest.
G.  Regarding the approbation which was granted by the late Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog over the use of the device, Rabbi Waldenberg records rabbi Herzog’s anger over being deceived by people who had described the clamp and its outcome. His glowing recommendation of its use was based on hearsay descriptions, and not personally witnessing the device in use. He subsequently retracted any former support of the device.
H.  Similarly, Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank had approved of the device until he actually saw it in action. After witnessing a bris performed with a clamp, he reportedly said, “This is not the circumcision which God commanded us to perform,” and proceeded to withdraw all his support for the clamp’s use.
I.    Rabbi Waldenberg concludes his comments with a charge to the community to see the clamp is eradicated from our midst and that a father should be strongly encouraged to avoid using a mohel who will use this device on his son.
(J.) Finally, in a later response, he claims that a mohel who uses this device on the Sabbath is in complete violation of desecrating the Sabbath (Chillul Shabbat). (Tzitz Eliezer 19:68)

* This argument is called to question by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe Y”D 1:155, who points out that any mohel might be skilled enough to do priah in the same moment as the milah. No one questions the validity of the bris if the mohel happens to remove the priah membrane along with the foreskin. He derives from a passage in the Talmud Yerushalmi Shabbat 17, Column 2, Chapter 19, Halakha 6 that there were mohels who were skilled in removing the priah membrane along with the foreskin, so much so that they were called to task if they had to go back and do priah after the milah because it was so accepted that the milah and priah would take place simultaneously, minimizing the invasiveness of the circumcision on the baby.  

Of Clamps and Circumcision Bleeding

I had a conversation today with a mother of the baby who was asking me about the need for blood at the circumcision.

There are a few aspects to how we answer this question:
1. Blood at the bris is significant. There are a number of passages in the Bible and discussions in the Talmud which indicate the importance of blood at a bris. The Covenant with Abraham, and moreso the Covenant with the Israelite nation were all forged over blood. (I've addressed this topic here)

2. A Bloodless Circumcision is not a bris - it would require Hatafat Dam Bris to turn the circumcision into a bris.

3. A bloodless circumcision is usually accomplished through the use of a clamp. Aside from the Halakhic objections to using a clamp (some of which are outlined here - the views of Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, see also a discussion about clamps here), there are potential dangers inherent in using clamps. True, most cases turn out OK. But I'd much rather not run the risk of a potential bad story through exercising the kind of precaution that prevents the kinds of problems clamps could bring about.

Google "lawsuit" and "Mogen Clamp" or "Gomco clamp" or "circumcision clamp" and you'll see what I mean.

We (good mohels) are careful to cause a minimal loss of blood, working quickly and efficiently to bandage and control the wound.

There are ways to cut down on the amount of bleeding, using certain bandages and hemostasis-bringing powders. And, of course, the right kind of pressure. All in all, and in the scheme of things, not a big deal.

Thank God, we (the Jewish people) have been doing this for a very long time, and we have a good track record to show for it.

May it continue to be so, Amen.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Tools of the Trade VIII - GLOVES

Just like the discussion about a MARKER/ Surgical Pen, this one, which would seem obvious, is another example of what places one mohel in the "more responsible than another mohel" category.

To put it simply, in our times, would you EVER be comfortable with a medical practitioner not wearing medical gloves when doing any kind of procedure which involves your bleeding?

I didn't think so.

So why is it that for a bris, people are not careful to ascertain that the mohel is wearing gloves?
YES. There are many mohels who do not use gloves. And just about every excuse they employ for why they don't is really unacceptable.

Sterile gloves come in a box like this.

Inside the box you have individually packaged pairs of gloves that look like this when opened:

I have written about Gloves HERE and HERE. There really is no excuse not to use them. And parents have the responsibility to make sure their mohel does.

Noting the delivery of my last case of gloves - always exciting to get mail

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Tools of the Trade VII - The MARKER

We've been through all the standard items that just about every mohel uses or should use. Now we get into the realm of what makes one mohel demonstrate his being more responsible than another mohel.

The only place which I'll leave open for debate is the Magen shield v. the MOGEN clamp. While I don't recommend the clamp (I don't own one and have never used one) for both safety reasons and halakhic reasons, if the operator using it knows what he is doing, I believe the bris is kosher at least b'dieved (not in the ideal sense, but nonetheless kosher).

HOWEVER, using a surgical pen to mark the edge of the foreskin is what truly makes a mohel a cut above (no pun intended) everyone else.

The foreskin, as everyone likely knows, is very malleable. It is designed to accommodate a significant amount of stretching. As such, when the mohel pulls on it to set it up for circumcision, he can no longer tell where the proper edge of the foreskin is, UNLESS IT HAS BEEN MARKED. Surgeons mark any incision they are going to make. Does a baby deserve any less care in the effort to give him an aesthetically-pleasing circumcision?

So this tool should be in every mohel's arsenal. And every mohel should take the extra minute or two to mark the foreskin, and he should be blessed to follow the mark when circumcising, so the baby can have not just a circumcision, but a nice-looking circumcision. As even as possible all around, with the proper amount of foreskin - not more, not less - being removed, per our sacred Mitzvah.