Under a new tentative agreement, a mohel who performs the controversial circumcision rite of metzitzah b’peh would no longer be legally required to obtain signed parental consent in New York.
A coalition of rabbinic leaders and the city reportedly reached agreement on the rite, it was reported late Tuesday. The New York City Board of Health must approve the deal.
Health Department regulations require the parents of a child to provide prior written consent for the practice, but the regulation has not been enforced.
Metzitzah b’peh, in which the mohel orally draws blood from the wound following circumcision, is a common traditional practice among many chareidi Orthodox mohalim. City officials had claimed that the practice is linked to transmission of the herpes virus.
Under the agreement, if an infant that undergoes the ritual is found to have herpes, the mohel will be tested for that strain of the virus, and if discovered to carry it, he will be permanently banned from performing the ritual.
“While the de Blasio administration continues to believe that MBP carries with it health risks, given the sacred nature of this ritual to the community, the administration is pursuing a policy centered around education of health risks by the health-care community and respect for traditional practices by the religious community,” the mayor’s office said in a statement.
In August, a federal appeals court called for a review of the New York City law related to metzitzahb’peh, saying that under the federal guarantee of free exercise of religion, the law is subject to “strict scrutiny.”
The law was enacted in 2012 after at least 11 circumcised boys contracted herpes between 2004 and 2011. Two died and two suffered brain damage. There were 4 more cases in 2014, according to the Health Department. However, the department never had definitive proof linking the infections to the mohalim.
Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president for government and public affairs at Agudath Israel of America, noted, “The Bloomberg Administration’s regulation of metzitzah b’peh represented the first and only time in the history of the United States that government has sought to regulate an aspect of b’rismilah. Our gedoleiYisrael felt that this was intolerable, and could lead to other governmental incursions on b’ris milah, and so instructed us to mount a legal challenge against the regulation. It is to Mayor de Blasio’s eternal credit that he recognized how profoundly offensive the regulation was to our community, and worked with us to undo the terrible precedent his predecessor had established.”
Rabbi David Niederman, president of United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, added, “I’m thankful to Mayor de Blasio and his entire administration, specifically Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, the mayor’s senior aide, Avi Fink, and the Department of Health, for doing what it is right, eliminating this consent form, which was intrusive and violated our freedom of religion and speech. From day one, Mayor de Blasio showed an eagerness to work with all communities towards fair policies that will deliver the best results for the entire city. Today’s action is a result of that noble vision and hard work. We are profoundly thankful to the mayor for that, and we are thanking Hashem that our religious freedom prevailed. Today’s action rebuilds the trust necessary to work together for the safety of all. It’s a victory for religious freedom and a victory for public policy.”
State Senator Simcha Felder also supported Mayor de Blasio’s metzitzahb’peh decision: “Baruch Hashem, the battle I began years ago when I was in the City Council against the Bloomberg administration’s edict prohibiting metzitzahb’peh has finally been won. The Bloomberg administration acted with such chutzpah, and willfully violated our religious freedom. Mayor de Blasio promised, during his campaign, to correct this appalling violation. As a result of ongoing discussions, concluding with today’s meeting, he is making sure that everyone, regardless of their beliefs, can practice their religion without fear of government interference. I am very thankful to the mayor.” (JTA and other sources)v