Matzitza B’Peh

On March 4, 2005 Agudath Israel sent a letter to Dr. Tom Frieden, New York City’s Health Commissioner, estimating that in the yeshiva world half of the brisim have been conducted with matzitza b’peh, while the other half have utilized a tube. In Modern Orthodox and even Centrist Orthodox circles, overwhelmingly the brisim have been with a tube.

The statistics cast a certain light on the issue that is now raging in certain Orthodox circles. I am not concerned here at all with what a particular Rabbi or Mohel may have done or said. What I am concerned about are the statements signed by dozens of Roshei Yeshiva and Rabbonim and published in Yated Ne’eman and on public posters denouncing the failure to do matzitza b’peh. The language is nearly violent.

Are we being told that half the brisim in the yeshiva world were not properly conducted? Are the signers of these statements unaware of the fact that, for example, the Breuer’s community does not sanction matzitza b’peh? Isn’t it likely that virtually all the signers have been at brisim where a tube is used? Isn�t it likely that some of the signers served as the sandek or some other important function at brisim where tubes were used?

The issue of safeguards against the transmission of disease is not a trivial matter. Of course, I feel strongly that those who prefer matzitza b’peh should be allowed to go forward without government interference. But we must be cognizant of the reality that there are now powerful viruses that are transmitted through what seems to be quite innocuous contact. When we go into food establishments, we see workers wearing latex gloves. Are they wearing them because they want to help the latex glove industry? In hospitals and medical offices, there is scarcely a procedure anymore without such gloves being worn. Obviously, there are legitimate concerns that have generated changing practices. At the least, we need to be cognizant that those who prefer to use a tube in a bris have good grounds for this preference.

There is a second issue. Forty years ago I wrote an article for Jewish Life (then the publication of the Orthodox Union) called “The New Style of Orthodox Jewry.” This was a landmark article indicating how the Orthodox were breaking away in communal activity from the dominant pattern of the non-Orthodox. If I had to write an article in 2005 on the new style of Orthodox Jewry, I would have to focus on the proclivity for prohibitions, for statements signed by rabbis taking positions that are untenable, for constantly harsh language that is critical of what many and perhaps most Orthodox Jews are doing.

As I have written often, in the great formative years of American Orthodoxy, when we were blessed with true Torah giants, prohibitory statements were rare and they were reserved for major issues. Each day now, we tragically see what we have lost. We tragically see, as Rav Schach, ztl, said in his remarkable hesped for Rav Moshe Feinstein, ztl, the period of the Acharonim has come to an end.

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32 Responses

  1. Edvallace says:

    Mr. Schick,
    While I appreciate your concern for preventing the spread of dangerous diseases, I fear that you may have been misrepresenting/misunderstanding the statements and pronouncenments of the Rabbanim. I don’t believe they stated that if it is not done by mouth, the bris is invalidated. What they were saying [I believe] is that we are not prepared to consider doing it any other way and prefer to stick to OUR tradition. Breuers minhag is fine for them and no one has a problem with it. Their problem was with a certain individual who spoke slanderously of those who practice Metzitzah B’peh and went to the authorities with it. They are defending themselves against this individual who is guilty of speaking very harshly to and of them.

    I believe the fault in this case lies not with the Rabbanim who came out in support of Metzitzah B”peh [although they could probably use a better publicist to soften their language somewhat] but with the instigator who knew fully well what he was doing.

  2. Rabbi Avi Shafran says:

    A clarification on your opening paragraph:

    Agudath Israel�s informal study, based on Orthodox Jewish boys in New York City, was based on a division of Orthodox schools into three categories: Hasidic, Non-Hasidic Hareidi and Modern (and Centrist) Orthodox. On the assumption � admittedly unscientific � that all boys in the first category would have had metzitza bipeh, that all those in the third would not and that the middle category would be split roughly 50/50, a calculation of their groups� respective numbers yields the estimate that metzitza bipeh was used at the brissim of approximately 2/3 of the boys currently enrolled in New York�s Orthodox schools.

