Off Base On Bris Ritual


Jonathan Mark is way off target in his article “First Amendment Group Joins Bris Fight,” May 10. The author conflates true cases of anti-Orthodox sentiment, like opposition to the Tenafly eruv, with government intervention in a potentially life-threatening non-consensual practice in which an eight-day-old child may be an unwitting victim — metzitzah b’peh (oral suction).

The Talmudic rabbis instituted metzitzah b’peh as a medical practice to protect the child’s health, not as a ritual act. 

The rabbis were moved by their operative and early medical understanding that sucking the blood out of the wound was a preferred hygienic measure — analogous to the ancient practice of “bleeding patients” to remove infection. Today modern medicine knows that MBP is not hygienic, that oral suction is a pathway for transmitting herpes, and that it can even kill.

Mark lays out the charge of anti-Orthodox bias and “deeply held conviction,” while reinforcing the position of those who would sacrifice children in the name of communal cohesion and rabbinic authority run amok.
Opposing infant death and pediatric brain damage is something more than opposing a string running through telephone poles, as in the case of an eruv.

New York City’s rules are justified on the basis of public safety, as
opposed to personal prejudice. For that matter, how do Agudah and Mark feel about polygamy? Should that be permitted practice? After all, unlike oral suction, polygamy involves consenting adults — not newborn infants.
Any Jewish child in yeshiva knows the rabbinic maxim, “safek nefashot lehakel”: in cases of possible life-and-death issue the halakha is always decided leniently to protect life. The greatest of the fervently Orthodox rabbis, the Chasam Sofer, ruled in the 1830s that the suctioning could be done by sponge, rather than mouth, if doctors thought using the mouth was potentially harmful. One would be hard pressed to accuse the Chasam Sofer of Orthodox-baiting.