By COLlive reporter
A press conference was held this week at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas in Brooklyn where the urgency of the subject matter was perhaps more emphasized by the ones who participated than by what they said.
Lined up were a rare and wide-ranging representation of Agudath Israel of America, Central Rabbinical Congress of the USA and Canada (Satmar) and the Lubavitch-affiliated International Bris Association.
“Today is historic, and not in a good way,” attorney Yerachmiel Simins told the major frum news outlets that were invited in addition to COLlive.com – Mishpacha, Hamodia, Yated, Der Blatt, Der Yid, Chabad.org, Yeshiva World News, VIN and Kol Mevaser.
“It is historic because Satmar, Agudah and Lubavitch have joined hands to fight this,” he said in reference to a lawsuit filed against New York City Department of Health (DOH) to stop its regulations on the Jewish tradition of performing circumcision on an 8-day-old.
As reported on COLlive.com, the suit argues that the DOH is attempting to discourage the practice known as metzitzah b’peh (MBP) by requiring mohelim to distribute a form stating that MBP can lead to serious health risks.
That regulation violates both the rights to free speech and freedom of religion, argue the three organizations who filed the suit with plaintiffs Rabbi Samuel Blum, Rabbi Aharon Leiman and Rabbi Shloime Eichenstein.
Simins, who was involved in the 2006 Circumcision Protocol with the NY State Health Department, said “this also marks the first only frum media press conference,” noting that the Jewish media is stronger now than ever, and can help in the fight against these regulations.
“This lawsuit is an extraordinary step after other measures were taken but did not help in stopping these new regulations,” he said, and accused Mayor Michael Bloomberg of helping spread misinformation about the long-held Jewish practice.
Simins said this regulation is but the first step in the Mayor’s plan to stop metzitzah B’peh altogether, and has had a vastly negative impact on the custom already.
“The intention of the mayor is to stop metzitzah b’peh in any way he can. Parents are deciding not to go with a mohel [for the bris] because parents think ‘mohels kill babies,'” he said. “Painful myths have arisen from these regulations, that we don’t care about our children in order to protect our customs. It goes without saying that we care about each of our children.”
The lawsuit is supported by affidavits from experts in infectious diseases, epidemiology and statistical analysis that question the assessment and methodology of the DOH in forming its opinion about the safety of MBP.
“We need to get this out to the public and dispel the myths that are out there,” said Rabbi Levi Heber, a Crown Heights resident and head of the Bris Association. “What they are demanding of us would be an infringement on Jewish practice of yiddishkeit, not just bris milah.”
The suit argues that “the government cannot compel the transmission of messages that the speaker does not want to express—especially when the speaker is operating in an area of heightened First Amendment protection, such as a religious ritual.”
Dr. Daniel S. Berman, an adult infectious diseases specialist who has been tirelessly fighting the Department of Health and the Medical community on this issue for 7 years, questioned the validity and motivations of opinions by many in the medical community who claim metzitzah b’peh is dangerous.
He suggests anti-religious bias as a significant factor in their conclusions and in the actions of the DOH.
Joining his assertion that the DOH’s data is flawed was Dr. Brenda Breuer, an epidemiologist at Beth Israel Medical Center, who said “the report purported to identify 5 cases over nearly 6 years of infants who were suspected to have undergone mbp and later developed HSV infection.”
Breuer said the reports used were outdated and used inaccurate data, and that “they used the wrong formula. The formula they used unjustifiably increased the results. Had they used the correct formula, the results may not have reflected that. And If only one of the five cases had been wrong, then even their own formula would not have supported the findings.”
The amendment from the Board of Health states “to require written consent from a parent or legal guardian when direct oral suction will be performed during his or her son’s circumcision.” The amendment also states that the Mohel must inform the parents that “the Department advises against direct oral suction because of certain risks associated with the practice, including infection with herpes.”
The plaintiffs say the amendment violates freedom of speech because it forces the mohel to declare something which they completely disagree with.
Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger, Chairman of the Board of Agudath Israel, stated, “You may ask, ‘what’s the big deal? All they are asking for is a consent form.’ The problem is that it not only intrudes on our religious practice, but it intrudes on our religious decision making. Already it has had a damaging impact.”