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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. Tutuvabene

    Disgusting.

    July 8, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  2. Chemistry101

    they won't let me post my comment!!!!

    Okay, just imagine if a similar procedure were done to a baby girl...would we allow religious "freedom" to trump the right to bodily integrity then? Cutting a girl is illegal in the US and I cannot wait for the day that it will be illegal to cut a boy, regardless of social or religious norms.

    July 8, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  3. Disposal

    Gee...it's a pretty quiet board...must be the masses are all flocked into their insane asylum getting another dose of flesh and blood or kid pee pee skin.

    July 8, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Andy

      That story was so Effed up that I don't even know what to say. . . . . . . . . .

      July 8, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  4. Chemistry101

    jdfldj

    July 8, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  5. submaker

    there something gay about that penis sucking would you say.

    July 8, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • qwedie

      I don't know about gay, but it sounds mighty sick to me. In NC it will get you 10 years!

      July 8, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  6. Disfigured Habara Troll

    metzizah bepeh: A cxck sxcking jew ritual for elderly jew rabbis to get off on, by licking a bloody baby's cxck, a fantasy that makes human stomachs turn, while at the same time causing massive arousal and an erection for jews.

    July 8, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  7. PraiseTheLard

    Idiots!

    July 8, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  8. Sagebrush Shorty

    It's no skin off my....................

    July 8, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  9. Rainer Braendlein

    orally sucks the blood from the infant's newly circu-mcised penis.", one can read in the above article.

    This is, of course, perverse and was never commanded by the God of Israel.

    The Jews extremly emphasize their biological descent from Abraham. But the circu-msti-tion is a metaphor that the Jews should reduce their depentance on their biological descent from Abraham like Abraham reduced the penis of all members of his clan.

    A real, spiritual descent of Abraham is someone who has got Abraham's faith.

    July 8, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  10. God Speaks

    Hey guys...this is God. I thought I'd pass on the word that Rapture will be here at 6:00PM EST. I suggest that you get dressed nicely for the trip, and per my instructions, please go to the highest precipice you can find. At the moment 6:00PM EST arrives, hurl yourself off. Do not fear, for I shall catch you and bring your soul to live with me in eternity. Thank you. Have a nice day.

    July 8, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  11. caesarbc

    Who's bright idea was it to shorten the length of a penis at birth anyways?

    July 8, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Gargoile

      Well, it does make it look nicer, instead of like that of a donkey. Less clean-up afterward too.

      July 8, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  12. Argonaut

    Imagine going back in time to when this ritual was performed for the very first time. Who was it that decided that this was a good idea? What were they thinking? I'd bet they were thinking "if we can get them to do this and allow it, they'll do anything we ask of them." So, now many years later, that person's twisted thought leads to this...and a lot of other people have never really thought all that much was abnormal our outright ephed up about it because they'd been duped into doing this for so long.

    July 8, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • On Gaurd

      Yep, that has to be it. Some bright dude figured if he could get someone to do that, he could get them to do anything and believe anything. It's all about controlling others.

      July 8, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  13. Grumpdiddy

    Of course, CNN saved this great story for Sunday right before church time for the masses of undead to read and reflect upon.

    July 8, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      Sunday... masses ... you are a hoot !

      July 8, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  14. mr leaveitalone

    What you don't have you do not miss like all the zillion cool
    nerve endings in the foreskin . How come this is not considered
    a "cult practice"

    July 8, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  15. Colin

    You think these guys are weird? I know a cult whose members get together every Sunday and believe they consume the actual flesh and blood of a guy who was killed 2,000 years ago because a priest does some hocus pocus over grocery store bread and wine.

    I'm serious! They are called Catholics, and even their adults believe this Dark Ages garbage. They also don't see anything twisted and sick about eating flesh and drinking blood.

    Weirdos!

    July 8, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Grumpdiddy

      Yeah....I heard of those weirdos too. Just a large cult, that is.

      July 8, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • HeavenSent

      America was founded on God's wisdom. All non-believers are an enemy against God (Jesus Christ, God in the flesh), therefore, an enemy against the USA. No where did it say our founding fathers swung by their tails as they jumped from tree to tree. There's zoos throughout this country that will take you in Colin.

      July 8, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • Grumpdiddy

      You would like nothing better to re-frame that America was founded on holy principles. Nothing could be further from the truth. Thomas Jefferson was even an atheist. You've drunk enough kool-aid now...time to go home and sleep it off.

      July 8, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • truth be told

      @grummpy
      Jefferson was a Christian. Not many atheists would write their good friend about seeing all the others in heaven .

      July 8, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • atheism anyone?

      Yeah sucking the blood from a babys cut penis is the same as pretending you are eating the flesh and blood of some mythological dude.

