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Monday, May 30, 2011

Early Sources For Metzitzah

It's a little odd that this question takes up so much time and discussion in circles related to proper practices related to bris milah. I have mentioned elsewhere that metzitzah, the drawing of blood from the circumcision incision, is traditionally done with the power of the mouth. The debate as to how to do this best boils down to two practical possibilities:

a. Putting the mouth of the mohel, father, or erstwhile motzetz directly on the fresh wound
b. Putting a sterile tube (glass or disposable plastic) on the fresh wound

Both are followed by a quick "suction" action. In the former case, the mohel immediately spits out whatever blood enters his mouth.

If you have read any postings of my feelings regarding sterility, you know my feelings that the better method of achieving "metzitzah b'feh" is "method b," which certainly uses the mouth, but does not present any possibility of harm to the baby or the mohel.

Before the sterile glass possibility was introduced, there were those who advocated metzitzah be done with a sponge (what we would now call gauze) without the use of the mouth, due to the obvious problems that could come about from putting a "foreign" mouth directly on an open wound of a newborn.

There are still people who think there is no harm in a mohel putting his mouth on a fresh wound. And if you get lucky every time, I guess you can say there is no harm. But if something goes wrong once on account of this attitude, will you still say there is no harm?

Advocates for the mouth on baby method claim this is the way it's been done forever. Could be. It could also be they're wrong. It could also be that if it was done this way it was because people did not know any better. But we certainly know better now. I recently met an old acquaintance I hadn't seen in over ten years and he mentioned that his family's "practice" is to have metzitzah done with "method a." This young man is a cardiologist now. I asked him, "And how does this jive with your knowledge of medicine?" His answer was not very promising. "It doesn't," he said. "But it's our family's custom to do it this way."


So, in response to those who say the source is ancient, or that "God watches the simple - שומר פתאים ה ," or that "Those who are messengers to do a mitzvah are not harmed" or that "One who fulfills mitzvahs will not know of any bad results - שומר מצוה לא ידע דבר רע," there are two sources I'd like to share with you regarding lists of mitzvahs which are done with the mouth.

1. In Rabbi Yitzchak of Corbeil’s introduction to “Sefer Mitzvot Katan” he categorizes the commandments of the Torah based on the different parts of the body which will fulfill them. Commands 102-151 are to be fulfilled with the mouth. Metzitzah is not listed.  (Due to the length of the list, I am not reproducing the text here)

2. In Yalkut Shimoni Tehillim 723 King David reportedly praises all the parts of his body and the mitzvot he fulfills through them. The mouth and lips are mentioned only with reference to saying prayers and singing praise of God. Any reference to the practices of Bris Milah in this section aways group milah and priah together – with no mention of metzitzah as being part of the mitzvah, let alone metzitzah b’peh!

The male organ is for milah and priah, the knees are for holding a baby as a sandak, so milah and priah can be done.

ילקוט שמעוני תהלים רמז תשכג

כל עצמותי תאמרנה ה' מי כמוך, אמר דוד אע"פ שקלסתיך בכל אלו, עד עכשו איני יודע לקלס פי יספר צדקותיך כי לא ידעתי ספורות. כל עצמותי תאמרנה, אמר דוד אני משבחך בכל אברי ומקיים בהן המצות בראשי אני רופפו וקורא בתפלתי. בשערות ראשי, אני מקיים לא תקיפו פאת ראשכם, ותפלין אני מניח בראשי. בצוארי, עטיפת ציצית. בעיני וראיתם אותו. בפי, תהלת ה' ידבר פי. בשפתי תבענה שפתי תהלה. בזקני ולא תשחית את פאת זקנך. בלשוני, ולשוני תהגה צדקך. בלבי בלבי צפנתי אמרתך. בחזה, הציצית אני משים כנגד הלב כל זמן כל זמן שאני קורא קריאת שמע, שנאמר והיו הדברים האלה על לבבך. מאחרי ומלפני השלכתי שני כנפים של טלית כשאני עומד בתפלה. יד ימנית אני כותב בה ומראה בה טעמי תורה. יד שמאלית, בה אני קושר תפלין של יד, ובה אני אוחז ציצית בזמן קריאת שמע. צפרנים, לעשות בהם פריעה או מליקת העוף או שניהם יחד. ובוהן, להסתכל אור להבדלה. כליותי אף לילות יסרוני כליותי. מעי, ותורתך בתוך מעי. קרבי וכל קרבי את שם קדשו. רגל ימין לחליצה. רגל שמאל קודם לשלש פסיעות אחר התפלה. כרעים, כריעת ברכים בתפלה. הגיד, מצות מילה ופריעה. ברכים, בהן אני עושה סנדיקוס לילדים בשעת מילה ופריעה. לכך נאמר כל עצמותי תאמרנה ה' מי כמוך
I hope these two sources will at least give some form of indication for those who claim that a. metzitzah is a mitzvah (which it clearly is not), and that b. it must be done with the mouth, that the actual mitzvos which utilize the mouth do not include metzitzah as one on their rank.

Somebody once tried to claim that this midrash clearly states that there were three stages of a bris, Milah, Priah and Metzitzah.
במדבר רבה פרשה יא

מי מלן רבי ברכיה תני לה בשם רשב"י משה מוהל ואהרן פורע ויהושע משקה וי"א יהושע מוהל ואהרן פורע ומשה משקה
However, it does not take much to see that Yehoshua (or Moshe in the second version given) would give a drink to those who were circumcised. (It says משקה - to give to drink, and not מוצץ - to draw their blood through suction). Using this as a source for metzitzah is clearly an incorrect reading.

On that note, of course, there is no custom (that I'm aware of) to do metzitzah for an adult circumcision. [I shudder at the thought of such a practice.]

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