South African rabbinate to regulate circumcision after rabbi botches bris

Mohel given lifetime ban by religious court due to 2014 incident.

November 30, 2015 19:51
3 minute read.
Newborn baby

Newborn baby [Illustrative]. (photo credit: INIMAGE)


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South Africa’s Jewish community has announced that it will begin regulating the practice of circumcision as a result of an incident in which the tip of a baby’s penis was accidentally cut off.

During the circumcision, which took place last June, an elderly mohel (Hebrew for a ritual circumciser) mistakenly removed the baby’s glans in its entirety rather than merely the foreskin, prompted the community to establish a formal commission of inquiry into how its members perform circumcisions.

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Comprising a retired judge, a urologist and an expert in ritual circumcision, the commission this week recommended the implementation of a special system of accreditation and licensing for all mohelim.

Along these lines, it prescribed the establishment of a committee with the authority “oversee and govern the practice of brit mila [circumcision] in South Africa” and that “all practicing mohelim be required to be registered and accredited and given formal accreditation by the committee in order to practice.”

Accreditation would have to be renewed every two years and take into account factors such as a mohel’s “age, state of health of the mohel and any complaints received… which bear on his competence to continue performing brit mila.”

The committee would also be required to set norms and standards for circumcision “based on Halacha and the highest standards of professionalism, health and safety,” the commission recommended.

“The questioning [of the mohelim] revealed that they perform this sacred duty carefully and compassionately with due regard to health and safety of the babies concerned,” the members of the commission said in a statement.

“We are satisfied after listening to their testimony that there is really no cause for general concern.”

While these comments are significant and explain the fact that the South African Jewish community has a track record of thousands of successful circumcisions, nevertheless its chief rabbi and the Beth Din [rabbinic court] are steadfastly committed to fully implementing all of the recommendations of the commission to improve even further the standards of brit mila in South Africa.”

Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that he will be implementing the commission’s recommendations. He has already implemented its call for a lifetime ban against the mohel whose malpractice triggered their investigation.

Interviewed by phone from South Africa on Monday, Goldstein said that the recommendations are largely a formalization of a preexisting “informal system” and that there will likely be no opposition given the community’s interest in the matter despite the fact that he has no legal enforcement power.

“The community looks up to the Chief Rabbinate and Beit Din as guiding institutions, so I don’t see that there should be any problems with impersonation.

The mohelim also want this.

There is just too much to be gained by cooperation,” he said.

In a statement to the media, Goldstein asserted that “Jewish religious law regards the safety and health of the baby as the top priority of the procedure of circumcision and requires that every possible precaution be taken. This procedure of Jewish circumcision is performed in accordance with a methodology which has stood the test of time and has a longer track record of proven safety than any ot her surgical procedure.”

South African mohelim have “undergone an extensive and rigorous training and apprenticeship in this methodology and have an outstanding record of success over many years” and last year’s incident is the first injury of such severity recorded in more than 175 years, he said.

A year before the South African incident, a similar case was reported in the United States, prompting a lawsuit calling for government oversight of circumcisions.

Reporting on that incident, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette cited the American Academy of Pediatrics as asserting that such injuries are statistically insignificant.

According to that report, the American Board of Ritual Circumcision declined to withdraw its recognition of the mohel in question despite the accident.

Several high profile cases regarding the regulation of circumcision have prompted furious Jewish community reactions in recent years, including a 2013 resolution by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe terming the procedure a “violation of the physical integrity of children.”

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