  3. menachem pollak says:

    what was ‘strong’ ‘near violence’ in the language? Calling it KODSHEI YISROEL? I think a minhag can be called that. or perhaps its saying that nobody change their minhag? It doesn’t even say that Metzitza bpeh must be done, only that no person should change his minhag due to hte unfounded charges. I must say your post looks far more ‘strong’ and ‘violent’.
    You assume, in charging the signatures of not being cognizant of the dangers, that they didn’t research what they signed. Did you speak to Rav Shlomo Miller before making that charge? Or perhaps R E B Vachtfogel? Or R Noach I Ohlbaum? Maybe Rav E Ginzberg? Or R Malkiel Kotler? Rav Y Belski? Do you know that Rav F. Cohen (who didn’t sign) did alot of research and found that there’s NO DANGER. you may disagree, but why the attack? As for the Achronim, lets just point out that RABBIS YS ELIYSHIV, S VOSNER, N KARELITZ, C KANIYEVSKI, wrote the same. (or stronger).

  4. Menachem Petrushka says:

    Mr./Ms. Edvallace repeats the oft heard statement that the Rabbi in question “Masar” (squealed) on the Mohel. The Rabbi vehemntly denies that he did so.

    Was this fact ever establlished in a Beis Din where both parties had a chance to have their say?

  5. David Brand says:

    Dr. Schick,

    I think that the reason for the strong reaction is simply the notion that the government should stay out of our business, especially as it pertains to matters of religious practice. I know of at least one mohel who utilizes different practices depending on the parents of the baby and their preferences. That is, when dealing with yidden who are not yet frum, he puts on his doctor outfit, dons latex gloves and utilizes a tube for metzitza. Yet, he has also performed metzitza b’peh in certain other brisim. What happened here, at least in terms of the public statements, has been similar to shechita in that those Rabbonim simply want us to retain our religious practices without any governmental interference.

    As to your statement decrying our lack of “true Torah giants”, I would say that there was probably someone who, when the Tana’im passed away, probably said the same thing. There is no doubt that there is yeridas ha’doros. Yet, we still have great and saintly Rabbonim alive today. What purpose is there in saying that our Rabbonim today are not as great as those of 200 or 100 or 50 years ago? While true, it does not give us a heter to simply shrug our shoulders and say that our leaders should be taken less seriously. After all, it’s not just our leaders that suffer from the yerida, we also suffer.

  6. nonchareidi says:

    When did this kanaut start-not recently-Rav Aaron Kotler ZTK”L made an issur against the Synagogue Council Of America-not getting into whether he was right or Rav Soloveitchik was right-but signing am issur against people following their Rebbe bought kanaut to US. R. Elezer Silver ZT’L who was opposed to the Synagogue Council of America refused to sign the issur-because R. Kotler’s students are not belonging anyway-the purpose of the issur was to attack R. Soloveitchiks students.

  7. Michoel says:

    That is complete nonsense. You openly accuse Rav Aharon Kotler of intentiontionaly “attacking” Rav Soloveitchik’s talmidim?! Have you no shame? Rav Aharon was tzadik and baal middos who was very loved by “noncharedim” also. As the gadol hador, or certainly one of the gedolei hador, he felt himself obligated to state his view. Each person can choose to follow him or not. That is their bechira.

  8. Edvallace says:

    Menachem Petrushka,

    I don’t know whether you heard the Shiur of the individual in question but I did and he spoke openly of his protesting the individual’s actions and about how he has been meeting with all kinds of health department officials and others in an attempt to bring them in on the case.

    Yes, he spoke slanderously of a Mohel whom I know personally and can attest to his Tzidkus. I have sent many of my students to him for Brissim and he is professional and does everything within his power to give them a safe and pain-free Bris and never acepts any money from them either. This is not hearsay – I base it on first hand experience.

