Rabbi Performs Controversial Metzitzah B'Peh Circumcision Rite — Law or No

Avrohom Cohn Proudly Flouts N.Y. Parental Consent Law

Tradition? Rabbi Avrohom Cohn performs a bris at a synagogue in Brooklyn’s Boro Park. He says he performed the controversial metzitzah bpeh ritual, but did not get consent from the parents.
courtesy of avrohom cohn
Tradition? Rabbi Avrohom Cohn performs a bris at a synagogue in Brooklyn’s Boro Park. He says he performed the controversial metzitzah bpeh ritual, but did not get consent from the parents.

By Paul Berger

Published March 27, 2014, issue of April 04, 2014.

(page 3 of 3)

Several ultra-Orthodox groups — Agudath Israel of America, the International Bris Association and the Central Rabbinical Congress of the United States and Canada, which is affiliated with the Satmar Hasidic community — joined together to seek a preliminary injunction preventing the city’s department of health from implementing the consent forms.

They say there is no scientific or statistical evidence that infants were infected with herpes following MBP. They also say that forcing mohels to obtain written consent is a violation of their freedom of speech and of their freedom of religion.

A district judge ruled against the injunction in January 2013, and an appeal is pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

Meanwhile, the health department has issued two warnings since January 2013, related to two infants being infected with herpes following MBP.

Despite the two recent cases, the city has never sanctioned or warned a mohel for failing to comply with the consent form regulation.

Mohels are required to keep a copy of the signed forms for one year. But the city will not say whether it has ever enforced the law by asking a mohel to provide a signed copy of such forms.

The Forward recently filed a freedom of information request asking the health department whether it had ever requested signed forms from a mohel. The request also asked for copies of any such forms submitted with the names of family members redacted.

The health department denied both parts of the request. “While not acknowledging whether the Department has requested or received any consent forms,” the department of health’s associate general counsel said, “documents responsive to your request would be protected… as it would be an invasion of the privacy of all concerned to produce such documents to the public.”

It’s not clear how many times MBP is performed in New York City each year.

Cohn estimated that it is performed on several hundred infants per month.

He said that since tens of thousands of babies have experienced MBP since 2000, the percentage of infections cited by the health department in that time period is statistically insignificant.

Cohn said that an infant’s welfare is the most important factor in any circumcision. Toward that end, he said, all the mohels certified by his organization are tested for a range of diseases, including herpes, AIDS and hepatitis. They are retested every year to maintain their certification, he added.

“You can’t bring back a human life,” Cohn said. “Therefore, if there is the slightest, slightest possibility [of picking up an infection from an infant,] I don’t do [MBP].”

But Cohn said that the city’s claims that MBP causes herpes are a “blood libel” and that he will never obtain written consent before performing MBP.

Cohn, a Holocaust survivor who fought with the partisans in Czechoslovakia during World War II, said that the only reason he came to America was because the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion.

“Now I am here in America all these years, and I am terribly disappointed religion is being interfered with,” he said. “If they want me to go to jail, I will go to jail.”

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter, @pdberger

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