Ultra-Orthodox rabbis in New York are up in arms against a proposed law in New York that would require parental consent for circumcision rituals done in the orthodox manner. The ritual, called, metzitzah b’peh, involves a mohel removing the foreskin of the infant and using his mouth to stop the bleeding.
According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, at least 11 infants in New York are thought to have contracted herpes from the practice, two died, while two have irreversible brain damage. Though most modern mohels remove the blood with a sterile pipette, ultra-orthodox Jews of the Hasidic community still use the oral suction method.
The Department of Health contends that since 2004 it has received “multiple complaints from parents who were not aware that direct oral suction was going to be performed as part of their sons’ circumcisions.” But the Hasidic believe that the 5000-year old ritual is safe.
The Department of Health intends to vote on a proposal this September on a law that would require mohels to explain the oral suction method, inform of the possible transmission of herpes simplex virus, and obtain parental consent by the signing of a waiver.
However, Rabbi David Neiderman, executive director of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg points out that the ritual is performed safely “tens of thousands of times a year” worldwide, and babies who are not circumcised can also contract herpes from other sources. According to Niederman, the research linking the ritual to infant deaths is “full of holes.” He said, “We are convinced that the data is flawed and there’s no risk whatsoever.” He also added, “safeguarding the life of an infant” is one of the most important principles of the Torah.
Neiderman is worried that the vote to enact the law for compelling mohels to obtain parental consent for the traditional ritual may force the rabbis to put their religious beliefs first. He says, “When it comes to the law, we are all there – it’s our obligation, according to our religion. But not when the law goes against our religion.”