On Friday, January 11, a court in New York approved a directive by the City of New York that any parent who wants to have the “metzitzah be’peh” stage of the Jewish bris (circumcision) ceremony to be performed, must first sign a statement clarifying that he is aware of the health consequences that may arise as a result.
The court thus accepted the city’s claim that there are health risks involved in the practice, citing a number of historical precedents. The lawyers for the city’s Orthodox community had filed the lawsuit against the city, asking that the directive be invalidated.
In September, the New York Board of Health and Mental Hygiene approved the regulation, aimed at the practice that many (but not all) Orthodox Jews adhere to.
During the “metzitzah b’peh” ritual, a mohel (circumcisor) uses oral suction so that a small amount of fresh blood flows from and cleanses the wound after removal of the foreskin. This is the original way circumcision has been done since its inception. While there are rabbis today that allow this suction to be done via a tube, many do not agree to this change in religious practice, and certainly not if it is by court order. The “metzitza” procedure is mandatory for a circumcision to be valid according to Jewish law.
According to the City, at least 11 infants are thought to have contracted herpes from the practice, two of whom died and two of whom have irreversible brain damage.
The requirement was bitterly opposed by Orthodox groups, who accused the City of spreading “lies” and “blood libels” as justification for enacting an “evil decree” against “an ancient and holy custom, ” because one mohel turned out to be a herpes carrier. There could be a mandatory herpes test for mohelim, they counter.
The New York Orthodox community expressed disappointment over Friday’s court ruling and community officials said that they will study the ruling with Torah scholars before deciding on further action.