  9. nonchareidi says:

    Michoel:I referred to R. Aharon Kotler as ZTK”L in my post. I was quoting the reason why R. Eliezer Silver ZT”L refused to sign the issur. I did not know R. Aharon Kotler -I was less than Bar Mitzvah when he was niftar-I was aware of his ptirah. I have heard stories about his middos-one of the best in my mind when he told his driver not to go to an automatic toll lane in order to not take away jobs from toll collectors. So I don’t believe anyone doubts Rav Aharon’s personal integrity, and his belief that he was doing the best for klal Yisrael. I wish I had the knowledge that R. Kotler ZTK”L in his fingernail and I’d be lucky.
    However, I stand by the story of R. E. Silver as an indicative story of how a kanai approach of issurim can leave a sour taste 50 years later. I once told the story of R. Silver to a musmach of the Chafetz Chaim Yeshiva. In my neighborhood there is a “community Adult education-with Rabbis and of non-Orthodox “Rabbis”. This musmach told me he had a similar story-he asked his Rosh Yeshiva should he partake-he was told no-but don’t criticize those who are-they are relying on Rav Soloveitchik’s view.
    Interesting sidebar in the mid 30’s R. Kotler came to the US to raise money for his Yeshiva in Europe. He was asked to speak in YU-he resisted but Rav Henkin convinced him to speak.
    As we humans are not bochen kliyot vlev I do not mean to state that Rav Kotler’s purpose in the issur was to attempt to deligitimize Rav Soloveitchik’s students-but I am stating the effect was that and certainly Rav Silver was aware of that consequence.

  10. nonchareidi says:

    Michoel: I certainly don’t disagree that R. Kotler was certainly one of the gdolei hador and certainly should state his views and I certainly agree with your last two sentences BUT an issur is not the same the same thing as writing a tshuva or even a policy speech.
    I believe it would be beneficial if bans, kol koreis etc were stopped. Express viewpoint shiurim, articles without the exacerbation of “issur” language. Note this is a sore point 50 years later.

  11. History says:

    FWIW, I believe that at Rav Aharon Kotler’s request, Rav Soloveitchik was invited to be the guest speaker at one of the inagural public events for Chinuch Atzmai. I’d suggest that does not appear to be the action one would take if his goal was to delegitimize Rav Solovetchick or attack his students.

  12. menachem pollak says:

    In this case, I haven’t seen ‘issur’ language other than Rabbi MD Tendler stating that its assur to do Metzitza bpeh. Isn’t his language more of the kanai type? Everybody was doing their own thing, some Metzitza bpeh some bkli. The isuur/kanai language came from the students of Rav Soloveitzik. Its seems the blame will always fall upon the ‘ultra-orthodox, regardless of the facts. what a shame.

  13. Michoel says:

    Thanks for clarifying. I agree with you to a point. The thing is, everyone is someone’s kanoi. And usually kanoim come from the right of you but sometines they come from your left also. It is important to be tolerant but to also not over simplify. Good Shabbos.

  14. Tzvi Frank says:

    “The Rabbi vehemntly denies that he did so.
    Was this fact ever establlished in a Beis Din where both parties had a chance to have their say? ”

    You can listen to him yourself on the YU website
    The relevant part is at minute 37:30 until minute 48+- of the shiur……

  15. Yaakov Rosenblatt says:

    Proclamations in Hebrew frequently use language that, when translated to English, sound hostile and extreme. The larger question is: when non-Agudath Israel drafted proclamations are written, is any thought given to how they will sound when translated word for word by people outside our charedi communty, Jews and non-Jews alike? Is it assumed that others will not read it? That it will never be posted on the web? Or is it felt that their opinion of us is inconsequential?

  16. Marvin Schick says:

    Preliminary Response to Comments on My Latest Posting

    1. As I wrote initially, I do not want to get involved in any questions regarding what particular Rabbis may have said or done.

    2. While Avi Shafran�s clarification is not particularly clear, in fact he verifies what I wrote.

    3. Yaakov Rosenblatt makes a crucial point regarding the use of Hebrew when prohibitions are being promulgated. This is an old issue and in a sense, it has been an Achilles heel for religious Jews for many generations.

    4. The point I made regarding the achronim is a repeat of what Rav Schach, ztl, said. Am I wrong in suggesting that the yeshiva world in the United States has suffered enormously since the passing of Rav Moshe, ztl? Do you think that we would get all of these issurim signed by Roshei Yeshiva if he were alive? I doubt it.

