“How can an intelligent person come out with such ridiculous allegations? How many kids get hurt each year riding bicycles, or training for little league? Let Mayor Bloomberg make regulations where they are needed, not here where it is totally unnecessary.”
Rabbi Cohn noted members of the ABRC are trained both in the ritual and medicinal aspects of bris milah.
“What they are trying to regulate is something that we already are regulating,” said Rabbi Cohn. “The ABRC’s regulations are much stricter than those of the medical profession, and we are much more careful than any doctor performing a circumcision.”
At a public hearing held four weeks ago, Rabbi Cohn informed the Department of Health that he had performed more than 25,000 circumcisions in his lifetime and that fellow members of the ABRC had also performed a significant number of circumcisions, and not once in any of those cases had there been any incidence of infection in the circumcised babies, let alone any deaths.
“We believe in regulating circumcision,” said Rabbi Cohn. “But by religious authorities, not the government. By attempting to regulate metzitzah b’peh, they are infringing on our constitutional rights.”
Rabbi Cohn likened the Department of Health’s attempts to regulate circumcision to the attempts by Hellenists two thousand years ago to eradicate the practice.
“Chanukah is a celebration of how we prevailed against those who tried to prevent circumcision,” said Rabbi Cohn. “Once again, we are prepared to fight to the very end in order to protect our religious rights.”
A phone call to the mayor’s office was not returned. A Department of Health spokesperson, responding to the mohels’ statements, e-mailed The Jewish Press: “Since 2000, 11 babies have caught herpes from direct oral suction, and two of these babies died. The City’s highest obligation is to protect its children; therefore it is important that parents know the risks associated with the practice.”
Even some in the Orthodox community who are not necessarily in favor of metzitzah b’peh have voiced opposition to the city’s proposal.
The Rabbinical Council of America issued this statement on Monday: “Many Jewish legal authorities have ruled that direct oral suction is not an integral part of the circumcision ritual, and therefore advocate the use of a sterile tube to preclude any risk of infection. The RCA has gone on record as accepting the position of those authorities. Nevertheless, the RCA respects the convictions and sensitivities of those in the Orthodox Jewish community who disagree with this ruling and joins in their deep concern about government regulation of religious practices…
“The RCA supports the recent call of the Agudath Israel of America to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York Health Department that, instead of unilaterally imposing regulations, they collaborate with Orthodox Jewish leadership to develop protocols to address health concerns.”
Rabbi David Niederman, executive directive of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, told ABC News that mohels will not agree to abide by the law should it pass. He argues that the data linking metzitzah b’peh and HSV-1 is flawed.
“This is the government forcing a rabbi practicing a religious ritual to tell his congregants it could hurt their child,” said Rabbi Niederman. “If, God forbid, there was a danger, we would be the first to stop the practice.”