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Circumcision, Talmud Style


Let us — Jews and non-Jews alike — come together and help the Very Reverend Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, in his worldwide mission. Let us try to understand each others' religious faiths (see What We're About). And let us be reminded of the sage advice of Rabbi A. James Rudin, Senior Interreligious Advisor of the American Jewish Committee.

… one thing is clear. Partial, incomplete or pre-selected archival records will not be enough in a world where transparency and full disclosure is now the norm if an institution — whether political, financial, or spiritual — is to maintain its integrity.

— Rabbi Rudin (18)

Without shame, blame, or finger-pointing, let us all adopt Rabbi Rudin's standard as we examine ritual circumcision in the Jewish religion.

*  *  *

Many American male babies are circumcised by medical procedure shortly after birth. However, Orthodox Judaism prescribes circumcision as a religious ritual, to be performed according to strict Talmudic laws. According to those laws, the man who circumcises the infant, the mohel, must suck the infant's bleeding penis with his mouth.


— Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath 133a
Soncino 1961 Edition, pages 668-669

GEMARA. … WE SUCK OUT, etc. R. Papa said: If a surgeon does not suck [the WOUND], it is dangerous and he is dismissed. It is obvious? Since we desecrate the Sabbath for it, it is dangerous? — You might say that this blood is stored up, therefore he informs us that it is the result of a wound, and it is like a bandage and cummin: just as when one does not apply a bandage and cummin there is danger, so here too if one does not do it there is danger …

— Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath 133b
Soncino 1961 Edition, page 672

Mezizah (the practice of orally sucking the bleeding penis with the mouth) is not outmoded or discarded. The photos below were published by the Jerusalem Post Magazine. We have reason to believe the practice has become more frequent since then.

— Jerusalem Post Magazine, November 5, 1976 (4)     

The Circumcision Ritual

Circumcision consists of three actions: milah — cutting the foreskin with a knife, peri'ah — ripping the membrane with a fingernail, and mezizah — applying the mouth to the baby's bleeding penis and sucking blood from the wound.

The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) gives this detailed description:

The operation [circumcision] consists of three parts: "milah," "peri'ah," and "mezizah."
Milah: The child having been placed upon a pillow resting upon the lap of the godfather or "sandek" (he who is honored by being assigned to hold the child), the mohel exposes the parts by removal of garments, etc., and instructs the sandek how to hold the child's legs. The mohel then grasps the prepuce between the thumb and index-finger of his left hand, exerting sufficient traction to draw it from the glans, and places the shield (see Fig. 1, next column) in position just before the glans. He now takes his knife and with one sweep excises the foreskin. This completes the first act. The knife (see Fig. 3) most commonly used is double-edged, although one like those ordinarily used by surgeons is also often employed.
Peri'ah: After the excision has been completed, the mohel seizes the inner lining of the prepuce, which still covers the glans, with the thumb-nail and index-finger of each hand, and tears it so that he can roll it fully back over the glans and expose the latter completely. The mohel usually has his thumb-nail suitably trimmed for the purpose. In exceptional cases the inner lining of the prepuce is more or less extensively adherent to the glans, which interferes somewhat with the ready removal; but persistent effort will overcome the difficulty.
Mezizah: By this is meant the sucking of the blood from the wound. The mohel takes some wine in his mouth and applies his lips to the part involved in the operation, and exerts suction, after which he expels the mixture of wine and blood into a receptacle (see Fig. 4, below) provided for the purpose. This procedure is repeated several times, and completes the operation, except as to the control of the bleeding and the dressing of the wound.
Implements and Accessories of Circumcision (18th Century) 1. Cup of benediction. 2. Shield. 3. Knife. 4. Spice-box. 5. Tape. 6. Cotton and Oil. 7. Sand. 8. Powder.     Modern Implements of Circumcision 1. Shield. 2. Mouthpiece. 3. Knife. 4. Cup for Mezizah.    

— Jewish Encyclopedia (13)

Mezizah Infects Babies with Syphilis — Reported 1906

In 1906, The Jewish Encyclopedia acknowledged that mezizah was "entirely in conflict with the antiseptic treatment of wounds," and that a "a large number of Jewish children" had been infected with syphilis from contact with one mohel's mouth:

Considerable opposition has of late years been made against the mezizah on the ground that it is entirely in conflict with the aseptic treatment of wounds, which should be adhered to in all instances, but more especially in consequence of a case in Cracow in which it became known that syphilis was communicated to a large number of Jewish children through an infected condition of the mohel's mouth (Glassberg, "Die Beschneidung," p. 27). The result has been that a number of mohels have discarded the mezizah altogether. The majority of Jews, however, remain averse to such an innovation, the more so because it is condemned by the Orthodox rabbis.

