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. Alien Orifice

    Save the children! OMG this is DISGUSTING!!!!! Freaks!!!!!

    July 8, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  2. Yaakov

    Ranier, I knew you had never met a Jew before based on your lack of knowledge of Jewish scripture and customs. Please feel free to send me an emai,l my address is info@300times0.com maybe I can share with you what Judaism actually is and why we do the things we do. The Jewish messiah is not a god, born of virgins, or needed to die for the sins of the world. Only in pagan & Greek mythology did this happen. I'll be happy to converse with you further from your email.

    July 8, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      I guess the core problem of the Jews is that they cannot accept a meek and humble Messiah like Jesus. They expect a proud and violent ruler-Messiah, which restores the old glory of Israel.

      The Jew Peter, which had converted, forsake Jesus, when he realized that Jesus did not struggle, when the soldiers of the Jewish establishment captured him. Peter was ready to die in a struggle for the Messiah, but he could not accept to die togehter with a helpless Messiah.

      Yet, what the Jews must understand is that righteousness on earth means to commend the own cases to God, who is a mighty man of war and revenge.

      Only some little centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus, the Messiah, the state of Israel got completely destroyed by the Romans. One of the worst calamities of all history. Jesus had predicted that this would happen.

      July 8, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Sorry, I meant decades after the crucifixion, not centuries.

      July 8, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Yaakov, your phony religion was started by Cain's children, the Kenites. Matthew 23 explains what you folks are all about ... besides being a bunch of sellouts. Have fun in this life because you guys are up front and center with the wolf preachers and rabbis of the world preaching against Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior's truth about life and the hereafter.

      July 8, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  3. Yaakov

    Nothing brings all the antisemites out more than a piece on Jewish ritual. Hatred needs no excuses.

    July 8, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Kat

      wake up and smell the falafel, it is YOUR children that are getting hurt by this "ritual". You must like practicing metzitzah b'peh

      July 8, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • JG

      Pack your bags....we're going on a guilt trip......

      Yeah, ignore the pedophilia and spin this into Jews are victims again. You're just as sick as the criminals that commit this crime. Disgusting.

      July 8, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein


      I agree with you and suppose that the medical issues are only a pretense, in order to hinder the Jews.

      However, you should consider that true Christian love God's Chosen People. The German Nazis were no Christians, but Neopagans.

      July 8, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • ME II

      This has nothing to do with antisemitism, in my opinion.
      First, it's apparently not a Jewish ritual, not a prescribed ritual anyway, it's tradition.
      Second, this ritual involves has definite public health concerns which generally outweigh religious or traditional customs.

      July 9, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • ME II

      p.s. Just to clarify, I'm referring to the oral suction part of the ritual, not the circ.umcision itself.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Who invited me?

      So someone is not allowed to say even the slightest thng against soomething jewish or he/she is anti-semetic.

      Don't be rediculous. I do not hate jews. I have a problem with ALL religions and their man-made rituals to appease man-made gods. I have a problem with you mutilating a child so I am an anti semite.

      I do not have a problem with the jewish people either. I have a problem with the myths and lies of the religion, and the Isreali government causes a lot of problems, (lying, cheating, corruption etc) just like all governments, but the people can be very nice.

      July 9, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  4. Kat

    Nice CNN, you removed this story about children abuse that happen daily here in the US because it makes jews look bad while you kept a bizarre story about a woman that got shot 9 times overseas in Afghanistan!!!!

    July 8, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • JG

      I guess the re-election campaign didn't approve of the story.......

      July 8, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  5. Kat

    Imagine all the outrage and calls to destroy Islam and ban Muslims and Sharia by the Jewish and Zionazi Islamphobes if the above story said Muslim religious leaders were the ones who suck the penises of 25,000 children a month in each state!!

    July 8, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  6. Yaakov

    Learn the truth about the Messiah fulfilling the Jewish prophecies. Jesus didn't fulfill even the most basic requirements.


    July 8, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Hi, you seem to be a real Jew. I never got to know a Jew personally. I come from a small village in Northern Bavaria, which even has got a separate Jewish cemetery, but I never met a Jew there. I guess, the reason why is clear. I apologize as a German.

      Could you please tell me: "What is the center of the Jewish faith?"

      St. Paul, a converted Jewish fanatic, said that the Jews are proud on there descent from Abraham, the circu-msti-tion and simply possessing the law.

      July 8, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • JG

      Rainer, what cult do you follow?

      July 8, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein


      I belong to the Christian Church. My models are Dr. Martin Luther and Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer ("The Cost of Discipleship"), also Athanasius, John of Damascus, Augustine, C. S. Lewis and many others.

      The Bible is the genuine Word of God. We only should consider ecclesisastical history and the Fathers of the Church, when we start to interpret the Bible. Of course, the Bible is the most authoritative docu-ment of Christianity, because it emerged in the genuine Church of Christ.

      July 8, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • JG

      Is God's love unconditional?