    5. There is much evidence that Rav Soloveitchik did not oppose the Synagogue Council ban but refused to sign it because he wasn�t happy with the process.

    6. As for Rabbi Silver, there are strong reasons what I believe he was not asked to sign. All I will say here is that by the late 1950�s he was marginalized and, in a sense, he was a pathetic figure. Perhaps inadvertently, his biography �The Silver Era� makes this point rather forcefully.

    7. I was at the Chinuch Atzmai dinners at which Rav Soloveitchik spoke, clearly at the request of Rav Aharon Kotler. At the first of these, he spoke at length about the great Rosh Yeshiva, comparing him to the Gra, Rav Akiva Eiger and his own grandfather. I was standing directly behind Rav Aharon who while these words of praise were being said pounded the table with his pudgy little fist saying constantly �Das iz nisht emes,� and as he was doing this there were tears streaming down his face.

  17. nonchareidi says:

    Marvin Schick as usual is a pleasure to read. Re: Rav Soloveitchik and the Synagogue Council I found this on the web which I believe is a more accurate reflection of the complexity his viewpoint:

    To be sure, the Rav could not have harbored the slightest sympathy for Jewish religious movements which deviated from halakhic norms. His conception of Judaism was so halakha-centered that he denied any Jewish religious significance to purely subjective attempts to reach out for Transcendence. Moreover, his followers in Boston did not belong to the interdenominational Rabbinical Association or to The Associated Synagogues, a lay body consisting of some Orthodox and a large number of Conservative and Reform congregations. He went so far as to rule that one should not worship in a Conservative synagogue, even when there was no other opportunity to listen to the sounding of the shofar. What prevented the Rav from joining other roshei yeshiva in demanding withdrawal from interdenominational umbrella groups was his fear that leaving organizations in which Orthodoxy had participated for many years would be a divisive move at a time when Jewish unity was so essential. Although ideally he would have preferred that these umbrella groups would not have come into existence, his ideological considerations were subordinated to his overriding concern for the welfare of the Jewish people and the security of the State of Israel. He therefore did not object to the participation of Orthodox organizations in the Synagogue Council of America, as long its functions were limited to representing the total Jewish community to governmental agencies or non-Jewish denominations (kelappei hutz).

    There are some revisionist accounts of the Rav’s attitude to the Synagogue Council. It has been reported that while the Rav opposed the continued membership of Orthodox groups, the Rabbinical Council refused to abide by his instructions. To point out the absurdity of this claim, one need only take into consideration the indisputable fact that as the chairman of its halakha commission, the Rav was the unchallenged halakhic authority of the Rabbinical Council of America.

    Thus, not only did not Rav Soloveitchik refuse to sign the “issur” like R. Eliezer Silver-but unlike R. Elezer Silver was in favor of Orthodox participation in the SCA

  18. Zev says:

    Rabbi Tendler said on the tape that he would be calling the health department about Fisher, and that he had already had two weeks worth of meetings with them. So his denials are not worth very much.

    The tape is no longer available online. YU replaced it with something else.

  19. nonchareidi says:

    Regarding Yaakov Rosenblatt’s comment,

    My only disagreement is that sometimes in the past the Agudah has written nasty about people not in their machane. The most obvious was the Jewish Observor “obituary” for Rav Soloveitchik. I am certainly aware that R. Moshe Tendler wrote an open letter about the “obituary” as well as Rav Yaacov Weinberg ZT”L being furious at the “obituary”.

    To be fair the Agudah of the current leadership-has tended to be much more diplomatic and kudos to R. Avi Shafran et al for that.

