Haredim decry those of us concerned about the dangers of metzitza b’peh, the sucking of the blood of the open circumcision wound done by many mohels during brit milah (the circumcision rite), as “attackers” seeking to stop circumcision all together. Under the banner “We will not change!,” haredim claim the details of the rite date to at least the time of Moses, without change. But is this so?
Apparently not – Ivan G. Marcus writes:
When the age of baptism was changed from adulthood to infancy, a new form of adult sponsorship developed. Since an infant could not perform the rite alone or present himself or herself to an adult, the institution of godparents at infant baptism was introduced in the early Middle Ages to perform that function. The presence of Christian godparents at baptism eventually influenced the Jewish circumcision ceremony, which introduced the concept of a godparent called a syndekos, a Byzantine Greek term that marks the approximate time of the innovation in the early Middle Ages. In later Ashkenazic Europe, two addition grandparents were added, whose names were taken from the parallel German Christian terms for co-parents, Gevatter and Gevatterin. All three terms eventually entered Yiddish as Sandek, Kefatter and Kefatterin; along with Elijah’s chair, they remain integral parts of the circumcision ritual to this day.
[Ivan G. Marcus, Rituals of Childhood: Jewish Acculturation in Medieval Europe, Yale University Press, 1996, p.107]
The difficulty with modern haredi theology lies primarily in its ahistorocity. Like so much else in Judaism, brit milah has changed – evolved, if you will – adapted to the times and the needs of Jews. It is the haredi world’s refusal to allow this process that most endangers Judaism today. Unfortunately, in this specific case it endangers Jewish babies, as well.