      This practice is barbaric abuse that speaks volumes of the people committing it.

      Not Catholic or Jewish.

      July 8, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • Argonaut

      The only difference between this type of religion and the likes of those who followed David Koresh is that they haven't yet killed anybody. Oh..wait...yes they did.

      July 8, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Grumpdiddy, only in your myopic world was Jefferson an atheist. Re-write history on the Net, you evil ones are the only ones that believe your babble.

      July 8, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • M.F. Luder

      Jefferson didn't believe in hocus-pocus. That's why he took a razor to his Bible.

      July 8, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • M.F. Luder

      "I am of a sect by myself, as far
      as I know."
      — Thomas Jefferson, 1819

      July 8, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • jack

      athiesmanyone? So sucking babies penis is the same as a ritual that is to represent eating the flesh and drinking the blood of a dead dude? You must be a scientologist and waiting for your space ship to arrive.

      July 8, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • Lokust

      I see HeavenSent has been drinking the Faux News made-up-history kool-aid

      July 8, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  16. Grumpdiddy

    What in the world? Yeah...stuff like this should be outlawed and the freaks participating should be hung from the nearest tree.

    July 8, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Grumpy, there's a new island in Dubai just for you atheists. Within a few years, it shall sink back into the sea.

      July 8, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 8, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • Grumpdiddy

      Yeah...it sure does...for the worse. How about the prayers for the dead babies caused by these freaks? Didn't help there, did it? When you understand why you dismiss other gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

      July 8, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • truth be told

      God may dismiss you no one needs your kind you are a useless drag on society.

      July 8, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • just sayin

      Two wonderful Truths 1- atheism is totally useless and 2 – God is available. God bless, third Truth added at no additional charge

      July 8, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Argonaut

      Religion...opiate of the masses.

      July 8, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Atheists = walking, talking, spiritual dead heads.

      July 8, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • uraidiot

      Moron....all children are born Atheist, your IQ says a lot.

      July 8, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Polergiest

      Actually they start agnostic. Atheism requires you to actively reject faith.

      July 8, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Lokust

      oh boy here come the imaginary friend nut jobs

      July 8, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      just sayin is a liar.

      July 8, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  18. 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.

    July 8, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • .....

      BULL SH IT ALERT

      July 8, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • Grumpdiddy

      Right there with ya Colin...one of these days, we'll be free of these pests.

      July 8, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Urszula

      how great the progresive thought.

      July 8, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • Polergiest

      If I'm writing giant mocking questionnaires on religion I must be a:

      A) Comedian making a skit for the daily show.
      B) An Internet Troll
      C) An atheist that left the church years ago, claiming they freed themselves. But for some reason they obsess about religion more than most believers so much so that they spend all day talking about it on the net.
      D) A roll of Carl Sagan's toilet paper

      July 8, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • jack

      Agreed Polter. His name is Colon really. He lives in A$$land.

      July 8, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • uraidiot

      Sheepel....calm down, the truth sometimes hurts. I also can not fathom....talking snakes, magical fruit of death, burning/talking bushes, water into wine, zombies, or how Noah did wait long enough for the unicorns. Collin...we are getting stronger each day just keep preaching the word of the World 🙂

      July 8, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • Polergiest

      I'm just saying I see some of these atheist posters on virtually every thread in the faith blog. You can't be all that free from it if your spend all day writing 'how much you hate religion and why everyone else should hate it too' rants.

      I mean you make fun of Christians because they aren't living life to the full because they are too obsessed with their religion right? Well if you leave Christianity and then spend all day blogging about how it sucks, you're still spending your life obsessed with it.

      July 8, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • kana

      I stopped ready after the 5th line becasue it was to long and I lost interest.

      July 8, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Science

      Polter – we 'obsess' about religion because we aren't free from it. When gays have equal rights, women have equal rights .. . . children stop being mutilated, then we'll be free. If people did not obsess about how bad Hitler was, we'd all be speaking german. Well....most of us...the jews would all be dead.

      July 8, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Commenter

      kana
      "I stopped ready after the 5th line becasue it was to long and I lost interest"

      Yeah... and no pictures. You sound like a poorly educated 13 year-old. Go back to your comic books.

      July 8, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Lokust

      possibly the best post on CNN

      July 8, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Polergiest

      Hitler was a person. Not a belief system followed by 2 billion. We didn't obsess about him, we were trying to stop him from rolling tanks across Europe.

      Freedom is personal. Either you are free from something or you not. But if it boils down to a gay rights and women's rights to you, you might get better traction advocating directly for those things instead of attack belief systems.

      July 8, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Not when the religious use their beliefs as a reason (or an excuse) to deny others those rights.

