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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Most mohelim, including those who are Orthodox, do not employ metzitzah b’peh. They instead use a sterile glass pipette to draw off the blood. But the ultra-Orthodox minority who do use metzitzah b’peh, including members of Cohn’s group, avow that this technique must be part of the circumcision ritual in order to fulfill divine commandments set out in the Torah and the Talmud.

Now that the DOHMH rule is enforced, Orthodox defenders of the practice appear to be split on how to respond. David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel, an influential umbrella organization for ultra-Orthodox groups, said his organization has not issued any directive advising whether or not parents should sign the consent forms.

Asked how the Aguda, as it is known, would respond to parents seeking its input on whether to sign the form, Zwiebel said, “We would tell them that the regulation is in effect” and that “they should act accordingly.” He added, “We are certainly not advising civil disobedience.”

The Aguda, which is one of the plaintiffs in the court case, did not have any public comment on groups that chose to violate the DOHMH regulation, Zwiebel said.

Rabbi David Niederman, a representative of the Central Rabbinical Congress, was another plaintiff who voiced confidence in the legal route. But Niederman, a communal leader of the Satmar Hasidic sect, which strongly defends metzitzah b’peh, said that in the meantime, his organization would not issue any directive on whether or not to obey the regulation.

For mohelim like Cohn, who have performed metzitzah b’peh regularly, the city’s regulation poses the quandary of remaining loyal to their religious beliefs in violation of the law, rather than choosing to violate their conscience.

Cohn said he had performed an estimated 35,000 circumcisions over 60 years, always practicing metzitzah b’peh, without deviation from what he said was the injunction found in Mishnah, Shabbat 19:2 of the Talmud. The passage roughly translates as: “We perform all necessary acts for the milah on Shabbat: We circumcise, tear the mucosal membrane [peri’ah], we suction….”


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