— Jewish Encyclopedia (12)

Mezizah Infects Babies with Tuberculosis — Reported 1913

In 1913 in New York, a three-month-old infant was admitted to the Babies and Children's Hospital. The child lived 16 days before expiring of massive tuberculin infection that had spread through his body. History of the disease and post mortem examination revealed that the infection had been contracted from the mohel during circumcision. The writer, Dr. L. Emmett Holt, was Professor of Diseases of Children at Columbia University in New York.

When eight days old the operation of ritual circumcision had been performed, the blood being sucked up in the usual manner. The wound did not heal properly …

— L. Emmett Holt, M.D. (15)

After a detailed account of the child's suffering through the course of the disease and his death, the author observes:

A search through the medical literature brings to light a considerable number of examples of tuberculosis spread by means of ritual circumcision. In all I have collected with the assistance of Doctors Alan Brown and Stafford McLean, references or reports more or less detailed of forty other cases. These are of sufficient interest to make brief summary desirable.

— L. Emmett Holt, M.D. (15)

And thereafter Dr. Holt lists a number of medical journal articles from 1888 through 1909 citing 41 cases of infantile tuberculosis caused by circumcision. Cases included the following:

KOLIZEW'S CASES: Seven cases of tuberculosis of the penis are reported following circumcision by a rabbi suffering from tuberculosis. Two patients died; two made partial recovery; two were lost sight of, and one recovered. In only one of the families was there tuberculosis. Arluck and Winocouroff state that this report led to a movement of far-reaching social effect for the reformation of the performance of ritual circumcision.

— L. Emmett Holt, M.D. (15)

LEHMANN'S CASES: Ten children with almost identical symptoms infected by the same operator. The operator subsequently died of tuberculosis. The wound was sucked in the usual manner. The early signs were similar — irregular, grayish preputial ulcers which gradually extended. After two or three weeks there was swelling of the inguinal lymph-nodes which is most cases suppurated. No microscopic examinations were made, the diagnosis resting on the clinical symptoms.

— L. Emmett Holt, M.D. (15)

Dr. Holt concludes as follows:

While the number of reported instances of tuberculosis acquired through circumcision is considerable there must be a much larger number that have never found their way into literature. It is certain also that syphilis has been spread in this manner. These facts lead me to emphasize the statement made by the late Professor Maas, the German surgeon, that "it is the duty of physician to raise his protest against the performance of ritualistic circumcision in every case."

— L. Emmett Holt, M.D. (15)

Practice Continues — Reported 1959 by Chief Rabbi

Despite the documentation of the spread of syphilis and tuberculosis in the early 20th Century, the practice of the mohel applying his mouth to the baby's bleeding penis and sucking blood continued. This fact is verified by no less than the Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, the Very Reverend the late Lord Immanuel Jakobovits. Rabbi Lord Jakobovits had a lifelong interest in medicine, and is know as "the father of Jewish medical ethics." In his book, Jewish Medical Ethics: A Comparative and Historical Study of the Jewish Religious Attitude to Medicine and Its Practice (published in 1959), he describes the circumcision ritual as follows:

The method to be adopted is laid down thus: 'One excises the foreskin, [that is] the entire skin covering the glans, so that the corona is laid bare. Afterwards, one tears with the fingernail the soft membrane underneath the skin, turning it to the sides until the flesh of the glans appears. Thereafter, one sucks the membrane until the blood is extracted from the [more] remote places, so that no danger [to the infant] may ensue; and any circumciser who does not carry out the sucking procedure is to be removed [from his office].' … The operation itself, then, consists of three distinct acts: the excision of the prepuce; the laceration of the mucous membrane covering the glans; and the sucking of the blood from the interior of the wound.

— Rabbi Lord Jakobovits (1) (emphasis added)

Rabbi Lord Jakobovits, an Orthodox Jew, wrote those words in 1959, confirming the continued use of the Orthodox practice. But despite documented history that mezizah had spread deadly diseases, this medical ethicist called for the dismissal of any mohel who would not perform mezizah: "any circumciser who does not carry out the sucking procedure is to be removed."

