N.Y. health board proposes consent waiver on circumcision rite


New York City health officials have proposed requiring that Jewish parents sign a consent waiver in order to use a controversial circumcision-related rite.

At a city Board of Health meeting on Tuesday, the department’s deputy commissioner for disease control, Dr. Jay Varma, proposed the waiver for the use of direct oral-genital suction, known as metzitzah b’peh. The form would indicate that parents are aware of the risk of infection.

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 the herpes virus from 2000 to 2011 have shown that 11 infants contracted the herpes virus when mohels, 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 department. Ten of the infants were hospitalized, at least two developed brain damage and two babies died.

Varma said during the meeting, according to The New York Times, that two of the families whose babies contracted herpes after metzitzah b’peh was performed did not know it would be used. He added that since March, other families have called the department with concerns that their mohel would perform the rite.

A public hearing on the consent waiver proposal is scheduled for next month, with a vote by the board slated for September.

Last week, city Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley called for an end to metzitzah b’peh and said 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 rite is not used in most Jewish circumcision ceremonies, but many in the haredi Orthodox community still adhere to it. Haredi leaders have resisted calls to replace direct oral suction with alternative approaches used by some mohels, such as the use of a sterile tube or gauze to take the blood from the circumcision wound.

Report: N.Y. mohel apparently tested postive for herpes


A New York mohel tied to the death from herpes of one newborn and to three others who contracted the disease, apparently tested positive for herpes, The Jewish Week reported.

Yitzchok Fischer, who was ordered in 2007 to stop the circumcision ritual of metzitzah b’peh, in which the mohel orally suctions blood from the circumcision wound, refused, however, to submit to a DNA test to determine if he is a match to the viruses found in the babies.

The Jewish Week reported April 6 that a copy of the 2007 New York State Health Department order obtained by the newspaper through a Freedom of Information Law request said that he tested positive for an infection that he was “capable of communicating to others.”

The order was redacted by the department to protect Fischer’s privacy, as required by law, and does not specifically mention herpes. But, according to reporter Hella Winston, “both the context of the order and the facts surrounding Fischer’s case strongly suggest that the infection for which, according to the order, he tested positive is herpes.”

The order also describes the investigation carried out by the city Health Department in the wake of three infections linked to Fischer in 2003 and 2004, The Jewish Week reported.

Several weeks ago, The Jewish Week obtained a tape recording indicating that Fischer may have continued to perform metzitzah b’peh after the order to desist was issued, according to the newspaper. When asked several weeks ago whether the state department of health would investigate Fischer in connection with a possible violation of the 2007 order, Mike Moran, a spokesman for the department, would not comment.

The New York City Health Department has issued a warning against the practice. Haredi leaders condemned the warning as an unnecessary and unwelcome government intrusion into their community’s religious practices.