Wednesday, June 29, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Wouldn’t it be so much easier to go through life if we could all get along? There is so much needless and senseless strife; we’d all be so much better off if we could rid ourselves of it. Acrimony saps our strength and energy. It turns us into bitter people, derailing us from our goals and from positive accomplishments.

Yet, wherever we find ourselves, in every age and in every society, we find machlokes wreaking havoc.

Really now, why can’t we all get along? What is it that fuels strife between us?

The classic example of a machlokes that bore poisonous fruit for everyone it touched is the feud instigated by Korach. A brilliant man, a leader of Israel, he challenged Moshe Rabbeinu’s authority and demanded for himself a higher position. In the pursuit of his goal, he was prepared to destroy the entire Klal Yisroel and almost did.

A true demagogue, armed with a forked tongue, honed rhetorical skills and manipulative guile, he succeeded in turning the Sanhedrin and many others against Moshe and Aharon.

People fell for his propaganda. Without giving his ideas much thought, they bought into them and fell into lockstep behind him.

Talis shekoolo techeiles, cheder malei Seforim… Korach’s warped reasoning persuaded scores of people. How is it possible? Would such arguments convince you? Were the people who were sucked in any less intelligent than you or me?

A deeper look at Korach’s rationale uncovers the moral rot at the heart of the dispute—an exaggerated sense of self worth, an ego out of control. Korach and his rebels claimed that the entire community was holy and Moshe and Aharon had usurped too much power for themselves. Korach thought the Kehuna should rightfully be his.

So from one side of his mouth he agitated that there was no need for Moshe and Aharon’s leadership while from the other he sought the lofty privileges of Aharon’s Kehuna for himself.

He succeeded in attracting a significant number of people to his cause. Each person saw some personal advantage in joining the machlokes. All were blind to the certainty that Korach was doomed to fail in his uprising against two brothers handpicked by Hashem for their roles.

Everyone in Korach’s edah assumed that were Korach to win, their own secret ambitions would be realized as well.

It seems to defy understanding. How was it possible that anyone would think that Korach was right? Yetzias mitzrayim; maamad har sinai; the eigel; the sorry episode of the meragilim; the punishment of Nadav and Avihu; the incident with Miriam speaking loshon harah about Moshe had all happened in front of their very eyes. They were not tales that had been reported secondhand, they were profound real-life experiences for every one of the dor hamidbar. How could they ignore all that had transpired under the leadership of Moshe and Aharon and think they would earn Divine approval?

The answer lies in the extraordinary power of machlokes to twist the logic and thinking of otherwise intelligent people. They begin arguing over an issue and the disagreement rapidly escalates beyond their control until they are clashing over everything, with the original bone of contention long forgotten. People join in and choose sides. The dispute degenerates and the thirst for victory soon outweighs good sense and behavior.

People often jump on the bandwagon expecting to personally benefit from the broader campaign. They are, more often than not, in for a surprise because when and if their guy wins, he usually dumps them by the wayside.

But their ego deludes them into thinking they are too valuable to be discarded. They see themselves destined for greatness if they follow their side until the end.

If they were able to realistically take stock of their own abilities and purpose in this world they would never have become enmeshed in the machlokes to begin with. Their own daily battles, successes and defeats would keep them wholly engaged, with no time to seek diversions.

While there is always room for legitimate debate and at times machlokes, that is only when the dispute follows the pattern of a machlokes Hillel v’Shamai, each side arguing a point leshaim shomayim, and not for his own personal glory. In a machlokes leshaim shomayim, the parties actually seek a common goal—the truth.

Chazal say that sometimes talmidei chachomim become so engaged in Talmudic debate that throughout the exchange they act as if they were enemies, but by the time they leave the bais medrash they love each other.

That is because they are not really enemies; they are wrangling with each other in an effort to arrive at the true understanding of a Halacha. They each care so deeply about the truth that they are unable to tolerate the other’s misconception and misunderstanding of the peshat.

