(JTA) — The New York City Health Department said it will ban ritual circumcisers automatically if the infant they treated orally develops a herpes infection.
The ban would affect those who perform the ritual known as metzitzah b’peh, in which the person performing the circumcision, known as a mohel, sucks blood from the wound following circumcision. It is a common practice among many haredi Orthodox Jews. When performed directly with the mouth as opposed to through a sterile pipette, it has been linked directly to the transmission of the herpes virus.
Under the new regulation, “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 Thursday, quoting city officials. HSV-1 is a type of herpes.
The Health Department will now ban the mohels linked to cases of herpes in newborns without testing for the virus, the newspaper reported. Prior to the regulation, the ban would be issued only pending tests both of the mohel and the baby.
The adoption of the new rule followed one day after the city’s health commissioner confirmed that two mohels have been banned from practicing metzitzah b’peh. Some 24 cases of herpes allegedly contracted through metzitzah b’peh have been reported in New York since 2000, according to the board of health.
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 do not come forward.
Rabbi Levi 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 metzitzah b’peh said it would help protect infants from the risks it carries by discouraging mohels from performing the ritual.