Following the deaths of two newborns as a direct result of herpes infection through metzitzah b'peh, an ultra-orthodox practice where a mohel sucks blood from the circumcision wound of a newly circumcised newborn, and the infection of several others, the New York City Health Department issued a mandate that would require parents to sign a consent form before allowing a mohel to perform metztizah b’peh on their sons, as a measure to protect further boys from being infected.
Had the measure actually been implemented, the health commission would have imposed penalties at its own discretion. They would respond to public complaints and investigate the claims, and that repercussions would have ranged from a phone call or a formal warning letter, to fines of up to $2,000 for each violation.
The mandate was more of a gesture, because there was no actual ban or regulation of metzitzah b'peh, and mohels would face no penalties whatsoever if the waivers were not signed.
Despite the mandate having been essentially impotent, ultra-orthodox rabbis were intolerant of what they saw as an "unconstitutional, shocking governmental overreach." Rabbi William Handler, leader of Traditional Bris Milah, a self-proclaimed group formed to “protect Jewish ritual circumcision,” declared this mandate to be "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 accused 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 lacked “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.
Concerned Rabbis kept fighting to push back the date of the regulation's actual implementation, and after much ado, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio finally annulled the regulation enforced by the Bloomberg administration on the practice of Metzitzah B’peh last year.
Essentially, babies died of herpes infections, several others were infected, and it's as if nothing actually ever happened.
In Israel, on the other hand, the Israeli Health Ministry is planning to go as far and distribute a detailed document dealing with the risks and advantages of metzitsah b'peh to new parents.
According to the Jewish Press, many doctors say the practice increases by 350% the chance of infecting the newborn baby with herpes simplex.
Some members of the chief rabbinate were concerned that the move might harm mohels, the Jewish Press says.
And I ask, what, pray tell, about the babies?
Nonetheless, I must say, how interesting the turn of events. What the health ministry in New York couldn't do, they're actually doing in Israel.
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