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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Direct contact between a mohel’s lips and an infant boy’s circumcision wounds has likely led to 11 New York City infants being infected with herpes between 2004 and 2011, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Two of those infants died. Health authorities also attribute two recent HSV-1 cases in New Jersey to infection via metzitzah b’peh. Both recovered after after 10 days’ treatment with intravenous anti-viral medication.

One of the two New York deaths attributed to metzitzah b’peh occurred in 2005, the other in 2011. It was the 2011 death that revived the metzitzah b’peh issue, which had been little discussed since 2006.

Advocates for the practice argue that those deaths are poorly documented, and that the rate of infections is low compared to the large number of times the practice is performed each year by ultra-Orthodox mohels for a community well-known for its high birthrate. Between 10 and 15 children have been admitted to hospitals in the United States, Israel and Canada with the disease over the last decade.

The new regulation would require “informed consent” from a parent before a circumcision ceremony that will include metzitzah b’peh. The city’s Board of Health will vote on whether to adopt the regulation on September 13.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders began mobilizing against the proposed regulation in June, shortly before a public hearing on the proposition. The depth of ultra-Orthodox opposition to the regulatory effort was evident when Zalman and Aron Teitelbaum, two famously feuding brothers who lead two warring factions of the large Satmar Hasidic sect, both attended a June 27 meeting to plan communal opposition to the proposal. The two were publicly photographed sitting near each other.

Hasidic leaders are cooperating directly with Agudath Israel, which represents mostly non-Hasidic Orthodox communities. The cooperation has taken the form of regular meetings, outreach within the community, and messaging outside the community.

“This is a public relations and a media effort to really drive home the point that the city’s efforts have been woefully inadequate in terms of record building and understanding the seriousness of what they’re suggesting,” Tobman said.


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