The Lies Of Rabbi Yisroel Belsky
The rosh yeshiva of Torah Vodaas lies about metzitzah b'peh (MBP), the direct oral-to-bleeding-penis-sucking done by (primarily) haredi mohels immediately after circumcising the penises of little boys.
First, Belsky's lies and outright, unmitigated gall:
In an interview in this week’s Ami Magazine, Rav Yisrael Belsky, rosh yeshivah of Torah Vodaas had sharp words for the opponents of metzitzah b’peh, including Dr. Tom Frieden, formerly health commissioner of New York City and now head of the Centers for Disease Control.
““Where do these people come in and tell mohalim what to do? They don’t have any understanding of this field. I spoke to Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and went through the statistics. The statistics don’t show that there is any problem. But he doesn’t understand this.
“I asked Frieden if it’s true that 80 percent of mohalim have antibodies for herpes and 80 percent of them do metzitzah b’peh. He said yes. I said, ‘According to your statistics, there should be at least 500 cases of herpes. How come there isn’t even one [aside from a previously documented case]? It shows that your statistics are flawed!’ The theories are not developed. They don’t prove anything. So Frieden changed the topic and started talking about something else. He had no response.”
For the rest of the interview, including Rav Belsky’s view on Mayor Bloomberg’s role in the actions against metzitzah b’peh and his suggestions for community involvement, as well as interviews with Romi Cohn, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Rabbi Moshe Duvid Niederman, and many others, pick up this week’s Ami Magazine.
Yisroel Belsky spent months in intensive care in a Brooklyn hospital, hovering near death. His life was saved by doctors who relied on the same science Belsky now dismisses.
That hospitalization only ended a a couple months ago, and one could question Belsky's mental competence. After all, elderly people who become seriously ill often lose a significant amount of mental function.
Of those that do, about half recover what was lost, but it often takes several months of incremental gain.
But the truth is that Belsky doesn't need to have dementia-like symptoms to behave this way. Much of his career during the past decade or two has been filled with bad behavior, from allegedly ordering the kidnapping and beating of a man who refused to give his wife a get (something halakhicly correct when Jewish religious courts, known as beit dins, had legal bailiff powers granted by the state, but not now when they don't), allegedly obstructing justice in at least one child sexual abuse investigation and inciting violence against the victim and his family, and a slew of other behaviors that also should have long ago landed him in prison or driven him from public Jewish life.
Belsky is a thug.
To be fair, I think he believes he's doing the right thing, that he's standing up for God and for the Torah, and that he's doing what others know to be right but lack the courage, the principles, or the position to do.
But he's still wrong, and he's still a thug.
Now his thuggery has shifted to MBP.
Frieden understands the numbers. He understands them far, far better than Belsky ever will. He also has decades of training and experience in public health Belsky completely lacks.
Babies have been maimed by MBP. Babies have died from MBP. Those are facts – facts whose proof far exceed the standard of proof required by halakha.
And while we don't yet have a way to measure this, it appears likely that many more babies have less serious brain injuries from MBP that cause mild to moderate learning disabilities.
The Mishna, which is the primary source for the circumcision procedure, calls for "metzitzah" – suction. It does not say "metzitzah b'peh" – oral suction, which means that other forms of suction can be used.
The Mishna also classifies metzitzah as a health measure and equates it with and lists it with putting cumin powder on the wound – another health measure the Mishna requires.
However, mohels do not use cumin powder today and haven't in a very, very long time.
Because there are better, safer, more effective ways to treat the wound.
You haven't seen demonstrations over this and haredi rabbis like Belsky haven't pontificated on it.
Because "we" – the "authentic" Jewish community and, more particularly, mohels – stopped using cumin powder on our own, with the consent of rabbis and without any outside pressure.
But metzitzah b'peh was first stopped 200 years ago when a wave of infant deaths and illness was linked to it. The Hatam Sofer, one the greatest rabbis of his age and the "founder" of haredi Judaism, allowed the use of a glass tube. The mohels placed the tube over the baby's penis and sucked the glass, similarly to sucking through a straw.
The Hatam Sofer ruling relied in part on the facts, noted above, that the Mishna requires metzitzah – not metzitzah b'peh – and it does so only for health reasons, just like it required cumin powder to be placed on the circumcision wound.
However, later on members of the early Reform Movement and members of the Haskalah, Jewish Enlightenment, wanted to ban metzitzah b'peh outright because it was unhygienic and unseemly.
Haredi rabbis fought against that potential ban, going as far as claiming that the Hatam Sofer's well-known permit to use a glass tube was, in fact, a forgery.
But it isn't.
Many of the rabbis who made the claim clearly knew the claim they were making was false. They knew the Hatam Sofer had permitted use of a glass tube.
But they lied to "protect" the mitzvah of circumcision, which they believed was under attack by the reformers and the doctors, and the haredi rabbis did this even though they knew babies would die as a result.
And that is what Yisroel Belsky is doing now. He's lying to "protect" the mitzvah of circumcision, which has been expanded by haredi rabbis to include metzitzah b'peh against historical and halakhic evidence to the contrary. They oppose using a sterile glass tube for metzitzah because Dr. Thomas Frieden, Mayor Bloomberg, the Centers for Disease Control, the NYC Department of Health and Hygiene, the New York State Department of Health,Rabbi Moshe Dovid Tendler, and the other critics of metzitzah b'peh are not haredim, and because these rabbis, including Belsky, are still fighting anachronistic battles from the early 19th Century today.
And sure as grass is green and snow is cold, as sure the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, babies will be sickened, maimed and even killed because of it.
And the saddest thing may very well be that many haredim will view the illnesses, disabilities and deaths of these innocent children as holy sacrifices made to God, sad but necessary prices to pay to "protect" the mitzvah of circumcision.
But in reality they are offering sacrifices for a mitzvah, metzitzah b'peh, that God did not command, sacrifices that He surely does not desire.