The Return of the Metzizah B'Peh Controversy
Metzitzah b'peh is back in the news. A few weeks ago, the latest issue of Dialogue was published with an article claiming that there is no firm evidence that it can be the cause of transmission of herpes, and that the onus of proof is on those who would declare a significant health risk. Then, a few days ago, it was reported that another infant had tragically died as a result of herpes contracted via metzitzah b'peh.
I would simply like to recommend several pieces of reading material on this topic. Shlomo Sprecher's seminal study, Mezịzạh be-Peh ― Therapeutic Touch or Hippocratic Vestige?, is a must-read if you want an in-depth analysis of the topic. Also of value is the ensuing correspondence in Hakirah regarding that article, which you can download here. A shorter and more accessible, but still excellent, treatment is by Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, "Metzitzah B’peh Controversy: Rabbinic Polemics and Applying the Lessons of History," from Jewish Action. Finally, I wrote a post on this topic a year ago, entitled Suckers for Orthodoxy, about contemporary charedi denial of the reasons why many insist on metzizah b'peh, even though they are following the original explicit Orthodox ideology of Chasam Sofer.
And now for something completely different. I was wondering if any of my readers can help me with a question. The Gemara in several places (Avodah Zarah 2b, Kiddushin 72a, Megillah 11a) describes how the bear symbolizes Persia. Amongst the parallels given is that "Persians have no rest, like a bear." And the Gemara says that when Rabbi Ami saw a Persian riding, he would say, “There is a wandering bear!” Now, I understand why the bear would be described as having no rest and wandering around. The home ranges of brown bears are among the largest of all land mammals, extending up to eight hundred square miles, in which bears spend most of their time wandering around looking for food. And bears in captivity will often pace to and fro in their enclosure. But why are Persians described as having no rest? I'd be indebted if someone can provide the answer!