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NYC Panel to Regulate Circumcision Rite

Consent forms will be required for ‘metzitzah b’peh’

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Mayor Bloomberg in 2012(NYDN)

The New York City board of health has unanimously passed a regulation requiring that parents sign a consent form before the circumcision practice known as metzitzah b’peh can be carried out by a mohel. The rite, in which the mohel uses his mouth to remove blood from the incision, is a prevalent custom in some ultra-Orthodox communities.

In recent years, the practice has come under fire from doctors and health officials.

Infectious disease experts widely agree that the oral contact creates a risk of transmission of herpes that can be deadly to infants, because of their underdeveloped immune systems. Between 2004 and 2011, the city learned of 11 herpes infections it said were most likely caused by the practice. Two of those babies died; at least two others suffered brain damage.

In recent months, rabbis, citing infringement on religious practice, have threatened to sue the city if measures against the rite are enacted. On the other side of the issue, a number of medical professionals have spoken out heatedly against the practice being allowed at all. After the measure passed (which has seemingly toothless penalties), one of the panel members, Dr. Joel A. Forman said that “it’s crazy that we allow this to go on.”

In many ways, this measure is a happy medium between allowing a controversial religious custom to continue unfettered and banishing the practice altogether. As expected, neither side is happy though.

Earlier: And Now Back to American Circumcision
Health Board Votes to Regulate Jewish Circumcision Ritual [NYT]

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The mayor with a Wiener. Very classy.

Any religious practice which threatens the lives of babies should be banned regardless of the religion. Especially one which isn’t a obligation and has such weak religious support such as metzitzah b’peh.

This story reminds me of the great “grape juice” controversy. Some US rabbis were caught taking advantage of the prohibition era to sell letters allowing their “congregants” to buy wine for “ritual purposes”. When the affair was splashed across the front page of the New York Times, the rabbis at JTS suggested that the whole problem could be avoided by replacing kiddush wine with grape juice. For a number of years, the issue of whether grape juice could be used for kiddush became a major dividing line between groups in American Jewry. The ultra-Orthodox opposed it, sometimes writing as if kiddush on grape juice was only slightly less problematic than idol worship. I have never found anyone in today’s Orthodox community who has heard of the controversy, excepting a few professional historians.

Michael Cohen says:

In Jerusalem, I made a video of the complete circumcision (brit milah), including the controversial metzitazah b’peh – which has been substituted by the pipette in the less traditional brit milah. Personally, I feel that the chances of infection are minimal with the oral method, compared with riskier endeavors like walking across the street.
(“The Circumcision of Jacob Chai)

I think it’s a brilliant, almost Talmudic, win/win. I live in Ohio. I have friends who had a baby boy last fall and couldn’t find a mohel who would not do the brit milah without this, what they (and I) consider barbaric practice. I’m over 60 and had never heard of such a thing until their baby was born. They found a way to do the brit, but it took a lot of doing and it took a lot of work to make it happen. Parents should know what the mohel is planning to do and consent to it, just as they consent to the circumscision itself.

Michael Cohen says:

Demystifying circumcision. Some videos on circumcision I made here in Israel.
Two methods of oral suction:
Traditional brit milah ceremony (includes metzitzah b’peh – direct suction):
People-on-the-street interviews in Jerusalem, discussing whether circumcision should be banned or not: “Huna” “Rocio”


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NYC Panel to Regulate Circumcision Rite

Consent forms will be required for ‘metzitzah b’peh’

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