They remain in the bais medrash, each trying desperately to convince the other of the proper way to analyze the Gemorah. They are united in their love of Torah. They do not leave until they are sure they have arrived at the proper conclusion and understanding of the Gemorah. They embrace, a smile breaks out across their faces. “Boruch Hashem, yagata umatzasah,” that smile exclaims.“We finally understand the peshat.”

The new insights each one has given the other in understanding Torah is what engenders love between them.

In a machlokes like Korach’s there was no concern for the truth. Neither he nor his followers were after the truth, they were after kavod and titles. People who are driven to self-aggrandizement and utilize every opportunity to blow up an already inflated ego are doomed to fail. They ignore the facts; they fail to perceive that their arguments are fatally flawed.

What is plainly obvious to everyone else escapes them, they are so entwined in their pursuit of personal gain they can not see the obvious pitfalls before them. They stumble, fall and are doomed to be defeated.

The wife of On ben Peles was an outsider and as such, she had nothing to gain from the machlokes and was able to correctly perceive the facts on the ground. She had no illusions that her station in life would rise on account of Korach’s victory and thus allowed the truth to guide her. Ultimately, her perception of the truth saved her husband from the fate of the wicked edah.

Let us remember that sheker drives machlokes. In a world of falsehood, in the almah d’shikrah, in order to avoid improper machlokes, we have to seek out the truth and pursue it. We have to make friends with the truth; we have to side with the truth and always champion those in its camp. If we are able to ignore the barbs of those blinded by hate, conceit, corruption and falsehood, we will triumph and eventually our cause will triumph.

If truth is our goal and we remain loyal to it, even when that means swimming upstream and against the tide, we will reach safe calm waters. The storm will blow over, the sun of victory and righteousness will shine upon those who remain loyal to the causes of truth and Torah.

If the truth is what inspires us to act, we will never meet the fate of Korach and his followers. If ever we have the need to fight evil and enter into a machlokes lesheim shamayim, we will have a kiyum and not become consumed with bitterness and dissension. If we know our station and mission in life we will not fall for the temptations of a Korach, no matter what inducements he promises us.

Getting along peacefully with one another would be a natural by-product of working in unison and harmony for the common good, according to the Torah’s dictates. But it requires us to keep our ego in check and to restrain the urge to inject our own pettiness into a given situation. Disagreements will then be temporary, cushioned by brotherhood and mutual commitment to one another.

One way to get there if we haven’t yet reached that darga, is by taking advantage of the minhag of saying Pirkei Avos between Pesach and Rosh Hashanah. Let’s not just say it, let’s learn it mishna by mishna, perek by perek, week after week.

Let us absorb the wisdom of Pirkei Avos and model its lessons at home and in our dealings with others, and give our children — who are far more influenced by the way we behave than by the speeches we make — a winning chance to create a more harmonious and nobler society.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The saga of the Meraglim as recounted in Parshas Shelach is one of the most remarkable in the Torah. It is so difficult to understand what went into this devastating episode; the complex factors behind the mission; why and how ten of the finest leaders of the Jewish people failed so miserably in their shlichus.

The Bnei Yisroel who asked for the spies to be sent to the Promised Land were the same people who not long before had been rescued from being lowly slaves in Mitzrayim. These are the same people who experienced the Makkos, yetzias Mitzrayim and the splitting of the yam suf. They are the ones who ate mon every day and saw the cloud of Hashem lead them by day and the pillar of fire by night.

Not only were they witness to all the great miracles, but they and their families survived in the desert solely through the constant outpouring of Hashem’s beneficence. How did they go so wrong?

Rashi quotes the Medrash Tanchumah which comments that the parsha of the meraglim follows that of Miriam and the loshon horah she spoke of her brother Moshe Rabbeinu, to demonstrate that the spies saw the severity of loshon horah but failed abysmally to heed its lessons.

This indicates that the roots of their folly can be traced to the same pitfalls that led to Miriam’s loshon horah.

Many of the commentators question what it is that the meraglim did wrong. Having been sent on an investigatory expedition, did they not have a duty to report what they saw?

It seems that the explanation can be derived through understanding that the sin of loshon horah does not consist in spreading malicious lies about other people; the sin is committed by telling the truth. Loshon horah is slander by truth. It is taking one aspect of a person’s actions and highlighting it in a negative, destructive way, and then going all around town and letting everyone know.

