March 9, 2015
NYC Delays Decision to Repeal Mandatory Parental Consent for Jewish Ritualby Michael Howard Saul and Melanie Grayce West
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has delayed plans to repeal a city regulation requiring parental consent before a Jewish circumcision ritual is performed.
The ritual can cause herpes infection in infants.
Last month, administration officials announced a tentative agreement with a group of Jewish leaders in which parental consent would no longer be needed to perform the ritual known as metzitzah b’peh in which the mohel, the person who performs the circumcision, sucks blood from the baby’s wound.
Administration aides initially said the proposal would be presented to the Board of Health this month. Officials said Monday the proposal is now slated to be presented to the board in June and voted on at the panel’s next meeting.
“The administration and the coalition of religious leaders are formalizing specific terms of the agreement around metzitzah b’peh,” the city said in a statement from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released Monday.
The parental consent policy, approved by the board in 2012 when Michael Bloomberg was mayor, drew outcries from some in the Jewish community who lambasted the regulation as an attack on religious freedom. The ritual is practiced mostly by ultra-Orthodox Jews.
A person familiar with the negotiations between the religious community and the city said Monday the delay in presenting the proposal to the board was largely related to the city working out the specifics on how public health investigations will be conducted. There were some other legal issues, as well, the person said.
Another person familiar with the matter said city officials were concerned about rushing the proposal. Officials want the proposal to be as strong as possible, this person said, because the administration is asking board members, many of whom were appointed by Mr. Bloomberg, to reverse themselves.
The delay was not a concern at all to David Niederman, the president of United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, and a rabbi involved in the negotiations with the city over the policy.
“The mayor has personally committed to ensure public safety in a very responsible and collaborative way with the community,” Rabbi Niederman said. “These delays, I understand, are procedural stuff with the city. I have no doubt that everyone is on the same page and that this issue is going to be resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned.”
|The Wall Street Journal
February 27, 2015
A Bad Call on Risky Circumcisionsby the Editorial Board
The herpes simplex virus, common and relatively harmless in adults, can be deadly to babies. Such infections in newborns are blessedly rare, but one thing is known to increase the risk significantly: the circumcision ritual called metzitzah b’peh, practiced by many ultra-Orthodox and some Orthodox Jews, in which a circumciser, or mohel, sucks blood from a newly cut penis with his mouth.
The New York City Health Department, American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other authorities have long warned about the dangers of the practice. The Health Department has linked it to more than 12 herpes cases, and two deaths, since 2000, and has tried to get mohels to stop doing it.
That is why it is distressing to see Mayor Bill de Blasio and Orthodox leaders celebrating a deal they made this week to abandon the city’s modest effort to regulate the practice, and instead leave it to the ultra-Orthodox community to help limit the damage metzitzah b’peh does — but voluntarily, and only after babies get sick, not before.
Mr. de Blasio wants to stop requiring parents to sign a waiver acknowledging the risks of metzitzah b’peh. Rabbis called that policy, begun under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an unconscionable infringement on religious freedom. They refused to use the forms and sued the city.
And so Mr. de Blasio, who has pleased the potent Orthodox voting bloc by ridiculing the policy as unenforceable while making no visible effort to enforce it, has decided simply to let the mohels do their thing, until a baby gets sick. The plan then is to do a series of DNA tests; if the baby’s mohel has the same herpes strain as the infected baby, he will be forbidden to do circumcisions.
The plan needs Board of Health approval. The board should say no and take a stand for basic hygiene and common sense. Otherwise, this will be a city that requires tattoo artists to take infection-control courses and use sterile tools but tolerates an amateur surgery in which infection is fought with no more than perhaps a swig of Listerine.
The administration says it will ask hospitals and doctors to distribute information about the risks of metzitzah b’peh, which should include accurate descriptions, including photographs, of the lesions and brain injuries suffered by babies whose safety their rabbis — and mayor — have allowed to be jeopardized.