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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MBP, a procedure practiced by some ultra-Orthodox mohels, involves orally sucking away the blood from the infant’s genital area after cutting off his foreskin during the bris, or ritual circumcision. The practice can infect newborns with herpes simplex virus type 1, according to medical authorities. While not serious for adults, neonatal herpes can be fatal for infants, or cause permanent cognitive or physical damage. A study published in a journal sponsored by the federal Centers for Disease Control found that infants definitely or likely to have been exposed to MBP during circumcision face a risk of neonatal herpes 3.4 times greater than that of newborns outside this group.

Most mohels in this country use a sterile pipette for suctioning the blood. But many ultra-Orthodox mohels consider direct suction of the genital area by mouth to be mandated by the Talmud as part of the religious rite.

Andrew Moesel, a public relations spokesman at Sheinkopf LTD, which represents the ultra-Orthodox groups, rejected sharply Penn’s assertions that his clients had misused the school’s study, or that they had obtained it improperly for use in their court suit.

“We believe that we accurately characterized the intent of the review,” Moesel said, “in particular, underscoring significant limitations of the New York City Department of Health’s non-peer reviewed study on MBP and other literature on the subject. The review demonstrates that any causal link on MBP and type 1 herpes is far from conclusive.”

Moesel added that he received the research paper “from a member of the Penn community” and that there was no subterfuge involved. The study was publicly available on Penn’s website, he said.

Asked to email the link to the paper, Moesel said he would send it to the Forward “right away,” but then failed to do so. He did not respond to several follow-up emails reiterating this request.

In an email to the Forward, Susan Phillips, senior vice president of public affairs at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, wrote that the study “was never available online from us and still isn’t.” Referring to an April 9 press release on the study, also sent out by the ultra-Orthodox groups, Phillips said, “I spoke to the PR contact… and commented strongly on the errors in the release, etc., but we have never sent them anything.”


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