Friday, June 29, 2012

Being Honest About Ritual Circumcision

I don't get squeamish watching a bris take place. And I've seen my fair share. However, I have been getting squeamish lately over the many news items concerning the legality and morality of ritual circumcision, a required Jewish life-cycle event for thousands of years.

When discussing brit milah (Jewish ritual circumcision), I believe it is important to be open and honest. I firmly believe that this mitzvah (commandment) is of paramount importance to the Jewish people and that we must ensure that it is done safely throughout the world to ensure that it continues for generations to come.


iStockPhoto

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published a report revealing that a total of 11 newborn males were infected by the herpes simplex virus in New York City between November 2000 and December 2011. Of these 11 cases, the parents of 6 of the newborns acknowledged that the mohel (ritual circumcisor) had performed metzitza b'peh during the bris.  Metzitza b'peh is when the mohel places his mouth directly on the newly circumcised penis and sucks blood away from the wound. The vast majority of physicians have ruled that this aspect of the brit milah ritual must be forbidden for the obvious health risks involved.

Many people presume that only the most ultra-Orthodox communities still include metzitza b'peh in the bris ceremony. However, this month I heard of a bris that took place at Keter Torah Synagogue, a local Sephardic congregation in West Bloomfield, Michigan in which the mohel in fact performed metzitza b'peh. It is imperative that Jewish physicians and other Jewish professionals in the health care industry as well as rabbis insist that metzitza b'peh is no longer practiced. The health risks are evident and with Jewish ritual circumcision under attack, it is unwise to allow an unhealthy and dangerous aspect of the ritual to persist.

Just one year ago, there was a ballot measure to ban circumcision in San Francisco. That measure would have outlawed circumcision on males younger than 18, except in cases of medical necessity. No religious exemptions would be permitted according to this measure. While that measure was shot down, a German court this week banned the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons. This ban on ritual circumcision applies to the Cologne region of Germany. According to MSNBC:

The court in the western city of Cologne handed down the decision on Tuesday in the case of a doctor who was prosecuted for circumcising a four-year-old Muslim boy. The doctor circumcised the boy in November 2010 and gave him four stitches, the Guardian reported. When the boy started bleeding two days later, his parents took him to Cologne's University hospital, where officials called police. The doctor was ultimately acquitted on the grounds that he had not broken a law. The court ruled that involuntary religious circumcision should be made illegal because it could inflict serious bodily harm on people who had not consented to it. The ruling said boys who consciously decided to be circumcised could have the operation. No age restriction was given, or any more specific details.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany called the ruling an "unprecedented and dramatic intrusion" of the right to religious freedom and an "outrageous and insensitive" act.

Several Conservative Jewish groups including Masorti Olami, Masorti Europe and the Rabbinical Assembly of Europe have joined with the Central Council of Jews in Germany in condemning the decision of the district Court in Cologne. In a joint statement, they explained:

The circumcision of 8 day old male babies remains an important and meaningful rite in the lives of Jews all over the world. No other country has outlawed circumcision and this new legal decision impinges upon the religious freedom of Germany's citizens be they Jewish or Muslim and the rights of other parents who wish to circumcise their sons.
A brit milah, as the circumcision ceremony is called in Hebrew, is one of the first mitzvot (or commandments) that God asks of Abraham. Just as Abraham observed the commandment, so too have his Jewish descendants over 1000s of years. While the Masorti movement consistently balances the needs of modernity against the needs of halacha or Jewish Law, there is no overwhelming proof that the circumcision of newborn boys causes any "irreversible damage against the body" as stated in the German court's decision. On the contrary, medical research has shown that circumcision can reduce the risk of HIV infection, penile cancer and other urinary tract diseases.
The over 1.7 Million people in the 900 congregations and organizations in 45 countries represented by the Masorti (Conservative) Worldwide Movement call upon the Government of Germany to quickly work to reverse this grievous course of curtailing religious freedoms and dictating fundamental actions of faith communities.
Source: etsy.com

It is my belief that a war is being waged on ritual circumcision. In order for it to be preserved for future generations there must be compromise. We must be honest that it is an odd religious ritual in the 21st century, but it is a core part of both the Jewish and Muslim religions. In order to try to curtail some of the controversy surrounding brit milah, I propose the following:

1) Any individual who will perform a brit milah must have a signed certificate that they went through a course of training in which health and safety guidelines were learned.

2) Any individual who will perform a brit milah must sign an agreement that metzitza b'peh will not be performed under any circumstances as it endangers the livelihood of the infant boy.

It must also be acknowledged that ritual circumcision is a medical procedure and it is unique in that it is most often performed in a living room or synagogue. I would love it if there were some certification program in which mohalim had to be re-certified every ten years to ensure compliance. Brit milah is often learned through an apprenticeship and there's nothing to ensure that an elderly mohel is still physically able to perform the ritual adequately.

Finally, we must acknowledge that the idea of friends and family gathered in a living room watching a newborn baby undergo a medical procedure is not for everyone. Conceding that brit milah should be performed in a hospital would only encourage parents to have the circumcision performed before the required eighth day and that is not advisable. Rather, mohalim should give the option of performing the brit milah in a more private setting and then the religious ceremony can take place for the larger assembly. While this would alter the traditional nature of the brit milah ceremony, it would also guarantee that there's an understanding that the ritual is also a medical procedure that deserves both privacy and a safe and sanitary environment.

By continuing to pretend that there's nothing odd about a newborn baby boy having a surgical procedure in a living room in front of dozens who eagerly wait for the bagel and lox spread to open is a mistake. We must acknowledge that this is a unique religious ritual in the 21st century. We must admit that there is some pain for the infant, but that it is not long lasting (an anesthetic should be encouraged but not required). We must ensure that there is some uniform compliance on the part of the practitioner (mohel) for the sake of the health and safety of the baby. And we must insist on a complete ban on metzitza b'peh with no exceptions.

With these guidelines in place, we will be better positioned to counter any legislation -- whether in San Francisco or in Germany -- that could put Jewish ritual circumcision in jeopardy.

65 comments:

Z'ev Hadash said...

Aside from the ritual significance of circumcision, we should also note there are some health benefits to the procedure. The CDC wrote an interesting post on circumcision and disease transmission which stated "circumcision was associated with a statistically significant 58% reduction in risk for HIV infection."

reblaura.com said...

Rabbi Jason, beautifully and elegantly expressed. Thank you.

myrick said...

Anesthesia should be required, no exceptions. And all mohels should be urologists. And parents who prefer that bris become a free adult choice should receive the utmost courtesy and respect. And finally, there is much much more to Judaism than the appearance and functioning of Jewish penises. For starters, there is also tikkun olam, and A Light Unto the Nations...

spodvoll said...

Dear Rabbi,

With all respect for those who *choose* to observe as they do, I suggest being *completely* honest about ritual circumcision. As a fairly observant Jew, I would not personally impose my observances on others, but do want to offer my own perspective.

I’m a Jewish father, raising his son as a Jew. If waiting until adulthood was good enough for Abraham (and for Moses, by the way), it’s good enough for my little Moishele. I don't think I have the *right* to impose it upon him in infancy.

The mitzvot are routinely over- & under- interpreted. Independent thought is itself a Jewish tradition. The bris is merely one of 613. I wish more Rabbis would interpret the bris as flexibly as the avoidance of boiling kids in their mothers’ milk. In fact, it seems to me that doctrinaire focus on the one mitzvah, while freely interpreting much of the rest is anathema to Jewish traditions of emphasizing scholarship over mere dogma. After all, the objective of all our mitzvot is to recognize, as did Rabbi Hillel, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the commentary; go and learn.”

As for the medical benefits, they constitute specious rationalization at best. For example, there are far more effective and rational ways to prevent STDs. Refraining from unprotected sex is far more effective, by several orders of magnitude, than is circumcision. *First* do *no* harm.

In my opinion, no human should be subject to inessential pain or any possibility of complications without their consent; it seems to me *that* is anathema to Rabbinic teaching. Let’s finally shed the remnants of ancient, priestly superstition and fully embrace Rabbinic Judaism in all it’s enlightenment.

And, frankly, I feel particularly irritated when those who don't don Tefillin to pray, men who are completely clean-shaven, women who refrain from monthly Mikveh immersions, et.al, pass judgement and make such a big deal about such a little piece of my little Moishele's flesh. He can decide for himself when it's time, thank you, and I feel confident he will find his own path towards fulfilling the mitzvot.

Thank you.

Sincerely,
Steven Podvoll

Michael said...

There are a lot of articles/studies out there, and they don’t all agree. The CDC says Metziza b’peh is potentially harmful. Another article says the CDC Metziza b’peh study is flawed. Some say circumcision helps prevent AIDS, certain cancers, etc. Others say circumcision has no impact on whether or not one can get AIDS, cancer, etc. There are those who point out that circumcision is better hygienically, but others counter that circumcision done in a synagogue or home is inherently not hygienic. People say circumcision reduces pleasure in intimate relationships. It goes on and on, and most of it is probably coming from biased sources. But it all comes down to the fact that, based on theology and/or culture, Jews and Muslims are circumcised. The questions is if my theological or cultural values need to yield to the “rights” of my son not to have an “unnecessary and painful surgery” performed until he is old enough to make the choice for himself, and that is the discussion that needs to be had. Everything else is secondary to that discussion.

Uniform compliance standards? So what if, by some miracle, you are able to get the all Jews to agree, you still haven’t addressed the underlying question. Require all mohels to be urologists? I would challenge you to take a survey of urologists and ask them who they feel is more experienced and qualified to circumcise an infant, a mohel or a urologist? Require anesthesia? Have you studied the risks of anesthesia on an infant? How about the amount of pain the infant actually feels? Are there studies about the risk vs. reward of anesthesia for circumcision on an infant? And how does my choice of which mitzvos/aveiros I am careful with impact the discussion? We can talk for hours about why more people drink wine at the seder than eat in a succah on succos, or why Chanukah is more widely observed than Shavuos, but the fact is that bris milah is now and has always been a mitzvah cherished by an extremely large proportion of the Jewish people, and the fact that someone may drive on shabbos or eat on Yom Kippur does not prevent him from ascribing value to other mitzvos.

So the main question remains: do my theological or cultural values need to yield to the “rights” of my son not to have an “unnecessary and painful surgery” performed until he is old enough to make the choice for himself? If so, what is the clear line where my rights/beliefs as a parent/religious person end? How about the values I teach my child? How about the clothes I buy for him or allow him to wear? If you say the difference is inflicting physical pain or a physical change on the body, what do you say to those who get their infant daughters’ ears pierced? And what about my child’s rights to have circumcision done at an age where he won’t remember the pain? If I am going to raise him in a religion which says all males must be circumcised, isn’t it more fair of me to do it to him as an infant? And all that having been said, the religious person feels it is his sacred obligation to circumcise his child, even if said procedure may cause pain to the child or be offensive to other people.

I’m sure that passionate people on either side of the argument can go back and forth for hours. But let’s not let these secondary items get in the way of the main discussion. Answer how far parental rights go vis-à-vis a child’s right to make his own decisions, and everything else will fall into place. Avoid the question, and nothing else matters.

Michael said...

There are a lot of articles/studies out there, and they don’t all agree. The CDC says Metziza b’peh is potentially harmful. Another article says the CDC Metziza b’peh study is flawed. Some say circumcision helps prevent AIDS, certain cancers, etc. Others say circumcision has no impact on whether or not one can get AIDS, cancer, etc. There are those who point out that circumcision is better hygienically, but others counter that circumcision done in a synagogue or home is inherently not hygienic. People say circumcision reduces pleasure in intimate relationships. It goes on and on, and most of it is probably coming from biased sources. But it all comes down to the fact that, based on theology and/or culture, Jews and Muslims are circumcised. The questions is if my theological or cultural values need to yield to the “rights” of my son not to have an “unnecessary and painful surgery” performed until he is old enough to make the choice for himself, and that is the discussion that needs to be had. Everything else is secondary to that discussion.

Uniform compliance standards? So what if, by some miracle, you are able to get the all Jews to agree, you still haven’t addressed the underlying question. Require all mohels to be urologists? I would challenge you to take a survey of urologists and ask them who they feel is more experienced and qualified to circumcise an infant, a mohel or a urologist? Require anesthesia? Have you studied the risks of anesthesia on an infant? How about the amount of pain the infant actually feels? Are there studies about the risk vs. reward of anesthesia for circumcision on an infant? And how does my choice of which mitzvos/aveiros I am careful with impact the discussion? We can talk for hours about why more people drink wine at the seder than eat in a succah on succos, or why Chanukah is more widely observed than Shavuos, but the fact is that bris milah is now and has always been a mitzvah cherished by an extremely large proportion of the Jewish people, and the fact that someone may drive on shabbos or eat on Yom Kippur does not prevent him from ascribing value to other mitzvos.

So the main question remains: do my theological or cultural values need to yield to the “rights” of my son not to have an “unnecessary and painful surgery” performed until he is old enough to make the choice for himself? If so, what is the clear line where my rights/beliefs as a parent/religious person end? How about the values I teach my child? How about the clothes I buy for him or allow him to wear? If you say the difference is inflicting physical pain or a physical change on the body, what do you say to those who get their infant daughters’ ears pierced? And what about my child’s rights to have circumcision done at an age where he won’t remember the pain? If I am going to raise him in a religion which says all males must be circumcised, isn’t it more fair of me to do it to him as an infant? And all that having been said, the religious person feels it is his sacred obligation to circumcise his child, even if said procedure may cause pain to the child or be offensive to other people.

