And again a metzitzah b’peh makes the news. As we’ve seen before, the procedure is carried out by unlicensed and unregulated mohels who, after cutting away the child’s foreskin and tearing the membrane with their fingernails, place their mouths on the boy’s penis to suck away the blood.
Since 2000, metzitzah b’pehs have been responsible for at least thirteen cases of herpes transmission — including two resulting in the death of the child, and two more in which the boy suffered brain damage. (It’s not clear to me whether those numbers, released by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, are countrywide or New-York-only.)
Now there is another infant victim. From the Forward:
A baby boy has been infected with neonatal herpes following a Jewish ritual circumcision in New York — the third such infection in two years tied to a controversial rite that involves the direct application of the ritual circumciser’s mouth to the baby’s genitals to suction blood from the wound.
The baby was treated for a genital rash five days after he was circumcised, according to a January 28 health alert issued by New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. He is still undergoing treatment and his current condition is unclear. The department attributed the rash to the controversial circumcision technique, known as metzitzah b’peh, or MBP, which some ultra-Orthodox mohels, or ritual circumcisers, say is an essential component of the ancient religious ritual.
Two years ago, the Bloomberg administration decreed that parents wishing to have a metzitzah performed must sign a consent form saying they are aware of the risks. Even that weak, inadequate measure met with vehement opposition from ultra-Orthodox leaders, who consider it an unwarranted government violation of their religious freedom.
They say that the risks of babies contracting herpes from MBP are overblown. The ultra-Orthodox umbrella group, Agudath Israel of America, along with a handful of ultra-Orthodox rabbis and mohels launched a lawsuit in late 2012 challenging the legality of the forms, which they say is a violation of free speech.
The case comes four weeks after news organizations reported that a mohel in Pittsburgh, Rabbi Mordechai Rosenberg, had accidentally sliced off a baby’s penis during a standard bris (not a metzitzah b’peh).
An attorney who specializes in children’s injury cases, David Llewelyn, claims that
“Your average pediatric urologist probably spends 20 percent of his or her time repairing children who have been circumcised.”
Rosenberg continues to perform circumcisions.
The [New York] health department could take no action against the rabbi who performed the circumcision [that gave a baby herpes] because the parents would not reveal his identity.
Future victims aplenty:
About two-thirds of boys born in New York City’s Hasidic communities are circumcised in the oral suction manner, according to Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America.
We currently don’t know what the prognosis is for the latest herpes-infected infant, or whether he has sustained brain damage.