Penn Researchers Charge Orthodox Misused Report on Circumcision Rite

Claim Findings on Metzitzah B'Peh Were Distorted

Twisting the Facts: Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are angry at the way a study on a controversial circumcision rite was used by Orthodox groups.
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Twisting the Facts: Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are angry at the way a study on a controversial circumcision rite was used by Orthodox groups.

By Seth Berkman

Published April 18, 2013, issue of April 26, 2013.
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University of Pennsylvania officials are crying foul over what they view as the illicit procurement and misuse by several ultra-Orthodox groups of an internal study by Penn researchers of a controversial circumcision rite.

Penn’s Center for Evidence-based Practice never published or released an assessment it conducted earlier this year of evidence from prior studies showing the risk that the religious rite known as metzitzah b’peh poses to infants, the officials say. Yet somehow, ultra-Orthodox groups recently acquired the Penn study for use in a lawsuit opposing regulation of the practice by New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“The unpublished report was used without our knowledge or consent, and importantly, without proper context,” the University of Pennsylvaia Health System charged in a statement released April 15. The school termed it “regrettable that our evidence review was manipulated for purposes other than advising physicians of important clinical risk factors for newborns.”

In an April 10 email to the Forward, Joel Betesh, project director of the study, also stated bluntly, “I do not agree with the way they are portraying our report.”

The ultra-Orthodox groups claim that the study debunks the medical consensus that infants exposed to metzitzah b’peh, also known as MBP, face a much higher risk of contracting neonatal herpes, a potentially life-threatening disease for newborns.

The three ultra-Orthodox groups — Agudath Israel of America, the Central Rabbinical Congress of the United States & Canada, and the International Bris Association — submitted the Penn paper as evidence in their most recent court brief, filed in the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals on April 8. Their suit challenges a New York City regulation requiring a mohel to obtain a signed consent form from the parents of a newborn before performing direct MBP on the infant as part of a ritual circumcision.


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