Two More Infant Boys Contract Herpes From Circumcision Ritual In NYC

Dawn Papple

Two more infant boys have contracted herpes in New York City this month after ritual Jewish circumcisions were performed on them, according to NBC. Over 100 boys die annually from medical circumcisions in the United States, according to The Examiner. Circumcisions by actual medical professionals claim more American babies' lives each year than SIDS. The practice of routine infant circumcision is highly debated in parenting circles, but the ritualistic Ultra-Orthodox Jewish circumcision that has caused two New York City infants to be infected with the herpes virus is even more controversial than circumcisions performed by doctors.

Both infants who contracted herpes from their circumcisions were born full-term and considered very healthy. The custom, which many find appalling, is not practiced by all Jewish families. The ancient practice is protested by many authorities within the Jewish community, according to Capital. It is, however, still practiced by some ultra-Orthodox Jews.

After the circumcision is performed by a mohel, he then uses a direct "oral suction technique" which entails the mohel's mouth in direct contact with the infant's genitalia. It is an ancient ritual known as metzitzah b'peh. This technique, which infant advocates argue constitutes rape by the FBI's definition, is used as a traditional method of cleansing the wound. The mohel sucks the blood off the end of the infant boy's penis and then spits it aside. The practice is considered rich with tradition by ultra-Orthodox Jews. Both boys developed herpes lesions on their genitals shortly after their circumcisions which were performed eight days after birth.

Since 2000, New York mohels have come under fire. There have been 16 confirmed cases of herpes transmitted to infant boys from this type of circumcision since then, according to Health Department records. Since 2000, two infants have died from contracting the disease which is exceptionally more dangerous for an infant than it is for an adult. Two other infants suffered brain damage after their circumcisions left them suffering from herpes infections.

Two years ago the Board of Health in New York unanimously voted to require anyone performing a religious circumcision involving the oral suction technique to obtain written consent from the child's parent or guardian. The consent forms explain the health risks from the ritual circumcision. One group of Orthodox rabbis sued the city in an attempt to block the regulation requiring a consent form. A judge ruled against the rabbis.

According to the Jewish Daily Forward, ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders say the consent forms greatly exaggerate the risks of the oral suction technique. The city seems to have very little control over the procedure. One mohel was banned by the city from performing any more circumcisions, but he did not stop. Even after a baby died from a herpes infection, Rabbi Fischer refused to stop performing the controversial circumcisions, according to The Jewish Week.

In 2012, an American Academy of Pediatrics task force stated, "Neonatal herpes infection can cause severe morbidity and potentially death, so mitigating potential risks for infection is critical." The authors went on to say, "More research using cohort or case-control designs to fully capture all the relevant data is needed to clarify the real-world risk of HSV-1 infection associated with metzitzah b'peh." According to Medical Xpress, it is unknown how many of these circumcisions using the ancient technique are actually performed each year, causing the real risk factor for contracting herpes from these ritual circumcisions to remain unclear.

[Photo via the Syrian Free Press]