An Open Letter To Michael Savage Regarding “Metzitza B’peh”


michael-savageBy Moshe L Kuskin

Dear Michael, After listening to most of the nearly six hours of programming you devoted recently to your vociferous objection and sometimes vituperative attacks against the practice of metzitza b’peh (suction of the blood from the circumcision wound by the mouth of the mohel), I must sadly conclude that ignorance only breeds more ignorance. By constructing a house built on sand you have done nothing but create needlessly disparaging and denigrating opinions in the minds of millions of your listening audience, Jew and Gentile alike, toward Torah observant, Orthodox Jews, suggesting that their purportedly obstinate adherence to an ancient and even primitive custom makes them akin to the followers of Shariah law.  This is in spite of your self-characterized “mea culpa” which you made, stating that your intent was not to insult Orthodox Jewry, plus your occasional avuncular tone and praises for religious Jews.

Your discussions centered around three aspects regarding this practice-1) medical science; 2) the authority or lack thereof of Religious Law, and 3) the aesthetics of the practice. With regard to the first aspect, we may simply have to agree to disagree. As many callers pointed out, the number of cases cited where infants contracted Herpes, supposedly from contact with the mouth of the Mohel, is statistically insignificant. I’m sure you understand this as someone with a PHD in epidemiology. Furthermore, not even one of the cases cited contains conclusive scientific proof as to the exact cause of the viruses in the infants, rendering the statistical argument even more worthless. Your hyperbolic comments, insulting those who disagreed with you with the rhetoric of “where did it come from, then-from thin air?” belie your protestations to the contrary that you are a seeker of truth with many scientific degrees. Were the babies placed in incubators with no human contact immediately after the circumcision and kept there for days, weeks, or months until the Herpes manifested itself and was discovered? Was there even one case of DNA fingerprinting to connect the DNA of the Mohel to that found in the Herpes virus? Obviously, there are numerous scenarios through which these infants could have contracted the virus other than from the mouth of the Mohel, beginning even from the time of birth.

The fact remains that the legal battle over whether informed consent forms regarding metzitza b’peh must be afforded to parents of infants about to be circumcised, based on claims of the New York City Health Dept., is still being adjudicated in the courts, and refutations of the city’s claims of transmission of the Herpes virus from  the Mohel have been submitted by such eminent authorities as Dr. Daniel Berman, Chief Infectious Disease Specialist at Westchester Square Hospital, Dr. Brenda Breuer, Director of Epidemiologic Research at the Dept. of Pain Management and Palliative Care  at the Beth Israel Medical Center of New York. The latest brief, submitted to the court by the TENN Medicine’s Center for Evidence Based Medicine further refutes the report of the New York City Dept of Health and expresses the salient point that in three decades of circumcisions in the community of Kiryas Joel in New York state,  where thousands upon thousands of brisim have been performed, all with the practice of metzitzah b’peh, there has been only one reported case of the Herpes virus in the circumcised infant and it was conclusively proven in that case that the Mohel was NOT the source of the infection.

Your second attack against the procedure stemmed from the fact that you insisted over and over that this practice is derived from the Talmud, which is merely a document  written by men in the 13th century, and based largely on the opinion of Maimonides, a medical authority of his time. With all due respect to your vast secular knowledge, these statements are laughable to anyone in the Orthodox community with a basic knowledge of Judaism. Orthodox Jews believe that the Talmud is part of the Oral Law, the basic concepts of which were transmitted to Moses at Mt Sinai along with the written Torah, and was merely “redacted” not written, as you or I might write an original treatise with our own interpretations. In fact it was redacted in approximately the 4th century, primarily by the Sages Ravinah and Rav Ashi; the Rambam who lived in the beginning of the 12th century, was merely transmitting this mesorah , or tradition, handed down from G-d at Sinai to Moses, which continued as an Oral tradition until it was recorded as mentioned above. His knowledge of medicine or science, while great for its times, bears little, if any, relation to his writings on this matter.

Your correct insistence that no mention of “MBP”, as you called it, exists in the Torah where the commandment of circumcision is given is of absolutely no consequence. The entire written Torah, which contains Laws derived even from the single omission or addition of just one letter (because these words diverge from basic Biblical grammar) can ONLY be understood with the explanation in the Oral Law (the Talmud). Has a Jewish court ever enacted the Biblical injunction of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” in 3,000 years of Jewish History? Of course not, as the Oral Law explicitly states that this verse is referring to monetary compensation-in other words Tort Law, as it is known in the secular world. And so it is with all laws of the Torah, including circumcision. Its mention in the written Torah is brief and its explication is found only in the Oral Law, originally transmitted to Moses from G-d at Mt. Sinai.

Your logic that since these laws and customs are man made by individuals who lived many centuries ago, before the microscope and germ theory were discovered, and therefore this practice should be modified in view of modern medical science may be impeccable, but it is based on entirely false assumptions, as pointed out above.

