4 NYC Infants Have Contracted Herpes From Bris Milah In Past 6 Months

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The tools set for performing the ceremoney of Brit Milah (Photo by Mendy Hechtman/Flash90)

NEW YORK (JTA) — At least four infants have contracted herpes in New York City in the past six months after undergoing a circumcision rite in which the ritual circumciser, or mohel, cleans the circumcision wound by oral suction.

Three cases of herpes have been reported since December and four since September from the rite called “metzitzah b’peh,” WPIX-11 reported, citing the city’s Health Department.

The infants were hospitalized, received intravenous antiviral drugs and are now recovering, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“The spread of neonatal herpes through ritual circumcision is a public health risk,” a Health Department official told WPIX. “To address this risk, we will continue to work with providers and families across our city to keep our youngest New Yorkers safe.”

Adults’ saliva can carry a type of herpes that causes minor symptoms in adults, but potentially serious symptoms in newborns. A herpes infection in a newborn baby can cause brain damage and death.

The custom is rarely practiced outside the haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, community. Other mohels use a sterile pipette for the practice.

It has been a political football in New York City with its large haredi population. In February 2015, the city eliminated a parental consent form mandated by former mayor Michael Bloomberg. The form was replaced with an educational brochure in 2015.

Six families in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, had children contract herpes between 2015 and mid-2017 from metzitzah b’peh. None of the families would give the name of the mohel to the Health Department.

At least 11 boys contracted herpes from the practice between 2004 and 2011. Two died and two suffered brain damage.

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96 COMMENTS

  1. From a health & infant safety position this mohel should be reported to the health department. I as a physician am required to be tested regularly for communicable diseases. A mohel has the same obligation to his infant patient. I have no problem with metzitzah bal peh. I do however, have a problem with a mohel not being tested for a communicable disease and being a carrier & infecting an infant, and his not being reported to the proper authorities

    • The only conclusive way of identifying the source of a herpes infection is DNA tests. We would need to test the DNA of the practitioner, and compare it with the DNA of the virus in the baby. Otherwise, the baby could have gotten it from someone else.

      • Oy, such ignorance.

        The epidemiology of such outbreaks that are isolated- simply isolated- to a community whose parents are not sexually active outside of marraige.
        Therefore, the virus in this community comes from the known primary exposure from the mohel.
        If disproven, then we have to show on an individual case by case basis that the parents have sexually transmitted diseases.

        • That the parents are not sexually active outside of marriage is itself unproven. Unfortunately, there are a lot of ostensibly frum people who are involved in such activities on the down low.

        • I think that you should apologize for your own ignorance.
          The herpes simplex virus can be passed to a baby through a cold sore if a person has a cold sore and kisses the baby.
          This has nothing to do with sexual promiscuity.
          I also note; that besides the parents, there are also many associated caregivers, who may have transmitted the virus.
          The suggestion that MBP is responsible for the infection is merely a hypothesis, and intellectually honest people will recognize that employing DNA testing; is a more objective and scientific methodology.

      • You totally missed the point. All Mohelim should be tested proactively for communicable diseases.At this point it is extremely unlikely that the infant contracted the herpes virus from any other source.

        • I remember right after this whole issue came out a story in boro park, who I happened to know the woman. Her baby got herpes. Everybody was convinced it was from the mohel. The mother was yelling to whoever wanted to listen that she had herpes at the same time. Nobody was even interested in what she has to say.
          I’m not saying these cases are not from the mohel, but a baby can get herpes from elsewhere other than from the mohel. I myself was tested when I had a newborn if the sores I have are herpes.

        • You can’t demand that all Mohelim be tested proactively for communicable diseases, without credible evidence to support the allegations that MBP is in any way dangerous to babies.

  2. If memory serves correctly last time this stuff happened, we ended up finding out later on that it really was not the fault of the mohel.

    Will these Jewish websites issue a public apology and ask for m’chila at that point? I’m not even sure something like that is possible at that point considering how our haters will pick up the news and run with it.

  3. Mr anonymous number 1. Can we get some evidence before we blame people?? Shameful what you just did. I guarantee you that the baby wasn’t infected from the mohel. I believe all mohelim are responsible people and make sure they’re not carrying any diseases. A baby can herpies from many sources

    • how can you be so sure that a mohel is not a carrier? all “medical” personal are tested today why should a mohel who is performing a surgical procedure any different.

      • Milah is considered a religious practice, not a surgical one.
        Therefore, most regulation regarding bris milah may be considered unconstitutional, in that it infringes on religious rights.

        • As the incidence of Herpes is disproportionately high by people who do Metzizah B’Peh it may be significant enough of a public health hazard to pass the constitutional bar. Not a simple question and one that can go either way depending on who is on the court.

