Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Is this the best issue to be lobbying around?

I got the below e-mail from a friend with the subject "why i am not orthodox":


Rabbis, state sign health rules
Safety protocols agreed to for ultra-Orthodox Jewish circumcision ritual

By ANNE MILLER, Staff writer

First published: Tuesday, June 13, 2006

ALBANY -- It was one of the more unusual public policy negotiations:
Yiddish-speaking rabbis venturing to Albany for months on Sunday nights
to talk with the state's Catholic health commissioner about a
controversial circumcision ritual.

They brushed up on science journals. She read the Talmud.

In the end, Commissioner Antonia Novello, in pink suit and gold jewelry,
and a sea of men with long beards, black suits and hats signed a new
protocol Monday that attempts to respect both an ultra-Orthodox Jewish
ritual and public health concerns.

The agreement capped a sensitive controversy that went to the heart of
the separation of church and state.

"To be able to represent the religious freedom and the public health --
it might not be the most perfect protocol in the world, but before this,
we had nothing," Novello said.

The protocols are aimed at preventing the spread of herpes through the
practice of metzizah b'peh, in which the circumcision wound is ritually
cleaned by sucking out the blood and spitting it out.

The policies stem from seven cases of neonatal herpes connected to the
ritual. They included one child who suffered severe brain injury from
the virus and another who died.

By January, prominent rabbis had sought help from a higher power -- the
state Department of Health.

Rabbis and Novello lauded the protocols Monday as a landmark step toward
meshing religious and public health needs.

"These are our children," said Robert Simins, an attorney and spokesman
for the Orthodox community. "We would want to know if anything could
hurt them."

Jewish law concerning circumcision, culled from the book of Genesis and
the Talmud, the compendium of Jewish law and tradition, requires that
all boys be circumcised eight days after their birth by a mohel, a man
trained in the ritual. In some Orthodox communities, the wound is
quickly sucked clean.

The new state guidelines require mohels, or anyone performing metzizah
b'peh, to sanitize their hands like a surgeon, removing all jewelry,
cleaning their nails under running water and washing their hands for up
to six minutes with antimicrobial soap or an alcohol-based hand scrub.

The person performing metzizah b'peh also must clean his mouth with a
sterile alcohol wipe and, no more than five minutes before it, rinse for
at least 30 seconds with a mouthwash that contains 25 percent alcohol.

The circumcised area must be covered with antibiotic ointment and
sterile gauze after the procedure.

In addition to the rabbinical policies, the state Health Department also
added neonatal herpes to the list of diseases health care workers are
required to report to state officials.

In adults, herpes is common -- almost 80 percent carry the oral form of
the disease, according to the state Health Department. It is far less
common, and potentially more dangerous, in children and babies.

If a baby who underwent metzizah b'peh does contract herpes, the mohel,
the infant's parents and health care workers will be tested. If the
mohel has the same viral strain as the baby, the mohel will be barred
from conducting any future circumcisions.

The detailed policy was hammered out over monthly meetings on Sunday
nights out of respect for the Jewish Sabbath, with rabbis traveling
between Albany and New York City, and occasionally phoning from Israel.
Novello said she read the Talmud and the writings of the rabbi and
philosopher Maimonides. The Jewish leaders said they read more
scientific journals then they could count.

Novello said she treated the rabbis with the same respect she would
treat Catholic cardinals. The rabbis, in turn, seemed charmed and
entertained by the woman who called them "my rabbis" and greeted them
with a hearty Hebrew "Shalom."

Novello suggested each rabbi sign the protocol, even those who didn't
attend the meetings, so they could tell their congregations that they
signed on like everyone else.

Rabbi David Niederman, the executive director of the United Jewish
Organizations of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and a member of the Central
Rabbinical Congress of the USA and Canada, said the issue wasn't about a
lack of understanding, but about "not appreciating. People, even those
who aren't Jewish, should appreciate the fact that this is a religion
that's been around for thousands of years."
This whole issue makes me wonder who the ultra-orthodox community gets politics advice from. Whose idea was it to lobby for the right to suck circumsions clean. I suppose my general orientation towards freedom or religion necesitates supporting people's right to this ritual so long as it is safe, but man-o-man, what an issue to undertake a high-profile lobbying campaign around. What an upsetting ritual. I wonder why this post-circumcision manneuver is done? Anyone know?


At 6/13/2006 , Anonymous alan said...

it's just a simple, effective pre-modern medical procedure for cleaning wounds.

it also lessens the pressure of blood, which is good for the healing organ.

you may recall that people out in the woods with snakebites are advised to clean their wound in the same way.

it's weird and not very up-to-date, but pretty normal in context. where i disagree is that people were trying to hard to stop government intervention when there was proof that complications were injuring/killing little kids. it's not halacha, it's not even a minhag. it's just one way of cleaning the circumsicion wound. and yet people were claiming (absurdly) that brit milah is invalid without it and that the small odds of neonatal herpes was unimportant in comparison. <---- i hate inversions of values like that.

At 6/13/2006 , Anonymous alan said...

and now that i'm done criticizing the charedi rabbis, i'm gonna say your friend should go out and meet some real orthodox people from some of the endlessly variegated orthodox communities that exist. "why i'm not orthodox" my ass. what an ignorant comment.

At 6/13/2006 , Anonymous alan said...

scholarly article here:

you might not have heard of this issue previously, but it was in the news in new york because 2 babies got sick and the health department wanted to disallow metsitsah bepeh.

At 6/13/2006 , Anonymous sarah m said...

"it's just a simple, effective pre-modern medical procedure for cleaning wounds . . . you may recall that people out in the woods with snakebites are advised to clean their wound in the same way."

that was common advice once-upon-atime, but for the outdoorsy people here, don't actually try it.
turns out sucking a snakebite doesn't remove enough venom to make a difference, but will give you their germs, and them yours. (just like metzitza b'peh).
As for wounds, same problem. It's not effective at sterilizing, and makes things worse. Clean water (and mild soap if available) would be better.

At 6/14/2006 , Anonymous alan said...

thanks, sarah. so what does the up-to-date hiker do when bitten by a snake?

my previous post is hereby corrected to read "thought to be effective in the past"


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