Agudath Israel contemplating lawsuit against N.Y. over circumcision ritual

NEW YORK (JTA) — Agudath Israel of America reportedly is planning to sue the city of New York if its health department passes a law requiring parental consent for the circumcision ritual known as metzitzah b’peh.

The New York Jewish Week reported the development based on an email forwarded to the news outlet sent originally from the account of Agudah’s general counsel, Mordechai Biser. According to the e-mail, the haredi Orthodox group is seeking a New York law firm that would work pro bono or on “a reduced rate basis” to bring “a lawsuit against the City of New York to prevent the City from issuing a regulation that would require written parental consent for an aspect of bris milah (‘metzitzah b’peh’).”

The city is expected to pass the measure this week requiring parents to sign off before the direct oral suction procedure. Metzitzah b’peh is not used in most Jewish circumcision ceremonies, but many in the haredi community still adhere to it. Haredi leaders have resisted calls to replace direct oral suction with the alternative approaches.

A statement by the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America on Monday noted that "Many Jewish legal authorities have ruled that direct oral suction is not an integral part of the circumcision ritual and advocate the use of a sterile tube to preclude any risk of infection." Like Agudah, however, the RCA expressed opposition to the proposed measure, citing "concern about government regulation of religious practices."

“There is no safe way to perform oral suction on any open wound in a newborn,” Samantha Levine, a spokeswoman for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, told The Jewish Week via e-mail Monday, citing leading medical authorities.

The health department’s vote represents the culmination of a year of debate surrounding the practice, which was sparked by the death of an infant in Brooklyn last September and the subsequent revelation that a mohel who performed the ritual on the infant had tested positive for herpes. In June, New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley condemned the practice of direct oral suction.

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