The victim of this character-defamation may be kind and generous. He may be a person of high character who is patient and gentle with everyone, but one day someone pushed him too far and he erupted in a rage. He may have lived a lifetime practicing honesty, tolerance and generosity, but in one fell swoop, a baal loshon harah can destroy that sterling reputation.

He can do this without lying or exaggerating. Simply by reporting this noble individual’s single lapse.

The baal loshon horah derives great enjoyment from finally bringing down an individual occupying a pedestal of honor in the neighborhood or community. No longer does he have to hear from people about “Mister Klein’s” virtues. No longer does he have to feel inferior or guilty, for not working as hard or contributing as much to the communal welfare.

Loshon horah levels the playing field. As Miriam said when gossiping about Moshe’s wife, “Who does Moshe think he is anyway? Hashem doesn’t speak only to him, He also speaks to us.” Thus Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest leader in history, was reduced to the level of the people who gossiped about him and his marriage.

The posuk adds that “Ha’ish Moshe anav meod m’kol adam asher al pnei ha’adamah; Moshe was an extremely humble person, the most humble person on the face of the earth.

Why is this description of Moshe’s humility inserted here, right after the recounting of Miriam’s loshon horah? What is the message?

Because Moshe was so humble, people were able to delude themselves into thinking that he was just like them. True, there was no prophet like Moshe, there was no leader like Moshe, but since he was so humble and unassuming, people could prop up their egos by diminishing his stature. They could say, “He’s no big deal, he’s one of us.”

There is no one in our world who is so righteous that he has no faults at all. A baal loshon horah ignores the whole picture and focuses only on the part he can criticize. He dismisses the good in the person and singles out one facet that he has interpreted negatively. He assuages his own feelings of inadequacy by trying to magnify the shortcoming he has found, to pull the giant down to his own much lower stature.

The mergalim set out to map the land which G-d had promised to their forefathers generations ago. Twelve leading men of Israel were given a mission to appraise the Promised Land. They could have approached every sight with the perspective that this was the land of destiny upon which Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov had walked. It was the country their forefathers had fought and prayed for; the eternal home of the Jewish people.

But they didn’t look at Eretz Yisroel as being govoah mikol ha’aratzos; they didn’t look at Chevron and Yerushalayim as being different from any other cities and towns in countries anywhere in the world. They were bureaucrats on a scouting mission; whatever they saw they measured with an ordinary yardstick as they would measure sights and artifacts in any other part of the world.

They traversed about the holy land as if it were green land; they looked at the fruits by which Eretz Yisroel is praised as if they were the products of a simple agrarian state. They didn’t hear G-d’s promises reverberating in the backs of their minds as they walked about inspecting the lay of the land. They found fault in everything they saw.

Just as Miriam saw fit to speak ill of Moshe because she looked at him as a regular, normal human being, they were comfortable speaking poorly of the land because they viewed it as just another country.

Their sin was two-fold; they denied the greatness of the land and they denied the Divine promise.

From the incident with Miriam the reshoim should have learned that not all men are created equal and not all countries are created equal. The methods of appraisal are not the professional tools of a psychologist or the yardsticks of the real estate agent, but the Torah and the word of Hashem.

One who fails to heed that lesson is a rasha.

The counterpart of a rasha is one who internalizes the admonition of “hayad Hashem tikzor” when he sets out to analyze if something is doable. One who follows the words of Hashem knows that Moshe was different because “peh el peh adabeir bo.”

One who seeks to fulfill Hashem’s will takes heed of what transpires around him and learns how to live his life by the messages Hashem delivers.

A rasha seeks to rip down great men and bring them down to his level; an ish builds people up. A rasha sees people trying to build something and mocks their efforts, saying they will come to naught; he can only discourage. An ish offers encouragement and succor to strengthen others for the challenges which inevitably lie ahead.

A rasha is a naysayer. In his judgment, nothing can be done to improve a situation, no achievement will last. An ish, on the other hand, says, “Let’s do what’s proper and we will succeed.” A rasha says, “Don’t bother trying,” An ish says, “Let’s make our hishtadlus, Hashem will do the rest.”

