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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Meanwhile, the DOHMH has mailed copies of the consent form and an informational brochure to 1,800 physicians and health care providers, — though professionals in these fields would rarely, if ever, practice metzitzah b’peh.

Most would only be exposed to the practice after caring for an infant infected with herpes.

The form is a simple one-page document that requests the full name of the mohel, the infant’s birth date and a printed name, signature and signed date from a parent, agreeing that he or she understands that metzitzah b’peh will be performed despite the DOHMH health advisory that this technique “exposes an infant to the risk of transmission of herpes simplex virus infection, which may result in brain damage or death.”

Previous attempts to curtail the practice of metzitzah b’peh have been ineffective.

In 2005, after three infants were reported to have contracted neonatal herpes from a mohel, former New York City health commissioner Thomas Frieden publicly condemned the practice.

More recent DOHMH studies have revealed 12 area infants who have contracted herpes after circumcision. with two of the infants dying soon after.

In 2006, Antonia Novello, who was then New York State health commissioner, allowed metzitzah b’peh to continue under a safety protocol agreed upon with leaders in the Hasidic community. Novello suggested using antibiotic ointment on the wound, but critics in the medical community said the ointment’s effectiveness in preventing herpes transmission was minimal.

Last September, days before the department of health’s vote, 200 rabbis signed a petition against the regulation, saying that it was forbidden and an evil law.

New York City council member Lewis Fidler told the Forward at that time that the regulation was “probably next to impossible to enforce.” Fidler said: “Will you have undercover agents at a bris? In the end this will probably be a regulation flagrantly violated.”

In its statement to the Forward, DOHMH said it had “no plans for continuous monitoring” of mohels. “DOHMH will request forms from mohelim when investigating neonatal herpes cases potentially caused by direct oral suction or when investigating complaints by parents about direct oral suction,” the statement said.

Cohn said he was working with other mohelim to organize a “day of prayer” that would draw “millions of people” who believe “in the existence of God” to protest in front of Bloomberg’s office in City Hall.

“We’re working very hard, spending a fortune of money on this,” he said.

Niederman said he did not know of any planned protests and that official bodies involved in the lawsuit have never discussed such action.

Contact Seth Berkman at berkman@forward.com


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