Orthodox Mobilize To Defend Circumcision Rite

City May Require Consent Forms for Blood-Sucking Ritual

Fight the Form: New York City health officials want any parents whose babies undergo a controversial circumcision rite involving sucking of blood to sign a consent form. The ultra-Orthodox vow to resist.
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Fight the Form: New York City health officials want any parents whose babies undergo a controversial circumcision rite involving sucking of blood to sign a consent form. The ultra-Orthodox vow to resist.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published August 14, 2012, issue of August 24, 2012.
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New York City could face mass resistance in the ultra-Orthodox community to proposed regulation of Jewish circumcision rites that involve the oral suctioning of blood from genital wounds, say advocates for that community.

The city’s Board of Health is set to vote on a proposal that would require parents to sign a consent form before their children are subjected to the controversial ritual, known as metzitzah b’peh. The form would warn that babies can contract a type of herpes sometimes fatal to small infants through the practice. The form will also warn that HSV-1, as this herpes type is known, can cause brain damage to infants infected by it who survive.

Ultra-Orthodox groups strongly oppose the proposed regulation and have banded together in a broad coalition to oppose its passage.

“Unless the city is ready to subpoena mohels or break the doors in of synagogues around the city, I don’t really think they understand what they’re trying to do,” said Michael Tobman, a political consultant who is working as spokesman for a coalition that includes Agudath Israel, the large umbrella group that advocates for ultra-Orthodox organizations, and various Hasidic sects. “This is a community absolutely committed to resisting this ill-considered effort, up to and including civil disobedience.”

Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president of the Agudah, said he did not foresee the rabbinic leadership of his organization calling for outright civil disobedience against the consent forms. But he added: “Will there be compliance with the regulation? I’m not sure.”

Most Jews don’t practice metzitzah b’peh. Modern Orthodox and non-Orthodox religious authorities endorse the use of a sterile pipette, rather than the mohel’s mouth, to suction blood from the baby’s circumcision wound. But many ultra-Orthodox communities see the direct application of the mohel’s mouth to the eight-day-old infant’s wound to suck off his blood as a religiously required element of the ritual.


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