Published On: Wed, Feb 25th, 2015

NYC, Ritual Circumcisers, Compromise on Oral Suction and Herpes

Rabbi A. Romi Cohn, with 35, 000 circumcisions under his belt, believes babies contract the virus from other sources, not the mohel who actually sucks the blood off the end of their penis.

Oral Suction

The New York City health department announced on Tuesday that it reached an agreement with the Haredi Jewish community over the tradition of metzitzah b’peh—oral suction.

The Talmud requires that after a child is circumcised the blood must be drawn away from the wound by suction, to prevent the baby’s blood from congealing and thus blocking the blood flow in the traumatized organ.

“We perform all the requirements of circumcision… We circumcise, uncover [the corona], suck [the wound], and place a compress and cumin upon it.” (Shab. 133a)

The first two parts of the circumcision, the removal of foreskin, and the uncovering of the corona, are essential components of the commandment, while the suction is considered by many authorities to be prescribed by the sages for medical reasons, and therefore the manner in which the medical concern is being addressed is not mandatory, provided that blood flow has been renewed.

The most convenient, and therefore most common, method of applying the suction is orally. But the spread of orally transmitted viral diseases such as herpes simplex has raised concern among medical professionals and parents.

Indeed, since 2000, health officials have linked 17 cases of infant herpes to this practice.

On Tuesday, the Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration said mohels-ritual circumcisers no longer need a signed parental consent form before performing metzitzah b’peh.

According to AP, the Blasio administration will ask the Board of Health to rescind the consent form requirement, and also work with rabbinical leaders and medical experts to educate the community practice. A vote is expected in June.

Health officials will ask a rabbinical coalition for information on any mohel, should the baby he circumcised contract herpes. He will be DNA tested and should he be found to carry the virus, he would be banned from ever circumcising anyone.

Naturally, with an estimated 1 in 6 Americans carrying the HSV-2 virus, this would be like fishing in a barrel.

Incidentally, it has been argued that babies who came down with a case of herpes after circumcision had been born to mothers who didn’t carry the virus, and therefore were not immune to it.

According to AP there are 3, 000 Jewish ritual circumcisions performed in New York City each year. The city mohels insist they apply strict medical procedures, including testing for herpes, sterilizing their hands and rinsing with mouthwash before the ceremony.

AP cited Rabbi A. Romi Cohn, with 35, 000 circumcisions under his belt, believes babies contract the virus from other sources, not the mohel who actually sucks the blood off the end of their penis.

the administration 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.”

Of the 17 cases cited since 2000, two were reported in 2013 and four were reported last year, according to AP. Families refused to name four of the six mohels, and the other two declined to be tested.

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