    • Were you there to confirm the mohel did not patronize some kurvah, where he DID NOT get the disease?
      If you weren’t then shut up, as the yetzer hurrah works in all of us, even a mohel.

  4. Was there proof that the herpes came from the mohel?
    Not once in this whole discussion has there been any definitive proof that it’s from the mohel and not from the mother or other sources.
    it’s time for a little more responsible articles!

    • Since the incidence of herpes in babies who undergo metzizah b’peh is disproportionately high (especially when you consider the lower overall expected incidence of STD in the orthodox community) it is the most likely explanation.

  5. The charge that Metzitzah B’peh is the cause of neonatal herpes simplex virus infection, has never been conclusively proven. In fact, the link is not as “scientifically” obvious as one may think.

    An entirely plausible answer is that herpes can easily be transmitted by a caregiver or family member shedding the virus who had recently touched his or her mouth; since a recently circumcised baby is more vulnerable to infection at the circumcision site, and that babies tend to get diapered several times a day.

  6. Is that a fact that it can only come from the Mohel?
    Can it be that one of the parents or both are infected?
    And even if the parents involved refuse to give the name of the Mohel, and I can understand them for that, but why shouldn’t a Bais Din such as CRC etc be informed (or they should ask on their own)? Then they could take action against such a Mohel assuming it is the same in all or most of the cases?
    Where are our Rabbonim?

    • Jewish leaders, for years, had petitioned New York City to employ a fair and equitable method of testing all parties who might have transmitted the virus in a neonatal herpes case – not merely the mohel – to pin down the source with precision.

      The City has consistently declined to employ DNA testing, the universally recognized gold standard in determining the source of an infection. Senior health officials insisted such testing was too difficult/expensive/inconvenient/unnecessary.

      I guess that it’s easier to bash Mohels, than to take the trouble to make a scientific determination.

  7. MBP is very important.
    It’s brought down, that when Avrom did Millah on himself, he he was able to reach to do MBP Bderech Neis. And when Moshe did MBP on all the people his Aral S’fosaiyim got cured. So we see that it’s a big Inyan.

  8. We have two boys and our mohel (a very famous mohel, you’d know his name instantly) didn’t use metzitza b’phe. Feel free to call me an apikoris but quite frankly, I believe it is a disgusting practice and a chilul Hashem. We are under fire enough for doing brisot milah but this makes us look like child molesters.

    I understand that the Gemara talks about metziza b’peh but that Gemara was brought down in the 4th century, when it was very difficult to keep clean. BH today we have hot and cold running water, advanced appliance sterilization techniques, excellent laundry systems and all kinds of medications to use in the event there is bleeding after the bris. There is no reason for some mohel to touch the baby’s body, especially if the mohel’s cleanliness is suspect.

    • “Disgusting and a chilul Hashem” is not determined by what’s currently in vogue, or if the editors at the New York Times disapprove.
      While you’re entitled to use the Mohel of your choice, you have no right to slander those who hold the directives of the Talmud to be sacrosanct.

    • Your choice to reject shulchan oruch is part of bechirah chofshis. There are many who rationalize kashrus as cleanliness, so maybe we should be able to eat a clean pig?

      Oh my goodness, what will the goyim think? Look around the world, they will reject us no matter what, and the one’s who compromise are just in denial of this reality.

    • Your an apikorus. There I took your dare. Your an idiot too. If you think whatever the media or goyim doesn’t like is a chilul hashem your stupid. And you probably never learned anything in your life

  9. Does anyone know the incidence of herpes in babies that didn’t have a bris milah with a mohel?
    Any guess as to the number of boys who has bris milah during the 6 month period? My guess is close to 2000.

    • The point is moot. The only conclusive way of identifying the source of a herpes infection is to test the DNA of the Mohel, and compare it with the DNA of the virus in the baby. Otherwise, the baby could have gotten it from someone else.

      As long as New York City declines to employ DNA testing, the universally recognized gold standard in determining the source of an infection, then the City is actually putting the infants’ lives at risk by allowing these other transmitters to continue unhindered.

      • Either you are ignorant or you speak without knowledge. this is not about the DNA off the Mohel, it is about testing him for herpes and if positive, testing the herpetic DNA for a match.
        As to your constant refrain that they have no right, it resembles Air travel. You are not obligated to comply with TSA security checks, you retain the right to not travel.
        In these cases the rights of the fragile baby count. Either the Mohel agrees to be tested or he should not do milah. Even if the Government can not require this, WE SHOULD.

    • I think 22% of neonatal herpes cases in NYC were associated with boys who underwent metzizah b’peh. It is disproportionately high and those claiming that it is from other causes are the ones who should show the evidence. Based on how we understand science those denying that it is from the mohel are just delusional. Not saying that this means you should or should not do metzizah b’peh but no reason to be delusional regarding facts.

