Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who is a leading Zionist Orthodox rabbi in Israel, gives one of his (in)famous text message halakhic rulings – this time about metzitzah b'peh, the direct mouth-to-bleeding-penis suction done by (mostly) haredi mohels immediately after removing a baby's foreskin. The practice has been linked to deaths of several babies, permanent severe brain damage in several others, serious infection in others, and the very real fear that hundreds of babies have suffered milder forms of brain injury that cause learning disabilities.
The following halakhic ruling is one of several text message sha'alot u' teshuvot, halakhic questions and answers communicated by texting, featured on Rabbi Shlomo Aviner's website this month:
Metzitzah during Brit Milah
Q: Should one perform Metzitzah during a Brit Milah directly with one's mouth or through the aid of a glass tube, since there have been cases of babies becoming infected by the Mohel?
A: It is permissible to do so directly. Only in extremely rare cases do babies become infected, more infrequently than someone being run over by a car while walking on the sidewalk. And we should obviously be concerned that the Mohel remains healthy. Shut Da'at Cohain #140. But it is also permissible to do so with a glass tube. Ibid. #141-142
Shu"t Da'at Cohain is a volume of rabbinic responsa – halakhic questions posed to a rabbi and his answers, (known as teshuvot or responsa) to those questions – written by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine, who died in 1935.
Aviner is wrong about the statistics and wrong about the frequency of disease transmission.
This may be because he has not seen the newer evidence. It could also be because evidence of disease transmission through metzitzah b'peh in Israel is partially occluded because many cases enter the medical system through haredi-controlled hospitals and haredi or Orthodox doctors. And that can mean that cases are mislabeled as something else, not reported, or treated outside the normal medical infrastructure. Israel's Minister of Health, Yaakov Litzman, is a Gerrer hasid and has been known to cook the books in other areas in ways that favor haredi rabbinic leaders but violate Israeli law or the intent of the law.
Aviner should know better.
He should also know that if it is "permissible" to use a sterile glass tube, then metzitzah b'peh done by direct oral to genital contact cannot be an absolute requirement as part of the mitzvah of circumcision.
Therefore, even 'minor' threats to life would be enough to require under halakha, Jewish law, that a glass tube be used instead.
Aviner's ruling could be viewed as an example of a ruling issued to benefit a political cause or other issue rather than for the benefit and protection of the actual individual who has asked the question – or, in this case, for the helpless vulnerable infant who is unable to ask, and whose life Aviner has now put at risk.