I’m sure that passionate people on either side of the argument can go back and forth for hours. But let’s not let these secondary items get in the way of the main discussion. Answer how far parental rights go vis-à-vis a child’s right to make his own decisions, and everything else will fall into place. Avoid the question, and nothing else matters.

spodvoll said...

Michael,

I agree conflicting information exists; all the more reason to leave such a decision to my son. It was good enough for Abraham to be circumcised in adulthood. It was good enough for Moses to be circumcised in adulthood.

People do, indeed, worship in different ways and have different priorities. Most of them at least attempt to justify or rationalize their priorities. I for one don't see any rationalization for *infant* circumcision.

However, my perspective aside; many if not most Jews, many if not most Rabbis do indeed show disdain if not outright scorn for *my* decision to encourage my son follow in the footsteps of Abraham and Moses. Even you, Michael, are saying "all males *must* be circumcised" in *our* religion, inherently disallowing my choice despite my previous allusion; my wife and I are fairly observant, more observant than most I'd say. But, I digress.

So, the main question actually remains whether or not modern Jews (including Rabbis) will finally recognize and accept my son as a Jew, acknowledge the values that some of us can embrace Tikkun Olam over the superstitious dogma of our ancient, *priestly* ancestors.

Sincerely,
Steve Podvoll

P.S. I personally wouldn't even allow my daughter (or son) to have their ears pierced until adolescence at the very earliest. I certainly wouldn't do it to them in infancy.

Michael said...

You are correct that Abraham was not circumcised until adulthood, but I do not remember seeing that about Moses. If I recall correctly, the midrash says that Moses was born circumcised. It also says that the Jews, during the period of slavery, did not circumcise their children because of the danger involved, however the tribe of Levi was an exception, in that they did circumcise throughout the stay in Egypt. Since Moses was of the tribe of Levi, one can assume that if he was not born circumcised, he would have been circumcised at 8-days. (Remember he was hidden by his mother for a period of time and was not put into the basket in the Nile until 3 months.)

Regarding conflicting information, that is regarding the studies on the physical/medical benefits or drawbacks of circumcision. On the religious/cultural aspect, there is no dispute to the fact that Jewish people, whether because of theological belief or cultural standards, have circumcised their infant boys for generations, often times with enormous self-sacrifice.

Regarding the reaction you have received from others regarding your choice, I am not surprised. Circumcision is highly prioritized in both our culture and our religious literature. Just like the chabad guy on the corner wants you to put on tefillin and the outreach rabbi wants you to come to his Torah class and the synagogue rabbi wants you to come to shul shabbos mornings and your mother wants you to come to the Passover seder, someone who is in tune to the importance of circumcision in our religion is going to try to convince you to change your mind. Are you angry at the rabbi for trying to convince you to come to his weekly class? I think we would all expect him to do what he thinks is important, which is outreach, which involves getting people to come to his class. (Unless you have asked him to stop bothering you and he persists.) So too when people are informed of your decision not to circumcise, they are going to try to convince you otherwise if they are one of those who, culturally and/or religiously, feel it is an important responsibility of a Jewish parent. If you are so turned off by such pleas, I would recommend that you politely but firmly ask them to respect your decision and to refrain from bothering you.

As far as accepting your son as a Jew, the fact remains that anyone born of a Jewish mother is Jewish, regardless of circumcision or lack thereof. I feel your choice is wrong, but it does not impact the religion of your child, and shame on anyone who would imply otherwise.

I am glad that you do the mitzvos that you prioritize, and I would encourage you to increase your Torah learning in order to be able to learn about and embrace even more mitzvos. And hopefully you will learn, as I have , that ALL mitzvos contribute to tikkun olam, and to be proud to be a part of a “kingdom of *priests* and a holy nation”.

spodvoll said...

Michael,

Sorry to have delayed posting a reply until after Havdalah.

FYI, our people also abstained from circumcision the entire time we wandered the desert, after the Exodus and prior to entering Eretz Yisrael. Maybe there's an exemplar there. In any case, the accounts of Moses' circumcision are conflicting.

The "Chabad guy" thankfully doesn't (usually) spit in my direction. I *do* go to shul (on Shabbos, always voluntarily, always with great joy and reverence; I wish I could chant the Aleinu at three minyans each day; oy, if I were a rich man…), and the *only* reason I don't attend Rabbi's weekly Torah class is because I let my wife attend while I watch the kids, thank you. And I'm not at all angry with *our* Rabbis. Our Rabbis fully respect our choices. Our enlightened, erudite Rabbis happen to have six kids between them and, with the exception of one newborn, all of them are among my son's best friends. The folk who vex me are the yentas and the nudniks who have the chutzpah to judge my son based on adherence to a single one of 613 mitzvot, to judge me for allowing my son to make adult choices for himself rather than risk potential mutilation, infection, etc. without his permission; those self-appointed mavens who are constantly kvetching and hakn a tshaynik about this or that perceived transgression, sadly and ironically with little regard for Rabbi Hillel's golden rule. I also confess vexation for those Rabbis who would apparently prefer a return to the days of priestly Judaism; the "machers" who refuse to let my son accompany his mother in the Mikveh, etc.

As I previously alluded, my wife and I are fairly observant in many respects. However, I won't enumerate further just to wear our observance as some badge of holy honor. I will point out, however, that you and I are strangers to one another, that you haven't asked me a single question in the interest of getting to know me better, yet you seem to presume knowledge and understanding of me based solely on my stance regarding one of 613 mitzvot?!!! Frankly, I think it highly presumptuous of you to extrapolate such, to also presume I have not yet reached your level of learning. I will refrain from making presumptuous replies in-kind. Rather than presume, let me ask: How do you feel about wearing garments made of linen interwoven with wool, wearing Tzitzit and Tefillin, trying to manage in the modern world without being able to borrow on interest, residing in a Sukkah all the days of Sukkot, refraining from haircuts and shaving? While we're at it, please instruct me; how are sentencing "sorcerers" to death, allowing judges to sentence "deserving" convicts to decapitation, immolation, stoning, and strangulation counted among "ALL (the) mitzvot (which) contribute to Tikkun Olam"; do these particular precepts *taken literally* make you "proud to be a part of a 'kingdom of priests and a holy nation'" or do you take at least a few of them metaphorically?

Shavua tov,
Steve

P.S. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eD52OlkKfNs
(Pardon a bit of cultural chauvinism, but I suggest we leave to the goyim, et.al, fundamentalist literalism based on mere dogma and superstition.)

P.P.S. All these non-sequiturs aside, I still believe *infant* circumcision inherently constitutes an involuntary violation, making it one among many mitzvot which invite and warrant broad interpretation, but I'm perfectly willing to listen to reasoned counterpoint that isn't steeped in dogma. Finally, please bear in mind I have *not* advocated legal prohibition.

spodvoll said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
spodvoll said...

Dear Rabbi Jason,



Please pardon me for belaboring. With all respect, I propose a different tactic to better position us to counter legislation which could put Jewish ritual in jeopardy. I propose a learned Rabbi such as yourself... and I do mean that in all sincerity having followed your blogs and Facebook posts for some time... I suggest a learned Rabbi such as yourself admit that the opponents to circumcision have a few valid points and respond by developing new metaphors for ritual circumcision, metaphors that manage to adhere to the spirit of the mitzvah without subjecting innocent persons to inessential pain or possibility of medical complications. Be a pioneer. Offer such options and the "war on circumcision" might become moot. I'm sure there's some way to reinterpret the mitzvah and I'm sure you are among those who are capable of doing such to the satisfaction of all but the ultra-orthodox.



One thought occurs to me as a result of some additional research today: it seems that the original Brit Milah involved only the tip of the foreskin and sometimes only poking with a sharp object so that a bit of blood was drawn. It wasn't until overreaction to modernism circa 140 C.E. which led to the Peri'ah, i.e., complete amputation of the entire foreskin.

Sincerely,

Steve

mrbbq22@live.com said...

Anesthesia should be "encouraged but not required"? How can you allow traumatizing an infant? Inflicting that much pain in itself is a "health risk".

You can never fully take away the risk involved in surgery. There will always be infections, accidents resulting in severed penises and yes, even deaths. They may be rare, but the ethical question is this: how do you justify any risk on a human being who has not consented to be the subject of a religious ritual?

The only safe bris is no bris.

dreamerleoguy@yahoo.com said...

The practice of restraining and cutting off part of the external genitalia of a non-consenting individual - which incidentally exposes the non-consenting individual to non-trivial risks such as death, infections, loss of the penis and impotence - when there is no medical need for such a procedure.

Michael said...

I have a reputation among some that know me to babble and/or get off the subject and/or be unclear, and the reason for that reputation is probably obvious from my posts above. I’ve taken the time since I read your post Sunday morning to think about how to say things in a more clear and concise way, and I will probably still babble and be unclear, but here it goes anyway:

There are two main issues.

One is what I originally called the main issue, and that is whether a parent’s theological beliefs or cultural standards gives him/her the right to have an otherwise unnecessary medical procedure performed on an infant or whether that infant has the right to be able to make the choice in adulthood. Rabbi Jason, in the original post, is hypothesizing that ritual circumcision is under attack, and that we need to create uniform standards in order to improve its image in order to protect it from such an attack. With all due respect, I believe that is naïve and distracts from the discussion that needs to be had on this issue. Whether they are right or wrong, those who are opposed to infant circumcision will not be swayed by instituting such standards (e.g. the commenter who said “the only safe bris is no bris”). If we want to discuss ballot measures or court decisions, I think it needs to be done in the context of religious rights of parents versus the rights of children to make their own circumcision choice in adulthood, period, without other distracting issues.

Two is Mr. Podvoll’s issue of “modern Jews” who don’t accept his uncircumcised son or acknowledge his values vis-à-vis circumcision. No religious authority that I know of says that circumcision, or lack thereof, impacts the religious status of a person, and shame on anyone who would imply otherwise. However, circumcision has historically been very important, both religiously and culturally, for generations. For whatever reason, many of the most “modern” or secular Jews who no longer observe the Sabbath, kosher laws, etc., have held onto this mitzvah. We can discuss the “rationalizations” for this or the theological/cultural reasons why this one mitzvah is so deeply ingrained into the Jewish fiber, but that is a side point. The issue is that you are “vexed” by those who judge you or who try to convince you to change your mind. I would politely point out that religion (along with politics) tends to bring out very passionate feelings in people. It is not surprising at all to me that those who see infant circumcision as a sacred obligation of a Jewish parent would try to impress upon you the import of this mitzvah when they become aware that you have chosen not to circumcise. When I mentioned chabad on the corner or rabbis recruiting for their classes, it was just an analogy to show that people who believe strongly and passionately about certain things can be expected to express that passion. We can say the same thing about other issues, such as supporters for certain political causes, etc. If someone is being overly bothersome to you, or if someone ignores your request to stop talking about this particular issue, or if someone is engaging in lashon hara about you, your wife, or your son, that is wrong, and I am sorry that you have been subjected to such things. But the fact that this issue produces passionate conversation among Jews from all across the spectrum is not surprising to me. In fact, I would EXPECT it!

Steve, there were a lot of other items that were brought up by both you and me in earlier comments, and I don’t want to ignore them. While they are (in my opinion) distractions from the two main issues I’m mentioning here, many of them are very important. I happen to enjoy “passionate conversation” about these types of things with other people. However, in order to try and maintain at least a little clarity and to limit my babbling tendencies, I’m going to stop here for now. Maybe I’ll address the other items later.

Thanks,
Michael

spodvoll said...

Michael,

I appreciate your more conciliatory approach. Thank you. I must confess to having become increasingly thin-skinned in proportion to disrespect for my son, for my scholarship, and for my piety (or presumed lack, thereof) that some Londsmen have exhibited over the years. I try to refrain from basing my arguments on credentializing but my wife and I do study Torah, we take the mitzvot very seriously, and we deeply considered our choices.

Of course, parents should have the right to raise their children in their faith as they see fit, but we should also recognize that there are slippery-slopes, that lines must be drawn somewhere, that we can't allow, for extreme example, faiths that would promote religious infanticide. Furthermore, we constantly prioritize the mitzvot. Pardon me for citing another extreme hypothetical; would it be better to lie and thereby save an innocent life, or to tell the truth and thereby sacrifice the next Anne Frank? We do have mitzvot that conflict with the bris: Torah prohibits marking and altering the body, and the causing of pain to any living creature.

I concur with Rabbi Jason that circumcision is under attack. I gave great consideration to the title of his piece, in fact. "Being Honest About Ritual Circumcision" is the very reason I felt compelled to both tell my personal story and to acknowledge that "being (totally) honest" demands that we at least consider whether some critics of circumcision might actually have a valid argument or two. I suggest the best way to fend off the attack on our rituals should start with open, honest, intellectual (and Rabbinical) discourse rather than closed-minded (and Priestly) dogma. We should admit that most of us *very* freely interpret many of the 613 mitzvot and that there's sufficient rationale for re-thinking what turns out to be a somewhat militant over-interpretation made circa 140 C.E.

Shalom,
Steve

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

From Reuters today:

By Stephen Brown

BERLIN — Jewish religious leaders will hold an international meeting in Berlin today to discuss how to respond to a German court ruling against performing circumcision on baby boys.The ruling also sparked protests from Muslims and Christians in Germany.