      • You have been spewing false numbers throughout this comment board to try and sound intelligent and more importantly to suit your own agenda. In reality, by making blatantly erroneous statements, you are giving more validity to the other side.

        • Pray tell what are the “real” numbers then?

          In any case I double-checked the numbers and since April 2006 when reporting Neonatal herpes became mandatory in NYC there have been 169 confirmed cases (male and female) of which 22 (13% of the total, but as these are boys only that is equivalent to 26%) developed following circumcision. So I understated it and apparently for boys undergoing metzizah b’peh the incidence of neonatal herpes is double the general population’s risk.

          • I misstated the conclusion that the risk is double. You can’t tell that from the limited data I presented. In any case as 26% of neonatal herpes cases by boys occur in boys following ritual circumcision and it is clear that ritual circumcision occurs by far less than 26% of the boys born (about 60,000 boys born in NYC a year… the numbers having bris milah are going to be less than 10,000 [with metzizah b’peh, probably only a few thousand]), which means that the incidence of herpes by orthodox jewish babies following metzizah b’peh is far higher than the general population.

    • Banning “toeiva behavior” would have zero impact on this type of herpes, HSV1.
      Up to 50% of the population may have it and it is spread by kissing, sharing the same glass or straw, or other types of close contact.

  10. I am confused. How about we keep our scared tradion of metzzia bpeh but ask the mohel to test himself first? Is there somehting halchically wrong even those committed to keep to minhag and traditon?

    • There’s no reason to assume that any Mohel is infected, and you can’t demand that all Mohelim be tested proactively for communicable diseases, without credible evidence to support the allegations that MBP is in any way dangerous to babies.

      • So i am just trying to undertsand the hashkafa. Is the concern that if we make mohelim check for herpies it will weaken the minhag of metztzi bpeh as people will trust it less? I have no clue if the evidence is conclusive or not but what do you lose my having a mohel perform a simple test?

        • My understanding is that Mohels are conscientious people, and will not perform MBP if they even suspect that they may be infected. I call that self-regulation.
          If you want to ask your child’s prospective Mohel to undergo a test, that’s fine with me, but there’s no need to place for Bris Milah under government regulation.

          • Fair enough I accept that argument. We don’t want govt mixing into our religon but ideologically on a perosnal level the torah doesn’t forbid us in nay way from asking the mohel to get tested. Thanks it makes sense.

          • You’re understanding of the situation is based solely on malicious rumor. The doctors and nurses at the NYC Dept of Health aren’t a bunch of antisemites. Children have died or left permanently disabled and you expect doctors and nurses to turn their backs?

      • As a precaution, why not ask these practitioners to get tested? Families might want to ask for proof they are not dangerous before letting them perform this ritual.

        • If you want to ask your child’s prospective Mohel to undergo a test, that’s fine with me, but there’s no need to place for Bris Milah under mandatory government regulation.

  11. Although I completely respect people’s choice to keep the MBP tradition I think it can be done without risking the health/life of a new born child.
    What about the commandment of Shomer es nafshoseichem?
    MBP can still be practiced but with safety measures put in place so no one is harmed.
    I think those well meaning people who are protecting the identity of suspect Mohels do not have the right to put babies at risk.
    As several posters mentioned there are many other ways a baby could contract herpes G-d forbid but it certainly does not negate the fact that a Mohel with herpes (even asymptomatic) definatley could (and even more so) transmit this disease-may G-d protect us.
    I absolutely think it should be mandatory for every Mohel to be tested.
    I understand that there are those who are concerned about compromising a Mohel’s parnasah but what if the same Mohel had measles? Would anyone be comfortable with that Mohel performing MBP? Dare I say because there is no vaccine (yet) for herpes it seems it’s not taken seriously.Yet the same threat of neo-natal encephalitis exists. Measles is also most of the time a benign pretty harmless (although very uncomforatable) disease with a small risk of severe complications. Once one contracts measles & gets over it (which happens is the vast majority of cases) they are immune for life while unfortunately with herpes it can flare up any time under stress etc (until a cure is found)..

  12. What a bizarre, primitive and unhealthy practice under the guise of uber-frum. Maybe we should bring back animal sacrifice, slavery and throwing idol worshippers into the fire.

    • Hopefully the bais hamikdash will be built soon and all your “bizarre and primitive practices” will be back in full force. But i suspect that you won’t be zoche to enjoy it all. Keep up the good work. Your probably an apikorus too.

    • Yes when mishiach comes animals will be sacrificed and those who commits sins will be stoned . How dare you shame our Torah. There is no room for modernity at all even one iota with our Torah . It’s exactly as the mesora is given . No changes allowed.
      Same is true for metziza bpeh or kapparos .

