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Bris findings leave unanswered questions

  • Generic baby boy
The commission of inquiry following the serious injury to a local baby at his brith milah in Sandton in June last year has recommended the mohel no longer perform circumcisions.
by SUZANNE BELLING | Nov 11, 2015

The commission of inquiry following the serious injury to a local baby at his brith milah in Sandton in June last year has recommended the mohel no longer perform circumcisions.

This recommendation has already been implemented and the mohel will never be accredited to perform circumcisions again.

This follows much speculation in the Jewish community over the months following the disastrous brith. The findings of the commission were released this week by the Chief Rabbi and the Beth Din.

Neither the affected family nor the mohel were named, according to an agreement, but the father of the child told SA Jewish Report he supported the statement put out by the Beth Din and the Chief Rabbi.

He said he and his wife had consulted medical specialists “all over the world - including Belgium, Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States - for medical advice, but it was evident the baby’s condition could never revert to what it was.

“We are not clear what the future holds,” he said. “It is an unprecedented case. But as a family we had to deal with it.”

The nursing sister, Adrienne Utian, who assists mothers and newborn babies, was in attendance at the bris and urged that the baby be taken to hospital immediately following the extensive injury.

She had earlier expressed concern about the standard of mohelim as compared with surgeons with whom she had worked in hospital on circumcisions. But her concerns went unheeded.

“Going forward, I would like to put something together and be involved in improving the standards.”

The father questioned why there “was no governance around this (the practice of mohelim) and why the community had not been apprised of this. We trust in these people,” he said.

The statement by the Chief Rabbi and the Beth Din said that

the Commission had assessed the procedures followed by mohelim in South Africa and found that “they perform this sacred duty carefully and compassionately with due regard to the health and safety of the babies concerned.”

“We are satisfied after listening to their testimony that there is really no cause for general concern” but added that they would be “fully implementing all of the recommendations of the commission to improve even further the standards of brith milah in South Africa. ‘


The commission was headed by retired Justice Phillip Levinsohn, former Deputy Judge President of KwaZulu-Natal. His commissioners were urologist Dr Michael Cohen and retired mohel, Rabbi Dr Pinhas Zekry.

Among their recommendations are:

•           that a committee be established which has the authority to oversee and govern the practice of brith milah in South Africa;

•           that all practising mohelim be required to be registered and accredited and given formal accreditation by the committee in order to practise;

•           the accreditation given is to be subject to renewal on a biennial basis;

•           when issuing the renewal, the committee be required to take into account several factors, including the age, state of health of the mohel and any complaints received during the period under review which bear on his competence to continue performing brith milah;

•           that the committee also be required to set norms and standards based on the halacha and the highest standards of professionalism, health and safety.”

The statement added that:

“Brith milah is the foundation pillar of the Jewish people and has been for almost 4 000 years since Abraham circumcised his son, Isaac, on the eighth day. It is a sign of our eternal covenant with G-d, and consequently it is one of our most important and precious mitzvot. It can only be performed by a properly trained mohel.

“On behalf of the South African Jewish community, the Chief Rabbi and the Beth Din express our heart-felt prayers for a refuah shleimah for the baby, and strength and fortitude for his parents. 


  1. 13 Harry Friedland 12 Nov
    I find several things about this incident deeply disturbing.

    Firstly, medical practitioners around the world carry a heavy burden in the form of professional insurance. Not all damage is so bad as to be irreperable, as it is in this case: given resolution in the form of money, much damage could be repaired: but to the best of my knowledge, mohelim (at least in my knowledge), have no professional negligence insurance. Perhaps the very first question a parent should ask is not how wise, learned or venerable the mohel is, but how well he is ensured, and then secondly, how much experience the mohel is and what his success rate is.

    Mohelim should keep audited records of cases which they have handled and the record of every case should be countersigned by a parent.

    In a case where a mohel has not performed according to a preset standard then as the Beth Din is now going to do, the mohel should be appropriately censured and even the parent should be investigated for the criterion whereby he/she chose the mohel. It helps nothing if a mohel botches the job and the parent forgives him: the one who is directly affected has had no say in the matter and yet he is the one who is going to have to live with the consequences. Potentially, an indifferent, or negligent or misguided parent could cause as much or even more damage than the mohel. As far as South African law stands at present, the child has a right or recourse against both the mohel and the parent as soon as he attains the age of majority. And that is just as it should be.

    There should be a heter so that if a trustworthy mohel is not available on the eighth day, the obligation for the bris stands over until one is available. The lesson of the akeida is that we do not sacrifice our children. That, too, is a very strong imperative of our faith - in fact, it is so strong that H' finds it necessary to repeat on at least three occasions in the Torah, "You shall not give your children to Molech", because a god who would demand such a sacrifice cannot be H'. Demanding a bris on the eighth day under inappropriate or risky conditions is tantamount to giving your son to such a god, and that god is definitely not H'!

    The option of brissing your own son is a formal requirement. Woe betide the father who foolishly rises to the occasion, brisses his own son and botches the procedure! - Not only will he carry the emotional and psychological scars for the rest of his life (if he has even a smidgin of compassion in him), but any lawyer would advise the son to sue the pants off his father when the son gets to the age of majority, halacha or no.

    I'm not even sure if medical aid insurance is obliged to cover any repair work, although I suppose that out of common humanity they might feel pressured to do so: they might want to investigate an argument that the father has voluntarily assumed a specific and rather high risk on behalf of his son, and is therefore precluded from claiming compensation from the insurer.