A court in the western city of Cologne caused an uproar in June by ruling in the case of a Muslim boy who suffered bleeding after such an operation that circumcision causes bodily harm and should be performed only on males old enough to give consent.

The head of the Conference of European Rabbis said yesterday that the ruling is part of a trend to limit religious freedom in Europe, targeting Jewish and Muslim traditions such as circumcision and the religious slaughter of animals for meat.

“We see this decision by a German court in the context of a new European intolerance towards other religions,” said Pinchas Goldschmidt, the Swiss-born chief rabbi of Moscow and organizer of the Berlin meeting, speaking in Israel.

He cited a Swiss ban on building new minarets on mosques, a French ban on women wearing Islamic veils in public, and a failed Dutch bid to outlaw kosher and halal meat prepared by Jewish and Muslim butchers as examples of laws inspired by resentment at growing Muslim immigration.

Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant leaders in Germany denounced the verdict as an infringement of religious freedom.

Germany is home to about 4 million Muslims and 120,000 Jews.

Jews usually circumcise male infants eight days after birth; the time for Muslim circumcision varies by family, religious beliefs and country.

Goldschmidt, who represents about 700 rabbis, said he has witnessed many circumcisions on baby boys and adults, “and the older you get, the bigger surgery it is, needing more stitches and healing more slowly.”

Michael said...

Steve,

I wanted to respond further, and please forgive me in advance if my rambling and/or passion get the better of me. Even if it comes across that way, the goal is not to insult your scholarship or observance. (Afterthought – it seems that I did ramble too much as I have overshot the 4,096 character limit. This will therefore be posted in multiple parts.)

I know you are not advocating legal restrictions on infant circumcision, but there are those who would, and even *I* appreciate how modern society may view this as unnecessary and barbaric and a step onto the slippery slope. Nevertheless, there are reasons for even the most modern people to (in the very least) look the other way. First of all, while they are by no means undisputed, there are studies that show physical/medical benefits to circumcision. While there is inherent risk in any medical procedure, the possible medical/physical benefits should be weighed against the fact that the complication rate for infant circumcision is infinitesimal. Also, there are social issues to consider, such as the benefits/drawbacks when father is different from son or when one or two boys stand out as different in the school locker room. As a comparative example, I know parents who had children with certain facial skin issues, and (as far as I know) society had no problem allowing the parents to get the necessary procedures on their minor children in order that they should “look normal”. Additionally, there is the respect (or at least live-and-let-live attitude) that our modern society gives to even distasteful religious practices when they are not disruptive of society as a whole. Also, the attitude of “let the child decide for himself” doesn’t work if the parents value circumcision as an important religious precept because they will likely raise their children to feel the same way, thus leaving the child with the choice to ignore what the he believes to be a sacred obligation or have a complicated procedure (see article posted earlier by R’ Jason that circumcision gets more complicated as one gets older), thus fostering possible resentment toward the parent. Another factor is that it is well known that Jewish people generally believe circumcision at 8-days old to be extremely important, and it is naïve to think that making it illegal will stop the practice. Making it illegal will drive the practice underground, which will make it unsafe, and cause these parents to fear bringing their children to doctors, thus harming childhood health as a whole. Now, some of these may not apply to the majority of US infants who are circumcised in a non-religious fashion as common procedure in US hospitals. However, putting all the reasons above together should be enough to at least allow ritual circumcision when sincere religious beliefs of the parents dictate, without going on the slippery-slope to child sacrifice. By the way, disallowing infant circumcision also sets up a slippery-slope the other way, such as whether I am allowed to inculcate religious values to my child, teach them to believe in G-d, etc.

Michael said...

Part2
Regarding your issue about people prioritizing mitzvoth, this is a non-issue in my mind. I don’t see anyone telling people it isn’t appropriate to light Chanukah candles if you ignore the biblical holidays of Sukkoth and Shavuot. This person has a baby boy, therefore he has the opportunity of doing the mitzvah of bris mila on his son. What does it matter whether or not he wears tefillin? As for your hypothetical examples, the literature is pretty clear that all but three sins can be transgressed in order save a life. Additionally, for those who are concerned with which mitzvoth have priority when there is a conflict, the halacha addresses them. For example, one who is engaged in burying a dead body is exempt from saying the shema in its proper time. And while there is a separate mitzvah not to tattoo the body, I wasn’t aware of a mitzvah not to alter the body. After all, people get piercings, and even nose jobs. There is, however, a specific commandment to circumcise all males. And this particular commandment is spoken of in our literature with great reverence, and has been practiced with great self-sacrafice (as well as with great joy) for generations – even on the Sabbath or Yom Kippur. Regardless of when it began in its current form (which is open to debate – I’m not sure what your source is that priah started in 140 CE but according to Rashi, it started with Ishmael), it is deeply ingrained in our theology and culture. In fact, bris mila (along with the Passover Seder) are so important that Elijah the prophet “joins” us.

Being “totally honest,” I see how circumcision can be distasteful to people, but if you are Orthodox or Conservative, you are obligated in mitzvoth, whether or not you find them distasteful. Even if you don’t fulfill the obligations, the movement with which you associate yourself feels you are obligated, so don’t be surprised when you get negative reactions to your choice. If you don’t do mitzvoth, that is your business, but they are what the are. If you are Reform, reconstructionist, secular, or other, then you may not be theologically obligated, but are you really allowed to freely reinterpret the Torah according to your own tastes? To what end? Which items are open to reinterpretation? Only those that are distasteful to you? How about if I want to take the 6th and 7th commandments and reinterpret them. Instead of “Lo Tirtzach. Lo Tinaf.” It will be “Lo Tirtzach, lo! Tinaf!” And in the course of your reinterpretation, are you merely looking to mold the religion to something palatable to you, or to fit in with the standards currently prevailing in society? Or are you looking to be a part of something bigger, such as the precedents and practices of centuries that have kept our people alive and separate as a light unto the nations while the Greeks, romans, etc. have all died out (we are all familiar with the famous Mark Twain piece).

Michael said...

Part 3 (finale)
I’m not asking not to think for yourself. I’m only asking you to respect our shared history and try to look at some of these “distasteful” things without preconceived notions, as they may not, in fact, be distasteful. While you are watching the kid(s) when your wife is at the weekly torah class (or if they aren’t sleeping, at some other time), why not look into the what, why, and how of the “dogmatic priests” to see if perhaps there is something to it that you are missing. Check out partnersintorah.org who can set you up with a private partner to learn torah over the phone for free. You can start your conversation with them by saying something to the effect of “I have been turned off by many Jewish beliefs and practices as they seem to be closed-minded priestly dogma and I feel that my scholarship and practices are held in disdain by certain groups of Jews. However, I realized that if I base by views solely on negative news stories, stereotypes, or personal anecdotes, then I am just as closed-minded and disdainful as I accuse you of being. Therefore, I’d like to give you a chance to defend some of the things with which I have issues, as well as give myself a chance to possibly be able to look at my co-religionists with respect.”

Best of luck!
Michael

spodvoll said...

Michael,

I fully respect our shared history. In my heart, I still reside in the shtetl. But, I'm also concerned about our future. Exclusion probably isn't a good long-term strategy, especially exclusion based on somewhat arbitrary criteria. Yes, I do mean arbitrary and I once again cite the difference between milah and peri'ah (more on that in my postscript); risking digression, I once again cite the substantially loose interpretations that *all* but the Chasidim embrace, i.e., wearing garments made of cotton interwoven with wool, et.al, but not wearing Tzitzit and Tefillin, borrowing money on interest, haircuts and shaving, etc., etc. I fail to see how those who view so many mitzvot metaphorically insist on taking the one mitzvah literally.

Btw, on a personal level, I don't feel at all awkward and neither does my 10-year-old boy (I was a *very* late starter, 43 when my Moishele was born) that we aren't anatomical twins, if you get my drift. I'm fairly certain he will appreciate the fact that I left him the choice. And, should he consciously choose to be circumcised, wouldn't that make it all the more meaningful? I think so.

L'chaim,
Steve

P.S. from Wikipedia (I also researched cross-referenced and confirmed): Some Jews tried to hide their circumcision status, as told in 1 Maccabees. This was mainly for social and economic benefits and also so that they could exercise in gymnasiums and compete in sporting events. Techniques for restoring the appearance of an uncircumcised penis were known by the 2nd century BC. In one such technique, a copper weight (called the Judeum pondum) was hung from the remnants of the circumcised foreskin until, in time, they became sufficiently stretched to cover the glans. The 1st-century writer Celsus described two surgical techniques for foreskin restoration in his medical treatise De Medicina.[18] In one of these, the skin of the penile shaft was loosened by cutting in around the base of the glans. The skin was then stretched over the glans and allowed to heal, giving the appearance of an uncircumcised penis. This was possible because the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision defined in the Bible was a relatively minor circumcision; named milah, this involved cutting off the foreskin that extended beyond the glans. Jewish religious writers denounced such practices as abrogating the covenant of Abraham in 1 Maccabees and the Talmud.[19] Because of these attempts, and for other reasons, a second more radical step was added to the circumcision procedure. This was added around 140 AD, and was named Brit Peri'ah. In this step, the foreskin was cut further back, to the ridge behind the glans penis, called the coronal sulcus. The inner mucosal tissue was removed by use of a sharp finger nail or implement, including the excising and removal of the frenulum from the underside of the glans.[20] Later during the Talmudic period (500–625 AD) a third step, known as Metzitzah, began to be practiced. In this step the mohel would suck the blood from the circumcision wound with his mouth to remove what was believed to be bad excess blood.

spodvoll said...

P.P.S. I have only one more thing to add, re. the atrocious (and dangerous) ritual of Metzitzah: Feh!!!

;-)

Michael said...

Steve,

I’d like to react (perhaps it will be overreact) to your statement “all but the Chasidim…” and your need to interpret things in a metaphorical way, so be prepared for another passionate ramble – probably another multi-parter. (BTW, Steve, you seem to be much better at expressing yourself concisely that I am – kudos to you!)

There are those who paint with a broad brush by referring to all orthodox Jews as Chasidim, and there are certainly situations where it may not be inappropriate to do so. However, I think that in this case, you are being terribly misleading. When referring to “Chasidim” I think that the average person pictures those people in Brooklyn who have long side-curls, wear 18th-century garb, and isolate themselves (as much as possible) from outside society. While these Chasidim can correctly be called haredim or Orthodox, they are just a subset of Orthodox. There are also those who refer to themselves as “litvish” or “yeshivish” who are also correctly characterized as haredim, but not Chasidim. They dress in more modern garb but still maintain a certain distance from modern society (though less so than the Chasidim). There are also the modern orthodox, who are not haredim and who do not limit their interaction with modern society, but who still observe halacha (such as Sabbath, kosher, mikvah, etc.) as binding. And, of course, there are differences and gradations within each of these subsets of Orthodoxy, as well as those that may be in a gray area between these categories. However, none of these people, whether those in Brooklyn wearing 18th century garb, or those who may be sitting next to you in the movie theater wearing jeans and a t-shirt, believe that the prohibition of wearing wool and linen is a metaphor. They will tell you it is literal and it is binding. In fact, there is a group of people who do what is called “shatnez testing” and when someone buys, for example, a new wool suit, even if it says 100% wool, it is taken to these testers to make sure there is no linen in the stitching, under the collar, in the shoulder pads, etc.

How about the Conservative movement? Though they are open to revising and/or reinterpreting halacha when they deem it appropriate, and are surely not in favor of isolating themselves from modern society, they still, as a movement, regard halacha as binding. As far as I know (and a Conservative rabbi can correct me if I’m wrong), they hold by the same shulchan aruch as the Orthodox, and unless there is a teshuva from the rabbinical assembly stating otherwise, Conservative halacha and Orthodox halacha are the same. Today, I went to the website of the rabbinical assembly and searched to see if there is anything regarding shatnez, and I could not find. Therefore, it would seem to me that Conservative Judaism, as a movement, would say that one is not permitted to wear a garment that contains a mixture of wool and linen. Literally, not metaphorically.

When you say the “interpretations that all but the Chasidim embrace”, I think that the reader may interpret “only those crazy people who isolate themselves in their Brooklyn enclave and dress like a bunch of fools are the ones who actually feel” it is prohibited to wear a mixture of wool and linen or that one is obligated to wear tefillin. Let us be clear, though, that even the most modern of Orthodox Jews, as well as Conservative Judaism (as a movement, if not necessarily those who identify with the movement), believe that one is prohibited to wear a mixture of wool and linen and that one is obligated to wear tefillin and obligated to (literally) circumcise their sons.

Michael said...

Part 2
What about Reform? My understanding is that Reform feels that Jewish law is archaic and not applicable today. They believe that our religious literature is something where they can embrace the parts they like, reinterpret the parts they need to in order to be comfortable within modern society, and cast away the truly distasteful as remnants from earlier and less enlightened generations. Wikipedia says “Reform Judaism maintains that Judaism and Jewish traditions should be modernized and compatible with participation in the surrounding culture. Many branches of Reform Judaism hold that Jewish law should be interpreted as a set of general guidelines rather than as a list of restrictions whose literal observance is required of all Jews” which is pretty much the same thing I said, but in a nicer way. Quite frankly, if you can cast away something as left over from earlier and less-enlightened generations, why the need to go through the trouble of making metaphors anyway? And if you want metaphors, I’m curious how you would apply metaphors to something like shatnez, which is one of the classical examples of a commandment that is a “chok”, i.e. a decree from the King which we do not understand and which we follow because it came from the King.

