Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

City of New York Set to Wage War on Religious Practices

Not long ago, there was an incident of swastika-spraying in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn. Residents were appalled and afraid. Politicians, community leaders and others were outraged. “How dare those punks come here, to our neighborhood,” they asked, “to spread their dastardly message of hate?” On the Shabbos following the incident, one of our foremost roshei yeshivos spoke and referenced the incident. He asked one simple question. “They are coming to our neighborhoods?”

Is this what we’ve come to? Is this how comfortable we’ve become in our benevolent home country? Sure, we must do all we can to ensure our continued safety and the free practice of our rights. Let us never forget, though, that this is not our home or our neighborhoods. We have eternal gratitude to this country and to those of its leaders who’ve embraced and secured freedom for all. We must constantly pray to Hashem that, until we are in our own home, we continue enjoying the protection, rights and freedoms that we do now.


Had someone written a few years back that the rights of Jews would be attacked and curtailed in these United States, we would have found such words hard to take seriously. Perhaps, maybe, in the deep south or some small red-neck town somewhere such a thing was possible. Surely, though, not in the rest of the country, certainly not in the liberal, tolerance-preaching, bastions of the US, and no way in a liberal city with an overwhelming, established, Jewish population such as New York.


Well, of all places in the entire United States, it is New York City that has been leading a concerted effort against bris milah in general and metzitzah b’peh in particular, culminating in the scheduled curtailing of a millennia-old Jewish religious practice come September 13th.


In has been noted that had the judge and prosecutor, as well as many others involved in the 1953 trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg – who were the only civilians ever to be executed for espionage – not been Jewish, the outcome would almost surely have been vastly different. The case, even at the time, was a murky and unclear one, and many sources have since shown how Ethel was framed by her informant brother whose sole goal was to save his own skin. It was a Jewish judge and prosecutor, though, who sent Ethel to her execution.


How ironic that from all the cities in the US, and after over 200 years of religious liberty and freedom, it is a city currently under Michael Bloomberg, a Jewish mayor, and through a witch-hunt initiated by Thomas Frieden, a Jewish health commissioner – with the unholy “assistance” of a motley crew of other misguided Jews – that a religious Jewish practice is threatened for the first time in the history of the United States of America.


What is this threat? Is it real? Is it serious? Or is it merely a whole lot of media hype?


A little over a month ago, I wrote about the attacks against bris milah and metzitzah b’peh. The Yated has been extensively covering the story – as well as similar attacks on this and other ancient Jewish religious practices in other countries – since the stories’ inception. Still, an oft-heard question whenever people gather to discuss this story seems to be, “Is this a real thing? They’re not actually banning brisos in New York, are they? What’s the story behind the paper’s coverage?”


People can’t be blamed for somewhat doubting the veracity and severity of the issue. After all, this is America, Land of the Free, where religious rights have been guaranteed ever since the country’s birth. Our rights can’t just be taken away, can they? And no one’s really planning on actually going ahead with a ban, are they?


Instead of further discussion, let’s simply read the actual Amendment, §181.21, which already passed review by New York City’s legal counsel as well as the mayor’s Office of Operations on June 5th of this year. This means that the proposed amendment has already been cleared for a vote by the unelected members of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene – all Bloomberg appointees – on September 13th. If passed, the amendment automatically becomes law, which means that the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution are guaranteed only as long as some local health department doesn’t vote to withdraw them.


The amendment reads, in part:


(b) Written informed consent required. A person may not perform a circumcision that involves direct oral suction (metzitzah b’peh) on a child under one year of age without obtaining, prior to the circumcision, the written informed consent of a parent or legal guardian of the child who is being circumcised in a form approved or provided by the Department. The written informed consent must include notice that direct oral suction exposes the infant to the risk of transmission of herpes simplex virus infection and other infectious diseases.


This is the exact wording of the main thrust of the amendment (italics have been added for emphasis) which is scheduled to be voted onshortly. There is little to stop the bureaucrats from passing it, after which it will become actuallaw in New York City.


The Amendment specifically states as its Purposeto: provide information about the risks involved, including possible infection with herpes simplex virus and its potentially serious consequences, such as brain damage and death. Knowing the risks posed by direct oral suction, a parent or legal guardian can then make an informed choice about whether it should be performed as part of the circumcision.


In other words, the clearly stated aim of the Health Department’s proposed amendment is not merely to get people to sign a consent form, but rather to hopefully sway them to possibly discard what is a purely religious practice. The aim is not to make individuals aware of a (non-existent) danger so that they may take proper precautions when performing their religious duties. Rather, the Health Department’s aim is to get us to decide “whether” we want to perform our religious duties altogether.


