New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is demanding that mohels — the men who perform circumcisions in Orthodox Jewish communities — verbally warn parents of the potential dangers associated with the “oral suction” circumcision technique, the Daily News reports.
Last year, mohels are believed to have transmitted herpes to at least two newborns during the metzizah b’peh, a traditional part of an Orthodox bris.
According to Brian F. Leas, a research analyst in the Center for Evidence-based Practice at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, more than half of all adults carry the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). In adults, however the symptoms that present — like the oral lesions known as cold sores — are not life-threatening.
In infants, however, the disease can cause high fevers, seizures, and even death. Though none have died, seventeen Jewish infants have contracted herpes since 2000, according to the city’s Health Department.
A group of New York rabbis opposes the mayoral administration’s decision to require a mohel to provide a verbal warning, claiming that doing so would abridge their religious freedom.
“We believe the right policy here raises awareness of parents to the risks but is also respectful of religious freedom,” de Blassio’s spokeswoman, Marti Adams, said. “We continue to discuss what this policy will be in conjunction with community leaders.”
Rabbi David Niederman, the head of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, described the negotiations as “delicate.”
The city hopes to strike a bargain similar to the one Rockland County came to with its Jewish community, in which if a baby tests positive for herpes, the identity of mohel who performed the bris will be given to health officials and he will be banned, for life, from performing circumcisions.