A rabbi in Antwerp has filed a police complaint against six mohels, or circumcisers, alleging they endangered children by using their lips to suck blood from the penises of babies on whom they’d performed the Jewish ritual.
The controversial custom, known as metzitzah b’peh, Hebrew for “sucking with the mouth,” is thought to have caused the death of at least one child in New York in 2012 from herpes. Another outbreak among infants of Haredi families in New York occurred in 2017 and was attributed to metzitzah b’peh.
“It is a terrible custom that puts children’s lives in danger for no reason,” the rabbi, Moshe Friedman, told The Times of Israel about the mohels against whom he had filed a police complaint last month. Rabbis who do not perform the custom use a pipette to remove excess blood from the wound of the circumcision.
The complaint is prompting a discussion in Belgium on the subject at a time when several Jewish and Muslim practices, including nonmedical circumcision of boys, are under attack both by progressives who deem them abusive and by some conservatives who consider them a foreign and undesirable import.
Many Belgian Jews view Friedman as a contrarian and gadfly. He has publicly criticized multiple customs that are important to Haredi Jews in Belgium and Antwerp, where they account for most of the city’s Jewish population of 18,000 people.
Friedman in the criminal complaint claims that metzizah b’peh is illegal according to Belgian law.
Michaël Bouchez, the complaints director of the Children’s Rights Commissary, an organization established in 1997 by the parliament of the Flemish Region of Belgium, questioned this legal interpretation in a letter to Friedman.
“There are multiple opinions and the legislation is not satisfactory,” Bouchez wrote to Friedman in August.
One of the mohels against whom Friedman has complained to police, Jitzchok Weiss, acknowledged that he performs metzitzah b’peh, but said this was safe. “I’ve performed more than 2,000 circumcisions, mostly with metzitzah b’peh. I’ve had zero issues,” Weiss said.
Weiss dismissed Friedman’s complaint as “a provocation and a publicity stunt. That man has made it his life’s mission to harass our Jewish community. We will ignore him.”
Friedman in 2006 attended a conference that featured Holocaust distortion and was organized by then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran. In 2013, Friedman got a judge to force a Jewish school for girls to admit two of his boys – a blow directed at a congregation that treats him like a pariah.
In 2018, he said that the Jewish Orthodox way of killing animals for meat, shechita, was cruel. It was banned the following year in two of Belgium’s three states.
Belgium is one of several countries in Europe where shechitah and its Muslim equivalent, dabhihah or zabihah, were banned in recent years. The religious requirement that animals be conscious when they are killed is seen as cruel by animal rights groups and barbaric in many right-wing circles that oppose Muslim immigration to Europe and, in some cases, also Jewish presence there.
A similar dynamic is unfolding around the nonmedical circumcision of boys, or milah in Hebrew, though so far no European country has banned that practice.
Friedman says that he is confident that Belgian authorities will pursue his complaint, leading to searches and potentially arrests.
The Belgian Consistoire, a state-recognized organization responsible for providing religious services to local Jews, dismissed Friedman’s allegations. In a statement, the Consistoire said it was unaware of a single medical crisis involving circumcision in Belgium and that they are all performed by professionals” and “in keeping with the strictest hygienic requirements.”