Friday, August 17, 2012

A Metzitzah Appeal - guest posted

A friend forwards a weekly email sent out by Rabbi Dr. Ronnie Hasson. The Rabbi Dr. is a Sephardi, and his perspective here is one all Jews should take heed to and follow. What he advocates is my personal practice (as I have advocated in my postings regarding Metzitzah), and I post it here because his arguments are sound, and, as a doctor, he writes from experience about the things he has seen in cases when metzitzah does not go "as planned."

Share with everyone you know who may be the parents of a baby boy in the future!


Protecting our children
Our children are our most valuable and precious assets.  It is our responsibility as parents to do everything we can to protect them.  This is why we buy car seats,  choose the best doctors for our children’s health, only leave them under the care of responsible adults that we know and trust, etc.  There seems to be one exception to this rule.  When it comes to the Berit Mila, many parents don’t understand how dangerous it can be and that it is a serious medical procedure.  If the child had hypospadias we would look online, do background checks, see what school the doctor went too, etc.   We would do everything to find out exactly what procedure the doctor is planning on performing on our child.  We would ask him to do it in the best hospital with the utmost sterile technique, etc.  Now imagine yourself in the observation room, watching this expert doctor correct your child’s hypospadias.  There are several doctor’s and nurses in the room.  They dress each other meticulously in sterile gowns, with sterile gloves (not just the ordinary gloves used day to day), they clean the area very carefully and have a completely sterile field.  Now imagine in the middle of the procedure the sterile field was compromised.  Someone touched the area with their bare hand, or worse spit on the exact area where the incision was made with their bacteria and virus filled mouth.  Not only would the doctors immediately re-sterilize the field in panic, but you would jump out of your seat and run down to the operating room yourself, that person would certainly lose his job and most likely face criminal charges which might include jail time, etc. 

Yet we still allow this to happen every single day in our own communities.   It is so sad to see rabbis stand by idly, community members and doctors just sit there, when a mohel takes his mouth to the baby’s berit mila site and suck on it and spit because he believes that medieval (otherwise known as mid-evil) medicine is the best medicine.  It is absurd, it is dangerous, it is literally killing Jewish babies and almost no one is doing anything to stop it.  No one except the governments of the places we leave.  With thanks to God, the politicians who we all love to hate, are doing more to save Jewish babies then any rabbi, community leader, or doctor has been doing. 
In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Hashem yehyehu ve’yishmerehu) said: ““There are certain practices that doctors say are not safe and we will not permit those practices to the extent that we can stop them…You don’t have a right to put any child’s life in danger, and this clearly does.” The Dept of health added: “There is no safe way to perform oral suction on any open wound in a newborn. To protect infant health, parents considering ritual Jewish circumcision need to know that circumcision should only be performed under sterile conditions, like any other procedures that create open cuts, whether by mohelim or medical professionals.”

Dov Hikind of course was quick to criticize the mayor for trying to save Jewish lives.  It is understandable, that Jews, and especially Esheknazim, would be very worried when they see governments begin to make policies regarding Jewish ritual and practice.  We have too often in our history seen this as a form of anti-Semitism to ban Jewish practice in the region.   What Dov Hikind failed to notice is that Michael Bloomberg and NYC are not anti-Semitic and are not creating these policies to harass Jews rather to protect them.  If the rabbis and Jewish community leaders did their job and controlled the mohalim from their dangerous and outrageous practices, then the city would have not had to step in.  Bloomberg gave more than ample time and warnings to the rabbis to put a stop to the practice themselves so that the government would not need to step in, but time and time again they refused to do what was necessary to protect our children.  Dov Hikind asked where is the respect for our traditions? I would ask Dov Hikind to show us what tradition he is referring to.  There is absolutely nowhere in our tradition that states that a Mohel needs to put his mouth on the babies berit site.  NOWHERE!! I challenge anyone to find any traditional Jewish source that says so.  There is absolutely no reason why a gauze or a glass pipette can’t be placed as a barrier to protect the baby.  For God’s sake, when we see a man dying in the street, we find a barrier, such as a mask, to place between our mouth and his before performing life saving procedures.  But our most delicate and sensitive newborns, for them we can’t do the same.  It is absurd, it is criminal, it is irresponsible, it is simply murder and it must not be tolerated not one more day.  Reports show that from 2000-2011, there has been at least 1 baby every year that contracted herpes from this procedure, 2 of which died, and many of which suffered with the disease that can be incurable.  At 3-4 babies in Israel are infected every year.

Some Mohalim try to convince parents that it is safe and that they were tested and disease free, blah blah blah.  There is only one correct answer to that – please do not put your mouth directly on my child’s berit mila site or I will call the police. It doesn’t matter how safe the mohel thinks it is, there is simply no reason to do it since no Jewish sources say it must be done without using a barrier, so why not be healthy safe and clean and use it?

Inspired by the push by Bloomberg to protect Jewish babies the Israel Ambulatory Pediatric Association (IAPA) has followed suit and has called for the discontinuation of the practice of metzitza without a barrier. IAPA wants Israel’s Health Ministry to require maternity wards and clinics to advise parents that metzitza b’peh is not necessary. It is one thing to bicker about exactly how much matza you have to eat and what a kezayit really is or if you are allowed to carry in an eruv, it is another thing to use this pilpul and silliness to defend dangerous practices on our children.  There are many articles both in Hebrew and in English written, both in Israel and elsewhere, that prove and show without a shadow of a doubt that there is absolutely no reason in the Jewish tradition to perform Metzitza without a barrier to protect the child.  We can not allow not even one more child to die or worse suffer the devastating herpes encephalitis that I have seen destroy not just the babies’ lives but the lives of the entire family that have to spend the rest of this child’s life watching him suffer with this most horrific preventable disease.  I have also written an article explaining all there is to know on this topic and am happy to forward it to anyone who is interested (email me at parasha@hassonmd.com).  

Next time you are at a berit milah, ask the parents if they spoke to the mohel about this and if he assured them he will use a barrier (or simply avoid the procedure all together).   If they have not do not let the mohel anywhere near the baby till he guarantees that.  According to Jewish Law, even if the parents forgot and now it is the morning of the berit, one should excuse the mohel of his duties if he refuses to use a barrier and I would argue this is the case even if there is no other mohel available and the berit would have to be postponed.  Safek Pikuach Nefesh dohe – a possible risk to life is more important than performing it on the 8th day.  Those who have not worked in a hospital taking care of these children simply do not understand the dangers and the terrible disease this procedure can cause.  I have seen it with my own eyes as have many physicians that take care of these children.  I would suggest that one of the community organizations sets up a task force to call the mohalim and publish which ones are approved that they use a barrier and which ones should not be used so that parents are better informed.  The community should send a representative to every berit milah to supervise and assure that our children’s safety is being protected.  We do this by bringing in police to talk to the community about bike helmets, and pool safety, why not on Berit Mila safety as well. There are many mohalim in Brooklyn and even in the Syrian community that have gotten caught up in the Hasidic nonsense of not using a barrier and it is time we eradicate the practice today. May Hashem protect all our children so that they grow up healthy, but He can’t do it without our help

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