Jewish groups sue NYC over circumcision rule

(JTA) — Orthodox Jewish groups have sued New York City to block a required warning to parents of the dangers of a ritual in which the circumciser uses his mouth to draw blood from the baby’s penis.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in the Federal District Court in Manhattan by the Central Rabbinical Congress of the United States and Canada, the International Bris Association and several individual circumcisers. It contends that the regulation, which conditions the ritual on parental consent, is unconstitutional and violates religious freedom by targeting a Jewish practice.

The rule, adopted unanimously by the New York City Board of Health last month, is aimed at reducing the risk that infants will contract herpes from the ancient ritual, known as metzitzah b’peh.

Using oral suction to take blood from the area of the circumcision wound is common in some of New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities.

At least 11 boys contracted herpes from the practice between 2004 and 2011, according to city health officials. Two of them died from the disease and two others suffered brain damage, they said.

Under the rule, parents must sign a consent form that says the health department advises that "direct oral suction should not be performed" because of the risk of contracting herpes.

“It is important that parents know the risks associated with the practice," City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said in a statement.

The lawsuit says the city’s conclusion that the ritual increases the risk of herpes is based on a flawed analysis and is not statistically sound.

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