The New York City Department of Health has announced today that they will ban all mohels linked to newborns who develop herpes simplex virus-1 from performing metzitzah b’peh, reneging on an agreement reached with Jewish community representatives several years ago that they would do so only following DNA testing that proves the virus was transmitted from the mohel.
from The Jewish Week:
One day after the city’s health commissioner confirmed that two mohels have been banned from practicing the risky circumcision ritual metzitzah b’peh, the health department has adopted a more stringent policy against mohels linked to newborns who develop herpes simplex virus-1, The Jewish Week has learned.
“Moving forward … Every time there is a mohel who performed MbP [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 new rule says.
The plan is in sharp contract to the previous policy, which only banned the mohel if both he and the infant tested positive for the same strain of the virus.
Under both the previous policy and the new one, the city is relying on the mohels to self-enforce. A city spokeswoman said HIPPA rules prevent health officials from releasing the names of banned mohels, but that they expect the mohels to comply and that banned mohels will be hit with a $2,000 fine if they don’t.
MbP critics called the change a good first step, while charedi community leaders characterized it a “witch hunt.”
“Do we just blame people by means of association?” said Rabbi Levi Y. Heber, a prominent Crown Heights mohel. “This is what some would call a witch hunt or a modern-day blood libel, where you blame the mohel for something without looking into facts or evidence.”
According to Heber, the city had originally agreed to do DNA testing to confirm that a mohel, and not a family member or caretaker of the infant, was the source of the infection. However, the de Blasio administration dropped the idea, adopting in 2015 the plan to have the baby and mohel tested to see if the herpes strains matched. (In 2014, a Rockland County health official said that DNA testing exonerated two mohels who were believed to have transmitted herpes to infants they circumcised. Other medical officials have disputed the validity of the finding.)
A de Blasio administration spokeswoman did not respond to questions about why the city isn’t doing DNA or other kinds of testing and how the health department can be sure the mohel is the source of the infection if no testing is done.
According to Rabbi Heber, mohels in his community would gladly cooperate if the city would determine the source of the infection through DNA testing. “There is the means of testing whether the mohel is the cause or not, and the city is just not interested,” he said. “If a mohel is linked, he should be banned from the practice.”
“What is the logic of not doing DNA testing?” he added. “What is the logic to just come out and defame a Jewish religious practice without looking for hard evidence?”