"They've Stopped Doing It …"

In 1985, Rosemary Romberg writes:

Mezizah — Hebrew term for the third step in the Jewish circumcision ritual, in which the mohel applies his mouth to the freshly circumcised infant's penis and sucks up the first drops of blood. In more recent times this procedure has been carried out via a tube, as infections, venereal disease, and tuberculosis, sometimes resulting in the death of the infant, have occurred due to contamination of the wound.

— Rosemary Romberg (5)

In 2002, Lonnie Morris, a practicing female mohel ("mohelet"), states:

Little old men used to come to your home and suck the blood out of the penis with their mouths. Then they started using a glass tube. They thought if they took the blood out it would bleed less and feel better. Because of AIDS, they stopped doing things like that.

— Lonnie Morris (6)

Ms. Romberg and Ms. Morris are correct about the health hazards, but they are implying that Orthodox Jews no longer practice their religion. Perhaps they are unfamiliar with the triumph of Orthodoxy among American Jews. If so, Samuel J. Freedman has news for them.

In the struggle for the soul of American Jewry, the Orthodox model has triumphed.

— Samuel G. Freedman (7)

The practice of circumcision is of paramount importance in Orthodox Judaism.


Nedarim 31b


Nedarim 31b

And the practice of mezizah is basic to Orthodox circumcision.

Political Forces Behind Orthodox Ritual

Chabad Lubavitch is a sect within Judaism known for its aggressive proselytizing to revive traditional Orthodox practices among fellow Jews. The most revered Lubavitch leader of recent years is the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994). The influence of Rabbi Schneerson and Chabad Lubavitch can be deduced from the following facts:

Chabad Lubavitch is rigorous in its orthodoxy, in circumcision and other matters.

Rabbi Schneerson on Circumcision

Rabbi Schneerson takes the Orthodox view of circumcision. In the following excerpts, we get a picture of some of his views.

Circumcisions are performed on newborns without any anesthesia. Does the baby feel pain when he is cut? Rabbi Schneerson explains that pain is part of the package, and that the baby's pain is due to his ignorance of the benefits of the mitzvah (commandment).

[Another aspect of circumcision which relates to the totality of our Jewish practice is that it involves some pain for the child;] the child cries. It is true that he is crying because of his lack of understanding … he does not know that the intent is only to release 'the blood of the covenant,' [a small amount of blood], not more. When he grows older, he understands these matters.

— Rabbi Schneerson (10)

In this excerpt, Rabbi Schneerson indicates that circumcision is equivalent to all the commandments.

The circumcision is the first mitzvah which Avraham, our Patriarch, the first Jew, was commanded to perform. Similarly, the circumcision is the first mitzvah performed with every Jew from the time of his birth. Thus [it can be assumed] that the mitzvah of circumcision reflects the totality of the Torah and its mitzvos, as indicated by Nedarim 32a, which states: "Great is circumcision, for it is equivalent to all the mitzvos of the Torah."

— Rabbi Schneerson (10)

Let us revisit the Talmud doctrine that Rabbi Schneerson supports:


— Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath 133a

Denial That Mezizah Spreads Disease

Now comes the denial of the hazards of mezizah. Let us examine extracts from Kovetz Minhagim — An Anthology of Chabad-Lubavitch Customs. These extracts are available at Sichos in English. (3)

Suction by Mouth

Suction must be done only by mouth (and this poses no danger of disease, G-d forbid). Experience tells us that we have been doing the suction by mouth for thousands of years, and no sickness was ever caused by it (G-d forbid). One who wishes to change this practice bears the burden [of proof that it is necessary and proper], and children should not be given to him to circumcise. One who keeps a mitzvah will know no evil occurrence.

— The Rebbeim of Lubavitch (3) (emphasis added)

Notice these words: Experience tells us that we have been doing the suction by mouth for thousands of years, and no sickness was ever caused by it (G-d forbid). This is not true, of course, as documented by The Jewish Encyclopedia in 1906 and by Dr. Holt in 1913. The Rebbeim of Lubavitch simply choose to ignore the facts of the danger to public health. However, the Rebbeim make one exception to the mezizah rule: If sucking the penis with his mouth will cause the mohel to lose his job, he may use a tube. The professional position the mohel stands to lose if he doesn't suck is not specified.