So much for New York City’s respect for religion and our freedom to practice it as we see fit.


We have previously discussed at length, and it has been elaborated upon further by many others, how the entire premise of this law is false and based on erroneous assumptions, concocted data and scientifically unproven notions. There has yet to be a single case where infection through metzitzah has been positively linked. We have mentioned as well the greater danger involved, in that the single-minded focus on bris and metzitzah is clearly preventing the Health Department from doing its job of protecting the health of its citizens by focusing on proven risk factors in the spread of HSV-1, such as through contact with a baby’s immediate family and caregivers.


In a classic example of fiddling while Rome burns, these bureaucrats fiddle and lecture us, while actual infants are dying from HSV-1 and they haven’t lifted a finger to “inform parents or legal guardians” to take preventative measures against exposing their infants to scientifically provenrisk factors.


So much for their statement of Statutory Authority in the above-referenced amendment that their Department has “broad jurisdiction to regulate all matters affecting public health,” and that “the control of communicable disease is a core public health function.”


Are they looking to control communicable disease or to regulate religion? If it’s the former, why have they yet to make the slightest effort to prevent and educate the public about proven health risks?


All this has been discussed at length and this article will therefore not endeavor to repeat what has already been made quite clear. The “risks involved” in metzitzah regarding which New York City wishes to force religious Jews to sign a statement of awareness before being allowed to perform our sacred religious duties have no factual, medical or scientific basis. Mike Bloomberg’s city department is voting not on any valid health concern, but rather on a religious practice which is frowned upon by those who see themselves as more enlightened and progressive than their religious citizenry.


Whatever others might feel about religion or religious practices, forcing them to submit to the whims of government officials is not supposed to happen in the United States.


If one needs proof that this amendment has zero basis in actual fact, notice that the law forces parents who wish to perform a bris with metzitzah b’peh to sign a form attesting to their awareness that “direct oral suction exposes the infant to the risk of transmission” not only of HSV-1, but also of “other infectious diseases.”


Other infectious diseases? Where did they come in? Even the Health Department’s falsified study only makes claims to a supposed risk of transmitting HSV-1. How can a city in the United States vote to regulate a religious practice regarding situations they have not even pretended to study, let alone proven present any sort of risk?


We hope that anyone who would vote to pass the amendment will be made to prove this supposed “risk” involving not only HSV-1 but “other” diseases.


The true issue here, though, is not even the argument demolishing the Health Department’s supposed “study” linking metzitzah b’peh with risk of HSV-1 infection. The issue here is the clear interference of New York City in a religious practice. This sets a very dangerous precedent. Although, theoretically, religious people can still practice their religion if they sign the consent form, once a group of (unelected) officials are allowed to grab the power to regulate religion, there is no telling where it could end. What’s stopping them from voting next month on a claimed danger of bris itself and requiring it to be performed only in a hospital? What’s stopping them from passing an amendment allowing only medical doctors to perform a bris? How about shechitah? How about mikvah?


Do we still think it can’t happen here?


None of these tactics are new. The Russians also closed mikvaos due to “concerns over hygiene.” Even Nazi Germany – those great purveyors of humane behavior – only banned shechitah “out of concern for cruelty to animals.”


New York City, under Mike Bloomberg and those in his administration, will now decide whether they want to go down in history as another link in that ignominious chain. They can hide behind the guise of “public health concerns,” as did those who came before them, but they should bear in mind that history will ask why, if they were so concerned with “public health,” did they obsess over bris and metzitzah to the exception of all other public health risks? Why, when tragedy strikes and an infant is diagnosed with herpes, does the Health Department not want to do a full, thorough and comprehensive examination of all involved parties, including immediate family, doctors, nurses and other caregivers? Why do they only want to know who the mohel was to the exclusion of everything else?


Is it public health they are worried about? Or is it a religious practice they disdain and seek to tarnish?


Indeed, the New York State Health Department had a Circumcision Protocol calling for an unbiased investigation of all possible contributing factors when faced with a case of neonatal herpes. Leading rabbonim signed onto the protocol and it has been endorsed by gedolei Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel. This serves as compelling evidence that there is no argument between the “religious” and “secular,” or mohelim vs. health officials, regarding finding the true causes of any particular virus. Religious Jews especially, because we place such a great emphasis on the value of human life, want to know about all possible health risks.


Tellingly, the protocol was adopted by every health department in the State of New York besides for New York City. So again, we must ask whether New York City is worried about public health, or solely about metzitzah b’peh, a religious practice they have no business legislating.