      July 8, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      Yes , the Christians hijacked the Chaos Myths, (to make "salvation"), but even the Jews hijacked the Sumerians .. ultimately it's still all mythology. Yahweh was one of the 70 sons of El Elyon. Yaakov. Mythology is mythology.

      July 8, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      The story in Genesis, (as the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber explains in "Good and Evil"), is not about "sin" and disobedience. It's a change in the Sumerian Chaos myth, (which the Judean priests got duriing the Exilic period in Babylon), it's about Chaos and Order. See Marduk slays the Dragon of Chaos myth. The poisonous plant theme was also common in Sumerian mythology. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not about ingesting apples. It was about "encompassing opposites", (attempting to "be like the gods").
      It's all downhill from there.

      July 8, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  7. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    July 8, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • JG

      You are sad.....really. Just plain sad.

      July 8, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • just sayin

      Actually there is great joy in talking with God. God bless

      July 8, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son


      July 8, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  8. 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.

    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 12:25 pm |
    • Rainy Braindead

      My delusion is better than your delusion.

      July 8, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Chris

      Jews were the Chosen People because they were chosen to bring Christ to the world. That task is fulfilled. Every single Old Testament Prophecy concerning the Messiah was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. You are right in that their belief in keeping the old laws will not earn them salvation. It cannot be earned through our own efforts, but by the Grace of God. They would do well to realize that the Messiah for whom they wait already came, 2000 years ago.

      July 8, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein


      Which church do you belong to?

      July 8, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • JG

      God didn't "choose" the Jews they "chose" themselves.

      July 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • llɐq ʎʞɔnq

      Of course they chose themselves. If Yahweh chose them, the expansionary land claims are justified. Historically the Isra-El-ites were "assigned" to one of the (70) sons of El Elyon. They happened to "get" the one called Yahweh. Why ? He was the god of the armies. They wanted help in their battles.

      July 8, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  9. momingle

    dude, that is f up.

    July 8, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  10. objectivist5

    Religion is surly the gateway to bizarre practices of human existence. The breeding ground for hypocrites and the cause of millions of murders and residual deaths due to religious created wars. Free yourself and your mind from brainwashing and persecution. If your truly a good person and mean or cause others harm, you do not need religion to justify your existence. Just be true to yourself.

    July 8, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • objectivist5

      ***other no harm, sorry typo.

      July 8, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • ****

      (a bit more help... if you are interested)

      surly = arrogant
      surely = certainly

      "If your truly a good person..."

      your = belonging to you
      you're = you are

      July 8, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Polergiest

      And yet when the Soviets "freed" their people from religions evil grasp they proceeded by constructing prison camps, invading nations to spread their beliefs, and constructing a stockpile of weapons capable of destroying the world several times over.

      July 8, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  11. Mott_the_Hoople

    This is the same religion that practices "kapparot": swinging a live chicken by its wings, slit its throat, then dump it in a dumpster... all in the name of transferring one's sins to the chicken. Barbarians.

    July 8, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  12. gen


    July 8, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  13. Derp

    Sucking baby penis isn't normal, but on religion it is!

    July 8, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  14. Tr1Xen

    So it's not just Catholics who suck on baby penises!

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

      Now THAT was funny.

      July 8, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  15. stateschool

    Not in my country. That is absolutely unacceptable. Stop this immediately.

    July 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  16. orlop


    July 8, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  17. vozdejustica1

    Jew's are back stabbers that can't be trusted. Consider Joseph Lieberman and his public betrayal of the Democratic Party in 2008. They view themselves as better than anyone else so If Lieberman could not be the first "Jew" in office and hold the U.S. as a puppet state of Israel then he would do everything he could to sabotage the Democrats efforts to retake office.

    July 8, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • stateschool

      I sincerely hope you are not an American.

      July 8, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • scmaize

      Are you nuts? Also, there is a difference between plural and possessive.

      July 8, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • ME II

      Attributing one person's behavior to all in the group is invalid.
      Just like my saying that all non-Jews are idiots and make irrational arguments, just like vozdejustica1, would be invalid.

      July 9, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  18. Hypatia

    Charming excuse for all the anti-Semites to spew a little summer hate.

    July 8, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • JG

      But you're okay with the pedophilia.....got it.

      July 8, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • vozdejustica1

      "Anti_Semite" ? No such word. if u hate a native american your a racist. if u hate black people your a racist. if u hate gypsies your a racist. but jews think they are special "the chosen people" so they need a special word for racist who focus on them.

      July 8, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • ME II

      "No such word"

      You may argue that it is unfair to use such a word, or that there shouldn't be one, is one thing, but to say there isn't such a word is just silly. open a dictionary

      July 9, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No such word as "anti-Semite"? Uh, yeah, there is. I'm probably gonna regret asking this, but what is your problem with the word you deny exists?

      July 9, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  19. Ting

    Nothing pleases God more than some good old fashioned infant penis blood sucking.

    July 8, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  20. JG

    What kind of sick parents would let a grown man suck on their newborn's penis?!?!? They all should be in jail!!!

    July 8, 2012 at 11:47 am |
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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.