Orthodox Groups And Mohelim Sue NYC Over Controversial Bris Practice

Orthodox Groups And Mohelim Sue NYC Over Controversial Bris Practice

As expected, a group of ultra-Orthodox organizations and three individual plaintiffs filed a federal lawsuit against New York City’s health department seeking an injunction against restrictions on the controversial circumcision practice known as metzitzah b’peh.

The group consists of the International Bris Association, Agudath Israel of America, the Satmar chasidic Central Rabbinical Congress of the United States & Canada as well as three mohelim, Rabbi Samuel Blum, Rabbi Aharon Leiman and Rabbi Shloime Eichenstein, according to the web site Yeshiva World News.

The group is represented by the law firm Jones and Day and was filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, seeking to overturn the Board of Health’s decision last month requiring mohelim in the five boroughs to obtain a consent decree from parents before performing the practice, in which blood is orally suctioned from the open circumcision wound.

The process has been linked to the transmission of oral herpes, but defenders of the practice insist it is safe, and court papers include affidavits from experts in infectious diseases, epidemiology and statistical analysis, said YWN.

“The court is the appropriate place to ensure that freedom of religion and freedom of speech are protected and that is the intent of the lawsuit,” the plaintiff’s spokesman, Hank Sheinkopf, who is a communications consultant as well as an Orthodox rabbi, told The Jewish Week on Thursday.

(Click here for a copy of the lawsuit.)

In a statement, New York City health commissioner, Thomas A. Farey, stood by the board’s decision.

"The Health Department has found that since 2000, 11 babies have contracted herpes after direct oral suction, and two have died,” said Farley. “The city's highest obligation is to protect its children; therefore, it is important that parents know the risks associated with the practice. The Health Department's written consent requirement is lawful, appropriate and necessary."

The Jewish Week reported last month that Agudath Israel was looking for a law firm to press a lawsuit in the event that the Board of Health voted to restrict the practice, as it did unanimously on Sept. 12.

Under the regulation, mohelim who fail to obtain the consent decree before performing oral suction could be warned or fined. but the city will only respond to complaints, not carry out checks of bris ceremonies.

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