Musings on Metzitzah
In the previous post, I mentioned that I adopted a seemingly anti-rationalist approach regarding metzitzah at my son's bris on Sunday. No, the mohel did not do metzitzah b'peh. But he did perform metzitzah via a tube. And as someone asked me, Why do metzitzah at all?
As explained at length in the seminal article by my friend Shlomo Sprecher, "Mezizah be-Peh: Therapeutic Touch or Hippocratic Vestige?", Chazal clearly instituted the oral suction of blood from the circumcision wound due to their belief that it was medically beneficial - as Chazal themselves stated. Much later, it was realized that it is in fact potentially dangerous rather than beneficial. Halachic authorities such as Chasam Sofer, who analyzed the issue based on solely halachic aspects, thus ruled that oral suction need not be performed. (Those who took a meta-halachic approach, due to perceived threats to traditional Judaism, inflated the role of metzitzah b'peh; see my paper on "The Novelty of Orthodoxy".)
However, the halachic authorities who discounted the need for metzitzah b'peh still ruled that blood must be extracted from the wound via other means, such as with a sponge or via sucking it through a tube. An article in the latest volume of Hakirah by Rav Moshe Tzuriel of Bnei Brak, which stridently argues against performing metzitzah b'peh, still insists that it is unthinkable to do without metzitzah altogether.
But why? If metzitzah b'peh was only instituted in the first place due to a particular medical concern, and we now see that in fact it is of no medical benefit, then why do any form of suction?
The answer is very straightforward. To quote Tevye, "Because it's a tradition!"
Sure, sucking blood from the wound via a sponge or tube is of no apparent medical benefit. But on the other hand, it doesn't do any harm either. And since Jews have been doing this for thousands of years, why tamper with the practice? Judaism, especially Orthodox Judaism, is inherently conservative in nature. It is also in a fragile state due to its confrontation with modernity. Therefore, it should be tampered with as little as possible. (This really needs expanding upon at greater length, but it's difficult to do so with a baby on my lap.)
Before concluding this post, I would like to raise another point on this topic. There is currently a furious reaction by the Charedi community in the US to the proposal that parents must be informed of the medical risks involved with metzitzah b'peh. (I saw a letter from the "International Bris Association" which, demonstrating an astonishing lack of self-awareness, accused the Health Authority of being biased!) I wonder: suppose the requirement was that Mohelim, instead of having to tell the parents that there are medical risks, had to inform parents that Chassam Sofer and many others said that if doctors claim that metzitzah b'peh is potentially dangerous, it need not be done. Would people still object, and if so, on what basis?