Responding to threats of legal action by city rabbis, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg denounced the practice of Metzitzah B’peh–the ritual involving the drawing of blood from the circumcision wound by a mohel by mouth–which has caused the spread of herpes as well as caused at least two infant deaths since 2000. He directly addressed the issue at a press conference yesterday:

“We have an obligation to keep people alive and safe and the courts have held that up repeatedly.There are certain practices that doctors say are not safe and we will not permit those practices to the extent that we can stop them. You don’t have a right to put any child’s life in danger, and this clearly does.”

The city wants to amend a health law to require mohels to collect written permission from the parents of the baby to ensure they are aware of the health risks and the practice. Rabbis consider this proposed change to be an infringement on freedom of religion rights. The day before, Rabbi A. Romi Cohen defended the controversial practice at a city hearing in Queens:

“I myself have performed 25,000 circumcisions, and, thank God, we have not had one single incident … our guidelines are, I think, much stricter than the medical profession,” said Cohen.

Cohen did concede that there were uncertified people pretending to be mohels to collect the fees for the service, sometimes up to $1000. Rabbi Levi Heber, director of the International Bris Association (who knew?), says he will fight the rule if enacted in September.

“If we feel that our religious freedom is being restricted, we have the right to challenge it in court … we are ready, if needed, to challenge this,” he said.

I’m not touching this one with a ten-foot pole, but I do hope that cooler heads will prevail before September.

Bloomberg Says Metzizah B’Peh Will Not Be Permitted [Yeshiva World]
Rabbis Defend Circumcision Practice [City and State]
Bloomberg on Circumcision Laws [City and State]