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. aerodog

    ritual mutilation

    July 9, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  2. Cheryn

    Jews are just white Arabs.

    July 9, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  3. Portland tony

    Barbaric " health" practices under the guise of religious belief have no place in our society. I liken it to those who refuse medical care for their children because of their belief that God will cure all ills.

    July 9, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  4. Zuzi Macintozz

    This has been tradition for a long time. Indeed this is where, in the middle ages or so, the myth of the Jewish blood sucking vampire, sacrificing children, etc, came from. Of course Jews will always blame the jealousy for the animosity they've received through time, never their own behaviour.

    July 9, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • ME II

      @Zuzi Macintozz,
      Sounds like you might be falling for the "blood libel" BS

      July 9, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  5. Rainer Braendlein

    Circu-mcision: Like the Jewish member is reduced a little, the Jews should reduce a little their dependance on their biological descent from Abraham, and replace it through Abraham's faith. Faith matters.

    Everybody, who believes that the Lord is his Redeemer, has got the faith of Abraham, and is a real descendant of Abraham.

    Abraham got circu-mcised first after believing God. The circu-mcised member always should remember the Jews of Abraham's faith. Only in connection with faith the circu-mcision has got any meaning, it is nothing in itself.

    July 9, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • BRC

      Actually, circu-mcision (performed correctly), was at a it's origin a viable way for a tribe of dessert nomads to protect their genitals form having sand grinding in very sensitive areas. IT actually does make some sense in that use, and by calling it a covenant with "God", they avoided having to convince everyone to let them use a sharp object on their crotch. Much of the bible's early rules were just there to enforce their primitive understanding of health, and instead of trying to prove they knew what they were talking about (which they often didn't), they said it was "God's" law.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • lunchbreaker

      I read this one theory that the women of the tribe realized that by desensitizing the tip, men would last longer in the sack.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • End The Freak Show!

      I read that it has always been a stupid and crazy thing to do, with infection killing more babies that it helped in dirty old ancient Judea.

      Don't try to come up with reasons that barbaric or perverse ancient practices are somehow okay. They started when ignorant, superstitious tribal peasants got some crazy idea in their heads and made everyone follow it. It was stupid and crazy and weird then, and it is stupid and crazy and weird now.

      July 9, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Jared

      It (minus the blood issue) actually leads to fewer infections and diseases in the long run.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  6. Jack

    I just threw up a little.

    July 9, 2012 at 8:59 am |
  7. Rainer Braendlein

    The Christian Abraham

    Three tenets are very important for Judaism:

    – their descent from Abraham

    – the circu-mcision

    – possessing the law of the Torah

    Jews should consider that at Abrahams time there was no law. The law was given some centuries later under the leadership of Moses.

    This leads to the first serious question: How could Abraham be a model Jew without having any law?

    Abraham lived a righteous life. Abraham left behind an remaining imprint into the memory of mankind. Abraham is still venerated not only by Jews, but also by Christians and Muslims. If Abraham had not really been a respectable man, he had never left behind such a good reputation as righteous one.

    As the Jews cannot deny Abraham's righteousness, which they themselves acknowledge, they are intellectually ruined and entra-ped. Jews claim that righteousness comes through keeping the law, but Abraham was righteous without any law. There simply was no law.

    What made Abraham's life righteous then?

    Abraham lived in God's presence. Abraham received a special gospel that God would make a great nation out of him or that he would get a son, despite his very high age (he was no more fertile). God's promise let Abraham to the conviction that the invisible God was a loving, trustworthy God, and through that he returned into the confident community with the Lord, the Eternal God, which has made heaven and earth. Abraham received a person of the Godhead through faith, which lived through him and thus Abraham was actually a Christian or converted pagan.

    Conclusion: It is a historical fact that the Father of the Jews, Abraham, was in fact a Christian, because he was righteous in the Lord, whose name was later revealed: Jesus Christ.

    Furthermore, if the Jews would be honest, they had to admit that they are not able to keep the law by natural power or strength. At last the Jews should admit that the law only shows them their sinfulness and their need for the Redeemer Jesus. Why are the Jews so infa-mous? They act exactly against the demands of the law of the Torah. Why? Like all other human beings they have inherited the degenerated nature of Adam, and thus cannot overcome sin, because they are simply sinners. Flesh remains flesh. The more the Jews try to keep the law, the more they break it.