The lesson of the meraglim calls out to us in our day as well. When you see people struggling to fulfill G-d’s word, encourage them. When you see people working on a project for the communal good, strengthen them. When called upon to assist noble individuals, worthy projects, yeshivos and communal endeavors, respond as Calev did and say, “yachol nuchal lah.”

When you assess a situation or a person, do so with the periscope of Torah. Let the promises of the Neviim ring in our minds as we go about our daily tasks so that we may merit the fulfillment of veshavu bonim legvulam speedily in our days.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Shavuos, the holiday of Matan Torah is right around the corner. Despite how close it is, and even though we have been counting toward it for over six weeks, most of us are still a distance from where we need to be in order to properly receive the Torah.

Ever since the second day of Pesach we have been giving lip service to the 48 steps approaching Kabolas HaTorah, marking off each day that passed since we sat at the Seder celebrating Yetzias Mitzrayim. The exodus from Egypt was the first step of the redemption process which culminated on Shavuos on Har Sinai.

As we approach Shavuos we need to assess how we measure up to the goals of sefira as spelled out for us by Chazal. Have we grown spiritually over this period? Have we improved our midos and the way we conduct ourselves in our dealings with our fellow Jews? Have we made ourselves worthy of accepting the Torah anew on the sixth and seventh of Sivan?

Sefira is not just a technical countdown, similar to the way youngsters mark off days on the calendar in a countdown to the last day of school. Sefira is meant to be a process of growth and spiritual elevation. It is a reminder of the continuous opportunity for strengthening and deepening our yiras Shomayim and commitment to Torah, as we move along the path, one day at a time, from Yetzias Mitzrayim towards Kabolas HaTorah.

Pirkei Avos, which we study during this period, details 48 kinyanim through which Torah can be mastered; each one of them a supreme challenge. In order to rise to these challenges, we have to be strong and determined and climb the Sefira ladder one rung a day.

The inspiration to grow and elevate ourselves either comes from within or can be triggered by outside forces. Some times all it takes is a confrontation with true greatness, and the resulting awareness of the vast gap that exists between where we are holding, and where we could –and should—be holding. We like to delude ourselves into thinking that we are a lot better than really are, but when we come face to face with true greatness we are shaken to the core. We realize that we have to do more to achieve real greatness.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when a person realizes that true greatness is not something anyone is born with. It is acquired through hard work, dedication, unceasing study, review and practice. That is true of any pursuit, and certainly with regard to Torah. Before one can accept the Torah, before one can understand the Torah, he must attain a certain level of accomplishment.

Forty nine rungs must be ascended, forty nine gates of knowledge entered, and forty- nine days of Sefira must have made their impact on one’s mind and heart, before the journey’s summit is reached on Mount Sinai.

Where are we up to in our own personal odyssey? Are we still determined to ascend that mountain or did we get sidetracked and lose sight of the goal? Do we think we can attain it via shortcuts? Shortcuts won’t cut it. Half measures won’t suffice. Skipping even one day of Sefira invalidates the process.

In the pursuit of Torah, excellence and greatness have to be our goal, or else we will fail.

Unless we are serious about excelling in Torah study and observance, everything we invest in the effort will fall short of its goal. Those who are satisfied with mediocrity, will remain forever at that level, no matter how elaborate their outer façade of greatness. This is as true of Torah as it is of all mundane pursuits.

Can one envision a more vivid example of artificial greatness than an empty façade of importance and superiority that is poised to collapse under the slightest pressure? Sometimes it is the very confrontation with such ugliness, with the uncivilized behavior of people who have no moral yardstick and no example of greatness in their own lives to live up to, that encourages one to launch himself in the opposite direction.

As the Am Hanivchar we have to rise above the decadence and the sham which surrounds us. Instead of indulging in empty posturing, we are commanded to work on ourselves, to purify our hands, mouths and souls before we engage in the pursuit of our livelihoods and the study of Torah. We must never sink to the level of animals in human form.

