Presentation of proposed deal in N.Y. on circumcision rite postponed

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — A proposal to cancel a requirement for signed parental consent for a controversial circumcision rite set to be presented to the New York Board of Health was postponed.

City officials said Monday that the metzitzah b’peh plan would be presented to the Board of Health in June and voted on at the next meeting, The Wall Street Journal reported. In February, a coalition of rabbinic leaders and city officials said they reached agreement on the rite and that the proposal would be presented to the board this month.

“The administration and the coalition of religious leaders are formalizing specific terms of the agreement around metzitzah b’peh,” the city said in a statement from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene released Monday, according to the newspaper.

The Wall Street Journal quoted an unnamed source familiar with the negotiations as saying that the delay was “largely related to the city working out the specifics on how public health investigations will be conducted.” There also were some legal issues, according to the source.

Metzitzah b’peh, in which the mohel sucks blood from the wound following circumcision, is a common traditional practice among many haredi Orthodox mohels. When performed directly with the mouth as opposed to through a sterile pipette, it has been directly linked to the transmission of the herpes virus.

Under the agreement, if an infant is found to have herpes associated with the ritual, the mohel will be tested for that strain of the virus, and if discovered to carry it will be  banned for life from performing the ritual.

In August, a federal appeals court called for a review of the New York City law related to metzitzah b’peh, saying that under the federal guarantee of free exercise of religion, the law is subject to “strict scrutiny.”

The law was enacted in 2012 after at least 11 boys contracted herpes from metzitzah b’peh between 2004 and 2011. Two died and two suffered brain damage.

There were four cases of herpes allegedly contracted during metzitzah b’peh in 2014 and 17 since 2000, according to the health department.