The New York City Department of Health held a public hearing yesterday on its proposed regulation to require written parental consent for metzitzah b’peh.  The proposal would require every mohel to provide parents with information about this procedure and what the Department claims are the health risks associated with it, and to obtain written consent from the parents prior to the bris.

A number of individuals and organizations opposed the regulation, among them Agudath Israel of America.  The Agudath presentation, signed by Executive Vice President Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, noted that while there are differing views within our community regarding whether metzitzah b’peh is essential, for those who regard it as such, “any government regulation of metzitzah b’peh impinges on an essential religious practice, and thus raises the highest level of constitutional concerns.”

Agudath Israel went on to say that there are two paths before the Department.  “The Department can take unilateral action, without consulting with the affected community and without attempting to explore any alternatives to direct government regulation.  That is the path that the Department appears to have chosen.   The result is the fostering of the perception in the community that the Department is heavy-handed, set on direct confrontation, and potentially interested in perhaps banning metzitzah b’peh and regulating other aspects of bris milah as well.  Should the Department choose to continue in this direction, the result will clearly be litigation and more confrontation.”

Rabbi Zwiebel added, “even should the Department prevail, the resulting perception in the Orthodox Jewish community will be an extremely negative one, a perception that the Department is not interested in working with the community but simply in imposing regulations on a time-honored religious practice.  We submit, respectfully, that this is not the best way to ensure the health and safety of children.”

He proposed instead that the Department choose “the path of consultation and cooperation.”  He pointed out that this is what the New York State Department of Health chose in 2006, when the issue of metzitzah b’peh was most recently considered.  “Instead of unilaterally promulgating regulations, the State Health Department chose to work together with our community.  Meetings were held with doctors and rabbis from throughout the Orthodox Jewish community, at which serious discussions took place as to how to best protect children from infection while at the same time respecting those who believed that metzitzah b’peh is an essential part of bris milah.  The result was the adoption of a very detailed “circumcision protocol regarding the prevention of neonatal herpes transmission” that was accepted and signed by then-Commissioner Novello and other top state health officials, and by many prominent rabbis representing the spectrum of the Orthodox Jewish community.”

Those protocols require that parents be informed about the risks of neonatal herpes and be informed of the warning signs of this infection.  They require very specific sanitary procedures to be performed by a mohel both prior to and subsequent to the performance of metzitzah b’peh.  And they require extensive follow-up testing of the infant and the mohel and others in cases where herpes has been discovered.

Concluded Rabbi Zwiebel, “we submit that these protocols are a good example of what can be achieved when a government health department seeks to work with a community rather than simply act alone and promulgate regulations affecting a religious practice.”   He urged the Department not to adopt the proposed regulation, but “instead move forward . . . to work together with responsible rabbis and community leaders to help develop and implement the types of protocols that will effectively prevent any risk to health while at the same time respecting and preserving the religious and constitutional rights of members of our community for whom metzitzah b’peh is an essential religious practice.”

Source: Press Release


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