I know already that your reaction to this letter, if you ever read it, at this point will probably be “How could you believe that G-d could command such a disgusting procedure?” Which brings me to the third point of your objection-the aesthetics of the act.  You described this on your program in the most denigrating terms, suggesting that it connotes deviant behavior akin to the horrors of pedophilia. Immersed as you are in a sick, secular culture which venerates females of the lowest nature, gives accolades and honor to miscreants and pursuers of the most morally abhorrent behavior, and where, from listening to the news, one would think there is no more pressing issue in America than being “gay”, your mind naturally leads you to react in a manner attuned with the sick, morally corrupt culture in which we live   Let me provide you with two examples of an elevated, spiritual way to view this procedure. After Abraham, the Patriarch of the Jewish People,  was commanded by G-d to perform the commandment of circumcision, he viewed this act and the physical manifestation of that act as something holy. He had merited to being spoken to by G-d and to carry out the will of His creator in performing this commandment as an everlasting covenant with himself and his descendants, the Jewish People. In fact, when he sent his loyal servant Eliezer to fulfill a mission of returning to Abraham’s homeland to bring back a wife for his son Isaac, he made Eliezer swear that he would fulfill his mission, as commanded, and the object which he gave him to swear upon was his Bris Milah. In today’s world of moral filth, this might also conjure up images of deviance in your mind, yet it was an act which bore neither connotation nor denotation of anything other than holiness. A second example of this idea may be found in the Talmud. A famous and pious Sage, Rabbi Gidal, would sit next to the mikveh and instruct the women in the laws relating to how they should immerse themselves. The Rabbis asked him, “are you not afraid of the evil inclination?” (that lustful desires might overtake him). He replied, “the women appear to me as white geese.” In other words, due to his great spirituality there were no base thoughts that entered his mind, since he was immersed in holiness. The act of circumcision is a basic commandment in Judaism. It is performed in an atmosphere of holiness, usually after morning prayers in the synagogue, and the mitzvah, itself, actually confers holiness upon the child. It is only your sensibilities, formed outside the guise of any holiness which causes you to find this procedure repugnant.

We Jews pride ourselves on the fact that when asked by G-d if we would accept the Torah at Mt. Sinai, we responded whole-heartedly and in unison “n’aaseh v’nishmah,” which translates “we will do and we will understand.”  We placed the primacy of our acceptance of the Torah upon fulfillment of its commandments, ordained by G-d, Himself. The understanding of those mitzvos would come later and was secondary to our acceptance. Would there be a conclusive change in the physical environment, proven by medical science and accepted by the leading decisors of Jewish Law that the practice of “MBP” is indeed dangerous and inimical to the health of the infant, then this practice would certainly be modified. But until that happens, we maintain the holiness of our unbroken “mesorah”, regardless of your personal psychological discomfort. Whether the reason for the procedure is medical or has some spiritual significance is inconsequential. If it is a part of the G-d given tradition of halacha handed down to Moses at Sinai, we follow the law accordingly, and take no heed of non-believers and detractors who would ridicule or seek to undermine our beliefs and practices.

In conclusion, I bear no personal rancor towards you, nor is my intent to impugn your intellect in any way.  However, your misguided views, based on a lack of understanding of the Torah and observant, Orthodox Jewry,  which was expressed to millions of listeners, has done a great disservice to yourself and to your listening audience.


Moshe L Kuskin

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  1. He is an ignoramus (or perhaps acts like one for ratings). The more informed among us have known this after about 5 minutes of ever listening. Now our whole community knows. Mazel tov

  2. beautiful article
    as usual, no one seems to stand up for anything in our community except for a select few, namely matzav

  3. If Mr. Savage is wrong in all his complaints, maybe he is not a man of the blessing of his own transparency. But G-d does in fact have issues that our people and choice ideas are frozen upon in time.

  4. Very well written and very good points although I doubt that Mr arrogance will read it and if he does I don’t want to hear his reaction on the air it will be a nasty attack on jews

  5. The UPenn researchers have publicly objected to the characterization of their report, which has not been through peer review and has not been officially released to the public. It certainly should not be cited as support for MBP.

  6. Pehaps a rabbinical authority has to be

    contacted to ascertain if this reply fulfills

    the category of

    Da Mah Shetawshuv L’Apikowrus

    and is it sufficient in its content to meet

    that standard.

  7. once again….
    while metzitza is required. it can be done with a sponge, or a pipette. doing it orally is only a custom.

    in light of all the evidence showing it is dangerous, and the public disgust – oral suction should be discontinued, period.

  8. Ever heard the expression “Don’t feed the trolls?” Michael Savage is one of the loudest trolls there is. Please stop feeding him.

  9. Just another attack in a long series of sustained attacks on the mitzvah of bris milah.
    Ariella Abrahams

  10. More herpes does not always show itself immediately. It would be interesting to take a statistic regarding children in the Hareidi community who need special ed because of this infection. If many more boys than girls have had some have become cognitively impaired. Also the rates of cerebral disabilities in the Hareidi community versus others. I am of course excluding for genetic reasons or cerebral palsy. Would you be in agreement to conduct this research should some organization fund it?

