Two Babies Sickened by Circumcision Rite

N.J. Infants Infected With Herpes Transmitted From Mohel

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Published March 16, 2012, issue of March 23, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Two Jewish infants in New Jersey were recently infected with — but survived — a herpes virus attributed to their ritual circumcisers’ use of an oral suctioning technique that is said to have caused the death of an infant in New York in September.

Dr. Margaret Fisher, chair of pediatrics at Monmouth Medical Center, told the Forward that a newborn boy was admitted to the center within the past month, infected with the virus, known as HSV-1, within days of his circumcision. The other case “was in the last year or two,” said Fisher, a pediatric infectious disease specialist. Both boys had herpes lesions on their genitals but “extremely mild cases,” she said, and both were successfully treated for 10 days with intravenous anti-viral medication.

The two babies were admitted to a hospital close to Lakewood, N.J., which is home to a large ultra-Orthodox community.

News of the New Jersey infections comes amid renewed debate sparked by the report of the baby who died in September of HSV-1, acquired when his mohel orally suctioned his circumcision wound, according to New York City officials. The procedure, known in Hebrew as metzitzah b’peh, was last blamed for causing an infant death in New York in 2006.

The death last September occurred at Brooklyn’s Maimonides Medical Center, and the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles Hynes, said recently that he is conducting a criminal investigation into the matter. Metzitzah b’peh, which is practiced in particular by ultra-Orthodox mohelim, has never been illegal. Asked if Hynes’s investigation meant that the procedure might now be a crime, spokesman Jerry Schmetterer replied, “I don’t believe it is criminal, but I’m not a lawyer.” Pressed further on what law the D.A. believed could have been violated, Schmetterer said, “I’m not saying another word.”

The family of the infant who died in September has declined to disclose to authorities who performed their son’s circumcision, or brit mila.

In 2007, the mohel linked as an HSV-1 carrier to the death of a baby boy was prohibited under Section 16 of New York State’s Public Health Law by the state Department of Health from performing metzitzah b’peh “in and throughout the state of New York.” The mohel, Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer, was also prohibited from engaging in any other practice in which he “[allows his] mouth or oral fluids to come in direct contact with an infant’s genitals…”

But a story posted online by The Jewish Week of New York on March 13 reported that Fischer was taped in a phone conversation within the last two weeks saying it “was not a problem” for him to perform the procedure, in apparent violation of the ban.

Meanwhile, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo convened a meeting March 12, bringing together state health department officials and ultra-Orthodox leaders. His liaison to the Jewish community, Emily Saltzman, referred questions about the meeting to his press office, which did not respond to multiple messages seeking further information.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.