Before we accept the Torah, we have to work on our dealings with our fellow man, our relationships with family members, neighbors, employees and business acquaintances. We have to deal with the challenges of keeping our egos and our physical drives in check; we purify our bodies step by step, day by day. That is what sets us apart from the rest of humanity.

The summons to kedusha is forever before us. In countless ways, through every single day of the year, but never more explicitly than in the days leading up to Kabolas HaTorah, the Torah is always calling upon us to heed our better nature, to perfect ourselves, to ascend the mountain.

Let us not squander these precious days of opportunity which will enable us to properly receive the Torah, our lifeblood and lifeline.

As observant Jews, we must all strive for a thorough understanding and observance of Torah and its many precepts. Superficiality and mediocrity can undermine any serious pursuit and certainly our limud haTorah and shmiras hamitzvos that define our very existence.

The Medrash in Vayikra [19-2] states that lest someone grow despondent when realizing the vastness of Torah and yield to despair over his inability to master it all, he should realize that such an approach is foolish and counterproductive. A wise man will sit down and study two halachos today and another two halachos tomorrow and if he keeps this up consistently, will merit to study the entire Torah.

The path to excellence is by rigorously preparing ourselves spiritually and intellectually to receive the Torah, only then rendering ourselves capable of understanding the Torah and acting as true bnei Torah. We must then dedicate ourselves to excelling in its study, posuk after posuk; parsha after parsha; mishna after mishna; daf after daf and halacha after halacha until we are masters of our bodies, our souls and the Torah. Then we will be worthy of the appellation, bnei Torah.

Let us all make ourselves worthy of complete acceptance of the Torah and usher in the yemos hamoshiach, bimehairah biyom-einu.

Chag Someach.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Remember the huge outcry that erupted when the integrity of the renowned mohel, Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer, was attacked? Everyone was inflamed. “How dare they try to dictate how we practice our religion in 21st century America,” was the echo you heard wherever you went. “This is New York, this is our town! They’ll never get away with it!”

Then the brouhaha died down. Everyone was convinced the problem would go away somehow. Just like PETA would not be able to stop shechita in America, a local health commissioner would not succeed in halting metzizah b’peh, the assumption went. After all, people thought, how could an entire religious community be dissed without serious repercussions? One would have to be almost paranoid to think that could happen…right?

That kind of uncertainty that defuses outrage is exactly what veteran politicians count on when they exceed their mandate. They expect a bit of a backlash and some bad press for a while. Then, as sure as day follows morning, public attention shifts elsewhere and our public servants are free to continue pursuing their whims.

So, too, with the attack on circumcision ritual. People calmed down and apathy soon replaced indignation.

The truth suffers, the cause suffers, but injustice marches right on.

For the New York City Health Department, it seems that due process and “separation of church and state” are allowed to be suspended when ancient Jewish religious practices are at issue. Responsible medical research and testing—standard procedure in every other investigation—are dispensed with at the Health Department when the target of inquiry involves members of the religious community.

Rather than follow the State’s lead and rescind the restraining order on the respected mohel, the City Health Department continues to defend its decision, despite the apparent flimsy nature of its allegations against him.

What it comes down to is this: The City Health Department has banned a world-renowned expert mohel from performing metzitzah b’peh based on the following “evidence:” three infants came down with herpes.

The snap conclusion was that the infections must have been transmitted by the mohel.

But where are the grounds for this assumption? Is there any known precedent for mohalim transmitting the virus? Should not herpes in newborn baby boys be a more common occurrence in communities where metzizah b’peh is practiced?


Furthermore, it has never really been proven that people with herpes (HSV) antibodies can infect infants through metzizah b’peh—just because someone postulated such theory does not make it fact. To date it is but an unsubstantiated claim. Nevertheless, it was immediately used by the health department to legitimize the attack on Rabbi Fischer.

Imagine that three patients of a world-class physician, who treated 12,000 patients, contract a certain virus. Would the health department immediately curtail the doctor’s ability to practice medicine? Would they hastily place blame for the contraction of the viruses on the respected physician or would they investigate each individual case thoroughly to ascertain the source of the virus? Would they rely on circumstantial evidence to ban the physician? Would they develop theories and act upon them before they are proven?

