Several months ago, an infant in New York died from herpes after his brit mila. According to the medical report, there is a possibility that the child contracted the disease because the mohel practiced a ritual called metziza bapeh, an ancient practice of bloodletting whereby the mohel directly sucks blood from the circumcision wound.
Now a New York medical board is recommending that all mohalim who engage in metziza b’peh require parents to sign a waiver which protects them from medical liability.
I want to reassure the more than 65,000 parents who had baby boys this year that their children are not under any greater risk than before. Brit Milah is a safe practice, so long as it is practiced professionally; all licensed mohalim in Israel are supposed to follow strict medical procedures which protect your child.
At the same time, it is difficult to ignore what is going on in the Diaspora and not think about its implications here. At our offices, we often get reports of negligence on the part of mohalim. We have developed a relationship with the Chief Rabbi’s office whereby these complaints can be investigated and dealt with. And yet, when it comes to a basic issue of safety for the child, it appears that the Israeli rabbinate is still unwilling to tell its mohalim: “Stop practicing metziza bapeh.”
Without going into detail, I can report that the rabbinate has recently issued directives to its mohalim regarding the issue of metzitza, but these did not include a statement that demanded that mohalim cease practicing direct metziza.
There is a legitimate debate whether this practice is necessary at all. Even if one sees the necessity of some act of metzitza, the majority of halahic authorities suggest that the minhag can be implemented by using a שפופרת or tube, which completely protects the baby from infection. There is no need to stop Brit Milah. But there is a need to stop direct metzitza.
In this era of infectious diseases, ceasing the practice of direct metziza would also protect the mohalim, who are maximally exposed to infection from the child, should they continue to perform this act in the direct manner.
As an Orthodox rabbi, I completely understand how it is difficult to change practice, and how hesitant the rabbinate is to call upon its mohalim–especially the older ones–to stop doing metziza in a manner that they have become inured to. But it seems to me that the general community has a right and a responsibility to call upon the community of mohalim to stop endangering the lives of our children.
If you are pregnant, or if you know someone who is, make sure that the mohel being used for the brit will only do metziza with a tube. If he refuses, you can visit the ITIM Facebook page, list the name of the mohel, and like the page so that your friends can see.
Together, let’s begin a campaign to stop direct metzitza.