Of course, there *are* metaphors in the Torah, such as the statement “an eye for an eye”. And our literature addresses how it is to be interpreted, and why the Torah would use the metaphorical statement in this particular case. The reason the mitzvah of circumcision is taken literally is because our literature directs us what is and isn’t literal, and the practice, as passed down through the generations, has been to treat it literally. And by the way, in the Orthodox world (even the modern orthodox world), the wearing of tzitzit and tefillin ARE taken literally and still practiced (why tefillin are only worn during morning services and not all day is a separate discussion), the prohibition of borrowing or lending money with interest (which only applies Jew-to-Jew, but not when the loan is from or to a Gentile) *IS* taken literally and still practiced, and shaving, beard trimming, and cutting certain areas of the hair are NOT just done willy-nilly but are, in fact, restricted in certain ways but allowed in other ways, as discussed in the talmud and responsa literature.

Michael said...

Part 3 (finale)
On a separate but related subject, I want to speak about this whole idea of interpreting something metaphorically instead of literally, even though it has been taken literally for centuries. Our religion is one based on tradition and the passing of this tradition down from parent to child and teacher to student and rabbi to follower from generation to generation. One might say that “the rabbis have too much power” or “the people aren’t allowed to think for themselves” but I don’t think this is the case. We must treat our rabbis with honor and reverence because they are the bearers of the tradition which we wish to continue and to pass to our children, but their power is far from absolute. As they say, people vote with their feet, and there are always those who are accused of being radical or abusive of their power or possessed with ulterior motives, and those people will not be able to maintain a following. Time is the true judge of how the tradition will endure. In the time of Maimonides (1135-1204), there were those who felt he was radical and should be excommunicated. In those days, before the printing press, wagonloads of his writings were publicly burned BY OTHER JEWS. It turns out that Maimonides has stood the test of time. He is regarded today as one of the most (if not the most) scholarly rabbis of the middle ages, his works are still studied, and are the basis (or a basis) for much of Jewish practice and philosophy today. In the time of the Ba’al Shem Tov (1698-1760), there were those who blasted his new movement of “chasidim” as radical, and there were those who felt he should be excommunicated. He has also stood the test of time. There are various (and differing!) chasidic communities in many parts of the world, many of them are growing at an exceptionally large pace, and most of their leaders trace themselves to the followers of the Ba’al Shem Tov. Even many who do not identify as chasidim study his writings and those of his followers. But there are people who are branded as radicals ALL THE TIME. Where are they? What happened to them? Why is it only the very few that we hear stories about? My guess is that they’re gone. They probably were radicals. Or they were incapable of convincing people to follow them. Or they got some followers but their writings or teachings weren’t able to stick for multiple generations. Steve, I don’t know you nor do I know with which Jewish movement you identify. Maybe you are part of the still new “Metaphorical Judaism”. And perhaps this new Metaphorical Judaism is going to be branded as radical and heretical by the establishment. And maybe it will survive like the Rambam and the Ba’al Shem Tov, and other more contemporary branches of Judaism that are experiencing “explosive growth” (not my term – see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/nyregion/new-yorks-jewish-population-is-growing-again.html) Or maybe it will turn out like the unknowns above, unable to grow a following, or unable to convince that following to stick with the tradition, or unable to get the next generation to be passionate and pass it along, assimilating with other cultures and watching the numbers dwindle until you are left with the necessity of changing rules for membership in order to keep your numbers up. Time will be the true judge.

Michael said...

Part 4 - addendum

And Steve, even if you fully believe that you are in the right and the "dogmatic priests" are in the wrong, remember the quote from a commenter on Rabbi Jason's post about patrilineal "dissent"

"Sometimes being-dead right means being `dead!’ Right?"

michael said...

I don't know why I can't let this go but I need to say more. You speak of residing in the shtetl in your heart but you espouse beliefs that will not maintain the shtetl in the future. I did not grow up orthodox but I am now. In orthodoxy, I have found a beautiful truth in the torah, halacha, and life outlook as passed down to and practiced by this community. I have also seen an open, loving and growing community who truly take care of one another with great self sacrafice. I have also seen how lack of proper jewish education, assimilation, and intermarriage have decimated non-orthodox communities, whose numbers continue to dwindle. And you speak with such disdain for what you call "priestly dogma" while claiming to live in the shtetl in your heart. Unfathomable!

spodvoll said...

Michael,

To quote one of my least favorite Presidents, "there you go again." Just when we were starting to get along, you condescend to me as you did last week. I can't believe it's been a whole week. Good Shabbos.

While you may now be holier than I, I happened to grow up in the Conservative temple, in a mishpachah that was entirely Orthodox or Conservative. I found Reform synagogue initially shocking, but ended up preferring some of it's tenets. However, I digress. I'm no pisher when it comes to Torah and Halakha, but believe of me what you will, whatever comforts you.

I never inferred that I considered the Chasidim crazy. That would not only be mistaken, it would be crass as my wife has a couple of Chasidic friends of whom she speaks very highly. I mentioned them for the sole purpose of noting that Chasidim are the only ones who seem to me, to take all 613 literally. Do you really want me to go through a listing of all 613 and challenge you on whether you and the majority of your Orthodox acquaintances observe them *all* literally or whether you take at least a few of them metaphorically?

I may feel the shtetl in my heart, but I'm only two generations removed. My grandparents had first-hand knowledge, spoke primarily Yiddish between themselves, etc. I started a family very late in life. My son's grandparents are gone, much less his great-grandparents. May their names and spirits always be a blessing, but the closest my son will ever come to first-hand knowledge of the shtetl will be in books and movies. May all of our ancestors' names and spirits always be a blessing, but Torah commands that our larger obligation is to future generations. As I previously mentioned, exclusion probably isn't a good, long-term strategy.

Abi Gezunt,
Steve

spodvoll said...

P.S. If you want to understand why "the numbers continue to dwindle" amongst the Orthodox community...

spodvoll said...

P.P.S. "A bird once set out to cross a windy sea with its three fledglings. The sea was so wide and the wind so strong, the father bird was forced to carry his young, one by one, in his strong claws. When he was half-way across with the first fledgling, the wind turned to a gale, and he said, "My child, look how I am struggling and risking my life in your behalf. When you are grown up, will you do as much for me and provide for my old age?"
The fledgling replied, "Only bring me to safety, and when you are old I shall do everything you ask of me." Whereat the father bird dropped his child into the sea and it drowned, and he said, "So shall it be done to such a liar as you." Then the father bird returned to shore, set forth with his second fledgling, asked the same question, and receiving the same answer, drowned the second child with the cry, "You, too, are a liar!" Finally he set out with the third fledgling, and when he asked the same question, the third and last fledgling replied, "My dear father it is true you are struggling mightily and risking your life in my behalf, and I shall be wrong not to repay you when you are old, but I cannot bind myself. This though I can promise: when I am grown up and have children of my own, I shall do as much for them as you have done for me." Whereupon the father bird said, "Well spoken, my child, and wisely; your life I will spare and I will carry you to shore in safety."

Michael said...

Steve,

I am usually a “lurker” on the blogs I visit, very rarely commenting. Even for the things that I can get very animated and passionate about, I tend to keep quiet. I don’t know what happened here, could be the subject matter, the timing, or a combination of these and other factors, but my personal feelings and passions have come pouring out in great quantity, as all can clearly see. At some point, I’ll probably just stop, but for some reason, I’m still going. If it sounds condescending to you, I apologize if it causes you personal insult. But, if the poor style of my statements gives you an excuse not to address the substance, then I guess it is good for you in the end.

Continuing the conversation: You grew up conservative, had orthodox family, and ended up in reform because you “preferred some if its tenets”. This is not surprising to me.

Conservative is, in some ways, difficult. As I said above, they are open to revising and/or reinterpreting halacha when they deem it appropriate. So, in other words, yesterday, your mother has to be Jewish, but tomorrow, only your father has to be Jewish. Yesterday, gay marriage is not allowed, but tomorrow we might change our minds. They say halacha is binding on everyone, but only the rabbis really follow it, and even they aren’t necessarily happy with the result if, for example, they are barred from officiating at a family member’s wedding (see Rabbi Jason’s partilineal post). I can see why someone who grew up that way decides to explore Reform or Orthodox.

Reform believe (from Wikipedia) “that Judaism and Jewish traditions should be modernized and compatible with participation in the surrounding culture. Many branches of Reform Judaism hold that Jewish law should be interpreted as a set of general guidelines rather than as a list of restrictions whose literal observance is required of all Jews”. Very easy. Do what you want! Interpret how you want! Is tefillin a metaphor? Is circumcision a metaphor? Up to you! Do you think a certain practice is archaic and incompatible with modern society? Don’t do it! (Unless it makes you feel good.) Do you want to put effort in your studies and try to learn and interpret? Wonderful! You don’t have time? OK, whatever makes you happy. Very easy for someone to join and very compatible with modern liberal societal standards. Was this paragraph condescending? Great! I did it on purpose so you’d have an easy excuse not to respond to the issues raised.

The Orthodox believe that one is bound by halacha, that one must respect the tradition and precedents as received from earlier generations, and the fact that you don’t understand something or that it doesn’t fit with modern society doesn’t make it wrong. You give the benefit of the doubt to the beliefs and practices that have sustained our people for generations, and you explore and try to understand and apply as best as you can. Lil’mod u’l’lamed, lishmor v’la’asot. This outlook, with no moral relativism, and without an agenda to change things and institute practices that *you* think will make life better for yourself and your people, is very difficult for one who grew up in modern liberal society. It goes against the grain to say “there is an absolute truth and there is absolute right and wrong” if you were raised with “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. Many, like me, have seen it, studied it, loved it, and found the comforting truth in it. Others think it isn’t for intellectuals; think it’s for people who want to be robots; think it involves no independent thought; or are just too entrenched in the societal ideals of relative truth.

Michael said...

Part 2: You said that your wife has a couple of Chasidic friends of whom she speaks very highly. Sort of like “I'm not racist; one of my best friends is Black”. Do non-chasidic Orthodox observe all 613 mitzvos? No! Some only apply to men; some only apply to women; some only apply to kohanim; some only apply in the land of Israel; some only apply when there is a Sanhedrin, etc. Is everything in the Torah literal? No! I gave my example of “eye for an eye” above, and there *are* others. The Talmud/commentaries/responsa address what is literal and what is not, and how to observe things today. Do all orthodox observe everything properly? No! We know we are lacking, we try to improve ourselves, we know we won’t be perfect. The point is to try to do the best thing when choices are presented to us, do teshuva when we do something wrong, and try to grow as we move along in life. I’m not sure who you are talking about when you say people take things metaphorically. If they are theologically orthodox, then they take it metaphorically if that is what the Talmud/commentaries/responsa say; if they are not perfect in their observance, they will (or should) admit it is a lacking in themselves.

I’m not sure why you think numbers dwindle in the orthodox community. As per the NY Times article I linked above, Orthodox is experiencing explosive growth. How about Conservative? Don’t take it from me. I’ll quote a conservative rabbi who posted a comment on Rabbi Jason’s patrilineal topic:

“Rabbi Arnold Stiebel, Ph.D. said... …. We are told that we are hemorrhaging members/Jewish members so fast that… Conservative Jews will be a non-entity in two decades….many congregations are closing … our percentage of the American Jewish population is dwindling, abandoning or being force to abandon Conservative Judaism….we got to wake up and smell the "shoshanot." For whom are we going to be rabbis? A quote: "Sometimes being-dead right means being `dead!’ Right?"”

My point is, where are the youth? Where is the future? If you raise your children with right and wrong, some of them may rebel and others may do wrong once in a while, but the vast majority of them will stick with the right and will pass it along to their children. If you can do what you want and all morality is relative, then what is to stop them from ignoring or belittling your teachings? Intermarrying? Jews for Jesus? Etc. To reiterate (by copy/paste) something I said in an earlier post , why not look into the what, why, and how of the “dogmatic priests” to see if perhaps there is something to it that you are missing. Check out partnersintorah.org who can set you up with a private partner to learn torah over the phone for free. You can start your conversation with them by saying something to the effect of “I have been turned off by many Jewish beliefs and practices as they seem to be closed-minded priestly dogma and I feel that my scholarship and practices are held in disdain by certain groups of Jews. However, I realized that if I base my views solely on negative news stories, stereotypes, or personal anecdotes, then I am just as closed-minded and disdainful as I accuse you of being. Therefore, I’d like to give you a chance to defend some of the things with which I have issues, as well as give myself a chance to possibly be able to look at my co-religionists with respect.”

Have a good shabbos.

spodvoll said...
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spodvoll said...
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spodvoll said...

Michael,

I never inferred that I have Chasidic friends. My wife does. I have attended a couple of her friends' gatherings, most recently a festival of sorts. You should have asked me to clarify my statement before presuming it evinced bigotry. In any case, I *greatly* respect and appreciate Chasidic Judaism. I find it to be notably and refreshingly **consistent**. In fact, I often find myself drawn to the joyful and passionate dedication of Chasidic Jewry. I have great respect for the Reform / Reconstructionist movements, as well. Consideration of choices in the pursuit of Tikkun Olam has bred some incredible scholarship and erudition. I have issues with the Conservative and especially (modern) Orthodox movements, to be blunt.

