NYC to automatically ban mohels if children they treated orally get herpes

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — New York City’s health department said it will ban mohels automatically from performing circumcisions in case of a herpes infection in any infant they treated orally.

Mohel is Hebrew for a person, often a rabbi, who is trained to perform nonmedical circumcision on boys according to the laws of the Jewish faith. Some mohels draw blood from the circumcision wound in a controversial procedure known as metzitzah b’peh, or oral suction. This custom is thought responsible for giving several infants herpes.

In reaction to this, the health department has decided to make rule under which “every time there is a mohel who performed metzitzah b’peh on an infant who has contracted HSV-1, the Health Department will serve them with Commissioner’s orders banning them from performing the ritual,” the Jewish Week of New York reported yesterday, quoting city officials. HSV-1 is a type of herpes.

Health department will now ban mohels linked to newborn herpes cases without testing for virus, the newspaper reported, whereas in the test such a ban would be issued only pending tests both of the mohel and the baby.

The adoption of the new rule came one day after the city’s health commissioner confirmed that two mohels have been banned from practicing metzitzah b’peh

Under both the previous policy and the new one, the city is relying on the mohels to self-enforce. A city spokeswoman told the Jewish Week that privacy rules prevent health officials from releasing the names of banned mohels. Banned mohels will be hit with a $2,000 fine if they don’t.

Rabbi Levi Y. Heber, a prominent Crown Heights mohel, said the new policy “is what some would call a witch hunt or a modern-day blood libel,” the Jewish Week reported. But critics of the oral method in question said it would help protect infants from the risks it carried by discouraging mohels from performing it.

Many mohels use a sterilized pipette to remove blood from the circumcision wound.