Sisterhood Blog

Why My Son Underwent Metzitzah B'Peh

By Frimet Goldberger

  • Print
  • Share Share

The controversial and potentially life-threatening practice of metzitzah b’peh, the oral suctioning of a baby’s circumcision wound by the mohel, is back in the news. As the controversy continues to brew in the secular media, and as Bill de Blasio takes his time coming up with an approach that is “much more effective at protecting the lives of our children,” Hasidic babies the world over are subjected to this dangerous practice each and every day.

But what is the solution? And if there is a solution, is it as simple as a parental consent form?

I don’t believe so. To bring about change in a community that values its customs and traditions, we should focus on educating its leaders. We should not be putting the onus of consent on the parents, who categorically trust their leaders. It simply is not a feasible solution to this health risk.

Close to nine years ago, a middle-aged Hasid and respected mohel put his mouth on my son’s newly circumcised penis. I was home, lying in bed, recovering from a grueling 12-hour labor and subsequent Caesarean section. I was clueless as to what the bris entailed; I only knew that the penis was cut in some shape or form. There was no reason for me to question any further, no reason to believe anything was amiss. Nothing — and I mean nothing — would have deterred my 19-year-old self from absolute trust in the system and its practices. Not even an informed consent form which clearly stated the risks involved. I watched trustingly as my eight-day-old baby was whisked away to shul in my mother’s arms — the same arms that held the other grandsons on the days of their brises, and brought them back safe and sound to their mothers.

Because MBP is believed to be a commandment from God, written in the Mishnah by learned sages, elevated by mystical interpretation, change will not come easily. The precise meaning of this particular Mishnah has been the source of controversy for centuries. The On the Main Line blogger translated this halachic exchange between Rabbi Moses Sofer and his disciple. The rabbi, more commonly known as Chasam Sofer, was a revered leader of ultra-Orthodoxy of the 19th century and his teachings are still widely studied and admired in the Hasidic world today. In the exchange, Chasam Sofer clearly stated his position on MBP: it is unnecessary.

“…I further say that even if it was explicit in the Talmud that the suction is meant to be oral, nevertheless since this is not an integral part of the circumcision, but only adjoined because of a health measure, so if one circumcised and did not suction the blood, he has already performed the commandment, and the baby is permitted to eat terumah [an offering], and the father may make a Passover sacrifice.”

Since bloodletting has given way to modern, safer medicine, many Orthodox rabbis modernized their approach in turn, swapping the oral suction for a sponge or pipette to draw the blood from the wound, as the Mishnah requires. However, the Hasidim and a handful of other ultra-Orthodox factions vying to one-up the Hasidim, have held onto this archaic and dangerous practice.

When customs and traditions take absolute precedence, no enthusiastic mayor with a stack of consent forms will change that. The parents of infants who are circumcised in this manner will overwhelmingly resist signing a consent form if they are not explicitly permitted by their rabbis to do so, or they will sign it paying no heed to the risks. A consent form has no value when the rebbe decries its perceived threats to circumcision from his pulpit, and prohibits the parents from signing it. Furthermore, mohels are venerated and treated as pure and pious. To question a mohel’s health would be unthinkable.

So what is the solution to this? Does the government have the power to influence unimpressionable Hasidic rabbis? Does the government even have a right to interfere, or is this a matter of religious freedom and autonomy? When a child’s life is put in danger, and the parents are willfully consenting to it, what, if anything, can we do about it?

I do not know all the answers, but banning MBP is not one of them. Neither is mandatory consent forms. Only education, and perhaps putting pressure on the leaders, will work.

Photo credit Getty Images


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: metzitzah b'peh, Jewish, Hasidic, Bill de Blasio

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.