Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Family’s Blood

Today is World Hemophilia Day, designated to raise awareness of the hereditary blood disorder that prevents one’s blood from clotting.  Most forms of hemophilia are passed from mother to son, which poses a great risk for Jewish parents who wished to fulfill the mitzvah of Brit Milah (circumcision) on the eighth day of a boy’s life.

In olden times, the only way to know if a child was a hemophiliac was through its tragic results. Aware of a familial relationship in people who bled to death too easily, a condition they then referred to as having “loose blood,” the following two situations are cited in the Talmud: First the Talmud discusses a woman whose first two sons died due to circumcision, and it was stated that she need not circumcise her next son. (Rabbi Simon ben Gamliel said “three” sons, but not the fourth, but most opinions followed the more compassionate ruling of not the third.) The second situation recognized that the condition had a broader familial relationship. A woman from Tzipori whose three sisters had already lost their sons during the ritual came to Rabbi Simon ben Gamliel and was told that the child need not undergo Brit Milah* (Talmud Yevamot 64b).

Although the majority of halachic discussions concerning hemophilia and Brit Milah focus on the history of the mother, some rabbis also said that there was a similar ruling for the son of a father who had lost two sons at circumcision. In 1953, researchers discovered Hemophilia C, a bleeding disorder that is transmitted from either parent and can affect a child of either gender. Hemophilia C is not a common condition, but of those affected, there is a high percentage of Ashkenazi and Iraqi Jews.

Medical knowledge has changed greatly since the days of the sages. Today, genetic testing and medical intervention for blood coagulation have a direct impact on the halacha regarding circumcising a child from a family with a history of hemophilia. As with all questions of Jewish law, one should consult a rabbi before making any decisions.

*The Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) states that the circumcision is postponed until the child matures and his strength grows, at which point the child's health situation is reassessed.


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