Sunday, October 28, 2012

Rabbis Delay NYC's Metzitzah B'Peh Regulations - Meanwhile, in Israel...

After looking the other way for the longest time, the New York City Health Department finally decided to do something to address the issue of orthodox mohels spreading herpes through the practice of oral suction after ritual circumcision, also known as "metzitzah b'peh."

Or, at least, do something to look busy.

What did the New York City Health Department do to protect further boys from being infected?

They issued a mandate that would require parents to sign a consent form before allowing a mohel to perform metztizah b’peh on their sons.

According to Deputy Commissioner Jay K. Varma, the health commission would impose penalties at its own discretion. They would respond to public complaints and investigate the claims, (Because this has happened in the past? Do you seriously need a special law that requires parents to sign a waiver to do this?) and that repercussions could range from a phone call or a formal warning letter, to fines of up to $2,000 for each violation. (Again, when has this happened, and shouldn't this be standard procedure for ANY time a child is being put in danger? What happened in 2006 when Thomas Frieden was Health Commissioner?)

The mandate is basically worthless; there is no actual ban or regulation of metzitzah b'peh, and mohels would face no penalties whatsoever if the waivers were not signed. (I ask, what ultra-orthodox Jewish parent doesn't know the health implications of what is probably their most cherished religious tradition?)

But despite the new mandate being essentially impotent, ultra-orthodox rabbis were intolerant of what they see as an "unconstitutional, shocking governmental overreach." According to Rabbi William Handler, leader of Traditional Bris Milah, a self-proclaimed group formed to “protect Jewish ritual circumcision,” this mandate is "the first step in completely taking away traditional bris milah from the Jewish people in New York City.”

To prevent this mandate from taking effect, several rabbis and Jewish organizations, including Agudath Israel of America and the International Bris Association, filed a lawsuit at the Federal District Court in Manhattan. They accuse mayor Bloomberg of "blood libel," and the New York City Health Department of "trying to enforce erroneous opinions on the people of New York City." They claim the city lacks “any definitive proof” that metzitzah b’peh “poses health risks of any kind," despite the fact that the CDC found a total of 11 baby Jewish boys in NYC were infected with herpes.

Well, as they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and it looks like the very vocal rabbis have gotten their wish.

New York City agreed to a brief stay in the enforcement of the above mandate, so that the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit in Manhattan can submit a motion for a preliminary injunction.

The implementation of the city’s regulation, originally set to begin Oct. 21, has been pushed back until Nov. 14. 

Meanwhile, in Israel...
While rabbis were successful in holding back a law that does basically nothing to stop ultra-orthodox mohels from putting boys at risk for herpes transmission, the Israel Ambulatory Pediatric Association is calling for an end to the practice of metzitzah b'peh.

Going beyond a mere (and optional) waiver form as proposed in New York City, the Israel Ambulatory Pediatric Association is calling on Israel’s Health Ministry to require maternity wards and clinics to advise parents against metzitzah b’peh.

They are recommending that mohels, or ritual circumcisers, use a tube to take the blood from the circumcision wound, preventing direct contact with the infant’s incision.

Note the strange difference; in New York, officials want to take a "hands off" approach, going as far as highlighting the fact they neither ban nor are regulating how the practice is performed. In Israel, IAPA calls on Israel's Health Ministry to full on advise parents against the practice, and for the practice to be regulated.

Why an Israeli organization is displaying less reservation in regulating a Jewish religious practice than one in New York is beyond me. I would expect more for the Israeli organization to tread lightly on the issue, not the other way around.

Special Pleading
 The angry rabbis in New York try to act as if "religious freedom" is absolute, and government treats all religious practices as "off limits." Government intervenes in religious practices and beliefs all the time. Polygamy and child marriage is illegal, for example. In many states now, parents may not refuse to take their children to the hospital on the basis of "religious beliefs." And, since 1996, all forms of female genital cutting in healthy, non-consenting minors, including a "ritual nick" as proposed by the AAP in 2010, are punishable by law.

So while polygamists, perpetrators of child sex, circumcisers of girls etc., face the law, even in the so-called name of "religious freedom," circumcisers of boys get special kid-glove treatment, especially if they happen to be ritual circumcisers that put boys in extra danger by putting their mouths on the wounds they create.

Because pointing out the reality that cutting a child's penis and then placing one's mouth on it puts a child in danger and DOING something about it constitutes "blood libel," and would "upset" those who engage in the practice.

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