New York Newsday has an AP report on the new New York State guidelines on metzitza b'peh, the oral suction used by many haredi mohels during circumcision to suction blood from the open wound:
The new state guidelines would stop short of a ban, but include precautions that could reduce the chances of infection, said New York State Department of Health spokesman Robert Kenny.
Rabbis will likely be asked to inform their congregations about the potential risks of the procedure and parents advised to seek prompt care from a pediatrician if their baby develops a fever or rash.
Steps would also be taken to "ensure that mohels have full knowledge of their health status" before they perform the ritual, Kenny said.
He declined to discuss details of the guidelines, saying they were still being developed. Several religious leaders who support metzitzah b'peh have suggested that mohels be asked to rinse their mouths with alcohol, undergo regular testing for disease and refrain from doing circumcisions if they have a cold sore.
"Our priority is to protect the public health, and increase the awareness of the potential health risks associated with this practice," Kenny said.
The guidelines are likely to displease some doctors.
Dr. Jonathan M. Zenilman, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, said that while infections have been rare, the potential for harm is substantial enough to justify a ban.
"This is something that is pretty much counter to all of the infection-control measures that we have," Zenilman said.
Asking mohels to police themselves could be ineffective, he warned. As many as 70 percent of all adults have herpes simplex 1, and it is difficult to detect periods when the virus is contagious.
Which is exactly what the problem is. But haredim, led by Satmar and Agudath Israel, have done everything in their power to stop the city and state from regulating circumcision or limiting the practice of MBP, including threatening to marr Mayor Bloomberg's inaguration by busing in thousands of haredim wearing striped death camp uniforms to protest.
The AP notes the problem:
It is unclear how the Hasidic community will react to the guidelines, which would be voluntary.
Rabbi David Niederman, of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, has argued for no government action, saying there is too little medical evidence to justify a public warning on a ritual performed safely thousands of times a year.
"Parents have been alarmed unnecessarily," he said, adding that he has already begun receiving calls from worried mothers.
He said religious law contained provisions that would allow oral suction to be abandoned, but only if there was proof it could cause permanent harm.
"We are not fanatics," Niederman said. "If there is evidence that this practice is not safe, we will not do it. We will be the first ones to act. That is embodied in the same Torah that tells us to make a bris for a child."
Right. Niederman is already on record comparing MBP to Shabbat law, and has stated continually that there is no evidence of danger, even when many medical experts disagree. Further, Niederman heads the Satmar religious court (beit din) charged by agreement with the city with investigating the cases of herpes related to Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer. The beit din agreed to present its findings to the city by December 1, 2005, but did not do so. And it has not done so since. This is hardly an indication of concern for children. And, if that is not enough, we have the threatened "Holocaust card."
This might lead one to think the haredim are acting badly. But, thankfully for them, a convenient shill exists to protect them, somewhat, from the wrath of (for want of a better description) normal people:
Rabbi J. David Bleich, a professor of both Jewish and secular law at Yeshiva University, said the debate over metzitzah b'peh began in Europe during the mid-19th Century, when suspicion arose that it was spreading tuberculosis.
Ever since, there has been disagreement over whether the practice was recommended by the Talmud for medical reasons, or ordered as a requirement of a covenant with God.
A majority of reform and modern orthodox mohels decided on the former, and now clean a circumcision wound with sterile gauze, a sponge or a glass tube.
But a century and a half of debate hasn't resolved the argument, and Bleich suggested that actions by health authorities wouldn't settle the issue either.
"Whatever changes are going to come are not going to come because of government pressure. If you want to change the way rabbis are doing things, the way to do it isn't to threaten them."
Rabbi Bleich, who early in this controversy suggested that washing the mohel's mouth out with schnapps or whiskey just before the bris would solve the problem – a contention laughed at by infectious disease experts, yet still noted anonymously above – coveniently forgets to mention that doctors proved disease transmission through MBP in the mid-1800's. When the practice was banned, generally by the leading non-hasidic rabbis of the day – the death rate dropped dramatically.
Rabbi Bleich, widely considered an expert on issues of halakha and medicine, seems much more concerned about protecting rabbis than protecting children. This is both an indictment of Rabbi Bleich, and of the institution that pays his salary.*
[Please click on the Circumcision Controversy link below to see previous posts on this issue. As always, scroll down to the bottom of the new page and read the posts from bottom to top.]
*One might recall that another YU rabbi, Mordechai Willig, spent a considerable amount of effort protecting the now-convicted child molester, NCSY's Rabbi Baruch Lanner. In the process of doing this, Rabbi Willig abused his power while showing disregard for the safety of minors. He was outed and forced to apologize to Rabbi Lanner's victims and their families. But YU took no disciplinary action against him. Again, with vulnerable children facing possible death or maiming, a YU rabbi has spoken out – not in favor of the powerless victims, but to protect abusive rabbis. Hardly a track record for YU to be proud of.