Once again, you don't know me from Adam yet you have made inferences that my study of Torah is somehow less rigorous than your own. At this point, the *only* thing you could possibly know with certainty regarding my observance of Halakha or lack, thereof, is that I have not subjected my son to involuntary circumcision. Yet you seem to infer from that one fact that I am less observant than you of the remaining mitzvot. Torah prohibits soothsaying, you know.

Have you ever heard of Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev? He was one of the great figures of his time and he apparently preferred to dress down, in solidarity with the poor. One day while traveling by train to Pinsk, some macher boarded after the great Rabbi and found no empty seats up front. He presumed the already seated Rabbi to be some beggar and rudely ordered Rabbi Yitzhak to move to the back of the train. The Rabbi silently complied. When the train arrived at the station, this macher noticed a huge crowd had gathered to greet the presumed beggar, inquired, learned that he had insulted one of the greatest Rabbis in the land, and tried to apologize. Rabbi Yitzhak told him not to worry, that a Rabbi had not been insulted. He added, however, that a poorly attired person had most certainly been insulted and each poorly attired person in the world now deserved personal apologies.

Recognizing, much less atoning for affronts to strangers can be a dicey proposition, you see. You apologized if you caused *me* personal insult, but you don't really know me, do you?

Re. the Orthodox belief that all Halakha are binding, did you know that the commandment in Devarim 6:8 doesn't limit to Temple alone the wearing of Tefillin? So, is it simply too inconvenient to bind thine arm and wear frontlets between thine eyes the rest of the time?

Again, should we *reside* in a Sukkah for all the days of Sukkot?

Should we have Tzitzit on the corners of *all* our garments?

Shall we sacrifice two lambs each day?

Oh, and btw, lending (and implicitly borrowing) at interest is indeed forbidden, even amongst Londsmen.

My favorite is Devarim 13:1. Look it up. It's pretty clear that Devarim 13:1 commands us to Torah in the literal sense, that *no* interpretation is allowed, no diminishment *nor* augmentation. So, how does, "thou shalt not boil a kid in it's mother's milk" become augmented into a complete prohibition on consuming animal flesh with dairy, to the point where Orthodox Jews must refuse a friendly offer of chicken parmesan? In such an hypothetical case, they are either intentionally violating Devarim 13:1 or exhibiting ignorance to the fact that chickens aren't mammals. ;-)

A hint to my own observance; in this particular area I confess to violating Devarim 13:1 in that I do over-interpret (similarly to the Orthodox), i.e., I do refrain from consuming dairy and meat in the same meal. No cheeseburgers or reuben sandwiches shall pass my lips, not even turkey burger patty melts.

spodvoll said...

Admit it's likely that the majority of self-identified Orthodox Jews violate the mitzvah as proscribed in Devarim 13:1. Accept, on an intellectual level at least, that if one seeks affiliation, the only solution to Devarim 13:1 is to affiliate either with the Chasidim or with the Reform / Reconstructionist movement, one or the other. ;-)

As for the youth, I have great hope for my own and for their circle of friends who are certainly learning that family, community, service, tzedakah, et.al, are the keys to making us "a light unto the nations". As for the future, I suggest we continue as we have for two millennia, down the *Rabbinic* path of study and ever-increasing enlightenment which has indeed, in your words, "sustained our people for generations" (over two millennia). I strongly doubt blind allegiance to an hereditary, dynastic succession of Kohanim Gadol could have been as successful through all our challenges. And, frankly, had an hereditary, dynastic succession of Kohanim Gadol managed to dominate, I strongly doubt I would have personally appreciated that their "brand" of Judaism prevailed over that of the authors of the Mishnah and the Talmud. Frankly, priestly Judaism (minus the cult of personality) seems to me closer to the teachings of Saul of Tarsus than it does to the Mishnah, but I digress. As for teaching the difference between right and wrong, I do *not* teach my children that morality is relative. Rather, I teach them that morality is indeed unambiguous, neither arbitrary nor ideological. I teach my children that all morality is based in Rabbi Hillel's Golden Rule, that the objective of morality is Tikkun Olam. What's to stop any kid from ignoring or belittling their parent's teachings? They will always make their own choices in the end. In the meantime, Adonai S'fatai Tiftach; my wife and I remain very active members of our community, and our Moishele loves G-d, Torah, and shul. Our little girl loves shul, too, and she will start learning Torah in Hebrew school soon enough. We nurture, we teach, we set an example, we try to avoid causing through our own actions or inaction that which might cause our kids or anybody else for that matter unwarranted emotional or *bodily* harm, and we hope. That's all we can do. There are no guarantees.

Back to the subject at-hand: So let me ask, Michael, coming back full circle to Rabbi Miller's original theme, my initial contributions to the thread, and straight to-the-point; do you personally consider it progressive or regressive that the bris evolved from the Milah, to the Peri'ah, and finally to the Metzitza B'peh? Is Metzitza B'peh an Halachic obligation, an option, or an unnecessary risk, potentially an act of child-endangerment? With all respect, I will not likely "come out to play" with you again unless you answer these last two questions clearly and unequivocally.

Another Shavua Tov to you and yours.

spodvoll said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
michael said...

I would like to continue the conversation, but have beed quite busy since shabbos. Hopefullt tomorow. Kol tuv.

Michael said...

Steve,

Sorry for the delay in responding. I’ll try to go through your most recent (available) posts in order and respond in order, as possible.

Part1: Your statement several posts ago “all but the Chasidim…” could easily be interpreted as pejorative by either readers who like to bash Chasidim or by the Chasidim (or their Orthodox brethren) who are sensitive to negative statements about the ultra-orthodox that are so common on the media or blogosphere. I pointed that out, and you responded about Chasidic friends. In the more recent post, you have now made it clear that *you* respect Chasidim, though your earlier statements about you (or your wife) having Chasidic friends did not clarify.

You find the Chasidim to be “refreshingly consistent” but you seem to be hesitant to apply that to other subsets of Orthodoxy. As an Orthodox person myself, I may be more sensitive to the nuances among us. There are those who are “Haredim” or “Ultra-Orthodox” who are not, in fact, Chasidic. I struggle to figure out what it is that is “consistent” in the Chassidic world that is not “consistent” among the “yeshiva” world of Mir, Telz, Torah v’daas, Lakewood, etc. Perhaps you are using the word Chasidic as a synonym for “Haredi” or “Ultra-Orthodox”. If that is so, we are on the same page. If not, one (or both) of us is missing something. Among the “Modern Orthodox”, again, there are many gradations, and I am probably more familiar since I am in this world. (This is not an insult to your scholarship – you are surely more familiar with the nuances among Reform and Reconstructionist.) I admit that there are serious issues with the so-called “Open Orthodox” movement and the like. Other “Modern Orthodox” philosophies may or may not be problematic, again, depending on which one(s) you choose to explore.

Regarding the Reform/Reconstructionist pursuit of “tikkun olam”, I have certain issues. While social justice is definitely a good thing, it is not necessarily worthy of being prioritized at the expense of other mitzvoth. If our religious practice is boiled down to synagogue attendance once a weekend and on major holidays, and then go out and be active in whichever organization you feel does good (with “good” based on however modern society defines it), then how are we different from other religions? I am *not* accusing you personally of failure to perform any mitzvoth, merely speaking of the (apparent) Reform/Reconstructionist philosophy in general, and how the religion is practiced by most of those who identify as Reform/Reconstructionist. I also want to make sure that readers (not you, Steve – I’m sure you know) know that there *is* social justice within the “ultra-orthodox” with chesed funds, gemachs, bikur cholim societies, etc. We do not discount these ideals. I Also want to point out that the term “tikkun olam” has, in recent times been translated as social justice activities, but the original meaning of that term was not. In the Aleinu (which you once said you would like to chant three times a day), it says “l’taken olam b’malchut shadai” – which, according to the Orthodox, is accomplished by our heartfelt prayer for “lir’ot m’heira b’tiferet uzecha”, and with spreading the idea of Torah and Mitzvoth (including, but not exclusively, social justice) and love and reverence for G-d.

Michael said...

Part2: You are correct that I don’t know you or your level of scholarship. I don’t know which mitzvoth you keep. I don’t know if that is relevant to the conversation. In this world of anonymous blogging, you are a “faceless” non-Orthodox Jew, and I am a “faceless” Orthodox Jew. Neither of us is (necessarily) representative of our group. I am not just typing to you specifically, but to any other person who may be reading this and who has similar feelings about circumcision specifically or Orthodox beliefs and practices in general. It is clear that you personally have more knowledge than typical. As I said in an earlier post, for some reason this whole conversation has brought out passions within me, and I may not be responding just to what you say, but to thoughts I perceive in other potential readers of this blog, to my (correct or incorrect) interpretations of your words, or to things that have been said to me by other people that this topic has brought back into my memory.

I have heard of R’ Levi Yitzchak. He is known for legendary stories of thinking positively and giving the benefit of the doubt. On that note, I want to say that despite the fact that I think non-Orthodox philosophies are wrong, I do believe that the vast majority of non-Orthodox people (yourself included) have only the best in mind for the future of the Jewish people. They do not identify with movements or make mitzvah priorities in a reckless manner. I may speak harshly about the movements or philosophies, but I respect the individuals. Though I think they are on the wrong path, they should get credit for their motivations. I would be happy to have a conversation with any of them if we are willing to speak with an open mind and willing to not be personally insulted by passions or ideas that come out. Speaking of giving the people the benefit of the doubt, and based on my statements above about the fact that I am not speaking exclusively to you, I would ask you to please not take things personally, but as an open discussion where passions may get out of hand, but the underlying respect for the individual stays in tact.

Michael said...

Pt3: Is it worth it to go through tefillin, sukkah, tzitzit, and sacrifices individually? All these apply equally to the Chasidim who you respect so much. They also don’t wear tefillin all day, may not dwell in the succah all week (depending on how you define “dwell”), make animal sacrifices, or have tzitzit on ALL of their garments. Each one of these has an answer. If you are a scholar, you have probably heard the answers before. If you are looking to attack and poke holes in Orthodoxy, the answer will never be satisfactory to you. If you are looking to learn, contact “partners in torah” as I linked above. To speak generally, though, as well as to answer your query about ba’al tosif (Deut 13:1), I will say a few things. The written torah begs for interpretation. There are many things that are unclear or even contradictory if taken literally. If it is the G-d-given guide for all aspects of life, how can this be so? Is it open for interpretation by anyone who wants? How is that a guide by the Unchanging G-d? As I said in an earlier post, let’s say “Lo tirtzack, lo! Tinaf!” This is clearly not the case. There is an oral tradition, also G-d-given, that came with the Torah and explains and clarifies, and is just as binding. There is also the power given to rabbis to legislate safeguards, which are also binding, but less so. Eating meat from a kosher species of domestic mammal with milk from a kosher species of domestic mammal is forbidden on a Torah level, despite the fact that the written torah only says “kid in its mother’s milk”, as explained by oral tradition. Non-domestic mammals and poultry is rabbinic, due to their legislative power. The “respected” and “consistent” Chasidim also feel this way. This is not “adding to the mitzvoth” as understood by the oral tradition. These are typical attacks on Orthodoxy by those who wish to discredit it. If anyone wants to attack, there is plenty there to pounce on. If someone wants to learn the why and how, then the opportunity is there as well. And if one wants to make the accusation of inconsistency, that is your prerogative, but you should know that just because something *seems* inconsistent doesn’t mean it won’t appear consistent when studied and analyzed in depth (and vice versa).

As far as I know, the majority of self-identified Orthodox Jews understand deut. 13:1 as I stated above. Do they *all* follow the shulchan aruch to the letter? No. That may be due to ignorance, negligence, or just being overcome by desire. That does not mean they don’t believe in Deut. 13:1 as classically understood, and I’m not sure on what basis you would make such a statement.

Regarding the youth, as I said above, I do not doubt your motivations. I agree that emphasizing “family, community, service, tzedaka” is important. We haven’t had “dynastic succession of kohanim gedolim” since the destruction of the Temple. During those times, the Kohen Gadol had certain authority, but he shared this authority with the Davidic King and the Sanhedrin. In the later days of the 2nd Temple, this may not have been the case, but the Judaism that survived (and we believe that the version that survived did so due to divine intervention making sure that the proper version is the one that is still around) has been lead by Torah scholars – and that has done us well. I agree that the objective of morality is “tikkun olam” - not defined as social justice but as “l’taken olam b’malchut shadai” I agree with “Rabbi Hillel’s golden rule” but if there is a part of Torah that we do not understand as complying with the golden rule, it is the height of arrogance to say “*I* think this doesn’t comply with the golden rule so I am going to toss aside this commandment”. Better to say “Hillel believed in this commandment and he also believed in the golden rule. Let me learn and explore *how* this is consistent with the golden rule, despite my feelings to the contrary”. This humility is what defines the *true* Torah scholars, and they are the ones I want to stick with.

Michael said...

Part4: Before your “back to the subject”, I continue to feel that the specifics of any one issue, while possibly pertinent to the original discussion, are only a small part of the larger issue, which is discussed above. But I don’t want to ignore the question and I have no problem speaking to the topic. And if you (or any other reader!) would like specific discussion of some of the other items (tefillin, succah, etc.) that you speak about above, please post here or contact partnersintorah.org. I am far from knowledgeable on everything, but would be happy to discuss what I know.

