By Hella Winston (The Jewish Week)
March 13, 2012
A mohel who was ordered to stop the circumcision practice of metzitzah b’peh in 2007 by the New York State Department of Health is apparently still engaging in the controversial practice of “oral suction,” The Jewish Week has learned.
In a recording made within the past two weeks and obtained by The Jewish Week, Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer can be heard scheduling a bris 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.”
At one point during the call, the caller asks Rabbi Fischer, “We’re frum yidden [religious Jews], I want to do metzitzah b’peh, it’s not a problem?” to which Rabbi Fischer responds, “No, it’s not a problem.”
Asked to comment on the information in the tape, Michael Moran, a spokesman for the state health department, said: “The Department of Health will be contacting Rabbi Fischer to advise him that the order prohibiting him from practicing this ritual in New York State remains in effect.”
In 2005, it was reported that Rabbi Fischer had been linked to the infections of three infants, one of whom died, with the herpes simplex 1 virus. All three infants were circumcised by Rabbi Fischer in New York State. At the time, the city ordered Rabbi Fischer to stop practicing metzitzah b’peh temporarily while it investigated the matter.
When the city learned that Rabbi Fischer was not complying with the order, it ended up suing to compel him to do so, though the Bloomberg administration ultimately withdrew the suit. The city Health Department passed the matter on to a Jewish religious tribunal.
The state health department also issued a ban against Rabbi Fischer in 2005 but, according to reports, withdrew it in April of that year “after receiving a written assurance from a Hasidic business man, Jacob Spitzer, that the community was instituting its own self-policing procedures.” In 2006, an agreement between the state department of health, headed by Pataki appointee Antonina Novello, and a “broad array” of Orthodox rabbis resulted in what was called a “circumcision protocol regarding the prevention of neonatal herpes,” which outlined guidelines for the practice of metzitzah b’peh and steps the state health department would take if an infant were to become infected with the herpes simplex type 1 virus.
Last week, The Jewish Week learned that those protocols — which were widely criticized as ineffective by then-New York City health Commissioner Thomas Frieden and others — were rescinded the following year by Dr. Richard F. Daines, the late health commissioner under Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
In 2007, after Rabbi Fischer was linked to another case of neonatal herpes in May of that year, he was prohibited under Section 16 of the Public Health Law by the state Department of Health from performing metzitzah b’peh “in and throughout the state of New York.” Rabbi Fischer was also prohibited from engaging in any other practice in which he “[allows his] mouth or oral fluids to come in direct contact with an infant’s genitals…”
At one point during the phone conversation, the caller asks to be reassured by Rabbi Fischer about metzitzah b’peh.
“It’s perfectly OK,” Rabbi Fischer answers, and then goes on to claim that the recently reported death of an infant in September from a herpes simplex 1 infection was mistakenly reported to the public as being the result of metzitzah b’peh. He added that “the baby’s death had nothing to do with the mohel.”
“The baby passed away on Rosh HaShanah,” the mohel continued, claiming “it took five months for the health department to convince the medical examiner to add the words ‘oral suction’ to the cause of death. The medical examiner did not want to do it … but the newspapers picked it up and it was enough to make the issue.”
When asked by The Jewish Week about Rabbi Fischer’s claims, Ellen Borakove, director of public affairs for the chief medical examiner of New York City said, “Let me tell you that that cause of death was the way it was back in September. It was finalized [shortly after the death].”
Several attempts by The Jewish Week to reach Rabbi Fischer by phone at his home were unsuccessful.
Reached at his office and asked for comment, attorney Mark J. Kurzmann told The Jewish Week he hasn’t represented Fischer since 2005 and had no knowledge of the 2007 ban.
According to state health department spokesman Peter Constantakes, if the DOH were to receive a complaint with credible evidence that Rabbi Fischer was in violation of the order, the matter would likely be referred to the New York State Attorney General’s office for enforcement.
Calls to the Attorney General’s office were not returned.