According to the NY Jewish Week, Crown Heights-based mohel Rabbi Israel Heller has an interesting understanding of human disease transmission:
“Our teachers taught us to use our mouths,” said Crown Heights-based mohel Rabbi Israel Heller, who is the official mohel of Methodist Hospital in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
“The saliva cleans wounds. God gave us saliva in our mouth to clean things.”
The rabbi is referring to a procedure known as metzitza b'peh, sucking with the mouth, done immediately after the foreskin and membrane are removed during a circimcision. The mohel literally sucks the blood out of the fresh wound, using his mouth.
But the Jewish Week article – poorly, as almost always, crafted by Debra Nussbaum Cohen – is most interesting for what it leaves out. There are no quotes from any rabbis opposed to metzitza b'peh, even though many rabbis including Moshe Dovid Tendler of Yeshiva University oppose the practice. (Rabbi Tendler has been quoted elsewhere as deeming the practice "medieval medicine.") And, although anti-circumcision forces are mentioned by pro-metzitza b'peh rabbis in the article, there are no quotes from anti-circumcision activists to be found.
Should the government mandate regular blood tests for mohels?
A spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, which represents the interests of the fervently Orthodox, doesn’t think that any new form of oversight is necessary.
“There is a point when the government has a right to step in, when there’s a clear and present threat to the public. Then public policy can override religious rights, but I don’t think that’s what’s before us at this point,” said Rabbi Avi Shafran.
“Word of mouth is the best regulatory system, and the system has worked very well,” he said. “There should be no ban on metzizah b’peh, and no required testing of mohelim.”
The OU's Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb concurs:
"…I am not sure that one isolated case, however tragic, warrants a major change in the system.”
After all, what's a dead kid here or there?
You can read the Jewish Week article here.
A recent study on this issue follows:
Pediatrics. 2004 Aug;114(2):e259-63.
Neonatal genital herpes simplex virus type 1 infection after Jewish ritual circumcision: modern medicine and religious tradition.
Gesundheit B, Grisaru-Soen G, Greenberg D, Levtzion-Korach O, Malkin D, Petric M, Koren G, Tendler MD, Ben-Zeev B, Vardi A, Dagan R, Engelhard D.
Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Unit, Soroka University Medical Center and the Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheva, Israel.
OBJECTIVE: Genital neonatal herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) infection was observed in a series of neonates after traditional Jewish ritual circumcision. The objective of this study was to describe neonate genital HSV-1 infection after ritual circumcision and investigate the association between genital HSV-1 after circumcision and the practice of the traditional circumcision. METHODS: Eight neonates with genital HSV-1 infection after ritual circumcision were identified.
RESULTS: The average Gravatar interval from circumcision to clinical manifestations was 7.25 +/- 2.5 days. In all cases, the traditional circumciser (the mohel) had performed the ancient custom of orally suctioning the blood after cutting the foreskin (oral metzitzah), which is currently practiced by only a minority of mohels. Six infants received intravenous acyclovir therapy. Four infants had recurrent episodes of genital HSV infection, and 1 developed HSV encephalitis with neurologic sequelae. All four mohels tested for HSV antibodies were seropositive.
CONCLUSION: Ritual Jewish circumcision that includes metzitzah
with direct oral-genital contact carries a serious risk for
transmission of HSV from mohels to neonates, which can be complicated
by protracted or severe infection. Oral metzitzah after ritual
circumcision may be hazardous to the neonate.