Circumcision Controversy Endangers Fight To Keep Rite Legal in Germany

Lawsuits Cite Rabbi's Videotape of Metzitzah B'Peh


By A.J. Goldmann and Donald Snyder and Nathan Jeffay

Published May 06, 2013, issue of May 10, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The practice of metzitzah b’peh, a controversial part of some Jewish circumcisions, is reigniting concern about religious circumcision in Germany, where the government only recently fended off an effort to outlaw the ritual altogether.

The chief representative of Chabad in Berlin, Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, has been accused of making MBP, as metzitzah b’peh is often called, part of the religious circumcision of his own infant son during a ceremony in front of 400 guests, including journalists. The ensuing uproar over the practice, which health authorities say endangers infants, has split Germany’s Jewish leadership.

The dispute has also led Israel’s Chief Rabbinate to rush to Teichtal’s defense with a letter that critics say backtracks on its own recent directive to Israeli mohels upholding a safe and sterile alternative to MBP.

The German controversy comes on top of an ongoing conflict between New York City public health authorities and ultra-Orthodox groups over the use of MBP in that city. In Europe, where religious circumcision itself stands on shakier ground in public opinion, some fear that the MBP controversy could imperil the broader right to practice brit milah, as the circumcision rite is known in Hebrew.

Tell us your experiences with circumcision

Christian Bahls, a 34-year-old mathematician, has filed a criminal lawsuit against Teichtal for allegedly employing MBP during his son’s March 3 brit milah at the Chabad synagogue in Berlin. Bahls, who was joined by several others in his complaint, claims that a video of the

event on the website of the Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel shows MBP being performed. In fact, the video, which briefly shows the mohel taking a sip of wine and bending down toward the 8-day-old infant, leaves the viewer unclear as to whether the procedure took place. Bahls told the Forward that after seeing the video, he contacted the Tagesspiegel journalist, who confirmed to him that MBP had occurred.

In an interview with the Forward, Teichtal, who heads Berlin’s Chabad Jewish Education Center, would neither confirm nor deny that MBP was used.

The Hebrew term metzitzah b’peh refers to a procedure in which a mohel orally sucks away the blood from an infant’s genital area after cutting away the infant’s foreskin. The practice can infect newborns with herpes simplex virus type 1, according to medical authorities. While not serious for adults, the virus can be fatal for infants, or cause permanent cognitive or physical harm.

Since 2004, the New York City Department of Health has reported 13 cases that it attributes to MBP, with two deaths.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.