More likely, responsible health officials, before embarking on such extreme “solutions,” would first thoroughly investigate all family members and acquaintances, and comprehensively examine the matter from all angles.

They would convene a conference of infectious disease experts who would analyze the problem in depth in order to arrive at the best avenues of safeguarding public health. In a case with potentially sweeping ramifications, they would immediately publish their findings in order to assuage everyone’s concerns.

If the city health officials did in fact follow the above protocol in the case of Rabbi Fischer, they certainly aren’t telling anyone. Instead they hide behind patient confidentially concerns.

They are so concerned about people’s rights to privacy, but what of Rabbi Fischer’s rights? Is he not entitled to be deemed innocent until proven guilty, healthy and safe until proven otherwise? Is the community not entitled to utilize his expertise and services until credible evidence is presented that he is unsafe? Though medical tests established conclusively that he is not afflicted with any active herpes virus, the city insists that the metzizah b’peh he performed led to three children contracting the virus.

By pointing a finger at him, these officials convey the impression that they alone are concerned with saving Jewish lives. They want you to believe that the hundreds of rabbis and tens of thousands of people who support Rabbi Fischer and the metzizah procedure don’t really care about human life. They want you to believe that the Torah, which is a Toras Chesed, and an Eitz Chaim, mandates bizarre rituals that imperil children.

Does this not smack of the devious designs of countless people in the past who, while inciting opposition to religious observance, cast themselves as humanitarians driven by noble motives?

Our community isn’t new to blood libels; we’ve been through them way too many times before in our history. For centuries, Gentiles claimed—and in some places still claim—that Jewish law called for the use of sacrificed Gentile blood as an ingredient in Passover Matzohs. Government authorities and their charges energetically sought to put an end to the “dreaded” practice and many Jews lost their lives in this unholy crusade.

Is the current attack on a circumcision ritual much different? Those who insist, as the city’s health department does, that a mohel with dormant herpes, carried by at least 90% of the adult population, can kill infants through a bris with metzitzah b’peh—a theory that has not been tested and proven—are in effect saying that Jewish customs have deadly consequences and we don’t care.

Subscribing to that belief is tantamount to saying that we religious Jews are no different than pagans who offered up their children in sacrifices to a non-existent deity. Those who buy into that mindset regard us as fundamentalist fanatics intent on preserving antiquated practices that breed sickness and death. In fact, metzizah b’peh has been performed on millions of newborns without any ill effect, for untold centuries.

To its great credit, the observant Jewish community is united in protesting the actions of the Health Department to date. Leaders of the greater Torah and Chassidic communities have come together to decry the decision of the Health Department to halt metzitzah b’peh.


When the New York City Health Department slapped a restraining order on Rabbi Fischer, forbidding him from performing metzitzah b’peh, many of our readers wrote the health commissioner in defense of Rabbi Fischer and our hallowed traditions. One of them forwarded to us a response received from Mr. Isaac Weisfuse, the Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health:

“Our investigation has led us to conclude that the mohel who performed the circumcisions on these infants was responsible for transmission of the virus to them, and to propose that this individual no longer perform metzizah b’peh in order to prevent spread of this infection in the future.”

“Our investigation has led us to conclude…?”

What was the nature of that investigation, one wonders. The public has not been given the courtesy of any further information. We are expected to simply accept that a thorough probe was carried out and the results were crystal clear that Rabbi Fischer transmitted the herpes virus to the infants he circumcised! Yet, skepticism abounds in many quarters. One cannot help but wonder about an investigation that remains shrouded in secrecy, whose results appear to have been pre-determined.

In any case, accusing Rabbi Fisher of endangering newborns is tantamount to a blood libel.

We ask the City Health Commissioner to show us proof that Rabbi Fischer transmitted the virus to the babies. Until they can provide conclusive and credible evidence to support their accusations, we do not accept the claim. The public demands that the Health Department either back up its claims or back off.

Anything short of conclusive evidence conveys to residents of the City of New York, that decisions at the City Health Department are made arbitrarily or are based on the agendas or whims of city officials, as opposed to being grounded in meticulous medical research.


