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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Rabbi David Niederman, leader of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg and a top Satmar official, said that the proposed consent forms that described the ritual as dangerous were offensive and amounted to an incursion the community’s right to practice its religion.

“What we’re saying is, allow us to conduct our religious activities the way we’ve been doing that,” Niederman said.

Zwiebel, the Agudah executive, said that the rabbinic leadership of his organization had advised during a conference call on August 9 that the group speak to health department officials before the September 13 vote. He said that he did not know what would happen if officials voted to approve the new consent requirements.

“There’s nothing about filing a consent form that is inherently in conflict with [Jewish law],” Zwiebel said. On the other hand, Zwiebel added, the notion that the metzitzah b’peh ritual is inherently dangerous is problematic for the Agudah’s rabbinic leadership, and the rabbis might not want their followers to sign a document saying that it is.

After the Agudah and other Orthodox groups filed letters opposing the regulation during the public comment period in July, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg reiterated his opposition to the ritual.

“There are certain practices that doctors say are not safe and we will not permit those practices to the extent that we can stop them,” Bloomberg said at a press conference. “You don’t have a right to put any child’s life in danger, and this clearly does.”

Bloomberg won’t run for mayor again in 2013, but the issue could play a role in the upcoming mayoral race. Malcolm Smith, a State Senator who is considering a Republican run for mayor, has already expressed his support for the practice.

“I don’t want to inject electoral politics for 2013 into this discussion, but it would be an act of incredible naïveté not to look at the numbers of these communities and how seriously they take this issue,” Tobman said.


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