New York - Civil Disobedience Seen As A Viable Option In Metzitzah B’Peh Battle
New York - With the New York City Department of Health’s vote on metzitzah b’peh just weeks away, advocates and religious groups are taking measures to prevent the proposal’s passage, including the threat of civil disobedience.
On September 13th, the Department of Health will decide whether parents will be forced to sign an “informed consent” document before the religious practice can be performed on their infant sons. Metzitza b’peh, the final step in a bris mila, involves using oral suction to remove blood from the baby’s wound. Although modern-Orthodox rabbis allow the use of a tube as an alternative to direct contact with the infant’s incision, Haredi rabbis have maintained that metzitza b’peh must be performed in order for a bris to be valid.
The Forward reports (http://bit.ly/OgnF94) that groups such as Agudath Israel and assorted Hasidic sects have come together to fight the Department of Health’s proposed directive, and have met regularly to develop and implement plans to garner support both inside and outside the community.
Michael Tobman, a political consultant working for these groups, said, “Unless the city is ready to subpoena mohels or break the doors in of synagogues around the city, I don’t really think they understand what they’re trying to do. This is a community absolutely committed to resisting this ill-considered effort, up to and including civil disobedience.”
Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, the executive vice president of Agudah, said he was not certain that the rabbinical leadership would urge civil disobedience, but did say, “Will there be compliance with the regulation? I’m not sure.” He noted that, “There’s nothing about filing a consent form that is inherently in conflict with [Jewish law],” but added that Agudah’s rabbinical leadership may not want their adherents to sign a form saying that the metzitzah b’peh practice may be hazardous.
The Forward notes that the opposition to the Health Department’s measure is so great that even “famously feuding brothers” Rabbis Zalman and Aron Teitelbaum of Satmar both attended a meeting where strategies to counter the Health Department were discussed.
Rabbi David Neiderman of Satmar’s United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg remarked, “What we’re saying is, allow us to conduct our religious activities the way we’ve been doing that.”
On this issue, Mayor Bloomberg recently said, “There are certain practices that doctors say are not safe and we will not permit those practices to the extent that we can stop them. You don’t have a right to put any child’s life in danger, and this clearly does.”
Between 2000 and 2011, 11 babies contracted herpes following their circumcision. Of the 11, two babies died. Proponents of metzitzah b’peh claim that “the rate of infections are low” considering how many times the ritual is performed each year by ultra-Orthodox mohelim. Approximately 10 to 15 babies in Canada, Israel, and the United States have been hospitalized with the herpes virus in the last ten years.
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