Jewish groups sue NYC over circumcision rule


Orthodox Jewish groups have sued New York City to block a required warning to parents of the dangers of a ritual in which the circumciser uses his mouth to draw blood from the baby's penis.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in the Federal District Court in Manhattan by the Central Rabbinical Congress of the United States and Canada, the International Bris Association and several individual circumcisers. It contends that the regulation, which conditions the ritual on parental consent, is unconstitutional and violates religious freedom by targeting a Jewish practice.

The rule, adopted unanimously by the New York City Board of Health last month, is aimed at reducing the risk that infants will contract herpes from the ancient ritual, known as metzitzah b'peh.

Using oral suction to take blood from the area of the circumcision wound is common in some of New York's ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities.

At least 11 boys contracted herpes from the practice between 2004 and 2011, according to city health officials. Two of them died from the disease and two others suffered brain damage, they said.

Under the rule, parents must sign a consent form that says the health department advises that “direct oral suction should not be performed” because of the risk of contracting herpes.

“It is important that parents know the risks associated with the practice,” City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said in a statement.

The lawsuit says the city's conclusion that the ritual increases the risk of herpes is based on a flawed analysis and is not statistically sound.

NYC health commissioner condemns metzitzah b’peh


The New York City Health Commissioner has issued a strongly worded statement calling for an end to a controversial circumcision-related rite.

Dr. Thomas Farley said that direct oral-genital suction, known as metzitzah b’peh, should not be performed during Jewish ritual circumcision, and announced that several hospitals, including those serving the haredi Orthodox Jewish community, have agreed to distribute a brochure that describes the risk of contracting the herpes virus from the practice.

The controversy over metzitzah b’peh was reignited in March after it came to light that an unidentified infant died Sept. 28 at Brooklyn’s Maimonides Medical Center from “disseminated herpes simplex virus Type 1, complicating ritual circumcision with oral suction,” according to the death certificate,

Health Department investigations of newborns with herpes virus between 2000 –2011 have shown that 11 infants contracted the herpes virus when mohelim, or ritual circumcisers, placed their mouths directly on the child’s circumcision wound to draw blood away from the circumcision cut, according to a statement from the Health Department. Ten of these infants were hospitalized, at least two developed brain damage, and two babies died.

The brochure “Before the Bris” describes the risk to infants of contracting herpes through direct oral-genital suction and advises parents to ask the mohel before the bris if he practices metzitzah b’peh.

“There is no safe way to perform oral suction on any open wound in a newborn,” Farley said. “Parents considering ritual Jewish circumcision need to know that circumcision should only be performed under sterile conditions, like any other procedures that create open cuts, whether by mohelim or medical professionals.”

Haredi leaders have resisted calls to replace direct oral suction with alternative approaches used by some mohelim, such as the use of a sterile tube or gauze to take the blood from the circumcision wound.