    Dear Jew, if you feel your deep sinfulness and disability to keep the law, then pray to G-d that he may reveal his Son to you who get set you free.

    July 9, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • WASP

      @rain: so by them ignoring things such as " (Exodus 21:7-11 NLT)" that covers selling your daughter as a s-e-x slave; next we have (Matthew 19:12 ASV) where your jesus teachs for men to get to heaven they have to become eunichs...........so i hope you are following his laws.
      let's not forget
      "Matthew 7:1-2 ESV
      “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you."

      so you fail to follow god's laws as well, sinner.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • Poltergiest

      If you weren't aware Jesus is not Abraham. And exodus was not about Abraham. In either case you used the verses out of context.

      July 9, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • ME II

      @Rainer Braendlein,
      "Conclusion: It is a historical fact that the Father of the Jews, Abraham, was in fact a Christian, because he was righteous in the Lord, whose name was later revealed: Jesus Christ."

      What? You apparently have a different definition of the word fact than the rest of us.

      July 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  8. WASP

    don't care what anyone saids, this is just disgusting. there are countless bacterium in the human mouth. how can any loving parent sanction something like this for their child? not to mention the hazzard of blood consumption. this is making my stomache churn just typing this post.

    July 9, 2012 at 7:44 am |
  9. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 9, 2012 at 4:19 am |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      Yeah, the diameter of a 10 year old's A44hole maybe

      July 9, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • Religion is the #1 problem in this world by far

      Didn't you read this article? It would indicate that religion is not healthy for children.

      July 9, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      See prayer change the diameter of a butt hole at prolapsed.net.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      July 9, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Jared

      *shrugs* Say what you want, but I've seen people instantly healed because of prayer.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      No you haven't.I don't know what you have seen that you make this claim, but I do know this....No you haven't

      July 9, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • Jared

      Yes, I have. I understand that you aren't willing to even consider the possibility, but on two occassions I've seen people I've known to have long standing issues healed in an instant. Both were quite amazing.

      I've seen plenty of medical conditions that got reversed following prayer too, but the two above were eye openers. Old injuries that were suddenly gone.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      Where's the doctor reports, the peer reviewed studies and the medical records from before and after? If this were true, then this would be a world changing thing, and not only open the door to reduce suffering for all, but also to legitimize your religion as a "true religion". If not for the legitimizing religion, are you enough of an asshat that you would apparently keep something like this to yourself and not publish it?

      July 9, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Jared

      They both have their medical records from before and after. One was a veteran whose records would be with veteran's affairs and the other with the local hospital. If it were me, I would have taken it to every medical journal I could, but it wasn't me. I can only tell you what I witnessed and am not making claims beyond that. I've also witnessed plenty of people not be healed and we are all destined to die, but those two will always stand out in my mind and remind me that there is more to this than we know.

      You don't have to believe me.

      July 9, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      And you feel you have no duty to tell these two people to publish these things? If what your saying is true, someone is being the most selfish ass hole in the world, and if it's not you, then you are idly sitting on the sidelines, which is almost as bad. Then again, spontaneous remission of diseases is actually a well docu.mented natural phenomenon.

      July 9, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  10. jim

    Wow, thats as dumb as the snake charmer pastors. Isnt this some sort of se.xu.al abuse? I would think sucking blood from a babies pe.nis would be se.xu.al abuse no matter what religion.

    July 9, 2012 at 3:45 am |
    • fiveliters

      Exactly! When the priests do it when the kid is a teen-ager,it's 'abuse',but when it's a newborn,it's 'religion'?
      (It's 'gross' is what it is!) And how could that Dr. Berman say there was no evidence that the metzitzah b'peh directly caused any of the reported infant herpes infections?

      "Denial-not just a river in Egypt"!

      July 9, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Dearly beloved, touch not yourselves, but [rather] give your body to another: for it is written, oragasim is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord..

      Romans 12:19

      July 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  11. Nobody

    This article makes me wonder how many stories could be fabricated. I can't believe people actually practice this disgusting ritual in the name of religion following the Bible.

