September 10, 2012
Jewish groups weigh in on N.Y. board’s planned vote on waiver for circumcision ritual
A Conservative rabbinic group is supporting a proposed New York City Board of Health measure that requires parental consent for a controversial circumcision practice, while an Orthodox group opposes the regulation.
The health department is scheduled to vote this week on a measure that would require parental consent if a mohel wants to obtain a 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 Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly applauded the commissioner's push for parental consent, while the the Rabbinical Council of America expressed discontent with the prospect of regulation on the matter. However, the RCA advocates for safer practices.
Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, in a statement released on Monday said, “This practice, which is not required by Jewish law, and emanates from older practices designed to prevent illnesses that precede current medical knowledge about disease, presents a serious health risk to babies and is inconsistent with the Jewish tradition’s preeminent concern with human life and health. There have been tragic incidents of babies becoming ill as a result of this practice, and we encourage the Board of Health to require parental consent.”
The RCA's statement said that "Many Jewish legal authorities have ruled that direct oral suction is not an integral part of the circumcision ritual, and therefore advocate the use of a sterile tube to preclude any risk of infection. The RCA has gone on record as accepting the position of those authorities. Nevertheless, the RCA respects the convictions and sensitivities of those in the Orthodox Jewish community who disagree with this ruling and joins in their deep concern about government regulation of religious practices."
The Union for Reform Judaism's Berit Milah Program did not issue a statement about the vote, but noted that the program has a strong policy that no mohelim trained by its program should perform the procedure.
Some 200 haredi Orthodox rabbis in New York signed a statement last week accusing the health department of "spreading lies" in order to pass the waiver measure. Metzitzah b'peh is not used in most Jewish circumcision ceremonies, but many in the haredi community still adhere to it. Haredi leaders have resisted calls to replace direct oral suction with the alternative approaches.
The health department's vote represents the culmination of a year of debate surrounding the practice, which was sparked by the death of an infant in Brooklyn last September and the subsequent revelation that a mohel who performed the ritual on the infant had tested positive for herpes. In June, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley condemned the practice of direct oral suction.