We are confused. The New York City Department of Health recently announced that it would soon impose a requirement that mohalim, ritual circumcisers, must get written parental consent for a practice known as “metzitzah b’peh.”
“During metzitzah b’peh,” a letter from the department explains, based on studies in Israel and here, “the mouth of the mohel comes into direct contact with the baby’s circumcision cut, risking transmission of herpes simplex virus to the infant.”
The department admits that “severe illness associated with this practice [is] rare,” but notes that “there is no proven way to reduce the risk of herpes infection posed by circumcision which includes metzitzah b’peh.” Because of the potential danger to the infant, the Health Department wants parents to be informed of the risk of metzitzah b’peh before the b’rit milah is performed.
Both the charedi-allied Agudath Israel of America and the centrist Rabbinical Council of America object to any such informed consent requirement.
The RCA reaction is the remarkable one here because it admits “that direct oral suction is not an integral part of the circumcision ritual” according to “many Jewish legal authorities…[who instead] advocate the use of a sterile tube to preclude any risk of infection.”
We would understand this objection if (1) the procedure was necessary for the circumcisions to be halachically valid (it is not, says the RCA); (2) if there is no other way to remove dangerous matter from the wound (there is, says the RCA); and (3) if the Health Department banned the practice (it did not).
The Torah forbids putting “a stumbling block before the blind.” Ritual circumcisions are halachically forbidden to proceed if the ill health of the infant warrants a delay. The New York City Health Department wants a stumbling block removed to protect the health of the infant. What is wrong with that?