Skip To Content

Following Baby’s Death, Orthodox Group Urges Followers To Drop Disputed Ritual

In response to the death of a New York baby boy from herpes, the top union of Modern Orthodox rabbis is urging Jews to abandon the ancient ritual practice of suctioning the blood by mouth directly from the baby’s penis during circumcision.

The Rabbinical Council of America, representing more than 1,000 rabbis, issued a policy statement this week arguing that instead of direct oral suction the tradition known as metzitzah be-peh could be fulfilled with the use of a tube. The statement came following the death of a New York baby from herpes, which officials suspect might have been transmitted from the mouth of a Hasidic mohel during the circumcision process.

The RCA stated that a traditional Jewish circumcision, or brith milah, involves extracting blood from the wound or the surrounding tissue, using the mouth as the source of suction. But RCA declared that this requirement could be fulfilled through the use of a sterilized tube, eliminating the transmission of infectious diseases to the newly circumcised infant.

“It is the position of the RCA that the requirement of metzitzah is fulfilled completely and unambiguously by the use of oral suctioning through a tube, as practiced by many mohelim in our communities,” the organization declared, adding, “The RCA urges its member rabbis, their congregants, synagogues and institutions, as well as the larger Jewish community, to encourage, and where possible necessitate, that metzitzah be-peh be fulfilled via a tube.”

Experts said most Modern Orthodox ritual circumcisers already use latex gloves and a sterilized glass tube for suction, taking precautions not to come into contact with the baby’s blood. But the practice of direct oral suction continues to be standard in many ultra-Orthodox communities.

RCA’s statement is expected to upset Hasidic sects and other ultra-Orthodox communities. Leaders of these Orthodox camps have been vigorously defending the practice of direct oral suction since it came under attack last month, after New York City health officials announced that Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer, a prominent Hasidic mohel from Monsey, N.Y., was suspected of transmitting the herpes virus to three infants he had circumcised. One of the infants died this past October.

Fischer is suspected of passing the oral herpes virus, which generally produces cold sores but can be passed to another person’s genital area.

Government or religious attempts to ban the direct oral practice were denounced in a pointed February 18 editorial, by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz, editor and publisher of Yated Neeman, an ultra-Orthodox newspaper.

“Will we become like our Russian brethren in the past century who were forced under the Communists to conduct sacred bris [circumcision] in underground bunkers with sentries standing guard,” Lipschutz wrote. “Are we about to revisit those days in our own country?”

Dozens of ultra-Orthodox rabbis signed a full-page Hebrew advertisement that ran in the February 25 issue of Yated Neeman, defending the practice.

A prominent Orthodox medical ethicist, Rabbi Moshe Tendler of Yeshiva University, already has come under fire from ultra-Orthodox critics, for an article in the August 2004 issue of the medical journal Pediatrics that he co-wrote, arguing against the practice. Tendler has been outspoken in recent weeks, as well.

The RCA’s executive vice president, Basil Herring, said that while Tendler was not directly involved in formulating the policy statement, he was consulted and gave his approval.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.