Wednesday, January 30, 2013

O the Irony!

A Hebrew Name for Brooks

Last Sunday I presided over the bris of a baby who had been given the English name Brooks. His parents asked me if I have any recommendations for a Hebrew name, as they noted that one of the baby's grandfather's has the name Baruch.

I immediately thought of one of the great heroes of the Bible, who is actually mentioned in the Haftorah read the Shabbat of the bris - Barak ben Avinoam - ברק! (Judges, Chapters 4-5) I was not yet aware of the family's political leanings, and I told his mother that the name has been around a lot longer than it has been made famous by the current president.

The baby's mother said to me, "O dear God no. My father hates Obama, and that just won't be possible."

So they named him "Berel." Which is ironic, all things considered, because the President was known as Barry for most of his US formative years. Barry, of course, is a very common English diminutive for Berel.

I have met many Israeli "Barak"s – never been unimpressed. One of the great characters in Leon Uris' "Exodus" was named Barak. It's a great name.

Unless you don't like the President. O well.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Interesting Conversation About Clamps

I received a phone call today from Rabbi Yaron Amit. He is an Israeli mohel who maintains a presence in South Florida, who has an organization that provides free bris services to Jews around the world. He told me they do 28 brisses a day.

He called because I wrote a blog post in response to an article which appeared in IsraPost a few years ago in his name. As it turns out, my response was more against the way the article was translated than against the points he made. My original post has been removed - at his request, and in respect of the clarification - but I would like to share the points he made in our conversation, along with my own commentary.

Rabbi Amit's main issue is that brisses done with a clamp are not kosher. He says there is never blood from such circumcisions and that even when there is blood in the procedure it is blood which emanates from handling an open incision, which is different blood than "dam milah" - the blood of circumcision. He also referred to realities that changed for people - which he witnessed - after their circumcisions-by-clamp were corrected, such as a change in parnasah, finding a mate, and general shift in life turning positive - what he refers to as "spiritual benefits" (my translation - we spoke in Hebrew).

He maintains that any bris done by such a method is unacceptable and needs hatafat dam bris. And that a mohel who uses such a device is unfit to be a mohel, and is unfit for anyone to hire as a mohel.

He shared with me stories of surgical corrections that needed to be done to brisses done through this method, as well as horror stories of amputations of the glans that he has witnessed on account of the use of clamps.

I agree with him on almost all points. I have long advised against the use of clamps:
* For halakhic reasons: Rabbinic approval is scant        Mistake #4
* For practical reasons: Danger        Arrogance (here I outline another practice, which the Rabbi agreed should not be done - "Freehand")
* In addition, in the "methods of circumcision" I have described here (for education purposes), I have made it clear that while there are some mohels who opt to use the clamp, this practice has been forbidden by many many great rabbis and poskim


The points in which we might disagree are:
I maintain that according to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, if there is minimal blood at the time of circumcision, the bris is valid b'dieved, as long as there was blood. Rabbi Amit believes there is never blood when a clamp is used, and any blood is not "dam brit" as I explained above. Rabbi Feinstein also makes it clear that the clamp is not to be used (Iggerot Moshe Yoreh Deah 3:99).

I am not a fan of telling thousands of people that their bris is unkosher and needs a touch-up, even if it is "merely" Hatafat Dam. With this Rabbi Amit and I will have to agree to disagree.

CONCLUSION: FIND A MOHEL WHO DOES NOT USE A CLAMP (WHO DOES USE A SHIELD) IF YOU WANT THE SAFEST RESULTS, AND NO HALAKHIC COMPLICATIONS FROM THE BRIS MILAH PROCESS. ASTHETIC RESULTS - IN ALL CASES - ARE DETERMINED BY THE SKILL OF THE MOHEL, IRRESPECTIVE OF THE METHOD. ALL MOHELS ARE HUMAN. ALL HUMANS ARE IMPERFECT. EVERY MOHEL SHOULD DO HIS BEST, AND SHOULD TAKE EVERY NECESSARY PRECAUTION TO ASSURE THE BEST ASTHETIC RESULTS HE CAN.

Rabbi Howard Jachter has penned an article in which he talks about the clamp. I don't believe all the responsa he quotes are being portrayed accurately. I also don't understand what he means when he says "As long as the clamp is used properly." The clamp being used properly happens when the clamping arm is closed. This is what all the rabbis wrote against! The clamp being used "improperly" is when the clamping arm is not utilized. If one is not closing the clamp, why not just use the more traditional shield?

The deleted post (that inspired this one) concluded with these links.
He's YOUR baby, you have a right to choose whom you'll hire.
You have the responsibility to ask all the right questions to every mohel you interview before you settle on the one you want
And you also must take care to know what you are looking for to have the right kind of experience for your needs.  Always remember that the wrong attitude is not to ask.

REMEMBER - IMPORTANT REMINDERS (similar links), as well as THE MISTAKES YOU WANT TO AVOID