  20. nonchareidi says:

    A sociological comment-for better or worse-Orthodox leadership has tended to change from communal Rabbis to Roshei Yeshiva. Notice the issur against the Synagogue Council of America was signed eleven leading roshei yeshiva. No communal rav signed the issur-the only asked R. E. Silver refused. While he agreed in principle against the SCA-he felt that the manner was at least partially motivated by anti YU feelings and an issur would worsen things.
    I have seen written comments about the Agudas Harabonnim in the 50’s where Rav Silver disagreed with R. Kotler on what R. E. Silver thought was an unwarranted interference with communal matters. Of course, the Agudas Harabbonim had already begun to change from one of only rabbanim of communities to one that had major rashei yeshiva influence.
    It should be emphasized that I believe every person I’ve referred to was a Zaddik Yesod Olam-and analysis of their positions is part of maybe of memorializing talmeidei chachamim when the question of do we put up monuments for talmeidei chachamim-but”divreihem hen hen zichronam” .

  21. Michael says:

    Actually, it’s the same tape — it’s just that the damaging material has been cut. If you listen to minute 37, you’ll hear: “I co-authored a paper, Aug. 4, the Yekkes, this year, a bunch of doctors put together — I’m not sure how many were in the paper… eight, eight cases, a few Yekkes did it, eight cases of systemic infection in children following Metiztzah B’Peh.” Then it abruptly cuts back to Hilchos Niddah.

    The accuracy of the original transcript is uncontested. So while I understand Dr. Schick’s insistence that he doesn’t want to discuss the conduct of particular Rabbis, I don’t see how that can be avoided. Basically the paper (and the Rabbi’s conduct in particular) were aimed at getting the community to abandon the custom of metzitzah bepeh. The Rabbi was explicit about this both in the paper and on the transcript — not to mention reports of his public conduct at the bris.

    Under those circumstances, shouldn’t those (esp. Chassidic) rabbonim who do not accept the usage of a tube tell people that they do not accept the tube, and insist that metzitzah bepeh continue to be performed? Obviously those who follow different Rabbonim will use the tube. [And for the record, I have no idea what the mohelim did on my sons.] The Rabbonim were obviously only speaking to those in communities where the use of a tube has always been rejected, and were simply restating the earlier ruling in light of the attack on this Jewish custom.

    So why the fuss? I would have expected nothing less.

  22. Aaron says:

    I’m waiting for a Kol Koreh by some mohel entrepreneur to start advertising his services for all those people who are discovering that their own milah was not done Bpeh & to have Hatfas Dam Bris so they can have it Bpeh now.

  23. Nachum Lamm says:

    First, Michael, the “Rabbi” has a name. Second, it’s clear that he was trying for state regulation, not reporting an individual. Finally, if someone’s life is at risk, why not report them? Doesn’t the “yehareg v’al ya’avor if the government tries to limit a minhag” not apply here?

    As to those who argue R. Tendler himself was issuing a ban- he never did. Even the RCA’s statement was quite carefully worded and limited in release (and, thus, in who it was aimed at).

  24. Shimon says:

    “Proclamations in Hebrew frequently use language that, when translated to English, sound hostile and extreme.”

    It sounds hostile in Hebrew too. It may be that we are accustomed to it, being familiar with rabbinic writings. I do not think that this applies to those Jews who are not familiar. It’s why irreligious Israelis see these things as hostile and extreme. Words mean things. Words have power. Perhaps the time has come to give up extreme hyperbole that does nothing but cause division.

  25. Rabbi Avi Shafran says:

    I’m sorry if my earlier posting did not strike Dr. Schick as clear. Allow me to clarify it: The opening paragraph of his essay implies that the majority of brisim conducted in Orthodox circles are done without matzitza b’peh. That he chose to ignore Chassidic schools (for whatever reason; I can’t imagine a logical one) does not remove the impression his words give readers.

    Thus my clarification, noting that (on certain assumptions, as indicated) it would seem that, quite the contrary, a large majority of brissim on Orthodox Jewish boys in the New York area include traditional matzitza b’peh.

    I trust that is more clear.

  26. Circle in the Square says:

    Yes although all my children had ‘metzitza b’pa’, I don’t understand the current trend of disagreement equalling verbal assault.
    The constant barrage of unmeant overstatement hurts our children’s chinuch, affects other issues, and cripples discussion. How do these ‘kol koreh minutemen’ interpret ‘alo v’alo divrei elkim’?

