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NEW YORK - Rabbis should use a tube to suck blood from circumcision wounds rather than sucking directly with their mouths to protect infants and rabbis from disease, the leading Orthodox rabbinical group said yesterday.

In a traditional Orthodox practice during the brit, or circumcision ritual of baby boys, rabbis have been using their mouths to suck blood from the penis wounds and surrounding tissue for thousands of years.

The use of a sterile tube is an acceptable substitute for direct mouth contact based upon a review of science and religious writings and Torah authorities, said Rabbi Basil Herring of the Rabbinical Council of America, which sets policies for and represents about half of America's Orthodox rabbis, as well as sponsoring a Jewish court.

"We strongly urge rabbis and congregations to adhere to this method," said Herring, who added that it's possible that the preference may not be adopted by all Orthodox rabbis, as Jewish religious leaders often have different views.

The traditional practice has been under scrutiny after New York City health officials went to court late last year to stop a rabbi from performing the practice, which they believe may have led to the death of a baby boy from herpes.

The baby was one of three infants that health officials said contracted the herpes simplex virus after being circumcised by Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer, who used his mouth to draw blood from the infant's wound.