I received a link to an article today featured at PLANET240 on February 20, 2016 about two new born babies in New York City being infected with herpes virus after undergoing the controversial religious circumcision using the oral suction method — formally called metzitzah b’peh . The article is a reprint of this one featured at Daily Mail UK in April of 2013. Since then, not much progress has been made in the Orthodox Jewish world to address the issue and eradicate any possible risks to infants undergoing the procedure. Any current news on the matter is scarce or simply doesn’t exist. According to a report about one year ago in USA Today , New York City and the Orthodox community were in talks on how to deal with the problem. However, Avi Fink, the mayor’s deputy director of intergovernmental affairs who had been leading the talks, offered no details on where the talks were headed, nor if there was a solution in sight.
The Orthodox Jewish tradition known as oral suction circumcision reaches back to biblical times but it has created a modern-day dilemma for New York City health officials, who have linked it to 17 cases of infant herpes since 2000. Two died and two others suffered brain damage.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, which came into power a year ago with a promise to reconsider an existing regulation on the ritual, is now negotiating with a group of rabbis over how to protect children’s health while still preserving religious freedom.
“The talks are ongoing but I cannot go into particulars,” said Avi Fink, the mayor’s deputy director of intergovernmental affairs who has been leading the talks. “Our goal is to achieve awareness of the risks.”
It’s probably pretty safe to say they were headed nowhere and there is no solution in sight. Though the end of the article offered some hope.
While New York City wrestles with the issue, suburban Rockland County — itself home to thousands of Orthodox Jews — seems to have found a solution.
For any suspected case after circumcision, county health officials use DNA testing to try to link a baby with the source of infection. And members of the Jewish community participate voluntarily in the process, working with Dr. Oscar Alleyne, Rockland’s director of epidemiology.
No positive cases have been found there.
“That proves that they trust us,” Alleyne said. “We have cooperation, along with a scientific approach.”
But not much. It’s really just an after-the-fact “solution” which is hardly prevention and really no solution at all.
If any readers have current information on where the so-called talks went or may be going, please use the contact form in the right sidebar or leave a comment. In the meantime, parents should remember that assurances of safety from religious institutions are not always reliable. And relying on some form of government to set regulations (when they get around to it) to protect the health of your child is simply foolish.
New, or expecting, parents who plan on traditional circumcisions for their newborn boys are best armed with the request to the ritual practitioner, the mohel: “Please keep your mouth off of my baby’s penis.”
(hat tip: theposterformerlyknownash)