Thursday, March 17, 2005

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.