Here's a brief history of the rise and fall of metzitzah b’peh — the blood-sucking circumcision ritual

By Reuven Blau (NY Daily News)
March 31, 2017

Here's a brief history of the controversy surrounding metzitzah b’peh:

• Metzitzah b’peh, which literally means oral suction, is first mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud in tractate Shabbos, which dates back to the 4th Century. There, Rav Papa says that any mohel who doesn't do metzitzah b’peh is risking a baby’s life, arguing it somehow prevents infections.

• In 1831, a German professor published a handbook for mohelim. He tried to demonstrate that there was no evidence showing the ritual serves a therapeutic purpose. In fact, it could actually harm the baby, he concluded.

• Six years later, a student of Rabbi Moses Sofer, a leading Talmudic scholar, asked him about several babies who appeared to become sick after they were circumcised by a mohel who did oral suction. In a famous response published in a journal in 1845, Rabbi Sofer concluded that metzitzah does not have to be done orally. Instead, a mohel could use a sponge to clean the wound.

• In response, leaders in the reform movement cited that decision and brought into question the entire circumcision practice, infuriating orthodox rabbis.

• In 1900, a group of 42 leading Hungarian rabbis publish a letter defending oral suction, prohibiting any changes to the ritual.

• At the height of the AIDS epidemic, many rabbis move to do the oral suction via a straw. The majority of Ashkenazi rabbis totally stop performing the ritual.