August 8, 2014
2 Mohels Banned After Infants Contract Herpes in Circumcision RiteJust One Consent Form Collected by City in Two Years
by Paul Berger
New York City has banned two mohels from performing a controversial circumcision rite after they were suspected of infecting babies with herpes.
But the city's health department will not reveal their names.
Five infants have contracted herpes since September 2012, when the health department passed a regulation requiring mohels to get written consent from parents before using their mouth to suction blood from a circumcision wound - a religious rite known as metzitzah b'peh, or MBP.
MBP can transmit a strain of herpes from the mouth of a mohel to the infant and is potentially fatal to newborns, whose immune systems are underdeveloped. Infants who contract the disease can also suffer brain damage. The MBP rite is common in the ultra-Orthodox community.
In the past, some parents whose babies contracted herpes have refused to identify their mohel to city health officials. Of the five cases since the autumn of 2012, the health department has been able to identify just two mohels.
Only one of those mohels obtained written consent before performing the circumcision.
"In all of the cases, we have asked whether there were forms and, in the two cases where we were able to identify the mohel, we have requested them from him," a health department spokeswoman told the Forward on July 24. Of these two cases, one had a form, which he provided, the spokeswoman said. The other one did not. "The department issued orders banning both mohelim" from practicing MBP, she said.
The spokeswoman would not name the mohels, citing privacy concerns. She also did not respond to several emails asking how the ban would be enforced and how the public could know the mohels in question were banned if their names were not made public.
More liberal Orthodox Jewish leaders do not support the MBP practice and deplored the latest news about its consequences. "I would hope that any mohel who unfortunately has transmitted a disease via metzitzah b'peh would stop practicing metzitzah b'peh because of the safety of our children," said Rabbi Leonard Matanky, president of the Modern Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America.
But Matanky stopped short of calling for the health department to release the names of the banned mohels. The rabbinic leader said it would be presumptuous of him to comment, because he did not have enough information about the cases or the legal reasoning behind the city's decision.