The Australian reports on metzitza b'peh and the NYC mayorial race:
… But for a real sense of just how desperately Bloomberg craves a second term, the tragic case of the baby boy who died last year after contracting the herpes simplex virus in a little-known Hebrew circumcision rite is instructive.
The infant and his twin brother became exposed to the cold sore virus while undergoing metzitzah b'peh, a bizarre oral-genital suction practice that involves a mohel -- a person ordained by the Jewish faith to perform circumcision -- sucking blood from the freshly mutilated penis to clean out impurities.
According to court documents, the twins developed fever and lesions in the genital area soon after the procedure. The were admitted to hospital but two days later, one of the boys died of liver failure attributed to Type 1 herpes simplex virus.
While liberal Jews today subscribe to safer and more politically correct methods of infant circumcision, the traditional method has remained in favour with many Orthodox Jews in New York, particularly those of the Hasidic sect.
So when Bloomberg responded to the baby boy's death by ordering health commissioner Tom Frieden to issue a lawsuit against Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer of Brooklyn, the mohel allegedly responsible, there was an outcry from sections of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
At first, nobody thought Bloomberg, a liberal Jew himself, would cave in. After all, public health policy, along with aggressively raising education standards in New York schools and giving his highly popular Police Commissioner Ray Kelly carte blanche on anything needed to guard against terrorism, had been the hallmark of his administration.
In these key areas, upsetting sectional interests in the name of principle had never bothered Bloomberg. His highly unpopular (but now accepted) decision to ban smoking in New York restaurants is a classic case in point.
But an election year is different so in August, Bloomberg agreed to discuss the circumcision issue with concerned rabbis.
After the meeting, rabbi David Niederman of the United Jewish Organisation spelled out clearly what Bloomberg was told. "The Orthodox Jewish community will continue the practice that has been practised for over 5000 years," Niederman said. "We do not change. And we will not change."
A month later, Bloomberg and Frieden folded. The city of New York quietly withdrew its lawsuit against Rabbi Fischer, along with an accompanying court order banning him from using the oral suction technique.
But in the most shameless play of all, Bloomberg turned the whole case over to an Orthodox rabbinical court, or bet din, for resolution. It was possibly the first time in New York history that the city had asked a religious body to adjudicate an issue of public health.
Forced to carry the can, Frieden performed a spectacular backflip, saying his department had "no intention of banning or regulating the practice of metzitzah b'peh" and that he was satisfied that Fischer would not practise circumcision until the Jewish court had ruled.
A grateful Niederman thanked Bloomberg for showing "respect and support for religious Jews to practise their religion".
Nobody, not even Ferrer, seemed at all interested in research published in the August 2004 issue of the medical journal Pediatrics showing that ritual Jewish circumcision practices involving direct oral-genital contact carried a serious risk for transmission of HSV from mohels to neonates.
While Bloomberg's people reject claims the Mayor has put fear of an election-year backlash from Jewish voters ahead of protecting defenceless children, New York Post political editor Greg Birnbaum is not so sure.
"I was very surprised the Mayor threw up his hands and punted this off to a Jewish religious court for them to decide -- basically, let the Jewish community decide on their own," Birnbaum says.
"For a mayor who has taken such an active interest in public health issues -- made it a personal crusade -- it just doesn't fit. Was it about votes? I don't know, but I think it's a very good question."…