  27. Michael says:

    Circle, this sounds like a classic effort to blame the victims. Before assailing the “kol koreh minutemen,” how about condemning the attack on the minhag of metzitzah bepeh, before condemning those who (in strong language, but hardly as strong as that used by the attacking Rabbi) seek to defend it?

    The same question, of course, could be posed to Dr. Schick. What about the other side of this story?

  28. Joe Schick says:

    Rabbi Shafran writes: “it would seem that, quite the contrary, a large majority of brissim on Orthodox Jewish boys in the New York area include traditional matzitza b�peh.”

    When I made a bris in December, I was told by a mohel I initally called that outside of chasidic groups, use of a tube is now the norm, with metzitzah b’peh used only when specifically requested. I was also told that in Queens, where I live, metzitzah b’peh is quite rare. While Queens overall is less yeshivish and certainly less chasidish than Brooklyn, there are plenty of “black-hat” shuls in Kew Gardens and Kew Gardens Hills.

    I also don’t understand how Agudah could divide the NY area frum world into 1/3 chasidim, 1/3 yeshivish, and 1/3 modern/centrist. What is that based on?

    Finally, while I can’t speak for my father (and have not corresponded with him regarding this point), I think his point was that the roshei yeshiva and rabbonim who signed the Yated statement are identified with the non-chasidic charedi world, and he was therefore pointing out that according to Agudah’s estimate, 50 percent of people in that segment of the frum world do not perform metzitzah b’peh.

  29. aisrael says:

    MBP may be rare and only done on request in Queens. In other communities, it depends on the mohel, with many mohelim doing MBP unless specifically requested not to. The figure for an area like Flatbush might be close to 50% MBP in charedi (nonchassidic) circles. In areas like Lakewood and Monsey, the figure is much higher than 50% MBP. Overall, at this point, MBP is probably the majority practice in charedi (nonchassidic) circles. Your own experience (and perhaps your fathers’) is presumably skewed to the left rather than the right. I know that I can barely think of the last bris I went to in which MBP wasn’t done – outside of MO brissin.

  30. Mo says:

    Great article by Dr. Schick.

    He is right, of course, the rhetoric is way over the top and not in accord with the reality out there. The polemicist types who put together such proclamations tend to prefer such styles, and any signatories (genuine or not) get associated with those tones even if they would phrase things differently.

    The Rabbi in Rockland has been the target of a steady stream of harrassment and his Shul was vandalized (as reported in the Forward). Wow – what a kiddush Hashem ! He was on the talkline radio program on the night of March 14th and he did a masterful job of addressing the subject and the various allegations. He stated that the health dept. has plenty of ways in which they get reports in such type of cases – hospitals, doctors, etc. must report things. They do not have to come on to members of the academic community who are not directly involved in healthcare to find out that a baby died in a hospital just after a bris. He said that he sometimes uses colorful language when teaching, but it has to be put in context. As the gemara tells, sometimes teachers use such language to get their students more engaged in the learning.

    It is well known that certain circles have long-standing deep animus for him and I suspect that that definitely makes it very difficult for them to examine the matter impartially (assuming they wanted to).

  31. Edvallace says:

    I’m just wondering why ” He said that he sometimes uses colorful language when teaching, but it has to be put in context.” couldn’t be applied to “The polemicist types who put together such proclamations tend to prefer such styles,”?
    Bottom line is that they both couldv’e used a bit more disgression when formulating their views.
    Since the good rabbi in Monsey started it, I’d imagine he probably understands that the knife cuts both ways [honest, no pun intended]. Calling Rabbi Fischer, a man who is a verifiable Tzaddik [and I’ve experienced some it personally] a “no goodnik” is more than just colorful language. It’s downright inexcusable and wrong.
    Sorry – his behavior cannot be explained away so easily if you choose to state about the signees, “He is right, of course, the rhetoric is way over the top and not in accord with the reality out there.”
    Disgression would be proper for both but I’m of the opinon that in self defense, you can’t expect much of it [even though it’s certainly the right thing].

  32. plainjew says:

    Mr. Shick – what about the words of Chazal: Yiftach b’doro k’Shmuel b’doro? Do they not apply to Marvin Shick?!

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