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Welcome to -  the most comprehensive and up to date mohel blog on the internet . My name is Avi Billet, and I am so ...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

News Monitor: Germany - Anti-Semitic or Uber-Liberal?

[UPDATE: Here is the follow up article to what I blogged about below - the 'Outraged Jews Respond']

The Times of Israel reported today that a German court declared circumcision illegal, barring out of medical necessity.

The article states "The case that prompted the ruling took place in Cologne, when a 4-year-old boy, circumcised by a Muslim doctor, began bleeding two days after the surgery and needed to be brought into the emergency room."

If the "Muslim doctor" is really a physician (as opposed to someone like a mohel who is often not a physician), then saying that he is Muslim is really irrelevant. This was a medical procedure and either the operator (if indeed the physician is at fault), or the patient (who may have clotting issues), or the parents (who did not care for the circumcision wound properly) are at fault. And this is to be chalked up as one of the more uncommon statistics. [The doctor was apparently acquitted in the suit - it was the judges who took the case a step further to outlaw circumcision]

I am not saying circumcision is comparable with cosmetic surgery, but elective surgery often brings the desired results, and sometimes it does not. [I am also not raising the argument of whether parents "have the right" to do this to their children. There are enough voices in the medical community arguing that circumcision is either beneficial, good, or not harmful to make the pro-circumcision side a legitimate opinion.]

The article also says "The recent landmark decision will likely draw the condemnation of Jewish and Muslim communities, although official representatives have refrained from commenting so far, saying they first want to study the reasons given for the judgment." Which, I guess, is reasonable. Certainly more reasonable than the judges taking one case and deciding on national policy.

"... the district court rule[d] that the circumcision was a “severe and irreversible interference into physical integrity.”

Physical integrity? There are literally hundreds of millions of males in the world who are circumcised. None of them have "physical integrity?" What on earth are they talking about?

Smoking causes lung cancer: has smoking been banned?
Tanning salons cause skin cancer: has tanning been banned?
Elective plastic surgery can go horribly awry: has it been banned? (talk about "physical integrity"...)
Earrings? Any piercings? Tattoos? Braces? Cavity fillings? catheters? Ear tubes for ear infections? Cochlear implants?

If you live in a world in which people enjoy freedoms and there is officially religious freedom, then responsible circumcision falls into the category of untouchables. As I have written in my "Bris: Not Barbaric" posting - most circumcised people do not put a moment's thought during the day, during any given week, or much at all during any given year to the fact that they are circumcised. There are many women in the anti-circumcision camp, and there are men as well (circumcised and uncircumcised) who play a role in the anti-circumcision camp. And, in general, I think they have a little too much time on their hands.

But governments and courts should stay out of telling people what they can and cannot do. We're not talking about the amputation of a limb. The removal of the foreskin does not change the way the penis functions. It may remove nerve endings and alter the appearance. But it gets rid of phimosis (which ends of helping many babies finally urinate properly), it makes the cleaning of the penis very easy, it removes the possibility of growing smegma, and, down the road, it significantly lowers the incidence of certain STDs and other penile-related diseases. And, of course, a circumcised male can enjoy intercourse and father a child just fine, all without a foreskin.

It's not for everybody, and that's OK. But to "ban it" as official "law of the land" on account of one incident is uber-liberal thinking. I find it ironic that all the people who claim "God made you this way" are usually the ones who have no concept of God, religion, etc who smear religions, religious individuals, and religious choices. But when God is convenient, they use God to bolster an argument, not appreciating the rights of others to understand God the way religions have taught for centuries and millenia.

To ban circumcision otherwise in the 21st century (which usually stems from anti-religious thinking) - this is a 200-years step backwards into the realm of feudal lords, czarist regimes, and fanatical irrational despots who had nothing better to do than impose their own will on the people, or make a religious life that conflicted with the despot's view into a very very difficult undertaking.

Shame on these judges.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Does the Baby need a Kippah/ yarmulke?

It depends who you ask. Bubby or Grandma will tell you "YES WHAT'S THE QUESTION HOW COULD YOU EVER THINK OTHERWISE?!?!??"

If you ask me, I'll tell you the baby doesn't need it. A head covering of this style is for a person who is saying blessings, who is personally demonstrating or who needs a reminder that God is above him.

