Efforts are underway in Israel’s Health Ministry to distribute pamphlets to new parents claiming that the age-old minhag of metzitzah b’peh is dangerous and risky.
The Ministry is working off of unproven claims that metzitzah b’peh increases by 350% the chance of a newborn baby contracting the herpes simplex virus.
The Israeli Association of Pediatrics claims that the herpes infections in newborns are found at a rate of 8.4 cases per 100,000 births in Israel, of which 10% of the cases, they aver, come from an oral source.
Rabbi Moshe Marciano, who is the Director of the Chief Rabbinate’s Bris Milah Department, has thrown his support behind this anti-metzitzah b’peh initiative, while many others are concerned that this move will ultimately harm mohalim and is an attack on an ancient minhag that has been practiced for centuries.
The effort in Israel is reminiscent of a policy implemented by the Michael Bloomberg administration in New York that required a mohel to obtain a written consent form from parents before performing metzitzah b’peh.
The city’s health department had for years erroneously linked the age-old minhag to neonatal herpes, citing four cases in 2014. The consent forms, which were put in place in 2012, offended members of the frum community, who rejected the link as being fallacious and found the forms to be an impingement on their religious freedom.
Mayor Bill de Blasio abandoned the consent forms in exchange for the frum community agreeing that if a baby is diagnosed with HSV-1, the community would identify the mohel in question and ask him to undergo testing. If the mohel tests positive for HSV-1, the city’s health department would test the DNA of the strain to see if it matches the infant’s. If it does, the mohel would be banned from performing metzitzah b’peh for life.
As previously reported on Matzav.com, Dr. Dan Berman, chief of infectious diseases at New York-Westchester Square Hospital in the Bronx, has shared little known medical facts surrounding metzitzah b’peh. He has said that the Department of Health’s claims about the so-called dangers of metzitzah b’peh to newborns are wholly unsupported by science. Dr. Berman has conducted his own research into how HSV-1 was transmitted in New York City’s most publicized cases.
“There isn’t a shred of conclusive evidence to support the allegations,” he said.
Dr. Berman has authored articles in which he exposed the lack of scientific foundation to the allegations against metzitzah b’peh. He has called on the medical establishment to employ DNA analysis – universally considered the most precise method of tracing disease transmission – to discover the true carriers of HSV-1 in the cases under investigation.
“The established method in medical science of proving the transmission of virus has been through DNA analysis,” he said in a rebuttal of a widely-quoted article in Pediatrics that linked HSV-1 in infants to the practice of metzitzah b’peh. “There is no such evidence in this report.
“There are thousands and thousands of babies upon whom metzitzah b’peh was done and there is not one case in history where there has been a DNA link between the mohel and the baby,” he noted. “If such a danger existed, given that people are looking to prove that it does indeed exist, such a connection should have been established by now, at least in one case.
“There is absolutely no data to establish such a connection,” he concluded.
The crusade against metzitzah b’peh picked up considerable momentum ten years ago when a rabbi seized the limelight by circulating his own slurs against metzitzah b’peh. This individual helped inflame New York City’s opposition to the practice in 2005.