Child abusing rabbis who perform traditional Jewish circumcisions that involve sucking the baby boy’s penis are responsible for an outbreak of herpes in New York City, police sources confirm.
The Orthodox Jewish tradition known as “oral suction circumcision” goes back to biblical times but it has created a modern-day dilemma for New York City law enforcement and health officials, who have linked it to at least 17 cases of infant herpes since 2000. Two died and two others suffered brain damage.
“Just because they have been doing it since Biblical times doesn’t mean it’s not sick and perverted,” an NYPD spokesman said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, which came into power in 2014 with a promise to reconsider an existing regulation on the ritual, is now negotiating with a group of rabbis over how to protect children’s health while still preserving religious freedom.
“The talks are ongoing but I cannot go into particulars,” said Avi Fink, the mayor’s deputy director of intergovernmental affairs who has been leading the talks. “Our goal is to achieve awareness of the risks.”
USA Today reports:
With a swift swipe of his scalpel, Rabbi A. Romi Cohn circumcises the baby boy, then leans down and sucks the blood from the wound as prayers in Hebrew fill the Brooklyn synagogue.
Such oral suction circumcisions are relatively rare, even in New York City, which is home to more than a million Jews — the largest Jewish population outside Israel. City health officials estimate more than 3,000 babies are circumcised each year using the oral suction method — formally called metzitzah b’peh in Hebrew.
A 2012 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against the practice, saying it increases the risk of herpes infection in baby boys by 3.4 times that of other male newborns.
Oral suction circumcisions first came under scrutiny during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, and the city’s health board voted in 2012 to regulate the practice by asking a parent or guardian to sign a consent form indicating possible risks.
Health officials point to a number of factors they say have linked the known cases to the ritual. They look for lesions on the genitalia, indicating that’s where the virus started. In addition, lab tests have showed that the timing of the infection coincides with the circumcision.
Two cases were recorded after oral suction in 2013 and four last year. In the most recent case, diagnosed in November, a baby boy was found to have lesions on his penis. But of those six cases, parents refused to identify the person who performed the circumcision — called a mohel — in four.
In the two cases in which the circumcisers were identified, both declined to be tested, the Health Department said. They were banned from performing the ritual.
The consent forms remain the regulatory standard for now, but most ultra-Orthodox rabbis have told their faithful not to comply, and the city acknowledges it does not collect them unless there is suspicion of herpes.