Suction Using a Tube

When it is unavoidable (i.e., if he does it by mouth he will be dismissed from his position) the suction may be done through a glass tube. Some insert cotton wool into the tube and suck through the cotton. The reason for inserting the cotton is that it aids sterility and prevents the passage of bacteria. What I mean is that some cotton is inserted into the tube in such a way that it does not interfere with the vacuum caused by the mouth of the person doing the suction, and the blood passes through the sterile cotton.

— The Rebbeim of Lubavitch (3)

But wait! We have just been told that "no sickness was ever caused by it" — why now the concern for "the passage of bacteria"?

Less Than Full Disclosure

Recall the goal Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: We should find out about each others' faiths. Recall the standard of Rabbi A. James Rudin: Institutions that wish to maintain integrity must make transparent and full disclosure. What steps are the advocates of Orthodox Judaism taking to realize these principles?

Consider the description given at (23) The domain is registered to "Heber Levi, Mohel." (24) The web page displays the cover of Kovetz Minhagim (as shown below), leading the reader to believe mohel Levi follows the laws of the Talmud and Chabad-Lubavitch.

Ritual Circumcision
Almost Painless
A Jewesh Legacy
Adult Circumcision
A Great Mitzvah
The Proper Time
Who and How
Customary Procedurs
Circumcision Insights
Honorees at Bris
Chabad Customs
Bris Photo Tour 1
Bris Photo Tour 1
The book cover of Kovetz Minhagim as it appears on the web site. Spelling errors/typos unchanged from original. (Cached Feb. 2003)(22))    

Let's check it out. The second item in the menu is "Ritual Circumcision." We cached that article in February 2003. While Mohel Levi states that "suction" is applied to the baby's wound, he does not tell how suction is applied; he then states the ritual consists of two parts, in contrast to the three parts in The Jewish Encyclopedia description (milah, peri'ah, and mezizah). And the part he omits is — mezizah.

The technique used is unique and has been approved and recommended as being based on sound surgical principles by many physicians. A "Mohel" (the Hebrew word for the person who performs ritual circumcision) is a master surgeon in his particular area of expertise. The process itself takes less than 30 seconds during which the "Mohel" first recites a Hebrew blessing, then amputates the foreskin with a sterilized scalpel, quickly splits the mucous with (disinfected) thumbnails, applies suction, and completes the procedure by bandaging the wound. The essential procedures of the ritual circumcision are 1) the removal of the prepuce and 2) the splitting and peeling back of the mucus surface, thus exposing the glands penis.

— Mohel Heber Levi (23)

Why Does Baby Cry?

And what of the pain the infant suffers, the pain Rabbi Schneerson says "relates to the totality of our Jewish practice"? Rabbi Schneerson also writes the baby "is crying because of his lack of understanding … he does not know that the intent is only to release 'the blood of the covenant'." Mohel Heber Levi, however, states circumcision "should not cause any pain in a newborn," (20) for the following reasons:

Ironically, the document wherein Rabbi Schneerson writes of the pain of circumcision appears on mohel Heber Levi's very website.

Surgical Principles

Mohel Heber Levi compares the mohel with a "master surgeon" — and represents that the circumcision technique is based on "sound surgical principles." (23) How many modern-day surgeons would put their mouths on a patient's open, bleeding wound and suck it, or make incisions in a patient's flesh with their fingernails?

Aside from the risk of the mohel infecting the baby, the baby may have an undiagnosed congenital disease passed on to him through his mother's placenta or birth canal. Should that be the case, the infectious disease could be communicated to the mohel, who in turn could communicate it to a number of other babies before the mohel's infection is detected. Since the medium of infection is blood and body fluids, this risk of disease includes hepatitis B and C, syphilis and any of the other sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, AIDS, and a host of more ordinary diseases, such as influenza.

The Orthodox Union

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (Orthodox Union) describes itself as "the largest and most dynamic Jewish movement of its kind in the world; the central address and national spokesman for 1,000 synagogues; a not-for-profit educational, outreach and social service organization which serves the burgeoning North American Jewish community." (41)

Come and Hear™ went to the Orthodox Union's web page on "Jewish Philosophy and Belief." (38) We clicked on "What is Circumcision?" The link took us to the Aish HaTorah web site. (39) Here is the Aish HaTorah/Orthodox Union description of the circumcision ritual.

