Greenfield Introduces Bill That Would Keep Health Regulation Out Of Circumcision Rituals

Councilman David Greenfield (Source: swedennewyork via flickr).
Councilman David Greenfield (Source: swedennewyork via flickr).

Councilman David Greenfield introduced legislation that would prevent the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOH) from enacting or enforcing regulations regarding controversial circumcision rituals. The Yeshiva World News is reporting that Greenfield believes the regulations impinge on the people’s freedom to practice religion.

The practice that came under the cross-hairs of the DOH is known as the “metzitzah b’peh,” which involves the mohel literally sucking the blood of the circumcision from the baby’s penis. It is practiced only by very small, specific sects of the ultra-Orthodox community.

The ritual came under scrutiny last year when Mayor Michael Bloomberg and health officials warned that the practice was unsafe, and the DOH ultimately created a policy requiring mohels to obtain a parent’s written permission before doing the ceremony. It did not ban the practice.

Still, the Bloomberg administration came under fire the way in which it arbitrarily and unilaterally enacted the new policy, and certain statements made by the mayor that were seen as flippant. A New York Daily News report from September of 2012 highlighted Bloomberg’s comments and the resulting backlash from Orthodox political leaders like Assemblyman Dov Hikind:

“Orthodox Judaism isn’t barbaric,” said Hikind, an Orthodox Jew. “Who cares more about children than their own parents? There’s no call for Mayor Bloomberg to speak disrespectfully to our community, to speak condescendingly about our cultural traditions.”
“This issue is not about soda pop,” Hikind added, getting in a swipe at the mayor’s mission to limit sugary soda sales. “it’s about religious tenets and it requires an extremely sensitive and respectful approach, not flip remarks that are insulting to an entire community.”
Bloomberg said Tuesday that the practice of metzitzah b’peh, which is under review by the New York City Health Department and was the subject of a recent hearing, is potentially dangerous to newborns.
“There are certain practices that doctors say are not safe and we will not permit those practices to the extend that we can stop them,” Bloomberg said. “You don’t have a right to put any child’s life in danger, and this clearly does.”
Metzitzah b’peh came under harsh scrutiny after a Brooklyn infant died after contracting herpes through the ritual.
Asked about Hikind’s criticism, a Health Department spokesperson told The Daily Politics, “There is no safe way to perform oral suction on any open wound in a newborn. To protect infant health, parents considering ritual Jewish circumcision need to know that circumcision should only be performed under sterile conditions, like any other procedures that create open cuts, whether by mohelim or medical professionals.”

In Greenfield’s latest measure, he echoed the comments made by Hikind last year in a strongly worded release.

“This is one of the most outrageous examples of government intruding into the ability of residents to freely practice their religion without restrictions based on questionable findings. I continue to be outraged that the city took this incredibly misguided step last year, and will fight until the board reverses its decision or this bill becomes law. It is imperative that every citizen, regardless of their particular religion, be able to practice and worship without the fear of being restricted or targeted by their own government,” Greenfield said.