Thursday, February 26, 2015

Latest on circumcision controversy in NYC

THE CONTROVERSY over metzizah b’peh is back in the news, with New York City recently lifting the requirement for the signing of parental consent forms before the procedure, which is mentioned in the Mishnah and Talmud, can be undertaken. The practice is rare today and is controversial because it can transmit disease, notably herpes.The Forward reprints an Haaretz article by Elon Gilad which summarizes the history of the practice and the current situation: How Ancient Circumcision Rite Sparked Modern Schism. Excerpt:
We first encounter the practice in the Mishnah, the first compendium of laws of rabbinic Judaism (c. 200 CE): “We perform all the requirements of circumcision on the Sabbath: We circumcise, uncover, suck, and place a compress with cumin on it” (Sabbath 19b).

The critical word here is the Hebrew word for suck: metzitzah.

In the Talmudic commentary on this passage in the Mishnah (Shabbat 133b), the 4th century rabbi Papa of Babylon writes that failure to perform this suction is dangerous for the baby, and any mohel who neglects to perform the ritual should be fired.

In other words, the rabbis viewed metzitzah as a health measure. Their thesis of medicine and disease was informed by the prevailing theory of the time - Hippocrates’ theory of the four humors, authoritatively expanded upon by the prominent Greek physician Galen in the 2nd century.
Background here and links.