Now, despite your sources, I do not accept that milah “evolved” to include priah at a later time. Rashi at the end of parshat Lech Lecha, where Abraham and Ishmael are circumcised, speaks in detail that priah was not necessary for Abraham due to the absence of the membrane, but was necessary (and was performed) for Ishmael. My understanding is that priah (where possible) was done from that time forward. Even if this would not be so, priah is codified in the halacha (as far back as the mishna (2nd century C.E.) as being integral to the ceremony and invalidating the circumcision if not done. Metzitza (the drawing out of blood), while required, does not invalidate the mitzvah if not performed, indicating it is a rabbinic addition, though I am not sure how “early” or “late” it came into the picture. All three steps are mentioned in the mishna, as being integral enough to permit Sabbath desecration. How metzitza should be performed today is the subject of discussion among authorities. Some prefer direct oral suction, some the use of a glass tube, and I have even seen that the use of a sponge to draw out the blood may be acceptable. Blood (with or without suction) is important in the ritual for spiritual/kabbalistic reasons. The bloodless circumcision done in hospitals with a clamp may or may not be valid halachically, and I have heard that it causes significantly more pain to the infant than circumcision as performed by a mohel. I am not convinced that direct oral suction is an act of “child endangerment”. I have heard of the CDC study and the efforts by the NYC health department to restrict direct oral suction. I have also read articles contradicting the CDC study, including: positing that some of the statistics used are faulty and possibly indicating LESS adverse incidents with direct oral suction; that testing, while scientifically possible, was not done to confirm if the virus that caused the infant’s death actually came from the mohel, possibly indicating a “witch hunt” by those who are “grossed out” by the idea of direct oral suction; and that one death cited by the NYC health department and CDC as having been caused by metzitza b’peh was actually caused by an older sibling sharing a pacifier with the baby. I have said in earlier postings that these studies and articles (both sides of the issue) should be taken with a grain of salt – everyone has their motivations and baises. Personally, though, I have had sons, and have had them circumcised by a mohel. I trust my mohel as both G-d-fearing and knowledgeable of all pertinent facts, and I trust him to do things in the best way, both medically and halachicaly. I didn’t ask how he did metzitza, and honestly, I look away during the ceremony as blood tends to make me a bit queasy.

Sorry again for the delay in responding. All the best.
Michael

Michael said...

Part 2 may have gotten lost in cyberspace. Apoligies if it is my fault. I'm glad I kept it in another document to be sure!

Part2: You are correct that I don’t know you or your level of scholarship. I don’t know which mitzvoth you keep. I don’t know if that is relevant to the conversation. In this world of anonymous blogging, you are a “faceless” non-Orthodox Jew, and I am a “faceless” Orthodox Jew. Neither of us is (necessarily) representative of our group. I am not just typing to you specifically, but to any other person who may be reading this and who has similar feelings about circumcision specifically or Orthodox beliefs and practices in general. It is clear that you personally have more knowledge than typical. As I said in an earlier post, for some reason this whole conversation has brought out passions within me, and I may not be responding just to what you say, but to thoughts I perceive in other potential readers of this blog, to my (correct or incorrect) interpretations of your words, or to things that have been said to me by other people that this topic has brought back into my memory.

I have heard of R’ Levi Yitzchak. He is known for legendary stories of thinking positively and giving the benefit of the doubt. On that note, I want to say that despite the fact that I think non-Orthodox philosophies are wrong, I do believe that the vast majority of non-Orthodox people (yourself included) have only the best in mind for the future of the Jewish people. They do not identify with movements or (hopefully!) make mitzvah priorities in a reckless manner. I may speak harshly about the movements or philosophies, but I respect the individuals. Though I think they are on the wrong path, they should get credit for their motivations. I would be happy to have a conversation with any of them if we are willing to speak with an open mind and willing to not be personally insulted by passions or ideas that come out. Speaking of giving the people the benefit of the doubt, and based on my statements above about the fact that I am not speaking exclusively to you, I would ask you to please not take things personally, but as an open discussion where passions may get out of hand, but the underlying respect for the individual stays in tact.

spodvoll said...

Michael, It's my turn: hopefully I will be able to reply tomorrow just before Shabbos.

spodvoll said...

Michael,

I can see how my earlier statement re. the Chasidim could be misinterpreted as disparaging when the opposite is true.

As for distinguishing between various forms of Orthodoxy, the Chasidim have made it a *core* objective from the days of their founding to reinforce the joyful aspects of living a Jewish life. So, despite considerable skepticism over Orthodox (and Conservative) attempts to reconcile the (IMO clearly) irreconcilable incongruity between Devarim 13:1 and the "Oral Torah", I feel tremendous empathy with our Chasidic brethren; I am a joyful Jew, the husband and father of joyful Jews.

I can't imagine a Chasidim spitting on less-observant Jewish children on their way to school. They seem too happy to be so angry and malicious. Speaking of malice, some sections of Torah would seem to endorse brutality towards fellow Jews under certain circumstances. Thank G-d for Rabbi Hillel, the Oral law, the Talmud, the concept of Tikkun Olam, etc.!

It doesn't matter to me what fellow Jews "feel" in their hearts. It matters to me what they are *doing*, *to* each other and their community vs. *for* each other and their community. G-d is our father. As a father myself, I am far more interested in how my children treat each other than I am in how they treat me.

Back to the problem of Devarim 13:1, I do acknowledge the Oral Torah, and therefore *must* acknowledge that the remaining 612 mitzvoth are open to interpretation. So, I agree that it's not necessary to wear Tefillin 24/7.

Finally, to the subject at-hand; I won't bother to cite (the many) additional sources re. the Peri'ah. Rather I will cite 1 Maccabees as reference to the fact that Jews of the day had indeed been attempting to obscure their circumcisions for various reasons. I challenge anybody who had been subject to Peri'ah to attempt hiding the fact of their circumcision. Anyway, those who are skeptical of "traditional" Metziza B'peh seem to me opening the door to skepticism re. other aspects of what has *become* of the bris.

Another Shabbat Shalom!

Michael said...

Steve,

Apologies again for the time it took to reply.

In one place, you say there is “irreconcilable incongruity” between the Oral Torah and the commandment not to add to the Torah, but in another place, you say that you “acknowledge” the Oral Torah. Well, I am glad that you acknowledge it, because it has to be! There are so many things that are dependant on both the Oral Torah and the authority of the Sages to legislate. One example is the Jewish calendar. If someone celebrates any Jewish holiday (especially Chanukah!) on the day commonly accepted to be that holiday, s/he is basing his/her observance on the Oral Torah and the authority of the Sages to legislate. Even the number 613 that you use so much comes from the Oral Tradition. I would challenge someone to go through the whole written Torah and count the mitzvoth. It is almost impossible that he will come to 613 – he will probably count way more or way less.

You bring up the story of Hillel, but for the benefit of those readers who may not know, it started by someone coming to him saying that he will convert if Hillel could tell him the whole Torah while standing on one leg. Hillel answered “What is hateful to yourself, don’t do to other people. The rest is commentary, go and learn it.” Did you know there is another similar story with this same Hillel? In this, someone came to him saying that he will convert if he only had to learn the Written Torah. Hillel accepted him and started him from the beginning. This is aleph, this is beit, this is gimmel, etc. The next day, he went to review with him and changed up the letters. The student challenged him that the letters have changed since yesterday, and Hillel answered that Torah without the Oral Tradition doesn’t even know which letter is which!

To elaborate on something I said in an earlier post, this same Hillel also has many other statements that are brought in the mishna, Talmud, and elsewhere. If he says something in one place that seems to be “hateful”, but he also is the source of the “golden rule”, then doesn’t it follow that what he said elsewhere must not be hateful? Instead of tossing it out because we think it despicable, why not try to learn in more depth? Perhaps we may find that, without the blinders imposed by our cognitive dissonance, it may in fact fit perfectly with this golden rule. This kind of thought is very common when one learns Talmud. A certain rabbi said ABC in one place and XYZ in another, and they seem to contradict! So we go through and see what *WE* are missing in order to reconcile his statements. And this is also what I would say to someone who sees “irreconcilable incongruity”. Are all the people who believe in the Torah (written and oral) and the rabbinic legislation stupid? Are entire communities based on faulty logic? Or maybe *I* am missing something! You have good questions, Steve. There *ARE* a lot of apparent inconsistencies. But don’t completely discount the Judaism practiced by our ancestors for generations based on some fleeting modern ideals, or superficial understandings, or based on a few personal incidents you have experienced, or based on some poorly worded and long-winded blog posts by a faceless guy who identifies himself as Orthodox. Why not learn from an Orthodox source? Ask a question to a qualified Orthodox rabbi or teacher. Share your skepticism, but be open to the fact that maybe, just maybe, you might be missing something. May I suggest another website? It is http://www.simpletoremember.com. They have articles and audio files on many subjects. And so as not to ignore your statements about “joy”, I would suggest a lecture on Happiness by Rabbi Akiva Tatz: http://www.simpletoremember.com/authors/a/rabbi-akiva-tatz/ If I remember the lecture correctly, he talks about the difference between “fun” and “happiness”. Or if another topic strikes your fancy, please enjoy it! Specifically, I enjoy Rabbi Tatz and Rabbi Gottlieb: http://www.simpletoremember.com/authors/a/rabbi-dovid-gottlieb/

Michael said...

Part 2 (only two parts this time!): Regarding the spitting incident you bring up, I do not know if that person identified with a Chasidic or non-Chasidic branch of Judaism. In either case, the incident has been called terrible and the action inappropriate by ALL. I have not heard of any figure of authority or scholarship in ANY branch of Judaism, Chasidic or not, who has defended this person’s actions. Furthermore, I believe that this is a “man-bites-dog” story and that is why it made the news. It is a sad-but-true fact of life that the actions of a small minority of people are often used by outsiders to judge an entire group of people. It should be a lesson to us to act in an upright way so we don’t cause others to speak badly about our group, as well as to remember not to ascribe to an entire group the actions of a few individuals.

Finally, on to our “subject-at-hand”. I am NOT skeptical of metziza b’peh (mbp). I acknowledge that it, as well as other methods, are (or, at least, may be) acceptable ways to fulfill the halacha of drawing out of blood. I also acknowledge the discomfort that some may have with metziza as traditionally practiced, either from a hygiene perspective or otherwise. I am happy that there are reliable authorities who have said that use of a glass tube is acceptable, and I would understand any parent who would prefer the use of a tube. However, I am also skeptical of the study that mbp is harmful and I have seen articles that show why the study was faulty. Therefore, I am against any who would (through governmental legislation or otherwise) ban the practice in cases where both the mohel and the parents would like it done the traditional way.

Have a great shabbos and best wishes for a meaningful Tisha b’av.

Michael

spodvoll said...

Michael,

Yes, I do accept the Oral Torah. Therefore, I must *reject* literal translation of Devarim 13:1. Anybody who accepts Oral Torah does, likewise, whether they admit it or not. There really is no other alternative.

Accordingly, this clearly raises the issue of literal interpretations in general. I challenge literal interpretation of Bereshit 17:10. In fact, distinguishing between Milah and Peri'ah, I challenge *over* interpretation of Bereshit 17:10, as well.

Btw, I would go so far as to say that the Oral Torah is still a work-in-progress. It seems to me that those who refuse to expand upon the wisdom of the past are inherently refusing to add to the wisdom of future generations.

As for the spitting incidents, et.al, these were far from isolated "man bites dog" stories. There have been numerous reports of this *and* similar abuses, mainly of young girls, btw. Although I trust data more than anecdotal information, I also have friends and relatives who have witnesses such, first-hand. I don't know for a fact, but I can't imagine a Chasid conducting himself in such a manner. In any case, holier-than-thou attitudes can provoke sociopathic objectification of "the other".

Where is Metziza in Torah? *Why* do you consider it at all intrinsic to fulfilling the mitzvah?

Good Shabbos,
Steve

spodvoll said...

Postscript: We heard the Pres. of the URJ speak this past Shabbat and he invoked something in the parsha which prompted me to think again about the distinction between progress and stagnation (not to mention regress) in *interpreting* the mitzvoth:

רַב-לָכֶם שֶׁבֶת, בָּהָר הַזֶּה

Rabbi Jacobs also had a few pithy words for those who look down their noses at Reform Judaism as "Judaism Light". Just saying, as they say.

Anyway, back to the Metziza, isn't protecting human life a higher priority than a (potential) violation of ritual? Chamira sakanta me’isura, nu? Whether or not there have been actual incidents of disease transmission, do we really need to wait for such an incident to occur? There's little doubt that such incidents are well within the realm of possibility. That aside, here's a challenge; please define for me in legal terms, where you would draw the line on acceptable adult oral contact with infant genitalia. Please pardon me for being so blunt, but let's get down to brass tacks.

Again to be blunt, I feel sorry for those who believe their generation and generations of their descendants are incompetent to contribute to the Oral Torah, that enlightenment ceased to expand after the Talmudic era. I feel sorry for those who place pedantry above learning, thinking, and adding to our body of scholarship. It reminds me of blind devotion to the Nicene creed, et.al. From a personal standpoint I would rather my son prioritize his commitment to my great, great grandchildren over his commitment to me and my forebears.

Pardon me for refraining from greetings and felicitations on Tisha B'Av.

Michael said...

