There is an article in today’s New York Times surrounding the controversial Orthodox Jewish practice referred to as “metzitzah b’peh”. I tried to link to the article however it’s a “Time’s Select” option and therefore one must subscribe to the paper in order to read it. That said, I’ll try and give everyone and idea of its point.

The article in today’s paper surrounds the ancient practice in which a mohel, or a Jewish ritual circumciser, sucks blood from the freshly circumcised penis in order to clean it. Recently, there have been several babies who have received herpes from the mohel. One of then suffered brain damage.

The health commissioner issued an “open letter to the Jewish community” detailing the dangers of the procedure. And a fact sheet is being distributed to the parents of newborns all over the city.

Some believe the practice should be outlawed entirely.

Dr. Jonathan M. Zenilman says:

“This is a health issue, not a religions issue. There is no reason why this practice should be allowed.”

When confronted by the religious explanation, Koch had a retort.

“If a group said female genitalia cutting was part of its religions, would the city allow its practice? ‘We would not,” said former Mayer Edward I. Koch, who called metzitzah b’peh ‘an abuse’ and said, ‘It should be stopped.’”

Even some Orthodox question the procedure. But they say that it’s up to the religious community and not up to the government.

I wrote about something similar before. If people are so concerned about the welfare of an unborn child, why not worry about those who are already alive? If the government wants to step in and protect the unborn fetus (a lot the time this desire is related to ones religious beliefs) then why is it such a bad thing to step in and stop this ancient practice to protect our innocent as well? Lastly, if you were to remove the religious aspect from the practice, how do you feel about it then?


  1. IMO, all medical practices should be regulated. All practitioners should be certified, inspected.

    No matter how you feel about the practice of circumcision in general, if the practice isn’t regulated and the patient is exposed to disease with no safeguards, it’s assault, neglect, and – in the cases where the mohel is a doctor – malpractice.

    Female circumcision isn’t a good comparison, in my opinion. Giving kids booster shots with dirty needles is more on target.


  2. I’m not freaked out about circumcision, actually. The part that freaks me out is that someone sucks the blood from the wound. And in certain cases, someone unclean. As a matter of fact, since I read the article, I’ve been slightly haunted by the idea.


  3. Do they want to outlaw circumcision or sucking blood?


  4. Sian, my understanding is that they wish to outlaw this particular procedure not circumcision itself.


  5. I am with Toby. I think having part of your baby hacked off is a medical procedure. Given that, it should be regulated. I think that would automatically outlaw the whole sucking thing. You can’t even get a doctor to touch you without a glove, I have tried, believe me!


  6. That brings up another question. If you guys have a baby boy, will he be circumcised? Feel free to tell me to mind my own bidness.


  7. I have thought about this over and over again. And I have decided that if we find out we’re having a baby boy we’ll have him aborted.

    Actually, this is something I would leave up to TJ. My initial thought it no. But I think I’ll leave that up to his daddy.


  8. What do you think TJ?


  9. Both of my sons are uncircumcised. I had to pull my younger son from the bitch obstetrician who chastised me for not letting her mutilate him even though our wishes were distinctly defined in our written birth plan (which she signed). Needless to say, we told the woman we never wanted to see her again and found a great doctor for our third child (a girl, who we did circumcise … I kid!)

    That being said, my feelings/opinions about circumcision are based solely on “faith,” a belief that circumcision is a useless butchery. I can see how someone may feel as deeply the opposing view.

    Still as a practice that carries a risk of disease and infection (the orthodox procedure), I think that parents have to be very careful about the risks they’re taking and make their decision based on an awareness of those risks. I would not outlaw it. We can’t outlaw (or regulate) EVERY risky procedure or environmental condition.

    I’d equate this with smoking. Did you know that more babies are victims of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) in homes with a smoker than homes where noone smokes? Or that children in homes with smokers are more prone to asthma? Smoking is similarly invasive. Blood may not be drawn, but 2nd hand smoke gets into a baby’s lungs. But we aren’t going to make parents quit smoking (even though the health risks and costs are far greater).

    Similarly, we don’t object to parents piercing the ears of children, etc. Body modification is what we do, and it’s a profoundly personal and cultural practice.


  10. I’d leave my kid unchopped. Every millimeter helps—am I right ladies?!?

    “We can’t outlaw (or regulate) EVERY risky procedure or environmental condition.”

    We’re not talking about the chance of a dust mite barfing in a wound. We’re talking about a dude with HSV slobbering over a wound. Fluid transfer is not some edge case—it’s a helluva vehicle for disease transmission and infection.

    Ear piercing isn’t done with incisors. It’s done using sterile tools in (by most state laws, anyway) a licensed environment.

    I’ve always been a big fan of body modification and sex—but only when both are practiced responsibly.

    Anyone who puts their child into a position to receive a lifelong and possibly devastating infection should get a visit from DFACS.


