Tuesday, May 25, 2010

An account of the adult circumcision of a male convert in New York, 1844. also, an ode to shochetim and kosher meat..

The following appears in an article called Jewish Hygiene in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, v. xxxi no. 16, Wednsday, November 20, 1844, by William Clay Wallace, a physician known best for his works on the eye, based in New York.

Read the rest of the article; as you can see even from this excerpt, he writes from a very admiring perspective. After discussing some of the laws of kashrut, which he interprets approvingly in a hygienic sense, he gives an anecdote concerning his attempt to buy a cancerous cow's eye from a sausage-maker. After examining it, he concludes that he could then understand why sausages are sometimes poisonous, the point being of course that diseased animals are not kosher and thus are not eaten by Jews. (In an earlier post I cited the writing of a 17th century Jewish physician who testified that some Venetian gentiles only bought kosher meat for this reason.)

After his discussion, Wallace writes - this is 1844, 60 years before Upton Sinclair's The Jungle - that:

"From all that has been written, we may see the vast superiority of the laws of the Jews over those of the gentiles. While the citizens of New York pay fifteen thousand dollars a year for an inspector of tobacco, and considerable sums for inspectors of lime, lumber and charcoal, they have no inspector of animals, nor any unclean place where they may he slaughtered. The Jews, on the contrary, have a man whom they can trust to kill their animals, in a proper manner, and to point out to them by his seal the meat which is wholesome. That he may not be stimulated by want to place his mark improperly, each congregation gives its inspector five hundred dollars a year, and permits him to charge a fee of fifty cents for every ox which he seals. When a butcher, who supplies the Jews, wishes to provide for them, he selects one of the finest oxen, and sends for the inspector. A rope is cast round the animal, and he is drawn up with the aid of a pulley and windlass ; the throat is exposed, and the inspector, with a long sharp knife, cuts it nearly to the spine at a single stroke. By the sharpness of the instrument and the extent of the wound, the blood gushes out in torrents; the animal is farther hoisted up ; by degrees the red blood ceases to flow, and nothing comes from the wound but serum limpid as water. The carcase is then lowered ; the inspector cuts into the chest; examines the heart and lungs; puts in his hand to ascertain if there are adhesions, and that all is healthy. He next examines the abdomen to observe the condition of the liver, &c.; and if he is satisfied, he thrusts a knife through portions of the flesh and fixes several leaden seals, impressed on one side with the Hebrew initial of the month, and on the other side with the day of the month, in a manner similar to that by which seals are attached to cloth. He is present again when it is cut into pieces, and affixes his seal to each portion. When Jews go to market, they can thus easily distinguish what kind of meat is healthy, and what, it is possible, may contain tubercles, abscesses, or sores."


  1. What is Liston or Mott?

  2. ^ was about to ask the same q, although presumably they were the great surgeons of the day from the context..... Fascinating stuff!

  3. "a rabbi with long beard"

    i doubt he was a rabbi. i guess back then too people mistook any bearded jew for a rabbi :)

    no metzitzah?

  4. Valentine Mott (1785-1865), American surgeon. Robert Liston (d. 1847), Scottish surgeon, "the fastest saw in the West End. He could amputate a leg in 2 1/2 minutes." (Courtesy of Wikipedia.)

  5. My father always points out to me that he was struck by the passage in The Jungle which states that the kosher meat was prepared in the same place and conditions as the rest of the meat that Sinclair decries.

  6. I was taught very conclusively as a child that the kashrut laws have nothing whatsoever to do with health. They are strictly holiness laws.

    Imagine how surprised I was to learn much later that Maimonides disagrees with this.

  7. To Lion of Zion:
    Metzitzah is not performed on a circumcision for the sake of conversion. It is also not done on adults anyway. (This could serve as a proof that metzitzah is not me'akev. See Iggeros Moshe Y"D I 223).

    Shabbat 137b says that one who does not remove the membrane has effectively not circumcised. But there is no statement that suggests that if metzitzah were not done that the bris is unsatisfactory.

    In any case, it is the opinion of Rav Pappa in Shabbos 133b that not doing metzitzah is a cause to no longer use the mohel in question. Again, nothing wrong with the bris. It is certainly not 'reopened' in order to do metzitzah.



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