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July 7th, 2012
08:34 PM ET

Circumcision ritual under fire in New York due to risk of herpes infection

By Pauline Kim, CNN

New York (CNN)– A controversial Jewish circumcision ritual is under fire after allegedly causing the deaths of two infants and exposing potentially thousands more to the risk of herpes infections.

New York City health officials are pushing a proposed regulation that would require parents to sign a consent waiver before they take part in a circumcision ritual called "metzitzah b'peh," typically practiced by ultra-Orthodox Jews. The ritual potentially poses a fatal risk to newborns, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The legislation was proposed at a Board of Health meeting last month by Dr. Jay K. Varma, deputy commissioner for disease control for New York City's health department, after 11 infants contracted neonatal herpes between November 2000 and December 2011, after the circumcision ritual. Two of the infants died.

Jews regularly practice circumcision as part of their religion, but mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews practice metzitzah b'peh, during which the mohel, or person performing the procedure, orally sucks the blood from the infant's newly circumcised penis.

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The numbers reported came to light as the city's health department launched an investigation after the infant deaths were reported in New York, the most recent in September in Brooklyn.

The health department reported last month that an estimated 20,493 infants in New York City were exposed to direct oral suction. Baby boys who were reportedly circumcised "with confirmed or probable orogenital suction" between April 2006 and December 2011 had an estimated risk of contracting neonatal herpes (HSV-1) infection of 24.4 per 100,000 cases, making the risk 3.4 times greater than those infants who did not have direct oral suction, according to the health department findings.

In a statement advising New York parents to refrain from direct oral-genital suction during circumcision, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said, "There is no safe way to perform oral suction on any open wound in a newborn.

"Parents considering ritual circumcision need to know that circumcision should only be performed under sterile conditions, like any other procedures that create open cuts, whether by mohelim or medical professionals."

Reports of infant herpes infections and deaths are not new.

In November of 2004, the Department of Health reported that twin male infants contracted neonatal herpes after the ritual circumcision, one of whom died.

Spokesman Jerry Schmetter of the Brooklyn Defense Attorney's office said a criminal investigation regarding a rabbi who was linked to infant herpes cases, was "still ongoing."

In the case of the Brooklyn infant's death in September, the parents of the baby refused to tell authorities who performed the ritual.

The United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg in Brooklyn could not be reached for comment.

Jeffrey Mazlin, a certified mohel and physician in New York who regularly practices circumcision procedures, said "only the more orthodox, the more traditional mohels" perform the metzitzah b'peh.

"[Orthodox Jews] look at it in terms of religion being more important than the individual, whereas someone who is more liberal will make sure that the individual's rights are taken care of," he said.

But the ritual is not just an upholding of a Jewish tradition, but also a firm reminder of their beliefs.

"Because blood is the life-giving element, they believe that it's supposed to be part of the whole procedure," Mazlin said.

The little blood that is drawn from the newly circumcised penis is usually left alone or wiped away under regular procedures, he said.

"There are no known medical benefits to sucking [the blood]," he said.

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Rabbi Moshe Tendler, professor of Talmudic Law and Bioethics at Yeshiva University, dismissed any defense of the practice, calling it "primitive nonsense."

"[The ritual] has nothing to do with religion. It's only their customs. But they've managed to convince the city that it's a violation of their religious freedoms."

Tendler notes that there is an alternative to the metzitzah b'peh in which a mohel doesn't use his mouth directly, but uses a sterilized glass tube or pipette to suck the blood from the wound, which many modern orthodox Jews have started to incorporate during their circumcision rituals.

The Jewish tradition of circumcision rituals originate from Scripture, in which God tells Abraham that all men must be circumcised eight days after they are born.

"Hundreds of years ago, they didn't know that you can get an infection by sucking the blood. So they were not concerned," said professor Arthur Hyman of Yeshiva University.

Dr. Daniel S. Berman, an infectious disease specialist, has defended the practice, arguing in a paper published in the Jewish journal Dialogue that there is still no evidence that metzitzah b'peh directly caused any of the reported infant herpes infections.

Berman even attributes racial bias in the New York City government as the reason behind the proposed mandate for the parent consent waiver.

Berman's opinion does not appear to be representative of the larger medical community. He could not be reached for comment Friday by CNN.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York could not be reached for comment.

Last week, a court in Germany outlawed circumcision on infants with the exception of medical purposes.

The ruling came after the case of a Muslim couple whose 4-year-old son was hospitalized after a circumcision procedure.