Steve,

Let’s look at a basic question. Why did the Written Torah have to be so cryptic and confusing? Why not just give us all the details? Why the need for an Oral Torah to start with? One answer I have heard (and I am surely not as eloquent as those I am paraphrasing) is that words are limiting. I hesitate to use a specific example from the Torah, as I don’t want to distract from the main idea with any specific issues, so let’s think about an understanding that one may have with a business partner. We may have a contract, but there are certain understandings we have between us or exceptions that we expect will be made. We know and trust each other, and the contract is a formality. If we tried to write everything down, the contract could be dozens of pages long and our legal bills would be outrageous! (Obviously, a contract is a good idea, but partners who trust each other may, of course using good judgment, deviate from the exact contractual requirements with the tacit or explicit approval from their partner.) Or, on another level, we can think about our love for our spouses, our children, our parents. Would you attempt to write it down? You can say “I love you” and try to express things in words, but you can never say enough, and words are belittling to the actual feelings.

This is the same idea with Torah. Torah is the word of an infinite G-d who is giving us instructions for how to live. Words are inadequate. The Written Torah is important, but the Oral Torah is the main thing. These details and ideas that were give to us, through Moses, were not written down. It was meant to be passed orally, from teacher to student. One cannot write down every idea, every facial expression and intonation of the rebbe, every detail and every exception, etc. The words would lose so much, and would be insulting to the Source from where it came.

Around 2,000 years ago, the leader of the generation was seeing the terrible persecution and the decline of scholarship, and he made a decision that, for the sake of survival, we have to write this stuff down. And that is the Mishna. But he knew that to rely exclusively on the written word would lose too much, so he made the Mishna as “notes” to the larger lecture that would still be given, teacher to student, for generations to come. As the scholarship continued to decline generation after generation, as we get farther from the source of the Mishna, and farther from the Source of the Original Oral Torah, more had to be written down. We have the gemara, the rishonim, the Shulchan Aruch, the Acharonim, and all the way to our current generation.

So, is the Torah a work in progress? Yes and No. Yes, Rav Moshe Feinstein’s teshuvos are part of Torah. Yes, Rav Mordechai Gifter’s and Rav Avigdor Miller’s recorded lectures are a part of Torah. But no, they are not adding or changing anything. They are clarifying for our generation and applying existing concepts to current issues. They spent years fully absorbed in Torah, both written and oral, Talmud, rishonim, acharonim, and they were guided by teachers in how to understand things properly. They were also very intelligent people who commanded respect because of their scholarship and character traits, not because everyone thought that they were “cool”.

If we want to give free reign to anyone and everyone to spout off whatever they want and call it Torah, then Torah is no longer the Divine direction to the chosen people; it becomes an ever-changing document that can be used to support any idea that the speaker cares about at a certain moment. I also said in an earlier post that people vote with their feet, and time is the true judge of whose “torah” is going to survive.

Michael said...

Part 2: The Orthodox world does not believe that questioning is wrong or that thinking is out of place. We *DO* believe that, yes, Torah is growing with all the contributions of those in this generation. However there is also the concept of precedent, acknowledging and revering the scholarship of previous generations. We start our learning with the literature of previous generations – we delve into it and understand it with the guidance of an experienced Torah teacher, and only after we have understood the past can we properly know how to apply Torah to our future. As I said in an earlier post, it is the height of arrogance to decide that the previous generations, who were closer to the Source of our Oral Torah, are wrong without deeply and honestly delving into their writings and understanding where they are coming from.

Now, you want to challenge the literal interpretation of the commandment to circumcise. Where does that come from? Which rabbi did you hear that from? On what basis do you overturn generations of literature and precedent? Is it just your personal feelings? Well, you are entitled to your questions and to your feelings, but you are *not* entitled to claim them as “Oral Torah” on that basis alone. What about Metzitza? It’s in the Shulcan Aruch. I have not learned the pertinent halachos in adequate depth to discuss in detail, but my understanding is that Metzitza is required, but if not performed, the circumcision is not invalid after-the-fact. The Shulchan Aruch got it from the rishonim who got it from the gemara who got it from the Mishna. Is it rabbinic in nature? I believe so. Does that mean we can just toss it out? If we can just get rid of rabbinic enactments, then let’s talk about the fact that in an era with electric lights, we don’t really need shabbos candles anymore. Obviously, we don’t do this. We need more than just a dislike for a certain procedure or the apparent lack of need in modern times to overturn generations of literature and precedent? “Chamira Sakanta meisura”? On what basis is it a sakana? I could hear you if kids were getting sick all the time. And for those who are genuinely worried, there are mohelim who use the glass tube. But we should create legislation because of *maybe* two cases of adverse events in tens of thousands of occurrences? Well, why don’t we say one is forbidden from flying on a plane, lest the plane crash?

Finally, on the spitting incident, whether or not it is widespread, it is NOT considered acceptable by any Chasidic or non-Chasidic leaders or groups that I have heard of. For a non-chasidic orthodox response to the incident, please see http://www.aish.com/jw/s/An_Open_Letter_to_the_Beit_Shemesh_Spitter.html

There is more to say, but my eloquence and energy are lacking.

All the best,
Michael

spodvoll said...

Michael,

I accept the Oral Torah. I venerate the Oral Torah. But, I refuse to accept it's not a living "document". IMO, what separates us from the Christians, what makes us a light unto the nations, is constantly striving to build upon the work of past sages instead of retreating into pedantic study of that old oxymoron, revealed wisdom. Think of where we would be if Maimonides, et.al, did nothing more than regurgitate. We have Talmud, not Epistles, thank HaShem.

Is Torah a work in progress? I answer absolutely yes. The opposite of progress is regress. We may observe Tisha B'Av, but I doubt most of us would actually want a return to the days of the Sadducees, before we even had Mishnah.

By the way, where did you get the idea I would endorse giving "free reign to *anyone* and *everyone*"? To imply I suggested anything of the sort is a straw man argument. I reject the narcissism of "feel-good" religion and I repeat; I do not practice "Judaism Lite."

Back to the subject at-hand and pardon me for belaboring in such blunt language: should parents have the legal right to administer or give consent to other adults to administer oral contact with their infants' genitalia under all circumstances or would you limit the conditions? If the latter, please elaborate.

Thanks,
Steve

Michael said...

Steve,

Part 2 of my response of yesterday got lost in cyberspace. Here it is again. Perhaps a response to your most recent post later....

Part 2: The Orthodox world does not believe that questioning is wrong or that thinking is out of place. We *DO* believe that, yes, Torah is growing with all the contributions of those in this generation. However there is also the concept of precedent, acknowledging and revering the scholarship of previous generations. We start our learning with the literature of previous generations – we delve into it and understand it with the guidance of an experienced Torah teacher, and only after we have understood the past can we properly know how to apply Torah to our future. As I said in an earlier post, it is the height of arrogance to decide that the previous generations, who were closer to the Source of our Oral Torah, are wrong without deeply and honestly delving into their writings and understanding where they are coming from.

Now, you want to challenge the literal interpretation of the commandment to circumcise. Where does that come from? Which rabbi did you hear that from? On what basis do you overturn generations of literature and precedent? Is it just your personal feelings? Well, you are entitled to your questions and to your feelings, but you are *not* entitled to claim them as “Oral Torah” on that basis alone. What about Metzitza? It’s in the Shulcan Aruch. I have not learned the pertinent halachos in adequate depth to discuss in detail, but my understanding is that Metzitza is required, but if not performed, the circumcision is not invalid after-the-fact. The Shulchan Aruch got it from the rishonim who got it from the gemara who got it from the Mishna. Is it rabbinic in nature? I believe so. Does that mean we can just toss it out? If we can just get rid of rabbinic enactments, then let’s talk about the fact that in an era with electric lights, we don’t really need shabbos candles anymore. Obviously, we don’t do this. We need more than just a dislike for a certain procedure or the apparent lack of need in modern times to overturn generations of literature and precedent? “Chamira Sakanta meisura”? On what basis is it a sakana? I could hear you if kids were getting sick all the time. And for those who are genuinely worried, there are mohelim who use the glass tube. But we should create legislation because of *maybe* two cases of adverse events in tens of thousands of occurrences? Well, why don’t we say one is forbidden from flying on a plane, lest the plane crash?

Finally, on the spitting incident, whether or not it is widespread, it is NOT considered acceptable by any Chasidic or non-Chasidic leaders or groups that I have heard of. For a non-chasidic orthodox response to the incident, please see http://www.aish.com/jw/s/An_Open_Letter_to_the_Beit_Shemesh_Spitter.html

There is more to say, but my eloquence and energy are lacking.

All the best,
Michael

Michael said...

Steve,
Part 2 of yesterday’s post got lost in cyberspace. Here it is now, followed by today’s post.
Part 2: The Orthodox world does not believe that questioning is wrong or that thinking is out of place. We *DO* believe that, yes, Torah is growing with all the contributions of those in this generation. However there is also the concept of precedent, acknowledging and revering the scholarship of previous generations. We start our learning with the literature of previous generations – we delve into it and understand it with the guidance of an experienced Torah teacher, and only after we have understood the past can we properly know how to apply Torah to our future. As I said in an earlier post, it is the height of arrogance to decide that the previous generations, who were closer to the Source of our Oral Torah, are wrong without deeply and honestly delving into their writings and understanding where they are coming from.

Now, you want to challenge the literal interpretation of the commandment to circumcise. Where does that come from? Which rabbi did you hear that from? On what basis do you overturn generations of literature and precedent? Is it just your personal feelings? Well, you are entitled to your questions and to your feelings, but you are *not* entitled to claim them as “Oral Torah” on that basis alone. What about Metzitza? It’s in the Shulcan Aruch. I have not learned the pertinent halachos in adequate depth to discuss in detail, but my understanding is that Metzitza is required, but if not performed, the circumcision is not invalid after-the-fact. The Shulchan Aruch got it from the rishonim who got it from the gemara who got it from the Mishna. Is it rabbinic in nature? I believe so. Does that mean we can just toss it out? If we can just get rid of rabbinic enactments, then let’s talk about the fact that in an era with electric lights, we don’t really need shabbos candles anymore. Obviously, we don’t do this. We need more than just a dislike for a certain procedure or the apparent lack of need in modern times to overturn generations of literature and precedent? “Chamira Sakanta meisura”? On what basis is it a sakana? I could hear you if kids were getting sick all the time. And for those who are genuinely worried, there are mohelim who use the glass tube. But we should create legislation because of *maybe* two cases of adverse events in tens of thousands of occurrences? Well, why don’t we say one is forbidden from flying on a plane, lest the plane crash?

Today’s response:
You need to study the work of past sages to build on it. You need to know it in great detail and depth and have a firm understanding, and then you can explain it and apply it to the current generation. Maimonides did not simply “regurgitate”, but his teachings are founded upon the past. His commentary on the Mishna, the sefer hamitzvoth, and the Yad (aka Mishna Torah) show that he had a full knowledge and understanding of the mishna, gemara, et. al. Such a person can write a “Guide for the Perplexed” and have that called part of Torah. Someone without a strong foundation in and understanding of the existing Torah cannot be someone who adds to it.

I did not accuse you of practicing Judaism-lite. But you want to toss out generations of precedent and practice because *your* scholarship has led you to decide that the commandment of circumcision is metaphorical. If you do not have a strong background in Talmud, rishonim, and acharonim, and you are not bringing support from classical sources, then to make such fundamental changes is to invite others to interpret other items in any way they like.

On your last point, to paraphrase the words of a famous supreme court justice, I can’t define where the line is, but I know it when I see it. Just because it has to do with genitalia doesn’t mean it we have to associate it with sex or be paranoid of pedophilia. I have zero problem with less-than-one-second oral contact in the context of a holy and beloved religious ritual.

All the best,
Michael

Michael said...

I guess that what got lost in cyberspace was now found! Multiple times! Gotta love modern technology!

spodvoll said...

Michael,

I'm frankly getting a bit cranky again with the not-so-thinly-veiled condescension. I suspect neither Rabbi Levi Yitzhak nor even Baal Shem Tov would approve. Go there again and I assure you, I can provide a comprehensive list of sources, but I will thereafter cease corresponding with you. Argument by credentialization impresses me *not* at all. In fact, it just struck me that such manner of debate is (also) both pedantic and inherently devoid of critical thinking. In any case, let's focus on the subject-at-hand instead of telling me what I "need" to study, questioning with which Rabbis I have consulted, etc.

Re. comparing incident rates of MBP contraindications with those of airplane crashes, I hope you don't need me to point out the various false equivalencies in that argument.

Judges (even SCOTUS Justices) have such luxury; they adjudicate postfactum. At the very best, the culpable may be prevented or dissuaded from repeat offense and the victims are compensated, but the victimization still occurred. Legislators aren't able to indulge themselves in such manner. Their ultimate goal is to deter rather than enforce.

Anyways… http://haemtza.blogspot.com/2012/03/metzitza-bpeh-death-of-another-infant.html

Risk is inherent and there's no ethical rationale for the risk when other options are available. Period.

Furthermore, and I just can't resist the slightly tangential digression, 1 Maccabees is IMO more-than-sufficient evidence that Peri'ah might also be an over-interpretation.

Shalom,
Steve

P.S. I also can't resist offering you at least one *inspiration*: Rabbi David Lieb (of blessed memory) may have been a Conservative Rabbi (albeit in a thankfully Reform Shul). He never directly discussed Brit Milah with me and, in fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he would have disagreed with my conclusions. But, his Shabbat "sermons" (and his subsequent book) helped me rediscover the *actions*of loving and thinking about Torah.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Funny spoof on George Michaels' "Faith" music video about getting a circumcision:

YouTube link here
.

Michael said...

Steve,

I don’t mean to make you “cranky”, that is not the intent, as I have stated before.

