Israel’s Rabbinate upholds metzitzah b’peh

The Israeli Chief Rabbinate appears to be wading into the battle in Germany over the controversial circumcision rite of metzitzah b’peh — itself part of the larger battle in Germany over circumcision.

Berlin’s Chabad rabbi, Yehudah Teichtal, is circulating an April 22 letter he received from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate that upholds the Jewish legal (halachic) preference that Jewish babies be circumcized with metzitzah b’peh — a ritual in which the blood from the just-circumcised penis is orally sucked from the wound.

The letter follows a lawsuit filed by German anti-circumcision activist Christian Bahls alleging that Teichtal and his wife violated Germany’s law on circumcision when they allowed metzitzah b’peh to be performed at the bris of their son last month. Teichtal has neither confirmed nor denied that metzitzah was performed.

The letter (see Hebrew text below) cites numerous rabbinic opinions, going back to the 12th-century scholar Maimonides, saying that metzitzah b’peh should be performed except in cases where there is a specific danger to the infant or the mohel. The letter also says that while suction via a pipette may be done in cases where infection is possible, direct oral suction by the mohel on the infant’s penis should be performed if no such danger exists.

The letter concludes:

Therefore, the Interministerial Committee for Mohel Supervision of the State of Israel determined that "There are no grounds to halt this practice" [of metzitzah b'peh] unless the mohel has a wound in his mouth or some other type of infectious disease.

Together with this, the committee demands that the mohel obain the family’s consent prior to the execution of metzitzah b’peh.

Though this letter may give Teichtal ammunation in his defense in Germany (prosecuters reportedly are considering whether or not the practice violates German laws that require the highest medical standards be upheld in brises), it seems to have little practical significance.

For one thing, the letter ends on an ambivalent note, suggesting that parents are well within their rights to decline metzitzah b’peh. Clearly, even without metzitzah b’peh, it’s still a kosher circumcision. For another, unlike issues of marriage, divorce and who is a Jew, where the Chief Rabbinate can veto a marriage, there is no practical significance to whether or not the Chief Rabbinate deems a circumcision kosher. A Jew is a Jew, whether he is circumcised or not.

Here’s the text of the letter:

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