Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Even after the deaths of two children and the injuries of many more, a group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis say that if a proposed law requiring parental consent for an ancient circumcision ritual is enacted they will defy it
In the ancient "metzitzah b'peh" ritual, a "mohel" or a Jewish person, usually a rabbi, trained in the practice circumcision removes the foreskin and draws blood from the circumcised penis with his mouth. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said in a statement that at least 11 infants in New York are believed to have contracted herpes from the practice, including two of whom died and two of whom have irreversible brain damage. However, the ultra-Orthodox leaders insist that the 5,000-year-old ritual is safe, refuse to tell parents of the health risks and are lashing out at the city's "evil plans" ahead of the Board of Health's upcoming vote. Around 200 rabbis have signed a proclamation claiming that the Health Department "printed and spread lies . . . in order to justify their evil decree," according to The Yeshiva World News. "It is clear to us, that there is not even an iota of blame or danger in this ancient and holy custom," the letter states. While most modern mohels remove blood from the baby's wound using a sterile pipette, some Orthodox Jewish parents want their child to undergo an ancient "suction by mouth" ritual called metzitzah b'peh. If the law is passed, it would mandate that mohels distribute consent waivers, and explain the oral suction procedure and its risks, including the possible transmission of herpes simplex virus. Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg, said that no one will comply with the law, even if it is passed. "For the government to force a rabbi who's practicing a religious act to tell his congregants it's dangerous is totally unacceptable," Niederman said. "You're forcing the mohel and the parent to sign a piece of paper that contradicts their religious convictions." Niederman said that there is not enough evidence to link herpes to the religious ritual. Political consultant Michael Tobman, who is working with several large Hasidic communities, said that the waiver will have a huge impact on the Orthodox community. "It warns parents that the city suggests a link between the practice and serious health worries, [and] it would undoubtedly have a chilling impact," Tobman said. "City government shouldn't be doing that." However, the city health department argues that parents should be informed of the risks of the ritual before making the decision, and said in a public notice that it has received "multiple complaints from parents who were not aware that direct oral suction was going to be performed as part of their sons' circumcisions," since 2004. The controversy over metzitzah b'peh erupted in March 2012 after an infant died September 28, 2011 at Brooklyn's Maimonides Medical Center from "disseminated herpes simplex virus Type 1, complicating ritual circumcision with oral suction," according to the death certificate.