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Leah Rocketto

New York City Will Regulate Religious Circumcisions

PUBLISHED ON 09/14/2012

This Thursday, the New York City Board of Health passed a regulation requiring written consent from parents before an infant can undergo an ultra-Orthodox Jewish ritual circumcision, in which the circumciser uses his mouth to remove blood from the incision.

The nine doctors and public health professionals who voted on the issue said it came down to a matter of safety. The panel expanded, citing that the oral contact, known in Hebrew as metzitzah b’peh, creates a risk of transmission of herpes that can be deadly to infants due to their underdeveloped immune systems.

The issue has become quite serious in the past decade. Between 2004 and 2011, 11 herpes infections caused by the practice were reported. Two of the babies died and two others suffered severe brain damage.

In the Jewish community, the metzitzah b’peh is less common than using gauze to clean the area post-circumcision. Still, Orthodox Jewish rabbis believe the practice is both safe and faithful to Talmudic codes.

According to the The New York Times, the city will require ritual circumcisers to inform parents in writing if they will use direct oral contact during the circumcision, and must receive written consent from the parents. The consent form will state the health risk associated with the procedure. Failure to comply may result in warning letters or fines to the mohelim. Enforcement, though, will be based on investigation of specific complaints and herpes cases, not spot checks or raids.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews, however, are not happy with this decision. Those who follow ultra-Orthodox practices believe if a boy doesn't undergo metzitzah b’peh, he is not truly Jewish. When speaking with the Times, Rabbi William Handler said the decision was being made without evidence and that "the city is lying, and slandering compassionate rabbis."

Do you think the city had a right to intervene in this matter?