At a Brit Milah, the mohel removes the baby's foreskin and draws blood from the reproductive organ, after which the baby is given a Jewish name.

— Aish HaTorah (40)

Notice that Aish HaTorah/Orthodox Union does not mention how the blood is drawn from the baby's penis. Neither organization mentions mezizah.

Reform Rabbis Distance Themselves from Mezizah, 1991

Certainly the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the organization of Reform Jewish rabbis, recognizes that a baby's congenital diseases can be passed on to a mohel who practices mezizah. CCAR published the following in its 1991 Contemporary American Reform Responsa:

QUESTION: What precautions should a mohel take for his own protection and for the protection of other children in view of the AIDS epidemic? (Mark Cohen, New Orleans LA)
ANSWER: As AIDS is transmitted through blood and it is possible that the mohel may injure himself in the process of the circumcision, he should take every precaution possible. There would be no problem about wearing gloves. This would also be in keeping with the tradition (Sefer Haberit #179). The mohel should, of course, always be careful about the cleanliness and sterility of instruments used for the circumcision. It is presumed that our Reform mohalim would use the highest medical standards in their procedures and that there would be no reason to question them on these matters.
As we do not perform metzitzah either directly or indirectly and use other methods for seeing to it that the wound is clean and the danger of infection is minimized, we would have no other contact with the blood of the child.

— Central Conference of American Rabbis (28) (emphasis added)

Notice that the first concern of the CCAR is "that the mohel may injure himself in the process of the circumcision". These Reform rabbis do not put the health of the baby first. Nor do they criticize the Orthodox mohels who currently practice mezizah, or warn Jewish parents that the Orthodox ritual still includes this dangerous practice that puts the life and health of Jewish babies at risk.

The Union of American Hebrew Congregations (Reform Jews), writing about the differences between Reform and non-Reform Jews, issues this reminder:

… we must never forget that whether we are Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, or Orthodox, we are all an essential part of K'lal Yisrael — the worldwide community of Jewry.

— CCAR President Rabbi Simeon J. Maslin (29)

If there were truly a worldwide brotherhood of Jewry, a real K'lal Yisrael (as expressed in the CCAR statement, above), why wouldn't the Jews who understand the dangers of mezizah tell those who do not understand? A populist might suspect that the worldwide brotherhood of Jewry does not reach down to the Jew on the street, but reaches only as far as the circle of rabbis and mohels.

Father of Jewish Medical Ethics, 1999

In February 1999, the International Conference on Jewish Medical Ethics held its 10th anniversary meeting in Burlingame, California. The event was sponsored by the Stanford University's School of Medicine Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine and the Institute for Jewish Medical Ethics of the Hebrew Academy in San Francisco. Rabbi Pinchas Lipner, dean of the Institute, is quoted in an article that appeared in the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California. In the following press excerpt, notice that Rabbi Lord Emanuel Jakobovits, the man who served as Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth between 1966 and 1991, is being honored as the "Father of Jewish Medical Ethics." Recall that Rabbi Lord Jakobovits is the author of Jewish Medical Ethics. We met Rabbi Lord Jakobovits earlier when he confirmed the Orthodox circumcision ritual involved sucking the baby's bleeding penis with the mouth, and called for the dismissal of any mohel who didn't carry out the procedure.

Looking unflinchingly at today's hot topics in medical ethics has been a prescription for longevity for the International Conference on Jewish Medical Ethics, which marks its 10th anniversary next month.
This year is no exception. The conference, which discusses medical ethics through the lens of halachah …
Lipner said participants come expecting to dive into current issues 'in an open way and found out the Torah point of view on the subject.'
Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, retired chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is a featured speaker at this year's conference and will be honored as "the Father of Modern Jewish Medical Ethics."
Ya'acov Ne'eman, former Israel Minister of finance, will be attending, as will Ronald Hoffman, a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry from Cornell University …
The conference will conclude Monday evening, Feb. 15, with a dialogue between Jakobovits and Hoffman on the struggle between science and religion.
Lipner has found that the intermeshing of diverse subjects with physicians from different cultures -- all under the umbrella of Jewish law -- leaves a lasting mark on participants.
"I think he biggest complement came from a Muslim physician, from Oman, who works at Oxford. He said he's been all over the world and has never seen 400 physicians studying medical ethics for four days. That just shows our work is paying off."

