Rabbis in the city’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities are resisting a possible change to the city and state health code, which would require parents to sign a consent form, before their infant boys undergo a controversial type of circumcision.
The ritual, known as metzizah b’peh, involves a mohel using his mouth to remove blood from the baby’s penis. The New York State Health Department has renewed concerns, after another infant recently was diagnosed with herpes, shortly after undergoing a metzizah b’peh.
The Orange County baby, who is one month old, was transferred to New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center for treatment.
Last September, a two-week old Brooklyn baby died from herpes at Maimonedes Medical Center, shortly after he underwent metzizah b’peh. The family refused to tell health officials the name of the mohel who performed the ritual.
A study released in June by the federal Centers for Disease Control showed 11 baby boys contracted herpes simplex between 2000 and 2011 in New York City, where there’s been a cluster of cases. Two of the infant boys died, and two suffered brain damage. The CDC noted that circumcisions “should be performed under sterile conditions.”
Yet observant Jews in some of the city’s most ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods continue to defend metzizah b’peh.
“You can’t change the tradition we have had for thousands and thousands of years,” said Pinchas Kohn, who told PIX 11 he has 50 grandchildren. “You have to check the mohel,” he said. When PIX 11 asked if mohels should be tested for herpes, he replied, “I think so. I think so.”
The ritual is not something most in Borough Park wanted to talk about. This is the community where the two week old baby died last September.
But at least one resident was concerned enough to supply Jewish Week—and then PIX 11—with “audio” tapes of phone calls made to some mohels earlier this year.
One mohel said he tries to kill infection this way. “What I do usually is, I pour wine on it. Wine is alcoholic. I use strong wine.”
The “undercover” caller was horrified when a mohel who was banned by New York State from performing metzizah b’peh indicated he was still doing the ritual in Rockland County, outside of New York City limits. Yitzchok Fischer was ordered to stop doing this type of circumcision back in 2007, not long after he was tied to herpes infections in 3 infants, including a boy twin who died. An infant’s immune system is usually not developed enough to fight off a herpes infection effectively.
Fischer was recorded by the caller saying of the ritual, “I can only do it in Rockland County.” When asked about some of the alarming stories, he said, “There’s nothing to worry about.”
Prosecutors have not had an easy time making cases against mohels who infect babies, because the families often protect the mohels’ identities.
The Orthodox community member who made the tapes said of the Brooklyn family who lost their infant son last September, “They’re covering up for a mohel who killed their child.”