The Department of Health is accepting public comments on the proposed regulation until a public hearing July 23. At the hearing, there will be a public forum where the board will consider all comments and make a final vote September 13.

- shirleyhenrycnn

Filed under: Judaism • New York

soundoff (643 Responses)
  1. Observer112

    This is absolutely REVOLTING! These orthodox IDIOTS need to be banned! They need to evolve, for crying out loud! What a great way to protect your perversions and child abuse- hide behind religion and live in segregation. Awful. These morons need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of law.

    July 7, 2012 at 10:33 pm |
  2. drinker75

    That is seriously f'd up!

    July 7, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  3. jo an

    Barbaric...no other word for it....should be stopped...if the guy wants to do it when he is adult...LET HIM!!

    July 7, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  4. billybob

    This hasn't been on southpark yet?

    July 7, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  5. netanyahu

    it's the kosherization of america.

    July 7, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  6. FrankR

    Absolutely strange.

    July 7, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
  7. Colin

    A few questions should help highlight why some might be inclined to question Judaism

    The completely absurd theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings on the planet are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day, every day of their lives by an immortal, invisible being for the purposes of reward or punishment in the “afterlife” comes from the religion of:

    (a) The ancient Celts;

    (b) Bronze Age Egyptians;

    (c) Pre-Colombian Aztecs; or

    (d) Twenty-First Century Jews and Christians

    You are about 70% likely to believe the entire Universe began less than 10,000 years ago with only one man, one woman and a talking snake if you are:

    (a) a reptile handler who has severe mental issues;

    (b) a five year old boy who just read a fairytale;

    (c) a scientific fraud; or

    (d) a Jew or Judeo-Christian

    I believe that an all-knowing being, powerful enough to create the entire cosmos and its billions of galaxies, watches me have $ex to make sure I don't do anything "naughty" like protect myself from disease with a condom. I am

    (a) A victim of child molestation

    (b) A r.ape victim trying to recover

    (c) A mental patient with paranoid delusions

    (d) A Catholic

    I have convinced myself that gay $ex is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have ho.mo$exual urges. I am

    (a) A gifted psychologist

    (b) A well respected geneticist

    (c) A highly educated sociologist

    (d) A conservative Jew or Christian with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.

    I honestly believe that, when I think silent thoughts like, “please god, help me pass my exam tomorrow,” some invisible being is reading my mind and will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to help me. I am

    (a) a delusional schizophrenic;

    (b) a naïve child, too young to know that that is silly

    (c) an ignorant farmer from Sudan who never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education; or

    (d) your average Judeo-Christian

    Millions and millions of Catholics believe that bread and wine turns into the actual flesh and blood of a dead Jew from 2,000 years ago because:

    (a) there are obvious visible changes in the condiments after the Catholic priest does his hocus pocus;

    (b) tests have confirmed a divine presence in the bread and wine;

    (c) now and then their god shows up and confirms this story; or

    (d) their religious convictions tell them to blindly accept this completely fvcking absurd nonsense.

    The only discipline known to often cause people to kill others they have never met and/or to commit suicide in its furtherance is:

    (a) Architecture;

    (b) Philosophy;

    (c) Archeology; or

    (d) Religion

    What is it that most differentiates science and all other intellectual disciplines from Judaism:

    (a) Judaism tells people not only what they should believe, but what they MUST believe under threat of “burning in hell” or other of divine retribution, whereas science, economics, medicine etc. has no “sacred cows” in terms of doctrine and go where the evidence leads them;

    (b) Judaism can make a statement, such as “God is immortal”, and be totally immune from experimentation and challenge, whereas science can only make factual assertions when supported by considerable evidence;

    (c) Science and the scientific method is universal and consistent all over the World whereas Judaism is regional and a person’s Judaism, no matter how deeply held, is clearly nothing more than geographical upbringing; or

    (d) All of the above.

    If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filth river, mutilating my child’s genitals or kneeling down in a church believing that a being is somehow reading my inner thoughts and prayers, I am likely driven by:

    (a) a deep psychiatric issue;

    (b) an irrational fear or phobia;

    (c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse; or

    (d) my religious belief.

    I like to su.ck little babies' pen.ises immediately after they are circu.mcised. I am

    (a) a sick disgusting pervert

    (b) a renowned pedophile

    (c) a degenerate sicko

    (d) a Jewish Rabbi

    July 7, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • Nah

      Brilliant.

      Strawmen, ad hominems, and a distinct lack of thought in every snarky question.

      No wonder you're an atheist. Intelligence is foreign to you.

      July 7, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Colin

      Great Nah, what did I get wrong.