Joshua Schuster (21)

In the above excerpt, a physician states that the "work" of the International Conference on Jewish Medical Ethics is "paying off." What "work" is paying off? Certainly not the work of social responsibility for public health. Nor the work of protecting the health of Jewish babies. Four hundred Jewish medical doctors and the "father of Jewish medical ethics" spent four days discussing "medical ethics through the lens of halachah." The Conference attendees, then, discussed Jewish law — not modern medicine, hygiene, or the consequent rules of medical ethics. In the Age of AIDS, they ignored the problem.

Let us re-read Rabbi Lord Jakobovits' description of the circumcision ritual:

The method to be adopted is laid down thus: 'One excises the foreskin, [that is] the entire skin covering the glans, so that the corona is laid bare. Afterwards, one tears with the fingernail the soft membrane underneath the skin, turning it to the sides until the flesh of the glans appears. Thereafter, one sucks the membrane until the blood is extracted from the [more] remote places, so that no danger [to the infant] may ensue; and any circumciser who does not carry out the sucking procedure is to be removed [from his office].' … The operation itself, then, consists of three distinct acts: the excision of the prepuce; the laceration of the mucous membrane covering the glans; and the sucking of the blood from the interior of the wound.

— Rabbi Lord Jakobovits (1) (emphasis added)

The practices of peri'ah and mezizah continue without public controversy. Rabbi Lord Jakobovits' obituary appeared in the London Times on November 1, 1999. You can read it on the web page of the current Chief Rabbi, Professor Jonathan Sacks. There is no mention that Jakobovits issuing any condemnation of mezizah, ever. (25)

Jewish Medical Ethicist Recommends Rum — circa 2003

Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz presides over the Woodside Synagogue in Silver Spring, Maryland, and is Professor of Law at the University of Maryland. According to the webpage of the Woodside Synagogue, Rabbi Breitowitz received his rabbinical ordination from the Ner Israel Rabbinical College and a Doctorate in Talmudic Law from Ner Israel in 1992. He is a magna cum laude graduate of the Harvard Law School, and writes and lectures widely on Jewish law and ethics. We found one of his articles, "AIDS: A Jewish Perspective," on the Jewish Law website. Here is what Rabbi Breitowitz says about mezizah:

[Concerning] the HIV virus … A final concern involves circumcision (brit milah). In the Orthodox rite, after making the incision, the mohel actually sucks the wound to draw out blood and promote clotting. Since babies can acquire the virus through their mothers, this creates risks for mohels. The AIDS virus, however, cannot survive a solution of 75% alcohol so a quick swishing of 150 proof rum prior to the sucking will avoid all problems.

— Rabbi Breitowitz (17) (emphasis added)

From such a highly qualified person, this advice seems to be given casually. Rabbi Breitowitz does not cite any scientific studies to back up his claim that rum will kill the AIDS virus when applied as he suggests. Has his recommendation received the endorsement of the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Disease Control? Has the Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of rum for this purpose? On the surface, Rabbi Breitowitz's claim stands unsupported.

We notice that Rabbi Breitowitz expresses no concern for the health of the baby; he is concerned only with the mohel. It is even more likely that a mohel would infect the baby. The blood of the baby enters only the mouth of the mohel — the mouth and digestive tract contain antiseptics (apart from the rabbi's rum). But the saliva from the mohel may enter the baby's bloodstream directly, without intervening antiseptics.

The Public's Right to Know?

Suppose there were an outbreak of disease in America as a result of ritual circumcision — as there was in Cracow (Krakow) or New York in the last century. Would the American public ever hear about it? There is a strong cultural imperative among Jews who live with Gentiles to close ranks. Orthodox Jews are forbidden to take disputes with other Jews to a Gentile court, forbidden to call the police on each other, and according to Talmud law, permitted to kill any among them who inform (see The Talmud Lives for Jews). We have also seen Reform Rabbi Simeon J. Maslin remind Jews that no matter their denominational preference, they are Jews first and last — K'lal Yisrael (Jewish Unity).

Given the disproportionate numbers of Jews in the medical profession and given the political power of Orthodox Judaism, how likely is it that infections caused by the Orthodox circumcision ritual would be publicly acknowledged and handled?

