NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The New York City Health Department has passed a new regulation regarding part of the sacred Jewish custom of circumcision.
The department said one aspect of the ritual — that is commonplace in parts of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, but rare in other branches of Judaism — is not safe.
In a unanimous decision, the department agreed parents must first give their written consent before allowing mohels, the people who perform circumcisions, to conduct the controversial oral suction part of the ritual known as “metzitzah b’peh.”
“We have clearly identified that one specific procedure that is performed as part of some circumcisions, what we are calling direct oral suction, can be transmitting infections to infants that will make them seriously ill and some situations lead to their death,” said Dr. Jay Varma, of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
During the procedure, the mohel cleans the circumcision wound by sucking blood from the cut and spitting it aside.
The new regulations, which are the first in the country, have come after health officials identified 11 babies who contracted Herpes from the oral part of the circumcision. Two of them died.
The Centers for Disease Control has stated the procedure is not safe.
Rabbi William Handler disagrees.
“Not only is it safe, it is the safest method because that blood has to be drawn out of that child,” Rabbi Handler, of the Yet Lev Congregation, told CBS 2’s Drew Levinson.
Handler called the regulation a direct attack on the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and its customs and said government is overstepping its bounds.
“This is the first step in a campaign to demonize the mohel in conducting this in a traditional manner,” Handler said.
Cantor Philip Sherman said he’s performed more than 20,000 circumcisions, including six on Thursday. He said this is not about Jewish tradition, but rather everyone’s well-being.
“Now, today we know germs can be transferred, diseases can be transferred from the baby to the mohel and the mohel to the baby, so therefore you can continue this custom with a sterile tube and gauze pad and the rest of the Bris is fine,” Sherman said.
Health officials said it is going to be very difficult to enforce the regulations because they really can’t monitor mohels as they perform circumcisions.
They said it is first going to take a complaint from someone before they can take any action.
Right now the Health Department said there are no mandatory penalties for mohels who don’t offer parents the written consent forms, but it’s possible they could be fined up to $2,000.
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