N.Y. Board Orders Forms for Circumcision Rite

Health Officials Mandate Parental Consent for Metzitzah B'Peh

No Consent: A demonstrator protests against the New York health board’s decision to require parental consent forms for the controversial circumcision rite metzitzah b’peh.
seth berkman
No Consent: A demonstrator protests against the New York health board’s decision to require parental consent forms for the controversial circumcision rite metzitzah b’peh.

By Seth Berkman

Published September 13, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The New York City board of health has voted unanimously to require parents to sign a consent form before allowing a mohel to perform metztizah b’peh, direct oral-genital suction during circumcision.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg
getty images
Mayor Michael Bloomberg

The vote was 9-0 to require parental consent for direct oral suction, a practice employed only by ultra-Orthodox mohels that can lead to transmission of a strain of herpes to which infants are especially vulnerable. Though transmission rates are believed to be low, If infected, babies can suffer brain damage or even death.

“We’re not banning the procedure, we’re not regulating how circumcisions are performed,” Jay K. Varma, deputy commissioner for disease control for the health department said after the meeting. “We’re simply requiring that people understand there is a risk, and if people want their baby to be circumcised, they have to understand that this procedure might potentially transmit an infection that is both serious as well as life threatening.”

There are no mandatory penalties imposed if the waivers are not signed. But the health commission may impose penalties at its own discretion. Varma said the department would respond to public complaints and investigate the claims, and that repercussions could range from a phone call or a formal warning letter, to fines of up to $2,000 for each violation.

Despite the unanimous approval, during the meeting board members, who are appointed by the mayor, voiced their concerns about the forms and the potential of limiting religious freedom. Board member Sandro Galea referred to the waivers as a “tricky issue,” and Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the department had worked hard to protect infants and respect religious traditions at the same time. He also took note of calls from the Orthodox Jewish community to delay the vote, but said that would be inappropriate and essentially doing nothing on the matter. Farley did say that he hoped to continue dialogue with critics past today.

Three protestors gathered outside of the hearing at the Department of Health building in Long Island City to denounce the decision. Rabbi William Handler, leader of Traditional Bris Milah, a self-proclaimed group formed to “protect Jewish ritual circumcision,” provided orange flyers that accused Mayor Bloomberg and Farley of instigating “Blood Libel.”

“The puppets all danced to the tune of the puppet master,” said Handler, referring to the health board and the mayor. “What this is, is the first step in completely taking away traditional bris milah from the Jewish people in New York City.”


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!
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • 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.