October 13th, 2012
06:47 PM ET

Rabbis seek to cancel New York City regulation of circumcision ritual

By Erinn Cawthon, CNN

NEW YORK (CNN) - New York City's plan to limit an ultra-Orthodox Jewish form of circumcision is the target of a lawsuit filed in federal District Court in Manhattan.

The regulation, passed in September by the city's Department of Health, requires all rabbis, called "mohels" in the context of the ritual, to get parental consent on a form stating that the procedure can lead to health risks.

The suit, filed by several Jewish groups and three rabbis on October 4, argues that "the government cannot compel the transmission of messages that the speaker does not want to express - especially when the speaker is operating in an area of heightened First Amendment protection, such as a religious ritual."

In the ritual, known as metzitzah b'peh, after removing the foreskin of the penis the mohel places his mouth briefly over the wound, sucking a small amount of blood out and discarding it. Antibacterial ointment is applied and the wound is bandaged.       The Health Department says the procedure is dangerous because the contact with the mouth could transmit diseases such as herpes. Earlier this year, health officials reported 11 babies who underwent the procedure had contracted herpes infections between 2000 and 2011, and two had died.

The health department reported that an estimated 20,493 infants in New York City were exposed to direct oral suction in that period.

"The city's highest obligation is to protect its children; therefore, it is important that parents know the risks associated with the practice," said Dr. Thomas A. Farley, commissioner of the city's health department, in a news release. "The Health Department's written consent requirement is lawful, appropriate and necessary."

"The government is overstepping its boundaries," said Rabbi Levi Y. Heber of International Bris Association, one of the organizations filing suit. "Freedom of religion and speech is at stake here. The fact the health department is concerned when experts have come out with affidavits on these risks, it's all assumptions. They're just trying to regulate a ritual."

Heber said they feel it best to get the truth out and challenge the regulation in court. He said the study is based only on assumptions, regardless of the statistics.

"Over 90% of those cases don't have anything to do with Jewish tradition," Heber said.

Some anti-circumcision groups, however, say the lawsuit's argument for religious liberty is just an excuse to defend old tradition that some frown upon as strange compared with mainstream hospital circumcisions.

"Why are the groups filing suit so afraid of the consent form?" said Georganne Chapin, executive director of Intact America. "With any social change, as any custom starts to change or die out it looks more strange."

Chapin opposes the health department's consent form, saying it cannot validate a procedure that violates a child's rights.

"No amount of information you put in that form makes it valid," she said. "... To say that if a parent signs a consent form, only slice off the penis and suck the blood, that's an extremely corrupt position for the city to take. Terrible ethics. I think it's rather fascinating that ... the city has given a pass to criminal action."

Another rabbi involved in the lawsuit contends more sensible precautions should be taken.

"The city is entitled to enforce whatever rules it enacts, of course," said Rabbi Avi Shafran, who is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America. "But we feel that this rule is unfair, uncalled for, and in violation of the religious rights of citizens.

- shirleyhenrycnn

Filed under: Judaism • New York

soundoff (118 Responses)
  1. Robbin Goal

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    January 31, 2013 at 5:08 am |
  2. MCR

    Estimates of infection with oral herpes in the US range between 50 and 90%, and contrary to popular belief, type one and type two can infect either area. On what planet would we allow this? And creepier, who first cameupwiththe ritual?

    November 7, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  3. MCR

    Information?! Ban the procedure outright. If a man wants his pe.n.is suck.ed by a rabbi when he's 18, go for it.

    November 7, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  4. saraet

    Datehsv om is? a warm-hearted and exclusive community for singles and friends with herpes , HPV,HIV/AIDS or any other STDs. Here you can get on with your life and meet new friends, partners or potential spouses, or learn about STD medical information. If you just need to find someone to talk to or offer help or advice, this is the best place.Never feel lonely again!

    November 7, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  5. just wondering

    Ok, take two, does anyone know if this Heber fellow is in favor of religious freedom when it comes to female genital mutilations in africa?

    as a skinned male, I freely admit that the procedure discussed in this article is not as heinous as female genital mutilation, but it is in the same ball park and I suspect that Heber would consider the later barbaric.

    October 16, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  6. wish I wasn't

    anybody know if there is any precident set in the U.S. judicial system for sons sueing their parents for cutting off a very important part of their most iimportant part? I'm pretty frickin p'd off that I have a much harder time pleasing my woman because my parents believed in some bloody archaic fairytale. I'd very much like to get some serious compensation as a result.

    October 16, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
  7. STOP MURDER OF CHILDREN , Human be aware of hindu filthy dog's of hindu Atheism, self center ism , DENIAL OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD.

    Human my mother, now a professional hook'er, thanks to my goon Taliban father, I am an off shoot of Taliban sc' um ism, paganism, created by Saudi Meccan Mullah ism, corruption of truth absolute to justify Mithra Quran ism, pagan savior ism labeled as Islam with help of Moo' ham mad's, deniers of truth absolute of filth of Cartage, such as Muslim Agori, dead body eater, Augustine and to justify criminal Saudi King's and their Muslim Prophets, criminal fortune teller as man gawd's through Allah ism, racism.

    October 16, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  8. brad4nyc

    This is ritual child abuse plain and simple. Those that perform this act should be charged with a felony and put in jail.

    Is this what your imaginary god really wants? Sick.

    God is imaginary. Proof at http://www.godisimaginary.com

    October 16, 2012 at 6:14 am |
  9. TheRationale

    This is a revolting practice and what's horrifyingly worse is that it's done on infants. This should be a felony.

