On Thursday three rabbis and several ultra-Orthodox Jewish organizations fired back at the city with a federal lawsuit challenging its recent decree that parents must give consent before rabbis use their mouth to remove the blood from a circumcision. Under the new rules, parents have to sign a form that says the health department recommends that “direct oral suction should not be performed” due to the risk of contracting herpes. The groups claim this challenges their First Amendment rights in a number of ways, saying “the government cannot compel the transmission of messages that the speaker does not want to express.” According to The Wall Street Journal, they also point out that the ritual, called “metzitzah b’peh,” has been performed for millennia and there’s no proof that that it “poses health risks of any kind.” However, the city is justifying the new rule with some sad statistics.
The Department of Health reports that between 2004 and 2011, eleven babies contracted herpes following the ritual. Two of the babies died and two suffered brain damage. The department also says that it’s received many complaints from parents who didn’t realize that oral contact would be part of their son’s circumcision. City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley dismissed the idea that the rules violate the rights of ultra-Orthodox Jews, saying, “The city’s highest obligation is to protect its children; therefore, it is important that parents know the risks associated with the practice.”