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Israel’s Chief Rabbinate backs metzitzah b’peh rite for bris

BERLIN (JTA) — Israel’s Chief Rabbinate issued a letter to Berlin’s Chabad rabbi upholding the importance of a controversial circumcision rite, metzitzah b’peh. 

The Berlin rabbi, Yehudah Teichtal, is the subject of a complaint by anti-circumcision activists for allegedly allowing the rite to be performed last month on his newborn son. The complainants argue that metzitzah b’peh, in which blood is sucked orally from the circumcision wound, violates German laws regulating circumcision. Teichtal has neither confirmed nor denied that metzitzah b’peh was performed at his son’s bris.

Rabbi Moshe Morsiano, chair of the Division of Circumcision for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, said in his letter dated April 22 that there is no justification for avoiding metzitzah b’peh "unless the mohel [ritual circumciser] has a sore in his mouth, or some infectious disease."

The Jewish legal opinion came from Morsiano after the complaint was lodged against Teichtal. Berlin’s state prosecutor is looking into the merits of the complaint.

Germany adopted a new law regulating ritual circumcision last December. The law requires that the procedure be done to the highest possible medical standards.

Metzitzah b’peh has come under fire by many Jewish groups, including Modern Orthodox associations, due to the possible spread of infections that can be fatal to an infant. Opponents recommend the use of a glass pipette in place of direct oral suction.

In New York, at least 11 boys contracted herpes from the practice between 2004 and 2011, according to New York City health officials. Two died from the virus and two others suffered brain damage. Last September, the board of health voted 9-0 to require those performing metzitzah b’peh to obtain signed consent forms from parents.

In his letter, Morsiano concluded that "this committee requires that the mohel obtain the family’s permission before performing this act in the traditional manner."

The Israeli Chief Rabbinate is the latest of several international Orthodox rabbinical organizations to weigh in on the matter. The London-based Conference of European Rabbis issued a statement saying that the use of pipettes is approved under Jewish law and preferable for health reasons. The Central Council of Jews in Germany, the community’s main umbrella group, did the same.

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