"…de Blasio, who has pleased the potent [ultra-]Orthodox voting bloc by ridiculing the [Bloomberg's informed consent] policy as unenforceable while making no visible effort to enforce it, has decided simply to let the mohels do their thing….The [new] plan needs Board of Health approval. The board should say no and take a stand for basic hygiene and common sense. Otherwise, this will be a city that requires tattoo artists to take infection-control courses and use sterile tools but tolerates an amateur surgery in which infection is fought with no more than perhaps a swig of Listerine."
New York City has three major newspapers: the New York Times, The Daily News, and the Post. The Times is the city's only true national newspaper. The other two of the city's big three are essentially local.
The Times and the Daily News are both liberal and almost always support Democratic candidates.
The Post is the most tabloid of the three papers. Owned by conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch, the Post is conservative and almost always supports conservative Republican candidates.
All three newspapers published in-house editorial board editorials on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's dangerous (and, many doctors and medical ethicists argue, unethical) circumcision deal with haredi rabbis over metzitzah b'peh – MBP, the direct mouth-to-bleeding-penis sucking done by most haredi mohels after cutting off a baby's foreskin. That deal allows haredim to continue to do MBP, despite the fact that MBP has transmitted herpes to babies, sickening at least 17 babies over the past decade or so, leaving two with serious brain damage and killing two others.
De Blasio's administration says it made the deal because haredim wouldn't stop doing MBP if the city outlawed it, just as they have refused to comply with the city's very weak informed consent requirement put in place near the end of Bloomberg administration that the new deal scraps entirely and replaces with a protocol that is unlikely to be followed faithfully by haredim – or for that matter, faithfully and fully enforced by the de Blasio administration itself.
The new deal works like this.
If a baby is infected with herpes in the close aftermath of his circumcision, haredi rabbis promise to try give the name of the mohel who did the circumcision to the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
If that mohel tests positive for herpes and if the DNA of his strain of the HSV-1 virus is matched with the infant's, the city would ban that mohel from performing future circumcisions.
If the mohel tested positive for herpes but his strain did not match the infant’s, the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would ask him to stop doing circumcisions, but if he wants to, he could continue to do circumcisions without penalty.
In no cases in which a mohel is infected is the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene likely to release that mohel's name to the public, the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene admitted in the aftermath of the new deal.
But that isn't the only problem.
The HSV-1 virus is notoriously hard to capture and test. Basic tests for HSV-1 get frequent false negatives, and attempts to match DNA are equally elusive, meaning it is very likely infected mohels will be missed.
There are also several easy ways to game the non-binding system the city and haredim agreed to, and no matter what, infected mohels who strains of HSV-1 don't match the ill baby will be allowed to continue to put other children at risk of serious brain damage and death.
But the biggest problem of all is that everything depends on babies first contracting herpes. The dangerous practice of MBP is not banned.
So how did New York City's big three newspapers editorialize about this deal?
The Post avoided the issue of brain damaged and dead babies altogether, and praised the deal because it preserve "religious freedom." The US courts – including the US Supreme Court – have consistently ruled that the lives of children, especially the lives of very young children, trump the religious freedom of parents is something the Post does not mention. (The recent appeals court ruling against a lower court's ruling on the city's informed consent requirement was against its specific Jewish nature, not against an informed consent requirement per se – something the Post fails to tell its readers. If the informed consent requirement had been structured in opposition to any circumciser who sucks the blood from a baby's penis rather than any mohel who does so, the appeals court would not have issued that ruling.)
In the myopic world of the New York Post, babies don't suffer brain damage or die from MBP, and children's safety and lives play a very distant second fiddle to its version of conservative thought.
On the other hand, both the Times sand the Daily News came out against the circumcision deal made by the very liberal Democrat Bill de Blasio. "For…babies, it would again be tough luck…Newborns will be at risk and some may die. And that’s unacceptable," the Daily News wrote, while the Times called the deal "distressing" and noted that "…de Blasio, who has pleased the potent [ultra-]Orthodox voting bloc by ridiculing the [Bloomberg's informed consent] policy as unenforceable while making no visible effort to enforce it, has decided simply to let the mohels do their thing….The [new] plan needs Board of Health approval. The board should say no and take a stand for basic hygiene and common sense. Otherwise, this will be a city that requires tattoo artists to take infection-control courses and use sterile tools but tolerates an amateur surgery in which infection is fought with no more than perhaps a swig of Listerine."
MBP has killed hundreds and likely thousands of babies over the past 175 years alone, and many of these epidemic-like deaths are documented in haredi rabbinic literature.
Haredi rabbis may deny the truth publicly, but privately they must know that truth.
So why do they insist on doing MBP anyway, especially when the vast majority of accepted rabbinic opinion says MBP is not a direct part of the mitzvah of circumcision anyway and can be changed or stopped entirely?
Because haredi rabbis view stopping MBP not through the lens of science or medical ethics or child safety. Instead, as they have for almost 200 years, they view the call to stop MBP as an assault from the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) and the Reform Movement. Essentially, to stop MBP or limit it is to acknowledge that reformers were right – something many haredi rabbis will never do.
That babies die as a result?
That is the price the haredi community will have to pay, these rabbis surely think, for its independence and indeed its existence.
In other words, haredi rabbis view these dead babies as sacrifices that had to be made for the good of the haredi community.
The proper governmental response is not to tolerate this insanity or enable it, and it most certainly is not to accept the maiming and deaths of a few children on the Post's altar of religious freedom. The proper response should be for government to protect innocent babies from willfully malicious or incompetent adults – even if those adults are the babies' parents or their parents' rabbis.