In contrast to city officials, the State Health Department set the correct tone by acknowledging that no correlation exists linking the contraction of the viruses by the three babies to Rabbi Fischer. The State Health Department admits it has no business regulating or legislating religious practices. What has taken the City Health Department so long? What is hindering their ability to see the obvious truth?

What compounds this travesty is the misleading attempt by a City Health Department official to cast the decisions of the Health Department in the bris milah case as having limited ramifications. Isaac Weisfuse writes that, “We have no intention of regulating metzitah b’peh,” and “we are not seeking to regulate a religious practice generally, but are merely trying to safeguard the health of children in the community relative to a specific individual.”

Don’t get suckered into believing that the goal of the City Health Department is merely to restrict a single mohel from performing metzitzah b’peh.

It seems clear that those behind this attack on Rabbi Fischer have further designs up their sleeves. If they succeed in casting as fact the unproven theory that people who have herpes antibodies alone can kill infants, how can they not regulate metzizah? If 90% of the adult population in fact carry those antibodies, how can those in charge of public safety permit mohalim to come in oral contact with infants?


If we remain silent and apathetic, the consequences will be severe. Today it’s Rabbi Fischer’s right to perform metzitzah b’peh and tomorrow, bris milah in general will be up for regulation, followed by government interference in other religious practices as well. Is it far-fetched for do-gooders in charge of public safety to claim that Shabbos candles lead to fires? How about Chanukah Menorahs? Why not simply use electric bulbs, why the archaic practice of using candles and oil with wicks?

Clearly, the City Health Department has overstepped its bounds in the matter of bris milah. If the Health Department is allowed to proceed, eventually every mohel will be subject to a witch hunt. Every mohel will be guilty until proven innocent, denied due process and treated without simple decency, without any respect for his past, present or future.

Contempt for religion and our right to practice it as we see fit will be at the forefront of tomorrow’s headlines.

A fine man has been dragged through the mud, flushed down the toilet, as it were. Apparently, it is only a crime to flush a Koran down the toilet, not a rabbi, not a Jewish religious practice, and not a community of hundreds of thousands of peaceful, law-abiding Jews.

Dare we suggest that because we are a civilized, respectful, peace-seeking people, we are being taken advantage of? How much longer will we be led down a broken trail of lies and governmental deceit? It is time we rise up, and respectfully but forcefully do what we can to bring closure to this sorry chapter.

When murderous savages who have no qualms about burning down houses of worship with co-religionists and Korans inside are insulted, our government reaches out to them, throwing money and ambassadors in their direction in an attempt to prove that the United States esteems the Muslim religion.

When wild-eyed fanatics kill themselves in Iraqi mosques causing the loss of innocent life and presumably consigning books of the Koran to a fiery end, no one has the temerity to condemn the perpetrators. But when a US publication said a Koran was flushed down a toilet, the entire establishment, from the president and defense secretary right down the ranks, rushed to the media to mouth platitudes bewailing the affront to Islam.

In stark contrast, when our practices are defiled, when our holy people are called murderers, the entire city establishment sits by, hiding behind the rubric of “we are protecting the children.” Well, what were the heroes who daily come face to face with murderers in Gitmo doing, if not protecting innocent human life?

And what are we doing to protect our dignity? What are we doing to stand up for our rights as loyal, tax paying, law-abiding citizens? Why are our practices allowed to be spat upon? Why are our rabbis allowed to be maligned as reckless individuals who advocate harmful behavior?

If we relinquish autonomy in the religious arena to any degree—and allowing the city government to tamper with bris milah is a huge surrender—we will pay a heavy price. We are turning the clock back a few decades to when Jews in America had to fight for the religious freedoms we take for granted today.

It may be about time that we raise the decibel of protest a notch higher. Wherever you live, write a respectful letter to Mayor Bloomberg and the health commissioner and ask them to come clean.

They can be reached at:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, NY 10007
FAX: 212.788.2460

Thomas R. Freiden M.D. Commissioner of Health, 125 Worth Street, CN-28 New York, NY, 10013
TEL.: 212.788.5261
FAX: 212.964.0472