Monitoring Mohels

Mezizah is not simply a matter of private religious belief. It is a practice that endangers the lives of American children. What is the solution to this public health problem? A federal law should be passed requiring all mohels to be registered and licensed with state and federal public health agencies, and subjected to monthly screenings for infectious diseases. The licensing of mohels would be a step toward protecting both Jewish and non-Jewish communities.

As the Jehovah's Witnesses discovered on the issue of blood transfusions, freedom of belief in America does not necessarily guarantee freedom of practice when the life of a child is endangered. American politicians — both Jew and Gentile — should be challenged to take a stand. All persons of good will, no matter what their religious or ethnic background, would surely support laws requiring the monitoring of the health of mohels.

Epilogue — How Odd of God …

The origins of circumcision are lost in antiquity. Male circumcision is depicted in Egyptian tombs 5,000 years ago, while Gairdner refers to evidence that it has its origins long before this in prehistory up to 15,000 years ago.

— Dr. J. P. Warren, Dr. J. Bigelow (26).

The Bible Timeline places LORD God's talk with Abraham about circumcision at 1896, B.C. It seems, however, circumcision as a rite among other ancient people in the Middle East may predated the conversation between LORD God and Abraham by thousands of years. Dr. Gerald A. Larue, professor emeritus of Biblical history and archeology at the University of Southern California, has written a well-researched paper on the subject. (35)

Whatever the truth of the relatives dates, one wonders why LORD God — who after all, made penises — would demand that his children mutilate them. Mutilated penises don't work quite right. It's almost as though LORD God knew what he was doing the first time 'round. The extra skin on the shaft of the penis acts as a sliding device, assisting its smoth passage in the vagina. If American men were in possession of their natural foreskins, the appearance of vagina lubricants on drug store shelves might be far less common. Learn the facts by visiting the following URLs:

The opponents of circumcision gain unexpected support from the most Orthodox advocates. Daat Emet ("True Knowledge"), a group that promotes and encourages Orthodox scholarship. Quoting Maimonides, Daat Emet asserts that one of the major purposes of circumcision is to damage the natural function and reduce sexual pleasure for both men and women. (In the following, "Chazal" is an acronym meaning "Our Sages of blessed memory." [37])

In the story of the rape of Dina, the daughter of Jacob (Genesis chapter 34), Chazal said that Dina, who had been taken by the uncircumcised Shechem, the son of Hamor, enjoyed having sexual relations with an uncircumcised man so much that her brothers Simeon and Levi had to take her away by force … Bereshit Rabbah (Vilna edition), parasha 80, note 11, "And they took Dina: Rabbu Udan said, 'they dragged her away.' Rabbi Huna said, 'One who has had sexual relations with an uncircumcised man finds it difficult to stop'."
About this the greatest religious arbiter of all time, Maimonides, wrote in Moreh Nevuchim section three, chapter 49: "And this commandment [circumcision] was not given to complete something lacking in Creation, only to complete something missing in human behavior, and the physical damage to that organ is the aim … that desire beyond what is necessary should be removed, and since circumcision reduces the erectile ability of the organ and reduces the pleasure obtained from sexual relations, there is no doubt that when blood is spilled from that organ and its hood is removed will be weaker. Chazal clearly state that one who has sexual relations with an uncircumcised man finds it difficult to leave him; this seems to me to be the most compelling reason for circumcision."
According to the greatest of religious arbiters, one of the reasons for circumcision is the desire to reduce sexual ability and enjoyment for Jewish men …

— Daat Emet (36)

Daat Emet goes on to point out that African advocates of female circumcision rest their case on the same argument.

Thank you for your consideration of the above,
Carol A. Valentine,  Ear at come-and-hear dot com
July 14, 2003 ( This article is on line at )

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Footnotes:   Full specifics for each of the printed sources are provided in the Bibliography. Outside URLs were valid at the time this article was written. However, be mindful that URLs do change.

