I’ve recently been discussing with SIW the new state policies regulating metzita b’feh for circumcisions. I’m reading this new policy as a pragmatic compromise between the State and the religious institution.
There is obviously a segment of the Jewish population who have been neglecting basic health requirements1 and to protect the general welfare of it’s population, the State understandably wants to take action. One option would be to make the practice of metzitza illegal, but this would be wholly counter-productive. Outlawing metzitza would alienate and antagonize the people whose behavior the State is trying to change. Not only would it be political suicide for whomever would suggest it, but there would likely be a knee-jerk backlash against the state trying to regulate religious practice. In fact I would guess that such an action would lead to more people ignoring the health laws simply out of spite, thus increasing the risk of infections while decreasing the likelihood that such infections would be reported.
On the other hand, the compromise defines mutually acceptable objective standards for metzitza, and in doing so outlines the expectations from both sides. The Rabbis get assurance and security from knowing what the State expects of them (and having input in such definitions), and knowing that given these rules metzitza may continue without futher interference from the government. In return for granting such autonomy, the State can not only expect the Rabbis to follow the mutually approved health code but also to actively assist in enforcing the standards.
From Section III of the Circumcision Protocol:
A. If an infant becomes infected with HSV on or after April 28, 2006 within a compatible incubation period following metzizah b’peh, the NYSDOH will conduct an investigation without prejudging the cause. Such an investigation would include but not be limited to interviewing, reviewing medical records of, and testing the mohel in question and all pertinent caregivers. The mohel in question must stop metzizah b’peh (up to 45 days) until the NYSDOH investigation is completed.
B. So long as each local health department in whose jurisdiction such public health investigation is proceeding agrees to be bound by, without addition to or modification of, any and all provisions of this Circumcision Protocol, community Rabbis are expected to lend their support and cooperation in the event of any such public health investigation.
Quick recap: the Rabbis maintain autonomy and can expect the security to continue the practice and the State now has a legal and social mechanism for pursuing violations.
I’d say everyone wins.
1. And by logical extension the halakhot of pikuach nefesh, but that’s another matter.
Do the protocols lay out any ex ante means for enforcement, or is it all after the fact?
As far as I can tell, the point is ex-post-facto enforcement with the intent of covering themselves in the event of an infection.
So then how is it a “pragmatic compromise” and not just the State covering themselves?
What are the odds that Satmar, etc., is going to play by these rules?
It’s a more effective way of getting health policy implemented. I have no idea if any particular group will be more or less likely to go along with it, but thanks to the Rabbinic approval the State now has greater political leverage to intercede.
I find it amazing that people still desire metzitah bepeh when most halachic authorities feel that it should be done with a tube (cf. Rav Avraham David Niznik, Av Beis Din of Montreal, personal communication).
A date once asked me if I would allow metzitzah b’peh to be done on my son without a tube.
Why can’t we make a Mohel register with the state the same way we make Dr.s teachers and beuticians register with the state, and as requirement for registration they have to get an annual physical–ruling out major diseases ie. herpes, HIV… that way rabbonim can still have thier metizah and the children can still have thier saftey.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that the state can mandate a pipet-and I’m not so sure I would want them to. But can’t the rabbanut as whole agree to stop it? I understand that your average schlub may not get the risks involved, or think that they are acceptable but the rabbanut should.
I have no illusions that the rabbanut is suddnely going to start behaving in a responsible manner, and therefore the state needs to be more proactive.
While registration and an annual checkup are _very_ good ideas, they still don’t solve the problem of enforcement. The factions of Judaism that are still performimng metzitzah b’peh without a tube largely disassociate from the secular government.
While there is an incentive for them to register with, say, the DMV, that’s only because they have to drive on public roads where a cop can pull you over at any moment. Bris milah takes place irregularly, and behind closed doors. There’s no real risk of the cops busting in and asking for the moihel’s license — and they know it.
Rebbe Menachem Mendel Charakovski has started an academy for the proper performance of metzitza b’peh which includes hygiene and safety procedures. The course is six weeks in duration and graduates will be given certification as to their expertise in oral-genital sucking procedures. The course is open to male and female mohelim and I have been advised that student loans are available for prospective participants.