“Religious Freedom”

Via The New York Post:

Two children are dead, more are injured — yet a group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis say they plan to defy a health order in the name of religious freedom.

Less than a year after a Brooklyn tot died following an ancient circumcision ritual, the rabbis say they will ignore a proposed law that would mandate parental-consent forms before performing the dangerous procedure.

Over the past decade, at least one other newborn died after contracting herpes from the rite, in which the rabbi draws blood from the penis with his mouth.

But ultra-Orthodox leaders are lashing out at the city’s “evil plans” ahead of the Board of Health’s vote next week.

About 200 rabbis signed a proclamation claiming the Health Department “printed and spread lies . . . in order to justify their evil decree.”

“It is clear to us, that there is not even an iota of blame or danger in this ancient and holy custom,” the letter states.

Most modern mohels — men trained to perform religious circumcisions, who are usually rabbis or doctors — remove blood from the baby’s wound using a sterile pipette.

But some Orthodox Jewish parents insist on an ancient “suction by mouth” ritual called metzitzah b’peh.

The city’s law would require mohels to distribute consent waivers, detailing the herpes risk, before the ritual.
Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg, said no one will comply with the law, even if it’s passed.

“For the government to force a rabbi who’s practicing a religious act to tell his congregants it’s dangerous is totally unacceptable,” Niederman told The Post

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6 Responses to “Religious Freedom”

  1. SFG says:

    Ah, fanaticism.

    Or maybe they can’t find a trained doctor within the Jewish community.

  2. Susan says:

    I’m not familiar with New York law in this instance, but don’t most state courts hold that parents aren’t exempt from criminal prosecution if a child dies as a result of the parents’ religious practices? I do know that Christian Scientists have been charged with manslaughter when a child dies of an ailment that was never medically treated.

  3. Acilius says:

    I suspect there must be more to this story than the excerpt lets on. Jews have been circumcising their infant sons for thousands of years; if the method that was traditional for most of that time had involved the rates of death and morbidity that the article suggests these “ultra-Orthodox” mohels in NYC have been producing, there would be a record of it. So I think these guys must be doing it wrong.

  4. RandyB says:

    Not sure of Acilius’ inference. The general level of infant mortality until 100 years ago would be high enough that an occasional botched bris buss could be lost in the fog.

  5. Acilius says:

    @RandyB: In most cases I would be quick to agree with you, but when it comes to Jewish boys, I don’t see it happening. It wouldn’t be surprising if some kind of theology or sacred story had been produced to explain why some boys die or suffer disabling infections after a bris, but it’s hard to imagine that a society that for so many years valued sons so highly could simply fail to notice a high rate of complications from botched circumcisions.

  6. Polichinello says:

    While I find the practice personally disgusting, and I wish some basic health precautions were taken, I’m not thrilled with a government getting into this area. Parents make a number of decisions that carry risks, and I suspect that, statistically, death by mohel is probably pretty low on the list. This is more of a man-bites-dog story prompting Nanny Bloomberg to grab yet another headline.

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