Should We End Circumcision As We Know It?
At the end of the day, every couple has to make its own decision, said Rabbi Donni Aaron, head of program designed to train Reform mohels. But, she added, most of the parents she has encountered eventually choose to circumcise their sons, and that trend is unlikely to change any time soon. “If for thousands of years it was clear that the practice was harmful,” she said, “it would have gone away a while ago.”
Without arguing for or against circumcision, and without bringing in the many diseases contracted over the centuries from metzitza b'peh, the oral-to-genital-suction traditionally preformed by the mohel on the bleeding infant immediately after the circumcision cut has been made, or the many children who died or were maimed from infections or loss of blood, I believe the history presented by Rabbi Aaron is incorrect. Here's why:
- Jews at various times in history voluntarily ceased circumcising their sons. One example that comes readily to mind is during the Hellenistic Age, but there were others, as well.
- The ritual itself has dramatically changed. Originally, only a small piece of the foreskin was removed. Later, after Jews tried to reverse their circumcisions through various stretching procedures, the rabbis increased the amount of foreskin taken and also ordered the total removal of the underlying membrane. In other words, today's circumcision is a much more radical procedure than the circumcision of the Torah. (I don't have the source for this readily available so reader beware until I can come up with it.)
The Forward notes the growing number of Jewish ant-circumcision activists and the growing number of Jews who voluntarily do not circumcise their sons. Perhaps, in light of #2 above, it would be wise for some to consider returning to Jewish ritual circumcision as it was practiced before the rabbinically mandated change.
That would still fulfill the biblical commandment and it would eliminate many, but not all, of the complaints of the anti-circumcision activists, especially the fear that circumcision reduces sexual feeling and pleasure for both partners.
UPDATE: 3 metzitza b'peh sources after the jump …
The Hatam Sofer:
I am ever mindful of Hashem’s presence (Psalms 16:8), Pressburg, Evening before Thursday, 20th Shevat [5 ]597 (=1837).
Peace, goodness, long days and years of life to my friend, my student, the Rav etc., R. Eleazar S.G.L. Horowitz, may his light shine, Head of Beit Din in the capital city Vienna.
Your valuable [letter] has reached me. You write correctly that we find no requirement to do meẓiẓah specifically with the mouth. Only the mekubalim require this for they say that Divine judgment is softened through mouth and lips. We do not reckon, however, with the “hidden” when there is even a minute danger. The root ץימor ץצמare the same as i n (Proverbs 30:32): [So] patience under pressure [produces strife] and in Judges (6:38) regarding Gideon: and w rung out the dew from the fleece. Rashi explains these as “squeezing out,” to remove force fully. So also do Radak and R. Ibn Ezra explain, ibid. If so, we need to draw the blood from the distant points by whatever method, and one may trust the experts regarding which method is as effective as drawing with the lips. Furthermore, I declare that even if it had been stated explicitly in the Gemara “Draw with the mouth, ” nevertheless this is not part of what validates the circumcision, it is rather for the purpose of medical danger. If one circumcised and uncovered the corona but did not squeeze out the blood, he has already completed performing the commandment; the child may eat Terumah, and his father may arrange the Pascal sacrifice. It is just that the child remain s in danger until one takes measures to extract the blood from distant points. In the Chapter R. Eliezer de-Milah (Shabbat 134b) R. Pappa deduces similarly that a bandage and cumin are necessary to prevent danger . This applies to meẓizah as well. Now as to the bandage and the cumin—we do not use cumin at all, nor the particular bandage mentioned in the Gemara by Abaya and Rava . Thus we see that since it is only for therapeutic purposes we need not be concerned if doctors devise other methods in their stead . The same applies to meziẓah. Even if the Mishnah had mentioned that meẓizah is performed with the mouth we would still be able to substitute something similar. However, they should exhort the expert doctors to testify truthfully whether the sponge has the same effect as meziẓah with the mouth. More than this, according to my humble opinion, we need not be concerned. May Hashem heal you and strengthen you —in accordance with the wishes of your precious soul and the wishes of your devoted friend who desires your constant well- being.
Moshe ha -Katan Sofer of Frankfort-on- the- Main
Dr. Shlomo Sprecher's article on the medical and halakhic history of metzitza b'peh:
Letters in response to Dr. Sprecher's article:
All three sources are from Hakira: The Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought, vol. 3. (You can subscribe or purchase individual issues, either at a very cost-effective price.)