Friday, February 13, 2015

City Hall proposes warning about dangers of Orthodox Jewish circumcision rite 

The de Blasio administration wants to swap the signed consent rule for a controversial Jewish circumcision ritual for a verbal warning to parents, sources said Wednesday.

But the plan is on hold because a group of rabbis opposes forcing the circumcisers, or mohels, to tell parents of the potential health risks involved with oral suction, according to a source briefed on the situation. The centuries-old, ultra-Orthodox practice associated with the bris is known as metzizah b'peh.

The city's Health Department has criticized the procedure, arguing it carries "inherent risks" for newborn babies, citing multiple cases of herpes over the past decade.

"We believe the right policy here raises awareness of parents to the risks but is also respectful of religious freedom," mayoral spokeswoman Marti Adams said. "We continue to discuss what this policy will be in conjunction with community leaders."

A small group of leading rabbis has held many meetings to discuss the proposed changes, according to multiple sources. The rabbies are vehemently against any agreement that hampers religious freedom, and many have questioned the scientific evidence.

"This is a delicate negotiation and we are not going to comment," said Rabbi David Niederman, who heads the influential United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg.

There were four cases of newborn Jewish boys who contracted herpes last year, and 17 since 2000, records show.

As a result, the city's Health Department quietly issued two cease-and-desist letters to suspected mohels last year, according to a City Hall source.

The city's latest effort comes as Rockland County health officials recently disclosed that they made a deal with local rabbis. Under that nonbinding pact, if a baby is found to have contracted herpes the county can then test the mohel. If the mohel is found to be the cause of infection he can be banned for life from performing the procedure.

But city Health Department officials believe that in rare cases even strenuous testing will not prove there's a direct link to the mohel, according to the City Hall source.

Instead, city health honchos automatically believe that any Jewish baby boy who contracts genital herpes shortly after his bris by a mohel proven to have herpes got the sick due to the circumcision.

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