  11. Ever tried explaining shabbos to a goy? They might understand all the dos and don’ts but will they understand the Neshama Yeseirah can they appreciate it’s holiness? Your above letter can only be understood by someone with an inherent spirituality.
    At best he would be raising his eyebrows reading this.

  12. MBP via oral suction is a minhag, i.e. tradition. Bris milah is one of the 613 mitzvot codified by Maimonides taken from the Pentateuch (“Five Tools” in Ancient Greek). As all good Jewish scholars, rabbis and sages know the difference between a minhag and a mitzvot is substantial. This article, for all its verbosity, just obfuscates the issue.

  13. Well said. In addition, he mentioned numerous times, that MBP is done by old bearded Rabbis with dirty bloody knives. “It is very traumatic to the 8 yr.-old child to see this old bearded Rabbi waving a dirty knife. This affects him the rest of his life”! This is
    so far from the truth. The Mohel who last week performed MBP on my new grandson (and one of the three suing Mayor Bloomberg), was less than 35 yrs., and took more precautions than any doctor. Where are there more germs? In a hospital setting or in the shul? Many studies have shown that hospitals are more dangerous than many other places!
    What has not been mentioned, is the proof that Torah is G-D given.New scientific studies have shown that the 8th day is the day that a person has the highest amount of coagulant.
    (110%)This significant findind plus the MBP
    gives the wound the greatist chance of healing.

  14. Mr. Savage argued that MBP is not brought in the Torah and then disparaged chazal and stated that they are chv”sh fallible and that he too can argue with them. Many have then spent a great deal of time debating him. Why is this a discussion? I believe in our passion for the truth we have lost sight of the obvious. We will never convince the Mr. Savages of the world in the truth of divrei chazal. Furthermore, there were some who attempted to do so, and, in my opinion, misrepresented true da’as torah and looked foolish in their attempt (not the above author who did a beautiful job). Thankfully, b’chadei hashem, we live in a medina shel chesed and do not have to engage in such debate. We are constitutionally entitled to practice our religion as we understand it, not as Mr. Savage does, and he too would agree that. The only question that there is is that of potential risk to the baby. So long as they can not provide proof of risk of endangerment we are constitutionally entitled to continue its practice. What I found even more repulsive was Mr. Savages continuous reference to abuse. Mr. Savage was obviously attempting to engender sympathy through sensationalism, but how ridiculously misguided. Would he prosecute a Doctor or Nurse for abuse when the put cream on a rash? Obviously the manner of the act is what define abuse and Mr. Savages offensive references are libelous!

  15. Really well done. The tone is respectful. The writing is sophisticated. The points made are accurate and salient. Thank you for taking the time to write. Did you send this to him?

  16. A huge Thank You to R’ Kuskin for writing so beautifully what every Torah Jew understands as basic and so fundamental! Even if its doesn’t reach Mr. Savage, you have the tremendous zchus of standing up for the honor of Hashem in the face of this horrible chillul. Also you portray the idea of Kedusha very well, as non- Torah Jews really have very limited understanding of what Kedusha is. May we be zoche to a time when the entire world will know Ein Od Milvado!!

  17. Unfortunately, MBP needs much more subtle PR. The way we are promoting it, MBP is a losing battle. Mamish, a sinking ship. Next, when you will soon read about MBP on the front pages of the NY Post, NY Daily News, and the National Enquirer, not only MBP, but all free lance brisim will be outlawed. Only licensed medical doctors will be permitted to perform a bris. We will have to fight to get mohelim properly medically trained and licensed. Its not too late to get Madison avenue public relations firms to represent us. Lawyer alone will not do the trick.

  18. The MbP issue was first raised to the Chatham Sofer ztz”l by the Reform movement ysh”vz with the two claims 1) GERMS AND 2) Their filthy mind.

    For that the Talmidim from the ??”?
    where ‘???? ????? ?

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  19. The calibre of this superbly-written response to a venomous attack is a great argument for yeshivos to provide solid secular studies programs to support exellence in limudei kodesh.

  20. #33
    Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin Zatzal said that those who do not have MBP will not be able to eat from the Korban Pesach when Moshiach comes.

  21. I’m glad this article has engendered so much thoughtful discussion and comments, and yes, I am a real person (not a pen name)! Thanks to all who have taken the time to read it and comment.Kudos to Joe who said he would link it to Savage’s page–ultimately one of the goals in writing this was that Michael Savage should see it and retract his vicious diatribes against the Frum community.

  22. #16, Adam Neira. You should know that a minhag (and from what I understand this is literally part of the Oral Torah given at Sinai to Moshe) has the importance, if not even moreso, than a din. This has been done for thousands of years and so far, no proof of any harm was done to a child. In fact, the times when the virus broke out on the child, it was brought out that it was from the mother at birth. Also, the case against it was dropped in NY, because doctors could not prove the case against MBP. They had no choice, so they decided to have a consent form signed. Whatever comes from Torah m’Sinai (both the Written &Oral) is Divine.

  23. He is using this broadcast as a launching pad for more lashon hara, but I am amazed at his inability to respond to my reasonable commentary. wouldn’t even try to call Michael Savage as he uses his callers as props and straight men for his curmudgeon act.