Thursday, July 11, 2013

Maimonides on the Reasons for Circumcising II

This is not as much a blog post as it is an attempt at providing a source which has been misused, mistreated, misunderstood, etc. by people looking to sling bris milah under the bridge, and to bury it in mud. 

The previous blog post says all we need to know about Maimonides' view of circumcision. 

This excerpt includes a couple of paragraphs from Maimonides's introductions to "The Guide to the Perplexed" as well as the entirety of the passage which includes to oft-quoted segment in which Maimonides describes what the loss of the foreskin does to a man. 

Of course, as the entire book was written systematically, it is imperative that the paragraph in question NOT be read alone and out of context. It MUST be read in the context of the section being presented here: 3:49 of The Guide - interestingly, this section is entitled "Marriage Laws." 

Maimonides warned in his Introduction that he is talking to the religious person, and to the, in some cases, one intelligent person amongst ten thousand fools. Translation: Not everyone who reads The Guide will understand it. And people who misunderstand it (or who take it out of context) might be included in the group of ten thousand. 

The point of sharing this is simply to be intellectually honest. People who read what they want, and become Maimonideans for an out-of-context quote are not intellectually honest. You can't pick and choose. At least an attempt at consistency is warranted. And to use Maimoindes to bolster your argument, you MUST ALSO KNOW WHAT HE IS TALKING ABOUT, and understand the point he is trying to make, in its totality. What Maimonides says about circumcision is to benefit marriages. And he was preaching to the choir. So, once again, if you don't like circumcision in general, please vent your frustrations elsewhere. 

 All the translations here come from the Friedlander translation, which is available online over here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp003.htm 

 Anything in bold or italicized from here on is my emphasis. With the exception of a very rare comment here and there, the rest of this very lengthy treatise is Maimonides' words (translated) 

Maimonides on the Reasons For Circumcising

There is one reason why we circumcise our sons: Because it is a mitzvah in the Torah.

We don't do it because Abraham did it. He certainly set a precedent and we follow his example. But
as the Rambam (Maimonides) explains in his commentary to the Mishnah Hullin at the end of Chapter 7, EVERY MITZVAH STEMS FROM WHAT MOSES TAUGHT AT SINAI BASED ON GOD'S COMMAND.
פירוש המשנה לרמב"ם מסכת חולין פרק ז 
[ו] לדעת ר' יהודה האוכל כזית מגיד הנשה של בהמה טמאה חייב שתי מלקיות משום בהמה טמאה ומשום גיד הנשה. ואין הלכה כר' יהודה. ושים לבך לכלל הגדול הזה המובא במשנה זו והוא אמרם מסיני נאסר, והוא, שאתה צריך לדעת שכל מה שאנו נזהרים ממנו או עושים אותו היום אין אנו עושים זאת אלא מפני צווי ה' על ידי משה, לא מפני שה' צוה בכך לנביאים שקדמוהו, דוגמא לכך, אין אנו אוכלים אבר מן החי לא מפני שה' אסר על בני נח אבר מן החי, אלא מפני שמשה אסר עלינו אבר מן החי במה שנצטווה בסיני שישאר אבר מן החי אסור. וכן אין אנו מלים בגלל שאברהם מל את עצמו ואנשי ביתו, אלא מפני שה' צונו על ידי משה להמול כמו שמל אברהם עליו השלום, וכן גיד הנשה אין אנו נמשכים בו אחרי אסור יעקב אבינו אלא צווי משה רבינו, הלא תראה אמרם שש מאות ושלש עשרה מצות נאמרו לו למשה בסיני, וכל אלה מכלל המצות. 

Translation of the two bolded statements:
"You must know that everything we are careful about or do today, we only do it because of a commandment of God [delivered] through the hand of Moshe."
"And we do not circumcise because Abraham circumcised himself and the men of his household. But because God commanded us, through Moshe's hand, to circumcise, just as Avraham, Peace upon him, circumcised..."

So Maimonides makes it quite clear that we have a mitzvah to circumcise. And that the only reason we do so is because of the mitzvah.  

This is an important set up to the next posting, which will specifically target the Jews who are anti-circumcision, who like to take a quote of Maimonides out of context to argue why we should not circumcise.

They do not listen to anything else Maimonides says. They don't read Maimonides at all. And they don't understand what Maimonides writes. But they champion him as the anti-circumcision advocate because of something he wrote, when applying such a moniker to him could not be any further from the truth - stay tuned... for part II

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Looks Swell - Doesn't it?

In the "milah" (circumcision) component of the Bris Milah, the intent is to remove the foreskin and the underlying mucosal membrane from atop the glans.

No two circumcisions turn out exactly alike. In some cases more foreskin is removed, in some cases less. In some cases more membrane is removed, in some cases less. The angle of the incision as well as the amount of membrane removed (or left behind) will determine what the final look will be once all is healed.

Which brings us to the swelling. If the membrane and the frenulum didn't swell after the bris, most circumcisions would look awesome immediately. Alas, there is sometimes swelling. And depending on the degree of swelling, things might not look as nice as we want them to for perhaps even a few weeks.

I don't put pictures of this nature in my website, because I don't take pictures of before and after. Nor would I post them anyway. But I found this pdf file online that has pictures (on page 16) of the few days process (between 2-3 days to 2-3 weeks) of post-circ swelling. Hopefully it does not get more extreme than this.


Some of my colleagues suggest waiting three months before getting all excited. 

But then you run into the Chubby Baby Syndrome and the Fusion Challenge

Swelling isn't swell, but at least it doesn't last forever.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Born Without a Foreskin - Anything Done Differently?

The male organ develops differently for every (male) child in utero. In some cases it even develops without a foreskin, or with barely any foreskin - it develops in a manner that is described in Halakhic works as either "Mahul" (a fully circumcised look) or "Chatzi Mahul" (a partially circumcised look).

I have seen this a handful of times in my fifteen years in the business. The procedure for removing the "partial foreskin" is obviously quite different than a run of the mill circumcision - for what I hope are obvious reasons.

When there is a partial foreskin, the circumcision "cleans up" the extra skin that is preventing the circumcised look. While not a full circumcision, it is nonetheless a surgical procedure and should be treated the same way a circumcision is, insofar as that if the baby is ill, we would delay the bris 7 days until he is completely healthy.

But when there is no foreskin at all, and the child only needs "Hatafat Dam," which is a (mostly symbolic) minimal drawing of blood, will the same rule of waiting apply?

Here is from "Bris Avos" - same chapter (see previous blog post), paragraph 4.

In the Responsa "She'eilat Shalom" the question was asked whether a child born without a developed foreskin ("Mahul") [who cannot be circumcised, but would need "hatafat dam"] can have the hatafat dam on the 8th day if he became ill. [Hatafat Dam is a ritual which does not require follow up medical care]. The answer he gave is that it is not only forbidden to do anything to him while he is ill, but one would need to wait the same requisite 7 days after he is healed in order to do the Hatafat Dam, just as one would wait the requisite seven days before doing a full circumcision.

Amazing chiddush! I would have thought since Hatafat Dam is really "no big deal" it wouldn't matter, and it could be done right away. But he says it is treated like a regular Bris Milah, and the requisite seven day waiting period would apply were the baby to become ill before the eighth day of his life.