I know that I am not the best with words. Due to my lack of eloquence, I may post links or refer to others who express the ideas better. If you are someone who is interested in seeing other ideas, then you should look at what they write and not depend solely on what I write. Please do not indict Orthodoxy based on what I have written here. But ,if you are not interested in seeing other ideas, then that is your business. You don’t have to check out the links.

It is clear that you have a very wide breadth of knowledge and have studied many things, but if you think that the Orthodox way of approaching Torah is devoid of critical thinking, then you are misinformed about Orthodox study. If you would like to really find out about Orthodoxy, learn about it from a knowledgeable and reputable Orthodox source. Partners in Torah, the simple to remember website, aish.com, Ohr Somayach, and Books or lectures by Rabbi Akiva Tatz (a physician) or Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb (a PhD in mathematical logic and former professor of philosophy) are some ideas that come to my mind. If you want to keep on thinking that Orthodox theology is based on unthinking blind faith and lack of individual thought, then there is nothing I can do about that.

Regarding your link about MBP, I read it, and I would like to point out that in Orthodox newspapers, the parents of two children who died of herpes, and for whom the DOH listed herpes by MBP as cause of death, were interviewed and both said that there was herpes in the family (one in a 2-year-old sibling and one in the mother) and that fact was ignored in the dept of health report. There are ways of tracking the source of the herpes by DNA, and there was never confirmation of the mohel as a source. They also point out many flaws in the CDC study. On the one hand, I know that the Orthodox paper is biased against any restrictions of MBP, so I take it with a grain of salt. On the other hand, I see that the non-Jewish and non-Orthodox world is disgusted by the practice (and “being honest about ritual circumcision”, I see where they are coming from) and seeks to have it disallowed or severely restricted, so I take the DOH reports and other “studies” with a grain of salt, as well.

If you care to “provide a comprehensive list of sources” and “thereafter cease corresponding”, that is your business. Frankly, I am also tiring this, as we seem to be going around in circles. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed our correspondence, and wish you the best.

Kol Tuv,
Michael

spodvoll said...

Michael,

You don't need to continue apologizing for ineloquence. I see no evidence of such. I fully understand what you are saying to me and inferring about me.

Speaking of which, you continue to presume to know what I do or don't read. It just so happens that I do read aish on occasion. I still have aish articles bookmarked. One comes immediately to mind; a piece from perhaps a year ago in which a Scottish professor of Middle Eastern affairs chastises jejune critics of Israel. I have referenced that piece from time-to-time.

You do know the adjective derivation of the verb "presume", yes?

I shall not continue discourse if you hide behind the vaguery of adjudication. I insist you legislate in clear terms. Please tell me where you would draw the line on adult oral contact with infant genitalia. While you're at it, please tell me where you would draw the line on reckless endangerment; does the infant actually have to contract herpes, for example, or is it sufficient that easily avoidable circumstances have made transmission possible?

Shavua Tov,
Steve

Another P.S.: the link I provided in my previous post was in fact from an *Orthodox* blog. So, I do agree that not all Orthodox Jews eschew critical thinking. In fact, here's a very timely post from the very same blog: http://haemtza.blogspot.com/2012/07/which-is-more-slippery-slope.html

Michael said...

Steve,

My point has been, and continues to be, that one who accuses Orthodox Judaism of lacking critical thinking is not sufficiently familiar with Orthodox Judaism. I’m glad that you read articles on aish.com. Have you ever read or heard Akiva Tatz or Dovid Gottlieb? It seems to me that one would be hard-pressed to read and understand what they say and accuse Orthodox Judaism of lacing critical thinking. Have you ever spent more than an hour in a yeshiva or kollel setting? Have you ever tried to sit down and struggle with a gemara the way Orthodox people do? Now, you may say you do not want to spend time pouring over ancient texts about what happens if my ox gores your ox, and that is fine. But if you ask me, what they do in the yeshivas is an excellent way of developing critical thinking skills. As an anecdotal example, I have heard from many attorneys how beneficial classical Talmud study is when applying it to the critical thinking skills necessary for law school and practicing law. You are attacking an entire segment of (sorry to break it to you) YOUR PEOPLE as unthinking and defending the attacks with “you continue to presume to know what I do or don’t read”. Are there individuals who “go through the motions” and haven’t thought things through? Sure, but I can say the same thing about Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, etc. If you want to talk about a movement or a theology, picking on the individuals doesn’t work.

Now, aside from the “critical thinking” argument, I admit that there are Orthodox Jews who may seem condescending or holier than thou. It may even be a large percentage. But such a fact does not prove (or disprove) an argument that we are an unthinking people. And neither does grasping on a few politically incorrect things (like MBP) that make the news. And besides, I’m sure that there are plenty of non-Orthodox Jews who can be condescending in an argument with statements like “You do know the adjective derivation of the verb presume.”

Something that I find ironic is that you call Chasidim “consistent” and state that you respect them, while you state that you have problems with the Modern Orthodox. However, when it comes to MBP, the consistent Chasidim who insist on it are attacked as unthinking while the Modern Orthodox blog writer is used as an example of critical thinking in the orthodox community! And, by the way, despite all the problems the author of this blog has found within Orthodoxy, he still hasn’t decided that Reform is the way to go.

Finally, I hesitate to draw lines about adult oral contact. As I’ve stated before with reference to the Oral Torah, putting something into words often does more to muddy the waters than to clarify. Saying “I know it when I see it” is truly the answer. I *would* go so far to say that something in a sexual or abusive context would be over the line. But you may accuse mohelim of having sexual thoughts, and you’ve already stated your distaste for the entire idea of infant circumcision, and it seems that you may even call circumcision without MBP abusive. So, Steve, the answer is that there is no satisfactory answer for you, and that is why you are asking the question. Sort of like “have you stopped beating your wife yet.”

The final point is that for you, or anyone else, who chooses to obsess about MBP or any other politically incorrect part of Orthodox Judaism, there will never be any justification and we will always be those crazies who are an embarrassment to the entire religion. While I will admit that there are definitely issues within our community, for those who wish to open their minds to the WHOLE of Orthodox Judaism and see what it is about, they can see that there is a lot of richness to our tradition and a lot of intellectual stimulation to be had, and you have a lot of wonderful Orthodox brothers and sisters who are more than willing to open their hearts and homes to you.

Continued Hatzlacha,
Michael

Michael said...

P.S. I heard a story from a Chasidic Jew who dresses in classical Chasidic garb who said that he was once standing on a street corner and was approached by a lady who started verbally attacking him as a shame on his religion, as someone stuck in the past, unwilling to accommodate life to the current society, etc. When she stopped to breathe, he said “Actually, I’m Amish.” She started to apologize profusely, and said how much she admires his people, how they honor tradition, etc. Then the bus pulls up, and as he gets on the bus, he says “Actually, I really am Jewish," leaving her speechless.

Michael said...

P.P.S. In late July, there was a hearing at the NYC department of health regarding MBP as they decide whether or not to legislate restrictions on MBP. As someone who is skeptical about news stories and/or out-of-context quotes from either side of the issue, I would be interested in reading a full transcript of the hearing – what exactly was said by BOTH sides. I have not been able to locate it on line. Now, as someone who is so vehemently against MBP, I assume that you have fully read about both sides of the issue from their respective experts, so perhaps you seen the transcript. If so would you be able to provide me a link? And if the assumption is false, then shame on you for attacking the practice without seeing both sides from an unbiased viewpoint. (Keep in mind that *I* said that I understand those who are uncomfortable with the practice and fully support the allowance of use of a glass tube if preferred by the parents and/or the mohel.)

spodvoll said...

Michael,

I never said aish was my only source of information re. Orthodox viewpoints. In fact, I cited an Orthodox blogger's criticism of MBP, but again you presume? Oy!

In any case, make any generalization, say anything you want about Reform or Reconstructionist Jews. Yes, I have heard Reform Jews *criticize* the Orthodox (as I have also done), but I have *never* heard or read so much as a rumor of a single one of them *spitting* on Orthodox schoolchildren. Furthermore, since we seem so impressed with credentializing, please feel free to list for me the sources of Reform and Reconstructionist wisdom you frequent; please take credit for your open-minded quests to expand your understanding of Torah.

Yes, the Chasidim are consistent but yes, some of their views and practices are anathema to me. However, what I respect most about the Chasidic philosophy is the focus on joy over asceticism. They don't seem to hate or even condescend to fellow Jews. At least, I've never seen any indication or evidence of such.

By the way, I would not classify the wish to address the potential for child endangerment as a "politically correct obsession". That aside, if you wish to continue correspondence, I insist you draw lines re. *legislating* adult oral contact with infant genitalia. Should parents be the final arbiters in *all* instances of such, or just under special circumstances? If the latter, under what circumstances? If you don't answer my question directly, you may have the last word on the subject as I won't respond again.

Thanks,
Steve

P.S. I don't care what Mohelim think or even "feel" when they perform MBP. We're Jews, after all. Repairing the world is about what we *do*, not what we think.

Michael said...

Steve,

Part 1 of 2: Despite your earlier objection, I’m going to claim lack of eloquence once again, because it seems that my point is not getting across at all. If I am not ineloquent, then it must be either your lack of perception or your twisting of my words. I prefer to give you the benefit of the doubt and rely on my history of not expressing things well to assume it is my verbal skills that are the problem here. As I’ve said, words often muddy the waters more than clarify, so I don’t expect much, but nevertheless, I’m going to try again anyway,

Regarding generalizations and your sources for orthodox viewpoints, *you* are the one who accused the Orthodox of being unthinking. If you feel the Orthodox are wrong, that is one thing, but to say they are unthinking implies that you are missing a lot of the richness that can be found within Orthodoxy. Therefore, I tried to direct you to places where you can see some of the deep thoughts and ideas of Orthodoxy; I tried to impart how classical talmudical analysis as practiced in the yeshiva and kollel settings are ways to develop and exercise critical thinking skills. If you would reply that you’ve in fact read Rabbi Tatz and Rabbi Gottlieb and find them to be lacking in their critical thinking skills, or that you’ve in fact spent a summer learning in a yeshiva setting and found it less than challenging, then we could have that discussion. Instead, you tell me that you read pro-Israel articles on Aish, an Orthodox blogger, and other unnamed sources of Orthodox viewpoints. You’ve not backed-up your accusation of Orthodox being unthinking people. Understanding how the Orthodox world is viewed by outsiders, I can see how one might believe they are simply rooted in ancient superstition and would be unable to have a coherent conversation about theology with the rest of the educated and enlightened world. I understand how things can seem inconsistent or even abhorrent but how our thoughts can change after properly understanding the other viewpoint. This is not about credentializing. You’ve made an accusation, and I’ve given places where you can go to see the other side of the argument. If you’ve seen the other side of the argument, then let’s discuss the details. If not, why are you afraid of seeing other ideas? If you wish to continue to back up your accusations with “you continue to presume what I read”, then there’s nothing to talk about.

On the spitting, I maintain that it’s not appropriate to judge an entire group of people based on those whose actions are not representative of the whole. Are there a handful of unfortunate incidents? Yes. Are some of them brought on by incitement? Probably. Does that make it OK? No. Are there others that are not brought on by incitement? Probably. In that case it is surely not OK. Are there cases where the incidents are exaggerated by the anti-orthodox media? Most likely. But does that mean the underlying incident is still problematic? Yes. In any case, there is no mainstream Orthodox authority who said that these actions are correct or that they are representative of mainstream Orthodox thought or that it demonstrates proper character traits.

Michael said...

Part 2 of 2: I understand the negative reaction to MBP by society, especially due to the unfortunate issues of child abuse that are prevalent today. Oral contact with infant genetalia is generally inappropriate. However, I maintain that less-than-one-second contact as part of an ancient and beloved religious ritual is not problematic at all, and that state restriction of any religious ritual without compelling public interest is inherently problematic. Whether there’s compelling public interest is up for debate. While there is a CDC study, there are also articles disputing that study. I don’t claim to be a halachic expert or a medical expert, nor did I see transcripts of the NY DOH hearing or any other open, unbiased, unfiltered two-sided discussion of the issue by experts from all sides. In such a case, I give the benefit of the doubt to religious freedom.

Assuming you will (continue to) be unsatisfied with my response and thus refrain from responding, I want to say I have enjoyed our correspondence and I wish you and your family all the best.

Michael

Michael said...

Here’s what happens:
1. Michael posts a multi-part response
2. One of the parts gets “lost in cyberspace” while the other(s) get approved by Rabbi Jason fairly quickly
3. Michael resends the lost part
4. The resent part gets posted, and the previously lost one somehow shows up as well, making for a double post!

Numbers 1-3 have now happened. Let’s see if #4 happens as well! :)

Part 2 of 2: I understand the negative reaction to MBP by society, especially due to the unfortunate issues of child abuse that are prevalent today. Oral contact with infant genetalia is generally inappropriate. However, I maintain that less-than-one-second contact as part of an ancient and beloved religious ritual is not problematic at all, and that state restriction of any religious ritual without compelling public interest is inherently problematic. Whether there’s compelling public interest is up for debate. While there is a CDC study, there are also articles disputing that study. I don’t claim to be a halachic expert or a medical expert, nor did I see transcripts of the NY DOH hearing or any other open, unbiased, unfiltered two-sided discussion of the issue by experts from all sides. In such a case, I give the benefit of the doubt to religious freedom.

Assuming you will (continue to) be unsatisfied with my response and thus refrain from responding, I want to say I have enjoyed our correspondence and I wish you and your family all the best.

Michael