    July 9, 2012 at 12:34 am |
  12. The medeival minstrels of Brave Sir Topher

    Brave Sir Topher ran away
    Bravely ran away away
    When danger reared it's ugly head
    He bravely turned his tail and fled
    Yes, brave Sir Topher turned about
    And gallantly he chickened out
    Bravely taking to his feet,
    He beat a very brave retreat
    Bravest of the braaaave, Sir Topher!

    July 8, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • Doctor Leo Marvin

      "You think he's gone? He's not gone. He's never gone!"

      July 9, 2012 at 12:39 am |
  13. pozguy

    Living with Herpes is really hard, especially when you are a single. According to a report from the largest Herpes singles dating site HerpesSupport , ne t, 98% of its members who used to be on a general dating site to find the love and support were rejected by others. That could be the reason that why HerpesSupport , n e t is so popular and now has more than 650,000 members. It owns the most activity herpes blogs/forums and the most professional herpes counselor. HerpesSupport ,n e t offers 24X7 customer services.

    July 8, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  14. Bootyfunk

    I have no life.
    I get off on knowing there are dumb Christians who can't answer my questions.
    I lie all the time for my own benfit.
    I am a hypocrite that stalks the internet but I know no one.
    I am delusional.

    July 8, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • just a warning...just sayin, atheism is not healthy, unknown, etc etc, is the same stupid tool

      posting his 4th-rate troll drivel
      over and over again
      under twenty different names..........
      here the tool is stealing bootyfunk's name..........................
      the tool even responds to himself,
      he finds this amusing............
      ignore the tool.

      July 8, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      yep, that was doppelganger. it's a christian that gets mad when i school him in biblical knowledge. study after study show that atheists know more about the bible than the christians that supposedly live their life by the book. he's a perfect example. frustrated when confronted with facts and logic, he steals my name and posts idiots dribble. he forgets that by his own rules stealing is a grave sin... by your rules, you're gonna burn. lol.

      July 8, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      We have an imposter!

      July 8, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Booty, I don't know what you do or don't know about scriptures. I do know you do the same as satan and twist and contort Jesus' truth.

      July 9, 2012 at 1:14 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      christians hate facts. stop making excuses.

      July 9, 2012 at 2:08 am |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      "I do know you do the same as satan and twist and contort Jesus' truth."

      you dont even now what the truth is when people have been twisting and contorting the truth for thousands of years to benefit themselves.

      July 9, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  15. dumb mother

    .Am I beyond correction?

    July 8, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  16. UK Dave & my fellow scientists

    We remain blameless!
    Do you remain blameless?

    July 8, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • The Correctorsssssssssssss!

      We remain blameless tooooooooooooooo!
      We've been correcting these mothers all along!

      July 8, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • dumb mother

      Am I beyond correction?

      July 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Pray opens the eyes of the blind. See eyes open wwwwwwwide with the help of "prayer" at prolapsed.net.

    July 8, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • TR6

      I have met several sightless people that would disagree with you

      July 9, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  18. Frank Maston

    Whenever I think I've heard of almost every really strange and silly thing, another one surfaces. Although I'm religious, the physical "rites" practiced by many religions seem to me pretty ludicrous, and this one takes the cake!

    July 8, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      My sentiments exactly Frank. When i first read the article i developed the worst case of drop-jaw ever. I needed the old Aqua Velva face slap in the worst way.....

      July 8, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • ME II

      True, the ridiculousness never stops... amazing.

      July 9, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  19. Google(confusion)!

    There's Google(confusion) everywhere!
    Don't you care? 😦

    July 8, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      where do you buy your drugs?

      July 8, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • The Corrector

      I just Googled(confusion)!
      Of course I care! 🙂

      July 8, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • Google(confusion)!

      Providing someone really cares, I'll go into a holding pattern over Washington DC! 🙂

      July 8, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  20. Bootyfunk

    wonder which rabbi over his lifetime has sucked on the most baby p.enises? is there a lifetime achievement award after 1000? do they keep official records? has anyone checked guiness?

    July 8, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Rabbis with herpes can be found praying to the brown eye of Yahweh at prolapsed.net.

      July 8, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • The Corrector

      Sounds like you drink plenty of Guiness! 😦

      July 8, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
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About this blog

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.