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Sunday, October 3, 2010

News Out of Israel

In an article today in Israeli newspaper "Yediot Aharonot" (the Hebrew article is available online here, and the English version is available here), a mohel in the northern part of Israel has been put under a cloud on account of "not doing brisses" according to Jewish law. The article does not call into question the individual's piety or intentions, but that as a practitioner who is required to produce a particular end result according to Jewish law, his practices have produced circumcisions that required regular touch-ups.

The cause for the touch-ups: Not removing enough foreskin.

I've blogged about this before: See here and here and here

It is also important to note that as much as cosmetic touch-ups are annoying and no one should ever need to go through them - not baby and not his parents - the good news is that the surgical touch up usually produces excellent cosmetic results. And if I were to have a choice, I would likely prefer the surgeon have something to work with (the extra skin that was not removed) than to have the baby at the mercy of having had too much skin removed.
 (See the part I emphasized in the article below)

Having said that...

As I wrote in this posting about methods of circumcision, the easiest way to avoid this from being a concern is through marking the edge of the foreskin with a surgical marker before beginning the procedure. 

In most cases, it is very easy to determine in advance where the outer edge of the foreskin is. Once it is pulled forward to be excised, however, unless the mohel is 100% confident in the manner in which he grabs hold of the foreskin, the chances of his overestimating or underestimating, also known as taking off too much or too little, are increased exponentially. The super expert mohel will usually be fine. The cautious mohel will take off less skin, while the mohel who cares more about himself than about the baby might take off too much skin, completely denuding the shaft of its original lining, and making the cosmetic result to the non-discerning eye beautiful but to the discerning eye one long circumcision scar.


It is a simple step. Take a marker, mark the foreskin, make sure to follow it, and may no babies who undergo a bris ever require cosmetic touchups again on account of a mohel's inefficiency.

I include the text of the article from YNet, in case the link becomes inactive one day:

Hundreds in north may undergo circumcision corrections

Chief Rabbinate to hold hearing on rabbi from Haifa area suspected of not removing entire foreskin during brit ceremony. Following discovery, dozens of concerned parents contact experts to check if their children's circumcision was performed thoroughly. No concern for medical complications

Kobi Nahshoni

Israel's Chief Rabbinate suspects that a mohel (ritual circumciser) from the north performed hundreds of circumcisions in recent years that did not comply with Jewish Law. Some of the children circumcised by the rabbi have already undergone surgery to correct the brit, thus rendering it kosher. There is significant concern that others will be forced to undergo a similar procedure.

Ynet learned that the mohel oversight committee instructed the rabbi not to conduct additional circumcisions until the Rabbinate's hearing on his case, expected to be held this week, is completed.

According to the item published on, suspicions were aroused after a number of senior rabbis from the Haifa area were present at a brit milah performed by L. – a rabbi affiliated with the local Chabad – were surprised to find out that he did not remove the foreskin around the penis, as is required by halacha. The guest rabbis notified the Chief Rabbinate, and word spread throughout the community.

Following these revelations, dozens of concerned parents contacted expert mohels to examine their children's circumcision. A number of circumcised children even had to undergo a surgical procedure under full anesthesia to correct the botched circumcision. Each such surgical procedure costs thousands of shekels.

The said mohel is well-known and performs hundreds of circumcisions a year. Estimates are that the scandal will likely have implications for thousands of children. For instance, the Chief Rabbinate may decide to summon the circumcised children for an examination whether the circumcisions meet kosher standards.

However, it is important to note that there is no concern of medical complications. The issue is a purely halachic and aesthetic one.  (Emphasis added by A.B.)

Rabbi Moshe Weisberg, a member of the inter-ministerial committee of the Health Ministry and Religious Affairs ministry for oversight and training of mohels, told Ynet that he does not remember any such instance. "It can happen to anyone because no one is an angel, even if he is a mohel or a doctor," he explained. "But on such a scale? This is already in the realm of the abnormal."

Weisberg added that a number of worried parents have already contacted him on the matter. In most cases, he ruled that though their sons' organ may look "weird," by his definition, it can be ruled retrospectively that the brit milah was kosher. However, in some cases, he recommended that the corrective surgery procedure be performed.

"If it were my son, I wouldn't think twice," he said. Other mohels and doctors from the north have also performed the "corrections" on a number of children.

'Brit milah must be done performed in entirety'

N., a haredi parent of a three-year-old circumcised by L., told Ynet of the sense of panic and subsequent meeting with Rabbi Weisberg. "He is known as one of the foremost experts in our community. When he removed my child's pants he just said, 'Oy, oy, oy.' My heart sank. I almost breathed my last breath. Fortunately for us, it was okay in the end, and he said we don't need a correction."

N. said that he specifically chose L. to perform the brit milah because he heard that babies don't cry when he does the procedure. Now, three years later, he understands why.

"Whenever I bathed the children, I saw there was something weird with him, but I didn't make a big deal about it," he added. "I told myself it could just be a difference between one child and the next. Only when my wife told me about the Rabbinate's investigation did the other shoe drop."

Despite this, N. emphasized that the said mohel is "a God-fearing adherent," and that the botch, if there was one, was done innocently.

Head of the Chief Rabbinate's brit milah department Rabbi Moshe Morsiano told Ynet, "There is no medical damage, but it is a halachic matter. Circumcision is a commandment and must be done in its entirety. There is concern here that this was not the case. This is a serious, well-known, and highly regarded man who apparently made a mistake."

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