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.
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.