As a baby makes no such conscious choice in his demonstrations, and certain isn't giving himself any reminders - and he's not saying any blessings, he does not need a Kippah. 

To compound this point, recall that most kippahs made for babies do not sit on the head without being tied by a string. The string goes around baby's neck. That makes me a lot more nervous than his not having a kippah on his head. 

In conclusion, I don't recommend it for the bris itself. If people want to put it on the baby when he is calm (not having his bris) for photos and the like, you are of course welcome to do so. 

But during the bris when the baby has enough stress to deal without our potchkering over whether his kippah is staying on his head, I vote for NO KIPPAH. (Sorry Bubby)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Not Understanding the Bris

Hat tip to Susanne Goldstone-Rosenhouse who brought this to my attention. The link she shared was here, though I have linked to the video on YouTube below

In this day and age, much credit goes to all Jews who continue Jewish traditions. Those who are entrenched in them and understand the reasons for what we do probably have an easier time with it, while those who are either traditional, less observant, or unaffiliated get credit for maintaining traditions - especially when the connection to what is called the "Mesorah" (heritage) is not as ingrained as it is for those with a Yeshiva education and upbringing.

So this video, coming out of Israel, is - in a sense - not a shock. At the same time, it completely misses the point of what this is all about.

The parents of this baby certainly get the "bad taste of the year" award. But seriously, how dare you not "bring" the baby (as in, carry him) to his bris? The bris is about kedusha - holiness - and while I randomly get emails and facebook notifications from the anti-circumcision wackos who clearly do not understand why we do this - if this is the image of what leads into a bris, I too want no part in it.

We circumcise our sons because we were commanded to by God. Abraham circumcised himself and the people in his household. He circumcised his son Yitzchak, when the baby was 8 days old. He forged a covenant with God which was transmitted to his descendants through this mark in the flesh. And the promises, which have sustained the Jewish people, are enumerated in Genesis 17

At Sinai it became more than a tradition for the Abrahamic family - it became a commandment for the Children of Israel forever (as per the interpretation of where all mitzvot come from, even those seemingly given before Sinai, according to Maimonides).

The "kedusha" (holiness) aspect is why we continue to submit our sons to this, what thousands of pages about bris milah have been written to underscore, and what the bris experience should be all about. And holiness requires reverence, and good taste, and, in the context of a newborn, loving and caring hands.

[As to the question of whether a bris can be done without a kvatter - the answer is Yes. Every aspect of the ceremony we have today, with the exception of the circumcision itself, is a custom that does not make or break the bris. If parents were to want to have the bris done privately, without anyone present but themselves and the mohel, that is fine, and the bris is good.]

ps. The over the top part reminds me of this. But the fireworks and the music (which we thankfully can't hear in the video) takes this to a whole new level.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

News Monitor: Metzitzah Update

This report was just issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

The report includes text and charts and essentially concludes what has been said on this website all along.

Metzitzah with direct oral contact does not always cause an infection. It may even be considered fairly uncommon. But it CAN happen. Babies are at risk of infection with this "ritual."

On the other hand, and while the report does not say this, I will say that metzitzah with an alternative method in which the sterility factor can be controlled and measured will not cause an infection. Ever.

For an objective (albeit lengthy) explanation of why metzitzah is done and the methods some utilize, see here.

For more on Metzitzah, see the Metzitzah Page (linked above)

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Skilled Operator

Many of the people involved in yesterday's bris are medical people. The baby's mother, and both of his grandfathers (to name three). One grandfather was sandak, and the other (the oral surgeon) was standing alongside watching carefully.

Both had very complimentary things to say (full disclosure: they both know me forever and this is the third bris I've done for the family), but my genuine impression was that they were impressed.

The sandak grandfather told me twice how much he enjoyed watching me work.

The "watchful" grandfather told me "I can recognize when a person is good at his craft. There is another mohel, I won't tell you who, who takes too long, has the baby crying too much, and there's too much blood."

It happened that the baby yesterday barely cried, which was unique. However, I appreciate the fact that I can work relatively quickly and that things can go as smoothly as they did yesterday.

It's not always the case - things do sometimes happen - but the smooth and easy days are the ones that are the most enjoyable.