      July 7, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • Nah

      colin: "Great Nah, what did I get wrong."

      Reading comprehension must not be your strong suit.

      What you did was invoke fallacies in every cute question you asked. Namely, you built up strawmen, used loaded language, made over generalizations, and so on.

      Better luck next time.

      July 7, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • Colin

      nah, so, you totally avoided the question. What, factually, is not true with what I said? Hurling insults and then hiding won't work. Stop being a coward and tell me what is factually incorrect with my post.

      July 7, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • Maya

      "No wonder you're an atheist. Intelligence is foreign to you."

      And you're accusing other people of using ad hominem arguments?

      Any idiot can look up terms on Wikipedia. No one is impressed.

      July 7, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      Actually Colin, St. Paul did not believe in eternal life except for the redeemed. Only the saved would be resurrected. He did not believe in hell.

      Gehenna was the constant fire from garbage and junk that burned outside Jerusalem. It reeked. They imported the idea, (something familiar), and turned it into "hell".

      July 7, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • Nah

      colin: "nah, so, you totally avoided the question. What, factually, is not true with what I said? Hurling insults and then hiding won't work. Stop being a coward and tell me what is factually incorrect with my post."

      Reading comprehension really isn't your forte, is it?

      The problem with your questions was the "fact" that they're based on petty ad hominems and strawmen. They set up the weakest arguments possible for your opposition, and then knock them down.

      On top of that, you make false generalizations and causal missteps. A good example is the following:

      "If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filth river, mutilating my child’s genitals or kneeling down in a church believing that a being is somehow reading my inner thoughts and prayers, I am likely driven by:

      (a) a deep psychiatric issue;

      (b) an irrational fear or phobia;

      (c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse; or

      (d) my religious belief."

      If you honestly believe that these are intelligent responses to the religious position, there really is no helping you.

      July 7, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • Nah

      maya: "And you're accusing other people of using ad hominem arguments?"

      Nah. I accused him of using only ad hominems. Which is quite clear from his posts.

      My own insults, however, came after my substantive critique of his absurd positions.

      "Any idiot can look up terms on Wikipedia. No one is impressed."

      Which has no bearing on whether or not those terms are applicable, relevant or accurate. If you think they're wrong, then by all means, show how and why they are.

      Good job?

      July 7, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Colin

      Anatomy of a Nah post. Step one – accuse the person of a variety of illogicalities in their point, including ad hominem attacks. Step two – make an ad hominem attack.

      July 8, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Stefanie

      Thank you Colin... absolutely amazing commentary!

      July 8, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Freedom

      All your points are moot, due to the fact that the Jewish do not have a heaven or hell, read the bible take a religions class, your facts are wrong, completely, don't ever post again, and maybe read some more before you decide to do a internet search for a CNN post.

      July 8, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  8. Leonore H. Dvorkin

    The greatest folly of mankind is the belief in God and the practice of religion. When will this barbaric nonsense ever stop???

    July 7, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
  9. Illegal

    isn't this child molestation? why is this even allowed? shouldn't these people be arrested and thrown in jail?

    July 7, 2012 at 10:06 pm |
    • mike

      I also thought it is child molestation. But guess what? they are going to say the state or federal goverment can't interfere with their religious beliefs!

      July 7, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • bs

      Absolutely. Your religious rights do not extend to another person's body, not even your offspring. Feel free to hack up your own genitals with a rusty razor blade to please your false god, leave defenseless children alone.

      July 7, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
    • lunaticinmyhead

      That's what I want to know.

      July 7, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • d.b

      religious freaks get all sorts of breaks from the govt, full of religious freaks

      July 8, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  10. whybs

    good. more women for me.

    July 7, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
  11. bkboy

    Sick perverts hiding behind their sick religious beliefs.

    July 7, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  12. Butthead

    So a orthodox baby jew is getting oral right have getting his man parts cut up???

    July 7, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • rick jolie

      I don't think that will make him feel better...

      July 7, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  13. Colin

    Judaism is the belief that an infinitely old, all-knowing super-being, powerful enough to create the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, has a personal interest in how much skin I have on my di.ck.

    Atheism is the belief that the above belief is ridiculous.

    July 7, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • Unknown

      atheism is a cheap way that does not answer anything and only expresses how the wants and demands of atheists are more important than anything else.

      July 7, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • Nah

      More strawmen *yawn*

      If you're going to make arguments, try to avoid using fallacies. They make you look a bit simple.

      July 7, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • Colin

      Great nah, what did I get factually wrong.

