De Blasio never enforced agreement to ID mohels with herpes

By Yoav Gonen and Carl Campanile (New York Post)
March 10, 2017

The de Blasio administration has never enforced an agreement it made two years ago to identify mohels who transmit herpes to infants during circumcisions — which it boasted would protect both “children and religious rights.”

A new case of life-threatening herpes in a newborn has made a shambles of that claim, as the Department of Health scrambles to track down the latest mohel who may be carrying the virus.

The Mayor’s Office announced on Feb. 24, 2015, that “for the first time” a rabbinical coalition “from across New York City” had pledged to turn over the mohels linked to spreading herpes and require them to undergo testing.

If there was a match to an infected infant, the mohel would be banned for life from performing circumcisions.

“This new agreement fulfills the mayor’s commitment to finding a more effective policy that protects children and religious rights in a way that more actively engages the cooperation of the community.

This agreement focuses on two key areas: maximizing awareness of parents and minimizing risk to infants,” City Hall said in a fact sheet at the time.

The agreement was meant to allay concerns after the administration removed a restriction imposed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg that required parents to sign consent forms before a mohel could perform the ancient ritual known as metzitzah b’peh.

The practice requires the mohel to suck blood from the incision on an infant’s penis.

But the self-policing hasn’t worked.

There have been six neonatal cases of herpes resulting from metzitzah b’peh since the deal was announced in 2015, and only two of the suspect mohels have been identified.

The city Health Department said that a code of silence in the Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities has made it difficult to track down the mohels who could be spreading the virus.

“Given how protective families are of mohels and the practice of metzitzah, working with families and the community when there is a new case of neonatal herpes continues to be our better option,” the department said.

“That said, our main priority is to protect the health of babies,” it said. “If the community is not living up to the deal announced in 2015, we’ll go back to the drawing board and start over,” the department said.

The mohel responsible for the herpes case announced this week has not yet been found, even as health officials say they are speaking with the family of the infected infant.

Since 2000, a total of 24 infants have been infected. Two have died and two others have suffered brain damage.

The Health Department does not track infants once they have recovered.

One legislator defended the administration’s handling of the religiously sensitive and politically explosive issue, arguing that it is best to bolster safety with the ultra-Orthodox community through cooperation rather than government edict.

“I’m a big believer in catching more flies with honey than vinegar.

Education and outreach is the way to win that cooperation,” said Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gott­fried.

Given that legal issues involving religious freedom come into play, Gott­fried said he doubts a new city or state law to enforce testing of mohels would be upheld.