Tag: Brit Milah

My Take On The Metzitza Regulations

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.

A Bris Too Late

Rabbi Adam Mintz of the Lincoln Square Synagogue recently made a questionable statement to the New York Times:

    Rabbi Adam Mintz, who describes his congregation of 900 families at the Lincoln Square Synagogue on the Upper West Side as “modern Orthodox” and is president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said he doesn’t think the world will end if a bris is postponed for the sake of the party. “Any mohel will tell you Sunday is the most popular day, and even among the Orthodox, people are choosing the date that’s most popular,” he said. “We have an in-house caterer, so 90 percent have it at the synagogue and 10 percent have it at home.”

This seems to imply that bris may be postponed until Sunday out of convenience. Dr. Manhattan correctly notes that a bris may only be postponed for health reasons. However, Protocols posts an e-mail sent by R. Mintz clarifying his position:

    I proceeded to explain to her [interviewer Alex Witchell] when we allow for the delay of brises and the fact that the custom has developed, at least in certain circles in America, to be more flexible when rescheduling a delayed bris. Therefore, Sunday is often the day in which these brises take place.

This is an interesting statement by Rabbi Mintz. Most Orthodox Jews would not think of postponing a bris purely for the sake of the part. However, sometimes the baby is sick, and the bris cannot be performed on the eighth day. In such cases, many people are under the impression that once you’re postponing the bris for health reasons, you can delay the bris until Sunday or a more convenient day.
The seemingly flippant presentation, “he doesn’t think the world will end if a bris is postponed for the sake of the party,” is accurate to some extent. There is a special commandment to have the bris on the eighth day. Once that day passes, the baby must still be circumcised as soon as possible – either by the father, or by the court. However, since there is no “official” time limit, people will not distinguish between a bris performed on the tenth day or a bris performed on any given Sunday.
However, this understandable assumption contradicts Jewish law. If a bris has to be delayed for health reasons, it must be preformed as soon as soon as possible. (See Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah 262 :2) The only exception to this rule is that if the earliest time after the eighth day is a Shabbat, the bris is postponed until Sunday.(Rambam Hilkhot Milah 1:9) Time does matter, and a bris should not be delayed any more than it has to be.
Nibling Eli was born with jaundice, and his bris was delayed. Despite the problems coordinating out of state family members, the bris was held in their apartment on the earliest day. And yes, some family members were not able to be there.
Actually, this let to one of the most amusing conversations I had in R. Tendler’s shiur:

    Me: We don’t know when the bris will be yet. It depends on the Bilirubin numbers
    R. Tendler: What are the Bilirubin numbers?
    Me (innocently): Oh, those are the numbers that tell you how much jaundice the kid has.
    It is at this time that I’d like to point out that R. Tendler has a PhD in biology, teaches bio in the college, and lectures extensively on medical ethics.
    R. Tendler: I know what the Billirubin numbers are, I want to know what the Billirubin numbers are.

At any rate, the bris was performed as soon as we had the doctor’s ok, and everyone seems to be doing fine 6 years later.