      July 7, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Unknown

      afraid to accept the truth?

      July 7, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • Nah

      colin: "Great nah, what did I get factually wrong."

      Oh dear. Fallacies go to the structure of the argument or its conclusion. It had nothing to do with "facts", it had to do with your fallacious misrepresentation of religion and your snarky ad hominems.

      You didn't pass Logic 101, did you?

      July 7, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • Colin

      nah, so, you again avoided the question. What is not true with what I said? Hurling insults and then hiding won't work. Stop being a coward and tell me what is factually incorrect with my post.

      July 7, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • Nah

      colin: "nah, so, you again avoided the question. What is not true with what I said? Hurling insults and then hiding won't work. Stop being a coward and tell me what is factually incorrect with my post."

      Dear me. You aren't very bright.

      What is true is that you've based every one of your "arguments" against religion on ad hominems, strawmen and loaded language. Take your original post for good measure:

      Judaism is the belief that an infinitely old, all-knowing super-being, powerful enough to create the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, has a personal interest in how much skin I have on my di.ck.

      Not only is Judaism clearly more than this, Judaism as a whole does not identify with the practice. Hence, indicting Jews based on a generalization of what a few have done, is monumentally unintelligent.

      July 7, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      Judaism is based Yahweh, one El Elyon's 70 sons. It is ridiculous.

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MlnnWbkMlbg&w=640&h=360]

      July 7, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
    • Nah

      bucky: "Judaism is based Yahweh, one El Elyon's 70 sons. It is ridiculous."

      Oh dear. You watch videos from partisan sites about what their opposition believes.

      You may as well watch Fox News to find out why Obama is evil.

      July 8, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      No nah,
      I go to an Ivy League school, and they teach the exact same thing. Where do you think they got it ? Exactly ? The Chairman of a Catholic University on sabaatical at the Ivy Leaque school actually. Refute it if you can. Where and when did they get it ?

      July 8, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • Colin

      Nah, circu.mcision is quite widespread in the Jewish faith. It originates in Biblical mandate. Hence, it is accurate to state that Judaism believes that God cares how much skin a person has on their member.

      And that, my friend (as with 99% of Juseo-Christianity) is ludicrous.

      PS: Ironic that you would accuse me of an ad hominim attack in a post that calls me "not very bright".

      July 8, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  14. The Baby

    Keep your hands off my junk!

    July 7, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  15. atheist < gays

    Hey where's my comment? Why don't you post it?Where's my freedom of speech huh bonehead!

    July 7, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
  16. Anon

    Its truly sick that in the united states we allow perverts to openly molest children under the guise of religion.

    July 7, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • Hoidy Toidy

      I don't know about that. These kids will have their even coolest of classmates beat when it comes to had their first blur job

      July 7, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  17. UK Dave & my fellow scientists

    Is America still stuck in junk mode?
    You were warned that naughty boys will play!
    You were warned that naughty girls will play!
    And America is still stuck in junk mode!

    July 7, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • mafia don

      My naughty boys always play in junk mode! 😦

      July 7, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • dumb mother

      We naughty girls always play in junk mode too! 😦

      July 7, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • The Corrector

      Good boys & good girls are wide awake to junk mode America UK Dave! 🙂

      July 7, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  18. PraiseTheLard

    I thought Sandusky was Episcopalian... In any case... Darwin Awards...

    July 7, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  19. Okey Dokey!

    "The mohel, or person performing the procedure, orally sucks the blood from the infant's newly circumcised penis"

    HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!

    Ah, religion! Truly the source of wisdom and morality in the world!

    July 7, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • rick jolie

      HA! HA!

      July 7, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      Don't laugh. Morality is one of Craig's proof of god. This is certainly proof of something.

      July 7, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      Not this Craig .. William Lane Craig.

      July 7, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    July 7, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Arthur Smegma

      It's legal for a stranger to suck a baby's dick as long as it is in the name of religion?

      July 7, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • opinionguru

      "...the wisdom of men is the folly of GOD".

      July 7, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • rick jolie

      prayer might change things, but not necessarily for the better

      July 7, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Craig

      The only thing prayer does is make you feel better. After all, you asked God to help, and if nothing changes, you can blame God. In short, you can become the victim rather than accept responsibility for yourself and your actions. If things turn out okay, you can claim God helped you, which isn't likely true. If they go badly, you can either blame God, or admit that you're a loser and God didn't see any point in "saving you." Funny how that works.

      July 7, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • Maya

      Apparently, genital mutilation does too.

      July 7, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.