      July 8, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Science

      hitler was a person with a belief system followed my millions of germans, italians, and other groups. his 'religion' was to exterminate jews. obviously, people agreed with him, or there wouldn't be tanks rolling across europe in the first place.

      freedom is personal – these religious groups that try to LEGISLATE their religions – i.e. no gay marriage, no abortions, need to be attacked (think of these attacks as self – defense). it is you who are trying to force your customs upon the world.

      July 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Polergiest

      Marriage was traditionally between a man and a woman because it was meant to facilitate the exchange of resources(and daughters) between two families. It was a contract in most cultures. Even in countries that encouraged gay relations like ancient Greece or China, you didn't marry your gay lover.

      In fact, for a modern example, Chinese religion does not reject gays. Even though some emperors in their history were gay, even though they are OFFICIALLY ATHEIST, they still censor gay relations on TV and there are only civil unions. And if you go to Hong Kong they won't even recognize the union. Simply eliminating Christianity would not secure gay rights, it's rather naive to think issues are resolved that easily.

      July 8, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • Science

      point A is almost irrelevant except that marriage is a contract. point b – it would be a big step, but i agree – these people will remain a target of hate, even without christianity. however, since christianity is a major world religion, the influence on law is a big one.

      July 8, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  19. nillerz

    It's genital mutilation, followed by child molestation.

    Why is this legal?

    July 8, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Nagrad

      My thoughts exactly... disgusting practice. Any grown man (or woman) putting an infant's peni$ in his mouth is a pedophile – pure and simple.

      July 8, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • LibertyQueen

      The cults of judaism, islam, christianity and catholism are predicated on misogyny and obsession with peeeweees... nothing but a bunch or murderers, betterers, genital mutilators, rapists and pedophiles.

      July 8, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • karen

      Finally! That was my first thought, but the health officials completely sidestepped that issue because it is done in the name of religion. We have become a nation of politically correct idiots.

      July 8, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • LibertyQueen

      typo: batterers, not betterers. The only thing "betterer" would be to load them into a one way rocket without food or water directly into our sun, preferably into a coronal mass ejection. That'll take care of this scourge of evil running rampant all over the planet. Purification at its best.

      July 8, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Star

      Most accurate and succinct response here.

      Legal, because in America, we don't protect the rights of children, and because we are afraid to legislate against religious groups.

      July 8, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  20. Rainer Braendlein

    Primary note: I am a Protestant and love God's Chosen People, the Jews. Yet, it is high time that they at last realize that someone cannot become righteous by keeping the law of the Torah or the distorted Jewish law of the Torah by natural strength, being circu-mcized, or being a desecendant of Abraham. The great blessing of the Jews is that they have the Old Testament and certain holy festivals given to them by God. They only lack a correct understanding of their own religion. May God himself open their eyes soon.

    The issue of circu-msti-tion isn't actually the small injury of the Jewish penis, but that the Jews still understand wrongly the meaning of the ritual and the modified penis.

    Actually, the circu-mcised penis shall remember the Jews of Abraham's faith, which he had, before he got circu-mcised. Abraham became righteous, because he believed God that he shall get a son (Isaac), despite the high age of himself and his wife Sarah. They both were doters.

    After God had given the promise to Abraham and Sarah, they had to wait a pretty long time until the promise was fulfilled by God, and that was an extraordinary expression of faith. This faith should still be a model for Jews and Christians.

    I assume the today Jews no longer understand the meaning of circu-msti-tion according to the Bible, but have desecrated it.

    How did they desecrate it?

    They assume being circu-mcised would dispense them from being righteous in daily life beside their descent from Abraham, and keeping a distorted law, which has nothing to do with the law of the Torah.

    July 8, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      What is the meaning of the law of the Torah?

      By the law God shows someone that he is not in a blissful state or state of health. Someone, who is in a state of health, actually needs no law, because he behaves correctly in God's life-bringing presence (a state of health means to be in God's presence).

      God is the source of life or The Life himself. Everybody, who is in God automatically lives a life, which is not in conflict with the law of the Torah.

      How can someone get into God's presence and enjoy abundant life?

      By faith. Someone must believe that God wants to give him a new life for free, that means that a person of the Godhead comes to him. If someone is controlled by the Holy Spirit, he lives a life, which pleases God and is not in conflict with the law. This was yet valid in Old Testament times. The Old Testament gospel was God's promise to give Abraham a son. By this promise Abraham got convinced of God's love and returned into his presence, which Adam had left.

      July 8, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • HeavenSent

      7:14 of Isaiah.

      Amen.

      July 8, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • LibertyQueen

      The torah, quaran and bible are patrilineal, flaccid, impotent tomes put together by the misogynist, sadistic, death-loving alien species of knuckle-dragging males.

      July 8, 2012 at 10:43 am |
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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.