  1. Jewish Medical Ethics: A Comparative and Historical Study of the Jewish Religious Attitude to Medicine and Its Practice, New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1959, pages 193-194., as quoted in cached at
    Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, retired Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, was a featured speaker at the 1999 International Conference on Jewish Medical Ethics and was be honored as "The Father of Modern Jewish Medical Ethics." (See Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, January 15, 1999, cached at
  2. "Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson," American Israel Numismatic Association: cached at
  3. Chapter Three, "Customs of Bris Milah," Kovetz Minhagim An Anthology of Chabad-Lubavitch Customs Regarding Pregnancy, Childbirth, Circumcision, Redemption of The Firstborn, And The Birth of Girls, Compiled By Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Holtzberg, translated by Shimon Neubort: cached at
  4. In Memory of the Sexually Mutilated Child: cached at
  5. Cited by In Memory of the Sexually Mutilated Child:, from Rosemary Romberg, Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma, South Hadley, Massachusetts: Bergin & Garvey, Publishers, Inc. 1985, page 395; cached at
  6. Lonnie Morris at: cached at:
  7. Jew vs. Jew, page 338.
  8. Searching Thomas, Legislative Information on the Internet (, Come and Hear™ found Congressional resolutions honoring Schneerson going back to 1975. We have put our findings in a zip file for your convenient download, where you will find the lists of co-sponsors. See Download Page
  9. "Jewish law institute launched in DC," Jerusalem Post, November 9, 2002,, now moved to cached at
  10. Circumcision insights: cached at
  11. Spectrum Surgical Instruments Corp.: cached at
  12. Emil G. Hirsch, Kaufmann Kohler, Joseph Jacobs, Aaron Friedenwald, and Isaac Broyd for The Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. "Circumcision," Vol. IV, page 100; available at
  13. Ibid, Vol. IV, page 99.
  14. "Circumcision Wine Goblet," Avi Biran Judaica, Design & Fine Art,
  15. "Tuberculosis Acquired through Ritual Circumcision," Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume LXI, Pages 99-102, July 12, 1913: cached at
  16. America's Real War, page 204
  17. "AIDS: A Jewish Perspective," Jewish Law Articles: cached at
  18. "While the Messiah Tarries" by Rabbi A. James Rudin, Forward, February 22, 2002: cached at:
  19. See Merry Christmas and OFF WITH YOUR HEAD! by Carol Valentine, May, 2002.
  20. Almost Painless:
  21. "Jewish medical ethics conference marks its 10th year," Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, cached at
  22. Circumcision.Net:
  23. Ritual Circumcision: cached at
  24. Network Solutions, (the following URL is split to accommodate narrower screens:) cached as
  25. "In memory of Lord Jakobovits - A Sage in the Tradition of the Prophets," The Website of the Chief Rabbi, cached as
  26. British Journal of Sexual Medicine, Pages 6-8, September/October 1994, quoted at cached at
  27. "Congressional Gold Medal Recipients," Office of the Clerk:
  28. "102. Circumcision and AIDS," Central Conference of American Rabbis, January 1991: cached at
  29. "What Do Reform Jews Believe? What Do Reform Jews Do?" adapted from the pamphlet entitled "What We Believe... What We Do..." prepared in 1993 by CCAR President Rabbi Simeon J. Maslin, What Is Reform Judaism?: cached at
  30. Biographical information from Woodside Synagogue Ahavas Torah cached at
    Image from "Mikvah Groundbreaking March 24, 2002," Chabad Lubavitch of Northern Virginia: cached at
  31. "All Gore: Education Day USA," Ukrainian Archive,
  32. "Welcome to the Surgery Room," The Pet Center,
  33. "Mycobacterium tuberculosis," Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health,
  34. "Syphilis - tertiary," Medline Plus,
  35. "Religious Traditions and Circumcision," National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC), cached at
  36. "Circumcision - Halachic Viewpoint," Daat Emet, cached at
  37. "A Glossary of Basic Jewish Terms and Concepts: B-C," Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
  38. "Jewish Philosophy and Belief," Orthodox Union,
  39. Aish HaTorah — Aish HaTorah is a Jewish outreach and educational organization endorsed by the Orthodox Union. According to the Aish HaTorah page, Who is Aish HaTorah? "Aish HaTorah has become one of the world's largest organizations dedicated to answering the vital question, 'Why be Jewish?' … Aish HaTorah operates 26 full-time branches and offers programs in 80 cities, representing 17 countries on 5 continents."
  40. "What is Circumcision," Ibid,$.asp cached at http://www.come-and-hear/editor/br-aish-circum
  41. " About The Orthodox Union," Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America

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Title: Circumcision, Talmud Style
Version: July 28, 2003
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