Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Asifa Challenges Bris Milah Amendment

An asifa took place in Boro Park on Sunday of Aseres Yemei Teshuvah in response to the City Of New York's aggressive campaign against the practice of metzitzah b'peh (mbp) and its targeting of mohalim for harassment. The NY Board of Health on September 13 passed an amendment banning mbp, except where informed consent has been obtained from parents.

The purpose of the gathering was to give moral support to mohalim who are being subject to government intimidation, and to demonstrate the frum community’s staunch determination to uphold the practice of mbp as part of bris milah.


Participants at the asifa included mohalim, rabbonim and speakers from a wide range of communities, including Flatbush, Boro Park, Monroe, Lakewood, Nitra, and Rockland County.


Speakers included leaders from Satmar, Lubavitch, Nitra and Agudas Yisroel. All spoke passionately about the importance of protecting the right to practice bris milah according to sacred tradition. They cited halachic sources from revered Litvishe and Chasidic authorities, including contemporary luminaries such as Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky zt”l and Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l.


Reb Moshe Dovid Niederman and Reb Beirish Meisels represented the two Satmar communities, Rav Levi Heber spoke on behalf of the International Bris Association.


Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger spoke on behalf of Agudath Israel and Rav Yisroel Belsky, rosh yeshiva of Torah Vodaath, sent warm words of brocha and chizuk.


Dr. Dan Berman, chief of infectious diseases at New York-Westchester Square Hospital in the Bronx discussed the medical facts surrounding mbp. He told the assembly the DOH’s claims about the so-called dangers of mbp to newborns are essentially a hoax, wholly unsupported by the facts.


“There isn’t a shred of conclusive evidence to support the allegations,” he said.


He noted that the medical authorities cited by the DOH, instead of citing scientific or medical proof for their opposition to mbp, are reduced, almost comically, to talking about their preferences for halachic alternatives to the practice.


Mr. Yerachmiel Simins, an attorney, addressed the legal ramifications of non-compliance with the new regulation, advising mohalim they do not have to fear they will go to jail or suffer serious consequences by refusing to comply with the controversial amendment.


“No great mesirus nefesh is required to continue performing mbp at the present time,” he said, in an interview with Yated. “The amendment is a clear encroachment on religious freedom and will be fought in court.”


“The overall impact of the asifa,” said Rabbi Kalman Halberstam of Brooklyn who helped organize the event, “was a tremendous kiddush Hashem and a commitment on the part of the scores of mohelim present to be strong in the face of government opposition.”




In September 13th, the NYC Board of Health approved an amendment to the Health Code that compels mohalim to obtain written informed consent from parents prior to performing a bris with metzitzah b’peh.


In this unprecedented intrusion of the government’ into the practice of bris milah, mohalim will be required by law, beginning October 21, to advise parents that the DOH advises that mbp is a dangerous practice and could likely kill their baby.


“[Mbp] should not be performed because it exposes an infant to the risk of transmission of herpes simplex infection, which may result in brain damage or death,” the consent form will state. After obtaining the parents’ signature on the form, the mohel will be required to retain the document for 1 year, for inspection upon request by the DOH.




This unprecedented regulation of bris milah cannot be allowed to stand for many reasons, advise gedolei Yisroel and rabbinic leaders worldwide.


First, it is the first time the government in this country has restricted the performance of a mitzvah, which itself is unacceptable.


Worse, the basis for such restriction is factually wrong. The study used by the DOH to support this amendment, which found that mbp poses an additional risk of transmission of herpes simplex virus, actually shows that mbp poses no greater risk than that which exists in the general population.


This action by NYC thus amounts to a hoax; a libel of mbp.




Second, this type of informed consent is especially insidious in that it forces mohalim to submit a document that says our religious practices kill babies. Not only is it a libel, but it is a libel which the DOH is forcing us–the frum Jewish community–to disseminate.


Third, the DOH is not only intruding into our religious practices, but also arrogating the right to make religious determinations.


The DOH has made statements and published material in which they conclude that mbp is not integral to bris milah, since metzitzah can be performed by a glass tube or gauze.


How a mitzvah is to be performed – indeed, what constitutes the mitzvah – is a matter for Rabbinic authorities to pasken, not the DOH.




Fourth, this is only the first step NYC is taking against milah. Mayor Bloomberg has stated publicly that he intends to ban mbp altogether to the extent he can.


Taking a deeper look at statements by the DOH, an ominous pattern emerges of a slow but steady attempt by City officials to undermine the performance of bris milah.


One example: The DOH has distributed brochures stating that bris milah should only be performed with gloves, thereby impeding priah, which has never been implicated (even by the DOH) in the transmission of any infectious disease.


Another example: DOH studies and the supporting documentation to the amendment cite concerns with “out-of-hospital circumcisions” and the need for bris milah to be performed in a “sterile environment,”


This indicates that the ultimate goal is to restrict brissen to hospitals.




The City’s new regulation has worldwide implications. NYC is being closely watched to see whether restrictions on bris milah can be passed in what is in effect the capital of diaspora Jewry.


Already, the Israeli pediatric association cited the mere proposal of informed consent in NYC in their efforts to push for a ban on mbp in Israel. Letting “informed consent” stand may fuel attacks against bris milah currently underway in Europe and other cities in this country.


City action against mbp is having a chilling effect. Some heimishe people are now considering foregoing mbp, and mohalim say that customers who are moderately or minimally observant are canceling brissen and opting for hospital circumcisions (even though these take place less than the required 8 days after birth).


The City says mohalim kill babies; why would uninformed parents opt for a traditional bris in the face of this libel?


Rabbonim across the spectrum of the religious Jewish community unanimously agree that this regulation must be fought as strongly as possible until it is nullified.



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