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First the sale of Chanukah items was banned in Manitoba, now doctors doing a brit milah in shul is up for debate

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If a proposal to ban Manitoba doctors from doing circumcisions in non-medical facilities is adopted, will Jewish parents have to fly out-of-province characters like ‘Shaky the Mohel’ to Winnipeg to perform the brit milah ceremony? (Screencap: Seinfeld Season 5 Episode 5)

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The Jewish community of Winnipeg has once again found its cultural practices under scrutiny from secular authorities, right under the nose of the local Federation.

In November the Pallister government managed to snare religious items such as Chanukah candles and menorahs in a ban on in-store sales of “non-essential” goods. This occurred despite assurances from the then-Deputy Premier Heather Stefanson to the senior Lubavitch Rabbi of Winnipeg. The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg had no clue what was happening and after a week tried to save face by claiming their lobbying behind the scenes had the ban reversed, ignoring the outcry politicians and health officials heard from the grassroots.

This week, Federation officials were again scrambling to save face when they belatedly learned that the conditions to allow a doctor to conduct the ritual of Brit Milah (a ‘bris’) – circumcision of eight day old males – was put on the table for discussion by a working group of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba. (The groups, which includes members of the public as well as medical professionals, evaluate Standards of Practice of Medicine rules which set out the requirements related to specific aspects of the quality of medicine practice. These are the rules all physicians in Manitoba must adhere to.)

An article in the Winnipeg Jewish Review on Tuesday afternoon revealed the controversy when it published a strong rebuke by B’nai Brith Canada of the suggestion of limiting the locations where a bris can be performed by a doctor. In a letter to CPSM officials, CEO Michael Mostyn stated: “Despite the obvious and serious effect this would have on Manitoba’s Jewish community, B’nai Brith was never consulted, and we understand that the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg was not either.”

Shortly after the WJR scoop, in an “Action required – Brit Milot in non-medical clinics are in jeopardy!” email blast, Federation CEO Elaine Goldstine confirmed that “Even though the Draft Standard by the College has been in the public domain for approximately one month, the Jewish Federation was only made aware of its contents yesterday.”

A College spokesman told TheJ.ca that religious circumcision was not targeted by the working group in developing the proposal, but was essentially snared in a catch-all review of rules for all out-of-hospital procedures where a patient undergoes sedation. This includes things like laser therapies, botox and vasectomies, and “each procedure wasn’t considered for its unique circumstances”.

A written statement explained: “The working group for this Standard will review all comments and revisit the current draft to carefully consider amendments necessary to appropriately accommodate the performance of male circumcisions in the course of religious ceremony or tradition.”

The working group – one of 3 such reviews being conducted including one into the handling of patient records – has been at it for a year, and the month-long consultation phase which ends on Friday “gives the working group information it did not have” from organizations such as B’nai Brith and from private citizens, the spokesman explained. “We sent it (the proposal) out to our members and it kind of has been sitting under their radar.”

The College was particularly sensitive to any suggestion that the proposal sought to ban the performance of ritual circumcisions in a synagogue or family home setting. In an email to TheJ.ca, the College cited an “exemption in the Regulated Health Professions General Regulation at section 4 that permits people who are not regulated health professionals to perform the reserved acts necessary for male circumcision in the course of a religious ceremony or tradition.”

The spokesman explained, “This language ‘we are banning’ – that’s not something we could do under that exception.” 

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The proposed standard would not affect the work of layman trained as mohels –  but would restrict physicians, clinical assistants, physician assistants, medical residents, and medical students who are registered to practice medicine in Manitoba – seemingly, from even attending a bris outside a medical facility.

The proposal found at point 2.1 of the draft document says “(CPSM) members must not perform, or cause, permit, or enable another person to perform any procedure in a location other than a medical clinic.”

The role of ‘Community Mohel’ has been filled by doctors in the province for decades. If the proposal were to pass, and a layman is not qualified to act as a mohel, then parents of newborn Jewish boys in Manitoba would have to transport (fly) a mohel in from another city to perform the ceremony. 

However, we asked about another loophole: if that mohel is, say, a doctor from Toronto, although they are not bound by the Manitoba practice code, could they face a complaint with the Ontario regulator for breaching the practice rules in another province?

“The way it is written, that is certainly the conclusion you can make. That’s why this consultation is important, we are going to review it. We see where the oversight was.”

In defence of the 16,000 Jews of Winnipeg, the response from B’nai Brith Canada to the College assailed “this horrifying proposal, which would constitute a significant and unjustified impingement on Jewish Manitobans’ right to religious freedom, and would potentially spark a legal challenge.”

Mostyn explained that, “The family celebrating the circumcision will usually host a seudat mitzvah, or ritual meal, in their home or a local synagogue, immediately following the circumcision itself. Blessings are recited before, during and after the circumcision, often along with remarks by a rabbi or other religious official. To state the obvious, Jewish circumcision rituals of this sort cannot properly be carried out in a hospital.”

Noting that his organization could not identify any other registrar with a similar ban, Mostyn concluded, “We fully expect the College to comply with its obligations under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and rescind the proposed Standard of Practice, or amend it to exclude ritual male circumcisions.”

“We are not aware of any recent mishaps stemming from Jewish ritual circumcisions in homes or synagogues – not in Manitoba, or anywhere else in Canada, for that matter”, Michael Mostyn wrote to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba. (Photo: B’nai Brith Canada)

In contrast to Mostyn, who ensured that College deliberations on the matter will now be informed by his insistence on Charter Rights being respected in the face of very public litigation, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg once again demonstrated no fire in their belly and no commitment to being vigilant for the community. In their world, it seems there is no such thing as Doctors Opposing Circumcision that Jews might have a reason to be concerned about.

In her email announcement Goldstine said, “The Jewish Federation immediately reached out to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba to discuss the matter. Based on those discussions, this was unintentional.”

Instead of accounting for why JFW officials were in the dark, who was spoken with at the College and providing details of that discussion, or explain why Federation was able to draw their conclusion, she offered no details.

Rather, Goldstine turned to the recipients of the newsletter “to ask individuals who are concerned to submit comments to the College. We are therefore reaching out to all of you to make our voices heard and let the College know that the performance of all ritual Jewish male circumcisions (brit milot) by a physician should be excluded from the Standard.”

There was no indication from Federation about the consequences – or a course of action – if the comments they solicit fail to sway the working group. 

And although Goldstine urged readers of her missive to act “in an expeditious manner”, it was seemingly not an urgent enough matter for her to ensure Federation would seek support from the entire Jewish community, and not just those on their mailing list. 

At press time, Federation had made no mention of their belated campaign to preserve ritual circumcision rights on either of their Facebook or Twitter accounts, despite the promise of JFW President Joel Lazer to improve communications practices.  

Marty Gold is the Editor-in -Chief of TheJ.ca. Known for investigative reporting, he has specialized in covering municipal and provincial politics, and a wide range of sports and entertainment, in newspapers, magazines, online, and on his first love, radio. His business and consulting experience includes live events and sales, workplace safety, documentary productions, PR, and telecommunications in Vancouver, Los Angeles and across Canada, and as a contestant on CBC-TV Dragons Den.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

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