The New York Times article titled, “Suit is filed over move to regulate circumcision” is part of the paper’s recent ongoing campaign to chronicle the Jewish cultural scene, both locally and internationally, and more specifically to report on the battle between government officials and some members of various Jewish religious communities concerning the regulation of the male circumcision ritual know as a brit milah or bris. (See these links, 1, 2, 3).
Some members of the Jewish Orthodox community feel their authority is being inappropriately undercut by the New York City Department of Health’s new regulation, which requires written parental consent before a circumcision ritual that includes oral-genital contact can be performed.
In th[at]… procedure, common among ultra-Orthodox Jews, the person performing the circumcision uses his mouth to remove blood from the incision.
The oral contact, known in Hebrew as metzitzah b’peh, is considered dangerous by public health officials, because of the possibility of spreading diseases, specifically herpes. Failure to comply with the regulation could result in warnings and fines.
This oral removal of blood from the incision, as the Times so delicately describes the ritual, is not a common practice among Jews, most of whom limit any transgression upon the person of the infant to cutting off the foreskin, and eschew this very ineffective, to put it mildly, method of cleansing the wound. Metzitzah b’peh, which is practiced by some Orthodox Jews, in Hebrew literally means “sucking by mouth.” It can transmit disease and is counter to present day codes of sexual behavior. Can you imagine if those practicing the ritual were Muslim imams or better yet Roman Catholic priests? I don’t think the Times would be giving a “balanced” account.
Why is this item here in a blog that is devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, some may ask? It is here because the New York Times is in an odd position of being both the national “paper of record” and a local New York paper that gives disproportionate attention to Jewish culture. In highlighting Jewish news– to an audience that surely includes a large part of the Jewish establishment– it inevitably privileges Jews over others. And when it explains both sides of issues involving Jews, the coverage in the Times tends to legitimate the most bizarre practices.
And the most pernicious ones, too. The Times seems to regard itself as an appropriate platform for right-wing American-Israeli journalist Shmuel Rosner. On the website of the Times, on the same day that the circumcision piece appeared, Rosner was assuring readers that enjoying a settler-guided tour of the Israeli occupation can be a very interesting and enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
As one-sided and ideological as this tour is, though, there’s something to be said for it. It’s interesting, friendly and well organized, and for the many Israelis who go on it — during the recent holiday of Sukkot thousands of them did — it’s a chance to finally see the places about which they have such strong opinions. Samaria (and Judea), as the settlers insist, is really the bedrock of Judaism — the land where its prophets made warnings, its battles were fought, its altars were erected. If they are ever to give up this territory for the sake of peace, Israelis should get to know it first.
Again, I ask you to imagine the Times showing such tolerance of any other illegal occupation.
H/T to Dubai Pauli Bursiewicz who sent me the articles referred to here.