    This incident brings the practice of brit mila into immediate comparison with other cultures which practise similar rituals under even more risky circumstances in Africa, in the eyes of the general public - but generally in those other cultures the person undergoing the ritual is already eighteen and thus makes his decision as an adult and has no recourse other than against the practitioner whoperforms the circumcision. It brings the whole parctise into disrepute and makes us very easy to dismiss as savages.

    That is a disaster on a scale which we have not yet even begun to contemplate. We need to clean up our act very quickly indeed.
  2. 12 Denis Solomons 12 Nov
    Perhaps we are reaching a stage where there will just be no-one available to do the procedure .
    Maybe medicine in general is heading this way .
  3. 11 Coxsackie 12 Nov
    If people want to continue to engage in infant genital mutilation then it should be dealt with like any surgical procedure:
    signed informed consent by the parents informing them of all potential complications.
    the procedure is performed in a theatre under sterile conditions and with a urologist or paediatric surgeon in attendance.
    the mohel should not charge for this "holy" procedure - Pirke Avoth clearly tells us that the Torah should not be used as a shovel to generate revenue!
  4. 10 Danya Pearce 12 Nov
    Why is there no requirement for a doctor to be present? My husband's briss went badly and he would not be alive today had a doctor not been present to repair the bleed to a vein. Surely a baby's life is more important and in today's time's having a doctor present can make parents feel a little more secure. 
  5. 9 Ken Phillips 13 Nov
    I hope the parents sue the Rabbi big time for future medical expenses. Very sad indeed.
  6. 8 Gerald Jacobson 13 Nov
    I agree with the recommendations above.
  7. 7 AAAA 16 Nov
    Rabbi says he has nothing and there is nothing to sue him for.  The Rabbi has not even apologized to the family!
  8. 6 Stanley Sapire 16 Nov
    As you say,  your account of the report of the commission appointed to
    enquire into the botched Brit milah  raises a number of questions. Many are not
    mentioned or dealt with and It is not clear as to what the terms of reference of
    the commission were. One question is, "what compensation is the victim to
    receive and from whom?"
    Why is the name of the perpetrator withheld? Surely he should be named. He
    is a primary wrongdoer. As such he is be liable to compensate the victim,
    and possibly to prosecution. I accept for present purposes our reluctance to
    involve the secular criminal courts. Public interest will be little served  by a
    prosecution We must accept that the mohel  is a man of excellent character,
    sensitive, compassionate, remorseful who will suffer unremitting anguish for his
    mistake which he will never again be in a position to repeat. This cannot
    absolve him from his liability to compensate  the child Similarly the infant's
    father and guardian will long suffer lasting distress; but it is not for him to
    abandon his son's civil rights and the compensation to which he is entitled
    according to the law of the land. The mohel is most probably not in a financial
    position to pay the amount of damages which would be awarded for the infliction
    of permanent and devastating injury caused his negligence or any significant
    part thereof.
    What control has hitherto been exercised over Mohelim and  the conduct of 
    the Brit mila procedure? There must have been previous instances of malfeasance,
    indicating that surveillance and control by batei din is necessary.Such is the
    duty of the batei din exercising jurisdiction at centres of Jewish residence all
    over the world. It is for them to accept responsibility for allowing  a mohel
    incompetent  on account of age or otherwise negligent in his practices to carry
    out procedures within their areas of jurisdiction. Does the Johannesburg  Beth
    Din owe substantial damages to the victim?  Are we not to be told what
    compensatiion the child is to receive and from whom. For the future should not
    all mohelim carry appropriate insurance as part of their qualification?.
  9. 5 Nathan 16 Nov
    I read article on the comments and would like to add my own conclusions: Firstly, I am a traditional Jew but nevertheless I cannot bear articles and comments which are written clearly with a personal agenda. We and I'm sure the Rabbi are all in agreement of the poor little boy who is going thru such an ordeal together with his parents. However it is no reason for us and the writer of this article to write it one direction. Firstly, only the family was quoted in the article, secondly there is no facts just hearsay. Maybe there are other dr;s who disagree with the prognosis or maybe not. Maybe the Rabbi followed clear procedures and he was not to fault maybe not. I am just saying everyone jumped to conclusions on their own biased reasons or dislikes. Lastly, regarding the safety of brit out of hospitals, don't guess, one can google what the experts say about the safety of it. I did and results show its no less dangerous than in an operating room. In fact more problems have occured in operating rooms. Unfortunatley we all know people who died from mistakes in operating rooms. Isn't it funny when its a doctor involvrd people are quick to accept but when its religion we all have our grievances. Judge favourably as we don't have all the facts. BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY THE BOY SHOULD HAVE A SPEEDY RECOVERY AND A COMFORT TO HIS PARENTS AND ALL THOSE SUFFERING FROM THIS.
  10. 4 Harry Presman 17 Nov
    Now hopefully they will release the results of their chicken investigation announced in 2014.
  11. 3 Martin 17 Nov
    I agree wholeheartedly with Nathan. Why create a feeling of more negativity. hasn't there been enough which should all be focusing on positive energy for the healing.
  12. 2 Allan Pincus 22 Nov
    Your " cute" picture of the baby is wholly inappropriate considering the extremely serious nature of the content
  13. 1 Simche Dovid 03 Mar
    All I have read and heard so far, are negative comments from the critics. Has the mohel ever been interviewed by the media for comment? What actually happened? Has the sandek ever been interviewed by the media for comment? He is probably the best witness and aware of what actually happened and how.


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