In the studies used by the Health Department to try and link metzitzah b’peh with HSV-1, there are five cases in which a baby came down with the virus which the Health Department claims can be linked to metzitzah. The same study finds twenty-fiveother cases of HSV-1 virus contracted in boys who did not have metzitzah b’peh, as well as twenty-onecases if girls who came down with HSV-1. Altogether, we have fortysixcasesof neonatal HSV-1 which even the Health Department admits have nothing to do with metzitzah b’peh.


Are they studying these cases, trying to ascertain how the virus was spread and how to “promote public health” and save the lives of babies by preventing future infections?




Have they tested, interviewed, harassed, spoken to, informed or otherwise sought to educate family and caregivers as to the possible risks involving contact and the spread of infection?


They have not.


When asked why the department was focused solely on the fivecases theyclaim could be linked to metzitzah b’peh while completely ignoring the health issues involving the other forty-six cases, the commissioner tellingly responded that his focus was on metzitzah b’peh.


Should his focus not be on “public health”? Is that not his sole mandate?


Clearly, this law is misguided, misapplied – and sets a very dangerous precedent.


What is our recourse?


As we’ve done for millennia, the Jewish people will simply continue following the Word of G-d to the best of our abilities – whatever it takes. We’ve performed circumcisions in cellars, prisons and concentration camps. We’ve given our very lives so that our children can live as Jews. While we pray that such sacrifices never be demanded of us again, we stand ready to follow the path our forefathers have tread.


Realizing that it can happen here shouldn’t bring us to hysteria, but to the realization that this was never really our home, our “rights” have been nothing more than a Heavenly blessing, and He is the only One Who can ensure our continued blessings. We bear in mind that no politician, protest, shtadlan or other effort can bring us salvation unless He so wills it. Especially in these days preceding the yemei hadin, we must storm the Gates of Heaven with our prayers, our Tehillim, our Torah learning, our repentance and our good deeds.


Ours is a generation that has never really been tested – as earlier generations have – with a need to sacrifice for our religious observances. Though we beg Hashem to continue granting us this grace period up until the ultimate redemption, we stand ready to affirm that if tested, we would be no less ready to perform our religious duties, underground, if need be, and at the risk of government prosecution or harassment.


Teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah are our only true recourses and we must reenergize ourselves in those areas with a vigor and seriousness that were perhaps missing up until now. We may never forget that no matter how negative – or positive – a political or other situation seems, it is Hashem’s will and only His will that shall prevail.


Of course, while never losing focus that it is Hashem’s goodwill that we seek, we must do our hishtadlus, our human effort, in whichever way our rabbonim feel will be most effective. If they were to call for mass protests, our attending them would be a top priority. We stand ready to make every effort asked of us to help rescind this evil decree.


Already, gedolei Yisroel have signed letters not only decrying this tragic development, but proclaiming our refusal, under any circumstances, to go along with this evil decree, should it, Heaven forbid, be passed. In a letter signed by Rav Reuven Feinstein, Rav Yisroel Belsky, Rav Yosef Rosenblum, Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, Rav Feivel Cohen, Rav Yeruchoem Olshin, Rav Hillel David, Rav Matisyahu Salomon as well as tens of other rabbonim, admorim, roshei yeshivos and roshei kohol shlit”a, it is made absolutely clear that “no mohel will take part in disseminating the Health Department’s false and misleading information and no parent will sign any form or waiver whatsoever for the ‘right’ to perform a bris milah on their child in accordance with their religious obligations.”


The Badatz of the Eidah Hacharedis as well as various chassidic courts have authored their own letters to the same effect as well.


We must not allow ourselves to be cowed into submission with regard to our religious practices by any government, whether a dictatorship or a democracy. Today, we are making the case about how the amendment is seriously, and dangerously, misguided and misapplied. Were things to, chalilah, deteriorate to the point where the amendment would actually be passed into law, the focus will cease to be on how flawed was the data or how our rights to religious freedom should have been guaranteed under the Constitution. The focus, rather, will be on how even under the Greeks, the Romans, the Czars, the Communists and the Nazis, when we had no religious rights, we still followed the dictates of our religion and our conscience regardless of the consequences.


This will never change.


(Note: While not all traditions include metzitzah b’peh as part of bris, many poskim and religious traditions consider it an integral part of bris milah. As such, for the thousands of religious Jews who follow that opinion, there is no such thing as bris without metzitzah. Bris without metzitzah is not a bris. Legislating metzitzah b’peh is therefore legislating a sacred, millennia-old religious practice, regardless of whether we, specifically, perform metzitzah b’peh or not. The dangers and precedent inherent in such legislation applies to all of us equally.)



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