Thursday, September 6, 2012

Why I Disagree with the Agudah's Approach

If you are a no-matter-what supporter of the Agudah, there is a good chance you will disagree - that is your right. Should you choose to leave a comment, please take note of my comments policy. I am happy to have a debate. But I can only engage in conversations with people who have real names, who articulate a position without resorting to personal attacks. Thank you - AB

The Agudath Israel penned this letter (url below) to the Mayor of NYC.
If you are unfamiliar with what has been going on, they spell it out in their letter - from their perspective, of course.  

In simple terms, this is the fallout that has come down since the story that came out in the beginning of March 2012 (which can be read about in the Metzitzah page). The NY State Dept of Health is looking to require mohels to have parents sign a waiver that they understand the risks associated with Metzitzah B'Peh - metzitzah being the act of drawing blood from the open circumcision wound, while B'peh means (according to the definition being addressed) with direct oral contact of the mohel's mouth to the wound. If you don't understand why anyone would do this, read this post in its entirety.

I have not yet been able to determine what might be the consequence if this proposed law is not followed (would appreciate any insights! - email me).

But the letter linked to above is disturbing on many levels.


1. Metzitzah B'peh can just as easily be done in a safe manner using a sterile tube/pipette. If metzitzah means drawing through suction, and B'peh means with the mouth, the pipette does this safely and effectively. Saying the Dept of Health is looking to get rid of this form of metzitzah b'peh is ludicrous. It is no different than putting a sterile gauze pad on a wound.

2. The blind adherence to "the view that the practice is an integral part of bris milah" certainly reflects an approach in halakhic literature. But it ignores the context in which that approach was created and affirmed. The concerns that caused the Binyan Zion (most famously) and others to require metzitzah to be done in the way they maintain do not exist any more. In fact, medicine has evolved to such a degree in the last 150 years that the Dept of Health's argument is likely a better halakhic argument than the one given by the Agudah. Babies lives are being put unnecessarily at risk. "V'nishmartem me'od l'nafshoseichem." "Sakanas Nefashos is Docheh hakol." "Even safek pikuach nefesh does not allow unnecessary risks." If Rav Elyashiv, Zichrono Livracha, can write an article (as he did here Kuntres Shaarei Halachos vol. 15  page 30, edited by Rabbi Menashe Klein, 1989) saying that פיקוח נפש and סכנת נפשות allow an alternative method of metzitzah (such as with the sterile pipette) be sought - even the most "Ultra Orthodox" can accept such a ruling.

3. The concern that the Dept of Health might next move on to insisting that mohels use gloves... Shock of shocks! What a horrible thought! Readers of this blog are well aware of where I stand with regard to the importance of sterility. "Many segments of the Jewish community follow a religious tradition that the mohel may not wear gloves when performing the bris." Honestly? You can not write a sentence like this and expect to be taken seriously in the year 2012. But the secret is out! Many of the ultra-Orthodox mohels do not wear gloves when they perform a bris. This should be a concern of every parent who hires a mohel. WOULD YOU HIRE ANY MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL TO DO ANY FORM OF SURGERY ON YOU KNOWING S/HE WILL NOT BE WEARING STERILE GLOVES FOR THE PROCEDURE? Answer: No. That bris milah is immune from such "sterility-scrutiny," not to mention possible infection from less than ideal sterile and hygiene conditions is a kind of logic I fail to grasp.
I state unequivocally: "There is no such religious tradition against the use of gloves. It is made up. It is no more ridiculous than saying 'we do not accept kidney transplants because there is no religious tradition for it.'" There is no religious tradition for any medical innovation because medical innovations are all relatively new. [Even if you'll argue that the "religious tradition" is motivated by the need to do priah with the fingernails, it is possible to do priah with fingernails when using thin sterile gloves!]

4. Comparing the Jewish Mayor of NYC to efforts against circumcision in Europe is hardly appropriate or accurate.

5. Quoting the party line that "there is serious skepticism" about whether the Department of Health even knows what they're talking about and if they really understand HSV-1 and Herpes is a lesson in intellectual dishonesty. I have said over and over how grateful I am that the instances of Metzitzah B'Peh causing infection or death are uncommon. But they are not ZERO.  Suggesting there is no evidence to link metzitzah to these cases is elsewhere called "Being Blinded By Your Own Ideology." Even medical professionals in the Ultra-Orthodox camp, who would never dream of putting a mouth on any open wound in their medical practice, advocate it in this instance arguing that it is beneficial to the baby, there is no link to metzitzah and Herpes from any mohel, and that it is 100% safe with a perfect record for 2000 years. These are medical professionals who are not telling the truth, and whom I would be wary of going to for medical advice.

6. It is arrogant to suggest that the Agudath Israel represents all of Orthodox Jewry. "It gave us exactly one day's notice of its plan to propose a new regulation requiring written consent. It allowed the community no opportunity to review drafts of its statement, brocure or proposed regulation, or to have any meaningful input into the process."

The only part of all this that I agree to is that government should stay out of this. Issue all the warnings you want (as you do on medications, liquor and cigarettes). But don't mandate what people can or cannot do in this regard.

But this can be the Ultra-Orthodox movements chance to make this "your finest hour" (to quote Churchill).

I do not advocate getting rid of metzitzah. I do advocate doing it in a safe and sterile manner - with a sterile pipette. Which is as halakhically approved as the other method, and is more sensible, appealing to everyone, and follows the meaning of "B'peh" (with the mouth) without putting a baby at risk.

Rabbis, leaders, and most importantly parents of newborn boys should follow the advice of Dena Davis as outlined here. This is no longer a religious freedom issue. This is a "safety of babies must be our top priority issue." And from the rabbis to the leaders to every average Joe, that argument should rule the day.

1 comment:

  1. Drinking from the same cup in church, a priest handing a wafer (from an ungloved hand) directly to parishioners tongues are probably not sanitary either. If they are really concerned about health and not just fulfilling their role of "Aisav soneh es Yaacov" they will attack this next. I think they will first go after drinking from the same cup at Jewish weddings. Although personally, while people of the opposite sex marrying one another spreads disease, I am willing to risk it. I would not want to put you out of a job since if they ban this, you might have to become an accountant, r''l.

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