Saturday, May 14, 2011

On Creating Standards for Sterility

First an anecdote, then the reason for this posting:

I am big stickler for the use of a "sterile technique" at a bris.

One parent recently commented to me - unprovoked - how much he appreciates my systematic cleanliness and regard for sterility when dealing with the baby. I honestly don't see how things can be done any other way. Unrelated, a friend recently told me that a relative of his called a mohel, who came to visit them after they had brought their baby home. The mohel came in, and picked up the baby to examine him - and much to the dismay of the new mother, he did not wash his hands, ask them if they cared, or even use a hand sanitizer. (The mohel should say "I would like to examine your baby. Where can I wash my hands?")

You can say "they're being ridiculous." But they're not being ridiculous. This is their baby, and they have a right to assume and insist that their baby be handled in a manner with which they are comfortable. They subsequently decided to go with a different mohel. As is their right.

The Inspiration for this posting

A pulpit rabbi told me that he is uncomfortable when mohels come to perform a circumcision in his synagogue, and insist on doing metzitzah with direct oral contact to the baby. The first problem is that many of this rabbi's congregants are not even aware to ask, and were they to know what the mohel is doing, they would surely prefer he use a glass tube.

The second problem is that the mohel is not being completely upfront with the parents. To compare - I make it my business to tell the parents "In addition to my sterilized instruments and bandages, I use sterile drapes and gloves to the point that I am never in contact with your baby directly. Is there anything about the process of the bris you would like to know? Would you like me to show you what the foreskin is?"

Some parents appreciate the honesty and candor, and some are not interested in seeing what the foreskin is, preferring to say, "It's OK. I trust you." I appreciate the trust. And while I understand some people are squeamish, I don't understand why people would not want to know what will be happening to their baby. But that's just me.

Anyway, the rabbi said, "What should I do?"

So here are a few options:

1. The shul can have a few standards that must be followed in order for a bris to take place in the shul itself. For example, the shul can say, "The mohel must wear gloves, must bring all his instruments in autoclaved packages, and must do metzitzah with a glass tube." [The rules can be adjusted for a shul that thinks these standards are unimportant. But new parents should think long and hard about what kinds of rules they prefer to be adhered to in the circumcision of their child.] If parents prefer not to follow these standards, they are welcome to have their bris elsewhere. This is a strict shul policy.

2. The shul can do the research themselves and have a list of "acceptable mohels" they provide for their members - always happy to accept another mohel, of course, provided he abides by the standards the shul has demanded of those on the list.

3. Most importantly, the rabbi might need to have a frank discussion with prospective parents (better when they are expecting than after the baby is born) as to "WHY" these standards are important to us as Jews and as a community. Discuss why these rules benefit the cause of Bris Milah and all the individuals who will be doing brisses for their sons in the future.

IN CONCLUSION

I will not play the role of mohel basher. But I will say that some mohels have their own convictions take prority over the convictions of the people hiring them. It is dishonest and improper to support such behavior. The mohel is hired to give the child a kosher circumcision. He is not hired to bring in all of his own convictions in the realization of those ends. He must respect where the parents of the baby are coming from in their own Jewish experience.

Were you to go to a barber who reveals to you that he achieves the same result with a blowtorch that others achieve with a scissors and comb, you'd probably walk out the door before you allow this barber to touch a single hair on your head. You want the method you trust.

Should we not be as selective and careful when picking a mohel who will circumcise our sons? Just because the results typically look more or less the same does not mean the means to achieve those ends are the same.

2 comments:

  1. Hey buddy, doesn't look good for you when you put down other Mohels to make yourself look better. You shouldn't have to do that. If what you say is true, then let the truth and facts speak for themselves. Losing respect.

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  2. Dear Anonymous
    Thank you for your insight. I chose to publish your comment, even though there is not much respect in being Anonymous and not standing behind your comment. Nonetheless.
    If you actually read the blog postings you'll find that I never mention any mohel by name - unless I am speaking of him positively. And when I "put down" the PRACTICES of other mohels it is because this blog is primarily an educational tool for individuals such as yourself who are either distant or might not use my services any way to be aware of what is out there, and to make *informed decisions* in the quest to find the right mohel for yourself and your baby. [Of course those who choose to use my services are also a target audience.]
    Any mohel who does not engage in the practices I write of in the negative should be quite comfortable in his skin. And any mohel who engages in practices that I feel should be frowned upon should either a. reconsider these practices that could put a baby at harm, or b. have a really good explanation for why he continues to utilize them.
    Too many people have told me horrific stories of their bris experiences with other mohels. They do not have the forum I have, so I share their stories on their behalf because they want others to be aware and to know.
    No one is perfect. But we can do our best to be much closer to as-amazing-as-we-can-be.
    Thanks for reading
    Avi Billet

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