NYC Board of Health Voted for Parental Consent in Controversial Circumcision Practice

The New York City Board of Health voted unanimously in favor of requiring parental consent for a controversial practice that some rabbis engage in during the Jewish bris ceremony.

babyIn September, the New York City Board of Health voted unanimously in favor of requiring written parental consent for mohalim to engage in the controversial practice of metzitzah b’peh, or direct oral suction, during a brit milah.

A New York City Department of Health press release states, "The written consent will require that the parent or guardian has been told that the Department of Health advises against direct oral suction because of certain risks associated with the practice, including 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."

The Rabbinical Assembly, the international umbrella organization for conservative rabbis, applauds the continued concern shown by New York City Health Commissioner, Thomas Farley, M.D., regarding his call to require informed parental consent in order to utilize this practice, which is not required by Jewish tradition, is not practiced by the overwhelming majority of Jews, and for which safer alternatives exist.

Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, president of the Rabbinical Assembly and rabbi of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens, stated, “This practice, which is not required by Jewish law, and emanates from older practices designed to prevent illnesses that precede current medical knowledge about disease, presents a serious health risk to babies and is inconsistent with the Jewish tradition’s preeminent concern with human life and health. There have been tragic incidents of babies becoming ill as a result of this practice, and we encourage the Board of Health to require parental consent.”

In addressing the Rabbinical Assembly’s ongoing commitment to brit milah, the practice of circumcising males, generally as infants, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, stated, “We are entirely committed to the practice of brit milah (ritual circumcision), an affirmation of our connection to God and Jewish people for more than 3,000 years, and we affirm its centrality to Jewish religious and communal life worldwide. This ritual has been deemed safe by numerous medical authorities when performed by a trained mohel or medical professional and recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics affirmed the health benefits of the procedure. It is crucial that the practice be conducted—as it overwhelmingly is—by methods which are safe and sanitary.”

The Rabbinical Assembly is the international association of Conservative rabbis. Since its founding in 1901, the Assembly has been the creative force shaping the ideology, programs, and practices of the Conservative movement, and is committed to building and strengthening the totality of Jewish life. Rabbis of the Assembly serve congregations throughout the world, and also work as educators, officers of communal service organizations, and college, hospital, and military chaplains. More information is available at

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