The global storm surrounding circumcision is still raging, and New York City is the latest place to take a stand on the issue. The city's board of health on Wednesday voted unanimously to require parental consent for Jewish ritual circumcisions that include the controversial practice, metzitza bepeh in Hebrew, involving the performance of direct oral-genital suction. The mohel, or ritual circumciser, puts his mouth on the infant's penis immediately after cutting the foreskin in order to draw blood from the incision.
Under the new rule parents would be required to sign a consent form stating they are aware of the medical risks involved in performing the act. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has said the procedure was unsafe and put the babies at risk of infection with the herpes simplex virus, among other possible complications.
While most mohels use a sterile pipette or gauze rather than direct suction, some ultra-Orthodox rabbis say metzitza bepeh is a religious commandment. Haredi leaders in New York have already announced they will refuse to follow the new rule, saying they would even sacrifice their own lives in order to carry out God's commandments.
The Israel Pediatric Association has declared war on metzitza bepeh, but the Health Ministry's official position is not to impose any constraints on the practice.
The New York Board of Health's 9-0 vote to require parental consent is the culmination of a year of debate that was sparked by the death of an infant in Brooklyn last September and the subsequent revelation that the mohel who performed the ritual on the baby had tested positive for the herpes virus.
In June, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley condemned the practice of direct oral suction. The city's health department says that 11 babies who were circumcised between 2000 and 2011 were infected with the herpes virus as a result, and two of them died.
Around 200 Haredi rabbis in New York signed a statement last week accusing the health department of "spreading lies" in order to pass the waiver measure. The Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly applauded the health commissioner's push for parental consent. The Rabbinical Council of America, which represents Orthodox rabbis, expressed discontent with the prospect of regulation on the matter. The Haredi Agudath Israel of America reportedly is planning to sue the city of New York over the requirement.
The Agudah said, in a statement late Thursday, "Agudath Israel of America is profoundly disappointed" that the Board of Health voted in the regulation, which it described as part of an "aggressive governmental campaign."
Zwiebel said it is sad that the city of New York, which has made such an important contribution to the renaissance of Jewish life over the past century, has become the first jurisdiction in the United States to regulate an aspect of bris milah.
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