Orthodox Rabbis Vow To Resist Consent Forms for Controversial Circumcision Rite

Balk at New York City Health Rule on Metzitzah B'Peh

Rabbis Resist: Some are vowing not to cooperate with a New York city requirement for parental consent forms for a controversial circumcision rite.
Rabbis Resist: Some are vowing not to cooperate with a New York city requirement for parental consent forms for a controversial circumcision rite.

By Seth Berkman

Published January 30, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
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The leading association for mohelim who practice a risky oral blood suctioning technique in their circumcisions has vowed not to cooperate with New York City’s new health regulations governing use of the technique, known as metzitzah b’peh.

Brooklyn mohel Rabbi Avrohom Cohn, chairman of the American Board of Ritual Circumcision, said his group would not have parents sign waiver forms, which the city is now requiring as a condition for performing metzitzah b’peh.

“He’s the mayor of the biggest city in the world, but I’m not going to listen to him,” Cohn said, referring to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has strongly backed the new rules. “I have another mayor, the Almighty, and I will do it His way.”

The regulation, put out by the city’s board of health, requires parents to provide a signed consent form to a mohel before that mohel may perform metzitzah b’peh. The technique, in which the mohel uses his mouth to suction off blood from around a baby’s penis after cutting the infant’s foreskin, has been found to transmit herpes simplex virus, which can cause serious injury, and even death, to infants.

On January 14, four days after Manhattan federal Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald denied a request for a preliminary injunction against the regulation, the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene posted the consent form on its website in English and Yiddish. The rule came into force that day.

Failure by a mohel who practices metzitzah b’peh to produce the relevant signed consent forms on request is “a violation of the New York City Health Code,” the DOHMH said in a statement to the Forward. Violating that code can lead to “a range of penalties,” the department added, including fines up to $2,000.

Orthodox defenders of the practice have filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to reverse Buchwald’s ruling, but that is pending.

Defenders of metzitah b’peh argue that the DOHMH rule infringes on their religious rights, and some contest the medical consensus on the danger the technique poses to infants.


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