MOHEL BLAMED FOR HERPES TESTS NEGATIVE
The NYC Department of Health’s campaign to demonize metzitzah b’peh by blaming herpes infections in newborns on the mohel, has taken a new hit, according to an article in this week’s Yated.
Twice in the past two months, the DOH has been embarrassed by evidence shattering its myth about the so-called life-threatening dangers of metzitzah b’peh.
In two of the five herpes cases continually cited as showcasing these “dangers,” new evidence backed by medical records has pointed to family members with active herpes sores - not the mohel - as the most likely source of the infection.
The discovery of this evidence, published in the Yated, based upon live interviews by its reporter Debbie Maimon with parents of the affected babies, has prompted sharp criticism of the Department’s policy of attacking the practice of mbp, and groundlessly targeting mohelim as the source of infection in every case.
In a third case, a baby with a rash on his knees was diagnosed as having herpes even though lab results were negative. Nevertheless, the DOH mounted a hunt for the mohel who performed mbp.
Now, for the first time, a mohel blamed for transmitting herpes to a Kiryas Yoel baby in May has submitted to blood tests to determine if in fact he carries HSV-1 antibodies.
A positive finding, while not proving claims that mbp caused the baby’s illness, would not disqualify the mohel as a potential source. In rare circumstances, someone who has herpes antibodies may “shed” the virus in his bloodstream and possibly transmit it to another party.
Contrary to Department presumptions, however, the mohel tested negative. That is proof positive that since he never had the HSV-1 virus, he could not possibly have transmitted it.
In an exclusive interview with Yated, the mohel, Rabbi G., said he chose to be tested a second time, to be absolutely sure.
“On the advice of my lawyer, Mr. Yerachmiel Simins,” he said, “we took the precaution of not only taking the test twice, but arranging witnesses and a legal affidavit signed by a doctor and two nurses, testifying to the results.”
The mohel said he felt these measures were necessary to protect himself from false attacks by health officials.
“I and other mohelim feel that when it comes to mbp, the truth no longer matters to the Health Department. They are after mohelim and are not interested in the facts.”
Rabbi G. said he didn’t need the test for his own peace of mind, that he had been a mohel for over a dozen years and had performed thousands of brissen. Of these thousands of circumcisions, he said, every single one had been done with metzitzah b’peh, and never once had a baby he circumcised fallen ill with herpes.
“If I have the slightest cold or infection of any sort, I would never touch the baby,” Rabbi G. said. “I also take precautions by sterilizing my mouth before doing metzitzah like all mohelim I know do.”
Rabbi G. said that in the aftermath of the discovery that the Kiryas Yoel baby was treated for a serious herpes infection, health officials apparently told the media that the mohel was to blame. The unfounded allegations were repeated in a spate of news articles that reported on the tragedy. Determined efforts were made by health officials to uncover his identity.
“Knowing how some of my colleagues have been hounded by the DOH over metzitzah b’peh, I was afraid that I too would be singled out,” Rabbi G. said. “One mohel was bashed in the press and hounded by the health department and reporters. His life was made miserable.”
Rabbi G. said he spent weeks living in fear of being the victim of such a media lynch. “Many in our community no longer trust the Department. Instead of working for the public good, they are using their authority to push their own personal agenda. Their tactics don’t fit in a democracy.”
Mr. Simins confirmed Rabbi G.’s testimony regarding the negative findings of the blood tests, the presence of witnesses and the legal affidavit. He said the DOH’s shabby research and fixation with metzitzah b’peh have caused it to stumble in its mission.
Instead of working to educate the public about real dangers to be on guard against in the transmission of herpes, he said, “we are looking at an obsessive preoccupation with a religious practice, and a campaign of demonization that has hijacked the Department’s true function.”
He said a culture of fear has been spawned by the Department’s assault on the time-honored practice of metzitzah b’peh.
LITIGATION AND CONFRONTATION
Jewish groups have slammed the DOH for pushing for the adoption of an amendment to the Health Code that would limit mbp, force parents to sign incriminating waivers before the ritual can be performed, and coerce mohelim to speak disparagingly of their religious beliefs.
Should the DOH choose to continue in this direction, Agudath Israel warned in a letter to the Department, “the result will clearly be litigation and more confrontation. In the end, whether the department’s regulation survives will be decided by a judge.”
“At the end of the day, the letter said, “the resulting perception in the Orthodox Jewish community will be an extremely negative one; a perception that the Department is not interested in working with the community, simply in imposing regulations on a time-honored practice.”
Agudath Israel urged the DOH to take another path, the path of consultation and cooperation:
“That is the path that the NY State Department of Health [not to be confused with NY City Dept. of Health] chose in 2006. Instead of unilaterally promulgating regulations, the State Health Department chose to work together with our community.”
THE PATH OF COOPERATION
In 2006, the Rabbinical Council, a group comprised of representatives from the spectrum of Orthodox Jewry in New York, entered into a Circumcision Protocol with the NY State Health Department. The terms agreed upon called for an unbiased investigation in exchange for rabbinic and community cooperation.
This included banning the mohel from performing mbp if he’s found to be DNA-matched to an infected infant.
The State Health Commissioner lauded the agreement, praising “the participation of the Rabbinical Council of the State of New York, and the good faith that was put forth with the Department of Health to protect the public health, and at the same time, respect religious freedom.”
The Protocol was reviewed by nationally renowned neonatal infectious disease experts and the National Institutes of Health, and was unanimously passed by the NYS Public Health Council.
It was adopted by every health department in the State of New York - except New York City’s.
On the rabbinic side, it was entered into by the Central Rabbincal Congress of the United States and Canada, Rav Feivel Cohen, Rav Hillel David, leaders of Koshau, Satmar, Skver, Belz, Bobov, Pupa and Vien. It was subsequently adopted by the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel, and the rabbinic leadership of the National Council of Young Israel.
It was also endorsed by many gedolei Eretz Yisroel, including Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, zt”l and ybl”c Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman and Rav Chaim Kanievsky.
If the Protocol had been adopted by the DOH in 2006, all 5 cases it claims arose since then could have been thoroughly investigated with the full cooperation of the community. Had such an investigation taken place, the issue of mbp’s relation to HSV-1 in each of these cases might have been put to rest. This valuable opportunity, however, was squandered.
The Protocol was terminated when a new administration came into office. It was recently raised by representatives of the Jewish community with the State Department of Health, as well as city officials. The hope was that this carefully negotiated agreement could be resurrected to benefit all concerned parties.
The officials declined to revisit it.
It is not the Orthodox community that refuses to cooperate; it is the DOH that has steadfastly refused to conduct unbiased investigations. It has adopted an intransigent and adversarial stance that has left the community no choice but to close up.
To read the entire article from this week’s Yated, click here.