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Judge Denies Request for Name of Mohel Who Infected Infant With Herpes

A state judge has denied a request by the Forward seeking the name of a mohel who is believed to have infected a baby with herpes during a ritual circumcision.

Supreme Court Justice Timothy Dufficy said that revealing the mohel’s identity would seriously undermine New York City requirements that encourage individuals and organizations to report incidents of neonatal infections. “Individuals would be dissuaded from complying with the reporting requirements if their anonymity was compromised,” Dufficy wrote in his December 13 decision.

Dufficy said that revealing the names of mohels found to carry herpes could open them up “to vilification in the press, as well as embarrassment and shame in both their business and private life, in addition to possible sanctions for violations of the NYC Health Code if they infected others.”

New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued an alert this past January that a baby had contracted herpes during a ritual circumcision.

The mohel infected the baby during the performance of metzitzah b’peh, a controversial circumcision rite used by some ultra-Orthodox men, in which the mohel sucks blood from the circumcision wound with direct oral to genital contact.

The practice can infect newborns with herpes simplex virus type 1, according to medical experts.

Because of the risks of metzitzah b’peh — at least two infants have died, and 11 others have been made ill as a result of the practice since November 2000 — New York City recently instituted a consent form that parents must sign before the procedure can be performed.

Ultra-Orthodox groups say that the risks of herpes are overblown and that the consent form is an infringement on their religious freedom.

New York City’s health department denied the request, and a subsequent appeal, stating that the information represented an “unwarranted invasion” of the mohel’s privacy.

Dufficy agreed, saying that New York City health codes rely upon people to report knowledge of a communicable disease to the authorities.

“The court finds that the purposes of all of these codes would be negated and seriously undermined if the names of persons reported under these sections were revealed to the public,” Dufficy wrote in his opinion.

He added: “The fact that an infected individual is a mohel, a sous chef, or a police officer, no less implicates their personal privacy interests, or diminishes the need to keep their health status confidential.”

The Forward had argued that revealing the mohel’s identity would help raise awareness of the risks posed by metzitzah b’peh.

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