Board Of Health Unanimously Approves Measure Against Bris Suction Practice
09/13/12
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The city's Board of Health on Thursday unanimously approved a measure requiring mohelim to obtain informed consent from parents before performning a ritual at circumcisions involving oral suction of the wound.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been a staunch opponent of the procedure, which many doctors feel is conducive to infection and which has been linked to the transmission of oral herpes to several babies.

Agudath Israel of America, the Orthodox umbrella group that opposes any restrictions on the practice, known as motzetzi b'peh, is shopping for a lawyer to challenge the restriction on constitutional grounds, The Jewish Week first reported on Tuesday, and some mohelim are expected to ignore it. Those who do not obtain written informed consent with parents acknowledging that they are aware of the risk could face fines.

The nine-member panel, consisting of doctors and other health professionals, received 18 comments from the public on the measure, 11 in favor and seven opposed, the New York Times reported Thursday.

The regulation came on the same day the Board voted to restrict large high-sugar soft drinks.

Metzitzah b'peh is not used in most Jewish circumcision ceremonies, but many in the haredi community still adhere to it. Haredi leaders have resisted calls to replace direct oral suction with the alternative approaches.

The health department's vote represents the culmination of a year of debate surrounding the practice, which was sparked by the death of an infant in Brooklyn last September and the subsequent revelation that a mohel who performed the ritual on the infant had tested positive for herpes. In June, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley condemned the practice of direct oral suction.

Some 200 haredi Orthodox rabbis in New York signed a statement last week accusing the health department of "spreading lies" in order to pass the waiver measure.

In a statement following the ruling, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents the city's most heavily concentrated Orthodox areas in Brooklyn, Flatbush and Borough Park, said "Telling parents that you require written consent from them before performing religious rites that the mayor finds objectionable thrusts the city deeper into a nanny-ocracy that has dubious implications. This is a deliberate insult to the intelligence and dignity of Orthodox Jews who live in this city."

The Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly applauded the health commissioner's push for parental consent, while the Rabbinical Council of America expressed discontent with the prospect of regulation on the matter.

Last Update:

09/15/2012 - 14:09

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I totally agree with Avi Billet. The fact is that many, if not most, parents have been unaware of the practice of metzitza b'peh by some mohelim. This action of the NY Board of Health is totally consistent with their mission, and will serve to eventually eliminate the practice, since I firmly believe that the average parents will opt for the alternative which the mohel will be forced to offer. What parent would knowingly put their precious newborn at risk if an acceptable alternative is available?
Too bad the the RCA is too timid to offer an honest opinion on the matter.

The procedure is not described in detail, but the general description just leaves me to imagine what it entails. In any of possible ways I can imagine are used, it is shocking and repulsive. Health and the protection of life is supposed to be paramont in Judaism, so I can not fathom why the practice has been allowed to be continued, or why anyone would do so. It sounds barbaric, like the sheep ranchers who bite off the testicles of newborn male sheep to castrate them. I am 100% in favor of circumcision, both as part of our religion and as a good health practice, but this method must be outlawed. What kind of Rabbis would condone such a practice? I am disappointed, as well as shocked that religious scholars could conceivably approve of this. If they insist, than signed consent if the minimum anyone can do to make this less repugnant. As an RN, I am for a legal ban!

I am a staunge believer in Brit milah? I have three sons and eight grandsons who have been circumcised the ritual way. Whey is the practice being questioned...

Given the potential for serious harm to the infant and that there are halachically acceptable alternative there seems to be no justification to permit oral metzitza as part of the bris ceremony. Tradition is lovely up to a life threatening point then it becomes minhag shtus and worse. a transgression and a chilul HaShem.

I too am a bit concerned about the state regulating this. However, I believe the rabbis in the community are going about this all wrong. They need to seriously revisit what metzitzah is, why it is mandated, and alternative methods to doing it. The practice can be stopped if the rabbis look at history to understand when (and why) their staunch adherence to this outdated practice began. They will find those conditions no longer apply. AND, MOST IMPORTANTLY, that they can do metzitzah in a safe, viable method that adheres to modern sensibilities, and conforms IN EVERY WAY to what their "halakhic requirements" are. If they do this, they will make a kiddush hashem, and will make bris milah appealing to the masses who will now run away from every mohel who represents their community.

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