    October 15, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  10. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    October 15, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but everything you have ever asserted regarding atheism and prayer is unfounded. The degree to which your assertions may represent truths is 0.0. To help you understand the degree to which your assertions may represent truths, I will access my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module (IEE). Using my IEE module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      October 15, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • truth be turd

      Prayer grew back a thumb I lost while masturbating. Proven.

      October 15, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • .

      "Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
      "truth be told" degenerates to:
      "The Truth" degenerates to:
      "Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
      "Dodney Rangerfield" degenerates to:
      "tina" degenerates to:
      "captain america" degenerates to:
      "Atheist Hunter" degenerates to:
      "Anybody know how to read? " degenerates to:
      "HeavenSent" degenerates to:
      "just sayin" degenerates to:
      "Kindness" degenerates to:
      "Chad" degenerates to
      "Bob" degenerates to
      "nope" degenerates to:
      "2357" degenerates to:
      "WOW" degenerates to:
      "fred" degenerates to:
      "!" degenerates to:
      "pervert alert"

      This troll is not a christian..

      October 16, 2012 at 11:12 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!;.

      October 16, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • Iconoclast

      Troll Alert! This troll re-posts this on every CNN Belief Blog on a regular basis and usually does not respond to comment.

      October 16, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • wish I wasn't

      my aunt relied on prayer rather than chemotherapy. She died from a form of cancer that very few people die from nowdays. So I guess prayer does change things. It helps put ignorant backwards thinking people in the ground more quickly.

      October 16, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
  11. CTed

    Man putting his mouth on a child's penis... yeah... governemtn shouldn't make that illegal cause ya know, religious reasons.. it's ok, it's only the pure religious priest (or rabbi) that is doing it so it's ok.

    Uh, last time I checked that was illegal in this country. Religion is not a defense for doing illegal things, therefore this practice should already be illegal.

    October 15, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Iconoclast

      Agreed! If metzitzah b'peh is an unsafe religious medical practice then should childhood religious indoctrination be considered unsafe psychological practice...or even abuse?

      October 16, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  12. Kindness

    This is my experience... Thank you.

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    I Accepted Jesus christ as my lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners. Even once we are saved by christs merciful grace we will still experience adversity to mold us to adhering to the truth.
    We will slip... But not fall of the ship ...carrying us onward to perfection in christs grace.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from some other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith ....above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read romans or corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are by faith above reason in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

    Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith’s door,
    And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
    The, looking in, I saw upon the floor
    Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.
    “How many anvils have you had,” said I,
    “To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
    “Just one,” said he, and then with twinkling eye,
    “The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”
    And so, thought I, the anvil of God’s Word,
    For ages skeptic blows have beat upon;
    Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
    The anvil is unharmed – the hammers gone.

    Truth.. Is exclusive

    October 15, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • .


      "Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
      "truth be told" degenerates to:
      "The Truth" degenerates to:
      "Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
      "Dodney Rangerfield" degenerates to:
      "tina" degenerates to:
      "captain america" degenerates to:
      "Atheist Hunter" degenerates to:
      "Anybody know how to read? " degenerates to:
      "just sayin" degenerates to:
      "Kindness" degenerates to:
      "Chad" degenerates to
      "Bob" degenerates to
      "nope" degenerates to:
      "2357" degenerates to:
      "WOW" degenerates to:
      "fred" degenerates to:
      "!" degenerates to:
      "pervert alert"

      This troll is not a christian..

      October 15, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • YoozYerBrain

      Have you mutilated your genitals yet Kindness? Cuz yer weird god desires that, don't forget. And as long as illusion is the name of the game, pray you don't become prey to the preyers, for they follow you with their hands out knowing if they invoke the name of your imaginary friend they can profit. Hey! That gives me an idea-

      Dear Kindness- I heard your prayers and you need to send all of your wealth to YoozYerBrain if you want to join me. Only by divesting yourself of your earthly wealth and giving it to Yooz will you be saved. I am trying to save Yooz and only by giving him all of my followers wealth will he consent to being saved. It is your duty. I have spoken! Signed Jesus of Nazareth, oops I mean Bethlehem....Only your ego will keep you from doing this, so drop that ego and join me...

      October 15, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • OgLikeRock

      Og take troll dollars! Need for rock bris....


      October 15, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • End Religion

      @kindness: "The world denounces truth"

      The world seeks the truth through science. Your delusion is the surrender of truth, which is ignorance.

      "You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you."

      It is this way because it is an emotionally delusional response to ignorance and fear. Nothing more.

      "We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter."

      Your sentence makes no sense. Dark matter is a hypothesis, not scientific theory.

      "Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners."

      False. Sin is a concept derived from your religion, which is a fraud. There is no such thing a sin.

      "It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said."

      The hardest thing to do, perhaps proven by the need for religion, is to accept we are born and die and that's it. There is no point to existence. There is no afterlife. Many humans simply can't accept this truth and find they need a christ buddy to hold their hand and whisper lies to them about life everlasting – just to get from day to day.

      "the rullers that rule you through deception."

      You compound the problem by furthering the fraud of religion, the best deception by which to keep you under someone's thumb.

      "Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment."

      AT least in this you seem to have found success.

      "Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive."

      Obviously this fictional movie had great impact on your fictional religion.

      "I tell the truth."

      No, you try to explain your delusion. Describing emotions is tough.

      "Truth is.. exclusive.

      Belief may be exclusive. Truth is universal, and religion is not in the realm of truth.

      October 15, 2012 at 5:53 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.