January 10, 2013
Consent Rule May Proceed for a Circumcision Ritual
by Sharon Otterman
New York City health officials may proceed temporarily with a plan to require parental consent before an infant may undergo a particular Jewish circumcision ritual, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
City officials say 12 cases of herpes simplex virus have likely resulted from the procedure, known as metzitzah b’peh, since 2000, including one Brooklyn case reported this week. Two infants died, and two suffered permanent brain damage. Most Jews no longer practice metzitzah b’peh, in which the circumciser uses his mouth to suck blood from the wound, but it remains common among some ultra-Orthodox communities.
Citing the risk of infection, health officials in September introduced a regulation that would require parents to provide written consent stating that they were aware of the health risks.
But the Central Rabbinical Congress of the United States and Canada, Agudath Israel of America, and the International Bris Association sued in October to stop the rule from taking effect, calling it an infringement of their constitutional rights. They also denied the procedure posed a risk and asked a federal court to put the rule on hold while the litigation proceeded.
In denying the request for a preliminary injunction, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of the United States District Court for the Southern District wrote that the risks were clear.
“In light of the quality of the evidence presented in support of the regulation, we conclude that a continued injunction against enforcement of the regulation would not serve the public interest,” she wrote.
City lawyers said they were gratified by the ruling, but Andrew Moesel, a spokesman for the plaintiffs, said the groups would appeal. “We continue to believe that this case is a wrongful and unnecessary intrusion into the rights of freedom of religion and speech,” he said.