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Ethiopian Baby Dies During Brit Prompting Warning from Officials

Israel’s Health Ministry sent an urgent warning Wednesday to all new immigrants from Ethiopia that ritual circumcisions must be performed only by a qualified, medically trained mohel.

The message, broadcast in Amharic, the language of Ethiopian Jews, followed the death of an 11-week-old infant at a Nahariya hospital Tuesday morning after his father tried to circumcise him with a razor blade at the Shavei Zion absorption center Monday.

The family was. among more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews airlifted. to Israel in Operation Solomon on May 24 and 25.

Their tragedy spotlighted the cultural differences between Ethiopian Jewry’s relatively primitive society and the advanced Western environment of Israel, to which they were exposed literally overnight.

It is reported to be a tradition among many Ethiopian Jews to follow the strict biblical injunction that boys be circumcised by their fathers. Now the Health Ministry is trying to get the message across that the ritual is done by a licensed professional on behalf of the father.

The Ethiopians, most of whom are religiously observant Jews, are being assured that this standard practice in Israel and most Jewish communities around the world is in strict accordance with rabbinical teaching.

The bereaved father, Sahli Halonung, 38, only meant well when he decided to perform the brit milah on his only son, born in Ethiopia just 45 days earlier.

According to Jewish custom, the ritual is performed on the eighth day after birth.

But the tumult of leaving for and arriving in Israel caused Sahli to postpone the circumcision until he and his wife were settled in Shavei Zion.

He removed the foreskin. But the child hemorrhaged, and when he was finally brought to the hospital, it was too late to save him.

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