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!
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • 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.