Monday, February 07, 2005

Science in the Gemara and Brit Mila

My wife saw it on the CNN ticker, and lots of people have been talking about the mohel in New York who was ordered to stop doing metziza bepeh(sucking blood with the mouth after completion of a circumcision) but did not. There is a question if he transmitted herpes to babies. R. Gil as usual has good sources at Hirhurim. Besides discussing the purely Halachic issues, this is a great example of what I think is wrong with segments of the Jewish spectrum.

To begin, the Gemara is pretty clear(Shabbat 133) that metziza is of medical benefit. Therefore, since it is clear nowadays that metziza has no known medical value(and some risk), it should be easy to say that nowadays we dont have to do it, and in fact, it is assur, because of the additional risk. I looked at Otzar Habris, a book by R. Yosef Dovid Reisberg(with haskama's from R. Feinstein and R.Elyashiv, among others, I refrain from making additional comments on haskama), where he states that metziza should be done by mouth, but it is ok to use a pipette if there is risk. He also has a chapter on metziza in the index, where it is clear that when the risk of metziza was raised(1800's) many poskim said it should not be done, or done with modifications. Only after the reform agreed that it should not be done, did poskim go back and say it should be done. In fact, the Maharam Shick, in his teshuva, says metziza should be done, that there is no risk, and the doctors who say there is risk are lying. It is quite clear that the motive behind his pesak is against the reform. Those who refuse to take the historical and sociological surroundings into account when looking at a pesak obviously miss this fact. Those who cite the Zohar as added evidence for metziza should keep in mind that at most it is a da'at yachid against the rest of the gemara.

So, if you are a thinking Jew, who accepts the validity of science, who is not wedded to the notion that every single bit of science in the Gemara is halacha l'Moshe m'sinai, and is willing to look at the context of pesak, there is no way in the world that you would advocate metziza b'peh in this day and age, knowing what you do.

It is interesting to note that a number of gedolim of the mid 1800's said that metziza bepeh is not neccesary given the risk. This would mean that THEY accepted the science that was being told to them.

Another interesting issue is that of neonatal jaundice. (the halachic specifics were related to me by a friend who is a mohel and a pediatrician, I have not seen the teshuvot myself). The liver produces factors that help the blood clot, and if the liver is not working well, not only will the blood not clot, but chemicals(bilirubin) circulate in the blood that make you look yellow, or jaundiced. This connection between looking yellow and poor clotting was noticed, and blood tests were found to measure the blood level of bilirubin. Early on, poskim accepted certain levels of bilirubin as signs of poor clotting, and brises were postponed until the levels went down. More recently, better testing and specific clotting tests are available, and so those original levels actually are too stringent, and it is safe to do a bris when the bilirubin levels are elevated somewhat. However, some poskim still hold by those originally set levels, because they dont want to go against the poskim of the previous generation. So, you have a situation where earlier poskim listened to science, and now that the science is better, the present poskim wont listen to the new information. You also wind up with people who insist on exposing the baby to the risk of metziza bepeh, but also insist on unnecessarily postponing a bris because of a bilirubin level that we now know is ok, but 75 years ago was felt to be dangerous.

Comments-[ comments.]


Anonymous Aubrey Sandman said...

This is as clear an example of the sexual perversity and cruelty underlying circumcision as you can get.

You belive in God and it would appear that your God is a rather nasty sexual pervert or perhaps more accurataely you, the human practitioners are.

9:06 AM  

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