  11. Even in the cases where ear piercing is done without sterilization, even a hollow-bore needle stabbed through fatty earlobes can’t compare to a closed channel from mouth-to-bleeding-weiner. And the only folks who use hollow-bore needles for ear piercing are professional piercers (ie, not mall kids with disposable stud guns) and pro piercers are regulated everywhere. If not, they should be.

    Bring on the regulation, baby. Raise my taxes and keep that scalpel clean.


  12. > But we aren’t going to make parents quit smoking (even though the health risks and costs are far greater).

    But we should make them quit smoking around their kids. Newborns to those under 18 don’t have the choice to not inhale second hand smoke. I think the reason why I’m so anti-smoking, is because my dad smoked 2 packs a day right in front of me, and would chain smoke in the car with the windows rolled up while I was in it. By the time I was 15, I could barely breathe.


  13. Actually, I’d just rather regulate who can & cannot have children.


  14. new bumper sticker……”Eugenics Works!”


  15. Yeah, that is fucked up. I don’t have a problem with the state saying “that’s not going to happen anymore”. Human rights come before religious rituals.


  16. But we have a separation of church and state. It’s not just a question of regulation/big government/taxes/health. We’re saying that a religious practice that we have accepted in this country for centuries would be illegal or now has to be monitored by the state.

    My main contention is that the decision to circumcise a baby is a decision that parents must make in full awareness of the risks involved, much like the decision to use pain killers or anesthesia during childbirth, forceps, internal fetal monitoring, or artificial rupturing of the membranes to induce or accelerate labor. Each of these common practices carries risks (some riskier than others) to the baby, but we frequently accept them because of our faith in medical practitioners (and these practices).

    Bringing babies into the world is rife with possible dangers/risks to mom and baby. The most important thing is to be aware of the complications that can arise, the contingencies/alternative treatments, and the decisions that are going to be made—and sometimes not in your own or your baby’s best intersts, but to protect your obstetrician or simply make her job easier. And they’re heavily regulated, licensed, and administered.


  17. So at what point precisely does a baby’s human rights kick in? And is a person’s religious beliefs about their convenant with God, and how this convenant is documented on their body, any less privileged than, say, a woman’s right to control what she does with/to her body?


  18. I just read the article … those folks are nuts. They’re not even talking about making it illegal (because it’s unenforceable). They just want to EDUCATE people.


  19. Jefferson’s Wall, though constantly challenged, doesn’t preclude the fingers of government into unsafe religious practices.
    It’s all about preventing excessive entanglement and not putting any one religion over another or putting religion in general above the secular world.

    Parents can’t substitute prayer for badly-needed medical care, for example. You can’t kill in the name of religion (ok, that’s base).

    After all, it’s not a bubble—it’s a wall

    There are precedents for this type of breach of the wall, and it even goes down to the noise levels generated during ceremonies.

    I’d say that law evolves, and when precedent has been set, it isn’t that big a step to require that all medical procedures have some level of regulation.


  20. Charlie, thanks for the link but it’s still not working unless you sign up. I dunno. Could be a user error. It usually is. Let me see about getting a PDF for folks to check out.

    Yes, they are a little nuts. More nuts was a bunch of them wanted to actually protest the inauguration of Bloomberg by wearing the symbol of the holocaust. But then they realized that asking people to see to it that they’re babies are circumcised cleanly doesn’t really have anything to do with nazi Germany.

    Like I said early, the part I can’t stop thinking about is the part about letting someone who isn’t necessarily clean suck the blood from a newborn babies snipped penis. This. Happens. Here.


  21. Your google ads for this post are funny. All STD related.


  22. >There are precedents for this type of breach of the wall, and it even goes down to the noise levels generated during ceremonies.

    Well, if someone did that to me, I’d probably scream loud enough to violate a number of ordinances.

    >I’d say that law evolves, and when precedent has been set, it isn’t that big a step to require that all medical procedures have some level of regulation.

    And just because it’s regulated or practiced by a certified professional doesn’t make it safe. Education is the key, and the most appalling part of the story was the community leaders’ objection to the health department’s educational efforts.


  23. Why is everyone here bagging on the mohel? Did anyone ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe there are some promiscuous babies out there? Sorry, had to go there. But in all seriousness isn’t this bad parenting? Who in their right mind is trusting a medically unliscensed person to cut on their kid. I think my catholic priest is a great guy, but I wouldn’t let him do my bone marrow transplant. Obviously a mohel is someone “trained” or maybe just experienced in cutting meat the right way, but isn’t that the same as a butcher? This maybe be my sick humor but I can’t help but laugh at the guy who cut baby penis, gives it a little sippy sip, raises his hands in a whaddayagonnado fashion and goes, “Its a living!”. Dude, the guy sucks baby penis for a living and people are shocked when one turns up with a VD?


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