      And yes I did question If there is any anti Torah hashkafa by testing the mohel before . However we need to be able to do metziza bpeh

      • YES THE XTIANS DID THAT AND MOSTLY PUT THE TOWNS JEWS LOCKED IN A SYNAGOGUE THEN BURNED THE SHUL WITH THEM IN IT ALIVE…..THATS CALLED INTERFAITH DINNERS AND DISCUSSIONS……TODAY THEY BURN OUR SOULS ALIVE THROUGH DECEIT GIFTS TO SOFTEN OUR RESISTANCE AND HELPING ISRAELI FARMERS HARVEST THEIR CROPS WHILE PASSING OUT CDs AND BOOKS OF THEIR deadmangods

    • nachumel
      basically youre opinion ,in your mind,is more advanced an accurate than the torah.the good lord that gave you your intelligence has to obviously be more intellagent than you.can you believe that ??sorry kid

  13. A bris millah is an open wound. Anyone changing the child’s diaper or bandage can potentially infect the child with herpes. For example, commonly eczema is super-infected with herpes. If someone changing the baby has eczema that is infected with herpes, he/she can pass that on to the baby.

  14. COmmentators keep repeating the claim that “it was never proven” that any mohel has given a child herpes.
    That is technically correct, but there is a big asterisk.

    This is because no suspected mohel has ever cooperated with any investigation.
    In some cases, the parents refused to name the mohel and, where the mohel was known, he refused to submit DNA under police supervision.
    That’s why Agudah says “It was never proven.”
    Correct.
    Because no suspected mohel has ever submitted DNA.
    And not because any suspected mohel has ever been cleared.

    • Your assertions are FALSE. The Rockland County Health Department, with the close cooperation of the local Orthodox community, did a two year study, which was reported in 2015.

      Over the two-year period that the protocol was in effect, eight cases were presented to the Rockland County Health Department. Five were conclusively determined NOT to be HSV-1. Of the remaining three, the mohalim were tested under the terms of protocol. One led to an inconclusive result, as not enough virus was detected in the mohel to warrant DNA testing. In the other two cases it was conclusively determined that the mohalim were NOT a DNA match to the respective infants.

      The Rockland County Department of Health had 100 PERCENT cooperation of all mohalim in the three confirmed cases to be tested under the protocol. In one case, the mohel had to travel numerous times — at his own expense, he wouldn’t take money for the mitzvah — from Montreal to Monsey for his testing.

  15. ummm….herpes simplex is not an STD. it is the virus that commonly causes cold sores around the lips and eyes. you see these on young yeshiva kids not infrequently. i assure you that not all of these kids are sexually active.

    your apparent ignorance is on display, dr. fearer of hashem!

    • As long as New York City ignores science, and declines to employ DNA testing, the universally recognized gold standard in determining the source of an infection, then the City is actually putting the infants’ lives at risk by allowing these other transmitters to continue unhindered.

      • You keep on insisting that DNA is the standard: it’s not.
        For example, unless the person is “shedding” virus when you take the culture, it will come up negative. So the Mohel who was shedding a month ago may give you a false negative.
        Insisting that a labor intensive, non-sensitive test is the “gold standard” is not accurate.

  16. I don’t believe for one minute that the babies contracted herpes from the mohel. I don’t take anything at face value, that I hear from the media. They’re known to stretch and distort the truth and even tell outright sheker.

    • Still waiting for someone to explain why Orthodox Jewish babies that undergo metzizah b’peh have a much higher incidence of neonatal herpes then the general population. NYC mandates reporting all cases of neonatal herpes and has been doing so since April 2006. The mohel is the most obvious source of transmission here, unless you are suggesting that orthodox jewish parents exhibit far greater levels of genital herpes than the general population.

  17. Unmentioned in the earlier comments are the likeliness of the mother passing the HSV-1 onto the child. For those that have the Herpes virus know that it usually breaks out when the body experiences a trauma such as fever. Hence the term “fever blister” as it used to be known. A mother giving birth, can have the virus triggered due to labor etc. A mother can be the primary source of the HSV virus. In many of the cases that had neonatal Herpes, a diaper rash was detected prior to the Milah which developed into the HSV virus. This would indicate that it happened prior to MBP. The fact that NYC wouldn’t follow Rockland County by employing DNA testing in order to determine if MBP is a real issue, shows an underhandedness at attempting to regulate Milah. Real health issues don’t need conjectures when it can easily be backed up by facts. The only reason to avoid facts is when the facts show otherwise.

  18. I’m astounded at the amount of misinformation, rumor & innuendo, and spin being employed here.
    I know some of the people at NYC Health and I’ve read the research and articles.
    No one is taking milah away, there is no plan to ban circumcision, and these aren’t a bunch of anti-semites. In many cases, it’s been impossible to test the mohel at all because everyone involved refused to divulge the name.

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