The Hill

Circumcision Among Ultra-Orthodox Jews No Longer Needs A Consent Form, But Risks Include Herpes Transmission

ultra-Orthodox Jew
Ultra-Orthodox Jews sued the city after former mayor Michael Bloomberg forced parents to sign an informed consent form before having their children circumcised by a mohel, a practice that has been associated with herpes transmission. Photo courtesy of Chris Parypa Photography / Shutterstock.com

In certain ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, there is an ancient ritual known as metzitzah b’peh (shortened as MBP) — in which a rabbi sucks the blood from a baby’s circumcised penis. The specific type of rabbi qualified for this type of ritual, referred by some as "snip-n-suck," is known as a mohel.

MBP has, in the past, led to instances of herpes transmission: a cold sore caused by the herpes simplex one virus could lead to a herpes infection of a child’s genitals. Several infant boys died last year after developing genital herpes post-circumcision, passed along by an infected mohel. Because of the risk of herpes infections, and subsequent risk of death or brain damage in children due to infection, former New York City Mayer Michael Bloomberg had regulated the ritual since 2013, when he instated a law that required the parents of the child to provide a consent form before a mohel completes the practice.

After being sued by ultra-Orthodox Jews on First Amendment grounds, however, current mayor Bill de Blasio appears to be turning the tables. He’s officially decided to remove the requirement for a consent form in order to protect religious freedom. In return, Jewish leaders said that if a baby was diagnosed with HSV1, they would help identify the rabbi who performed the metzitzah, have him genetically tested for the strain, and remove him from the religious position of mohel for the rest of his life.

“While the de Blasio Administration continues to believe that MBP carries with it health risks, given the sacred nature of this ritual to the community, the administration is pursuing a policy centered around education of health risks by the health care community and respect for traditional practices by the religious community,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. “Increasing trust and communication between the City and this community is critical to achieve the Administration’s ultimate goal of ensuring the health and safety of every child, and this new policy seeks to establish a relationship based on engagement and mutual respect.”

The new system will largely be based on the honor system, assuming that Jewish religious leaders will be careful to protect infants from herpes transmission without government regulation.

Meanwhile, the ultra-orthodox Jewish community expressed appreciation to the de Blasio administration. “I’m thankful to Mayor de Blasio and his entire administration, specifically Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, the Mayor’s senior aide Avi Fink and the Department of Health, for doing what it is right, eliminating this consent form, which was intrusive and violated our freedom of religion and speech,” Rabbi David Niederman told the New York Observer. “It’s a victory for religious freedom and a victory for public policy.”

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