According to the New York medical examiner, on September 28, 2011, a two week old infant died at Maimonides Hospital from a Herpes Simplex I (HSV1) infection acquired after the child was circumcized by a mohel who used direct oral suction to “clean”the wound.
The case is currently being investigated by the Brooklyn DA, but the family is not cooperating. Despite the medical examiners report the community is closing ranks around the mohel and instead blaming the mother, claiming that she did not care properly for her child.
Oral suction (metzitzah b’peh) is a high risk practice that has been rejected by many Jewish halachic experts. The Haredi community insists it is an essential part of circumcision and considers its right to continue the practice a matter of religious liberty.
The last recorded death from Metzitzah B’Peh acquired HSV1 was in 2004 when two twins were allegedly infected by mohel Yitzak Fischer. Fischer was banned from performing oral suction in 2007, but the ban does not appear to have been enforced. The Jewish week found that he was still scheduling brit milah with oral suction even two weeks ago. The Lower Hudson news reported that Fischer is also under investigation in connection with the most recent death.
New York City’s attempt to crack down on the practice in 2005 ended with a state wide 2006 “protocol” that allowed the Haredi community to continue the practice despite objections of medical personel and on-going concerns about health risks. This protocol was rescinded in 2007, but Agudat Israel who played a major role in the 2006 protocol claims that they were never informed of the change. The Health Commission plans on letting the Brooklyn DA take the lead in the current investigation.
In 2005 Mayor Bloomberg vowed not to interfere with religious practice, has begun to shift his rhetoric:
There is probably nobody in public life who fights harder for the separation of church and state than I do, but I just wanted to remind everybody: religious liberty does not simply extend to injuring others or putting children at risk … And we will continue working with the community and others to prevent more baby boys from suffering these tragic fates. (Source: NY Times)
Only time will tell if this new assertiveness will result in government action. Many of the themes of Haredi-state interaction apparent in Israel also seem to be at play in New York. Continue reading