Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Monsey mohel part of probe into Brooklyn baby's death
A Monsey rabbi who does oral-suction circumcisions and was linked to the Herpes-related death of a baby is being investigated by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office in connection with a newborn’s death there, authorities said this morning.
Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer was once prohibited from performing the centuries-old circumcisions in the five boroughs and in Rockland. The action came after the death of one of three babies that had contracted the herpes simplex one virus in late 2004 following circumcisions by the rabbi.
Fischer uses his mouth to suction blood from the wound after he removes the foreskin. The centuries-old ritual, called metzizah bi peh, is used predominately by Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jews. Both Brooklyn and Rockland have large ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities.
A 2-week-old boy died in late September, leading to an investigation into the circumstances of the newborn’s death, according to Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.
Fischer is part of the overall investigation, which includes looking into the circumstances of the newborn’s death, the spokesman said. He declining further comment.
A newspaper, The Jewish Week, recently reported that Fischer still was doing the controversial circumcisions.
The newspaper reported on taped conversations in which Fischer is heard scheduling a circumcision with a caller who asks him to perform metzitzah b’peh. On the recording, Rabbi Fischer asks the caller whether the bris will take place “in Monsey or the city,” noting that he “can only do it in Rockland County,” according to the newspaper.
There was never definitive medical proof that Fischer passed on Herpes to the three children he peformed the oral-suction method on back in 2004 and 2005, according to authorities and his lawyer at the time.
The revelations of three newborns contracting herpes led New York City Health Department officials to put together medical protocols for the oral-suction method with medical personnel and ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbis. The state also got involved with prohibitions and regulations but the New York state Health Departrment lifted its ban on Fischer.
Apparently, the protocols were rescinded, and Fischer continued.
Other Orthodox Jewish rabbis and many physicians dismissed the need for a mohel’s lips to come into contact with the baby during a circumcision. They have said a mohel can use a tube to suck the blood.
Monsey Rabbi Moses Tendler, a professor of ethical medical practices and Talmudic law at Yeshiva University, has said the Talmud requires that blood be sucked from the wound during circumcision, but not that it be done by mouth. He is one of the authorities who have recommended a tube be used.
Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, said this morning that the issue isn’t the mohel or the method, but people’s rights to practice their religious beliefs in a safe manner.
He said the metzitzah b’peh method has been safe for thousands of years and more people die from skiing accident than the circumcision method.
“Why should a religious conviction be judged on a different level,” Shafran said, adding there was no definitive evidence that Fischer passed herpes virus onto the children.
Rockland Health Commissioner Joan Facelle and public information officers for the health departments in New York City and the state didn’t return calls for comment this morning.