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!
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • 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.