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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The press release was sent out by Sheinkopf LTD one day after the ultra-Orthodox groups submitted the Penn study as part of their court brief. It trumpeted the study under the headline, “Ivy League Study Casts Doubt on Claims That Jewish Tradition Leads to Herpes in Infants.” The press announcement claimed that the study conducted at Penn’s Center for Evidence-based Practice “found little evidence to support the claim” that MBP “leads to an increased likelihood of herpes in infants.”

“We have been saying for years that the evidence attacking this religious practice is highly dubious, and now we have world-class doctors agreeing with us,” enthused Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger, chairman emeritus of the Aguda’s board of trustees, in the press release.

According to Phillips, the press release “mischaracterized our review by implying that there is no causal relationship between circumcision performed with oral suction and the transmission of neonatal herpes simplex virus (HSV) when the full report on the existing evidence concluded this link does exist.”

The review’s conclusions are unambiguous. It says that existing studies on MBP “suggest that direct oral suction performed by a mohel during circumcision may be a source for transmitting HSV-1 infection to an infant,” which can cause death. But the review also indicates that “this evidence base is small and significantly limited.” The researchers call for more studies to amass additional evidence.

Just who initiated the study remains unclear. Phillips said that the Center for Evidence-based Practice conducted it at the request of “another physician in the system,” but she would not identify that person. “I can assure you, he has nothing to do with any of the groups involved in this litigation,” she said.


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