Friday, September 7, 2012

My Debut in the 'Yeshivah World News' (YWN) Print Edition

This Friday morning, tens of thousands of residents in Midwood & Boro Park woke up to find the first ever print edition of Yeshiva World News on their doorsteps. This free newspaper, scheduled to be delivered each Friday, has many features which are not available on our website including breaking news, in depth feature reporting, top political analysis and a children’s section. 

For the online edition Click HERE

Below is my in-depth features in the print edition - on the Metzitzah B'peh figh.

FRONT PAGE AND CONTINUED ON PG. 30:

Bloomberg Declares War on Bris Milah

It’s New York City and it’s the Jewish mayor, Mike Bloomberg. The latest attempt to regulate the traditional and sacred practice known as metzitzah b'peh has driven many Rabbis and elected officials to not only condemn the move. This could eventually put the entire practice of Briz Milah in jeopardy. This may also vow with the strongest terms to disobey any order or comply with the new rules expected to be set by NYC’s Health Department (DOH).

The crusade to stop Metzitzah b’peh is viewed by many in the Jewish community as an attempt by the DOH to regulate the entire process of conducting circumcision the way we know it. As HaRav Eliyashiv z’t"l told a group of Rabbanim, who came to consult on the matter 6 years ago, that it’s not about metzitizah b’peh, it’s about Mitzvas Milah.

The first incident, in which the New York Board of Health became actively involved by turning it into a health issue, was after a boy in Staten Island and twins in Brooklyn, circumcised by the same mohel in 2003 and 2004, died after contracting Type-1 herpes.

At the time, Rabbi Moshe Tendler, a microbiologist and professor of Talmud and medical ethics at Yeshiva University, said that metzitzah b'peh violates Jewish law. "The rule that's above all rules in the Torah is that you cannot expose or accept a risk to health unless there is true justification for it," Tendler told the NY Times.

The question that was raised by some of those involved in the case, that there was no direct indication that the cause of the infant’s death was ‘metzitzah b’peh’ oriented. Nonetheless, The DOH immediately jumped to conclusion even in the face when it seemed to contradict with other opinions, such as the infant’s mother who recalled how her two-year-old son shared the infant’s pacifier about 2 weeks before his death.

According to one of the prominent Rabbis, who wished to remain off the record, Dr. Tom Frieden, formerly health commissioner of New York City and now head of the Centers for Disease Control, told a group of Rabbanim that his intent is to change the entire circumcision process.

In 2006, the New York State adopted a protocol in coordination with doctors and rabbis representing the Orthodox Jewish community that called for public education about the risks of neo-natal herpes and the warning signs to be on guard for. It also required specific sanitary procedures for mohalim to follow which should eliminate any possible risk of transmitting infection.

Yet, as reported at the time, and it recently got reignited in March 2012, city officials felt the need to depart from the protocols and insisted on “informed consent” to curtail mbp. This intransigence and view of mitzvas milah as a surgical procedure left many observers suspecting that a political agenda by Mayor Bloomberg with the help of outside opportunists has overtaken genuine public health concerns.

Speaking to YWN, Attorney Yerachmiel Simins confirmed that the delegation representing the Rabbanim have met twice with Deputy mayors, Wolfson and Gibbs, in an attempt to influence the Mayor, but were met by total ignorance from the Mayor’s office since.

“The City seems to gear up in passing the law on September 13th,” Simins told YWN. “This attempt of passing through the “informed consent” process is an infringement on our freedom of practicing religion here in the United States, forcing Mohalim to tell the parents lies and misinformation, and is a stepping stone to much greater regulations to ultimately ban metzitzah b’peh completely,” he asserted.

The attempt and intensification by the mayor to regulate the process, neglecting any compromise that will satisfy the Orthodox Jewish community is therefore being viewed as a direct onslaught to Jewish tradition, by modifying milah the way we know it.

In an interview in this week’s Ami Magazine, Rav Yisrael Belsky, Rosh Yeshivah of Torah Vodaas recalled a recent conversation he had with Dr. Tom Frieden. “I asked Frieden if it’s true that 80 percent of mohalim have antibodies for herpes and 80 percent of them do metzitzah b’peh. He said yes. I said, ‘According to your statistics, there should be at least 500 cases of herpes. How come there isn’t even one [aside from a previously documented case]? It shows that your statistics are flawed! The theories are not developed. They don’t prove anything. So Frieden changed the topic and started talking about something else. He had no response,” Rav Belsky noted.

In a document released by the OU (Orthodox Union) there’s a quote by Rabbi Yaakov Ettlinger, in his famous responsa work, Binyan Tzion, wrote two responsa on the issue of metzitzah, and in both he strongly defended the practice, calling metzitzah (not b’peh per se, just the act of suctioning) a “halachah leMoshe miSinai,” a necessary tradition dating back to Moses at Sinai.

Last week, approximately 200 Rabanim signed a Kol Koreh (proclamation) that decried the city’s attempt to set conditions on Jewish religious practices by spreading lies and misinformation.  “The aforementioned health dept., printed and spread lies and mischaracterizations and exaggerations, of instances of illness after bris milah, in order to justify, their evil decree. It is clear to us, that there is not even an iota of blame or danger in this ancient and holy custom of,” they wrote.

“This is the first time when the rightness Government of the U.S. who has always given us the possibility of observing our religion that they are intervening, in the Jewish religion, to establish conditions in the observation of Torah and Mitzvos.”

Rabbi Moshe Duvid Niederman, executive director of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg, told the New York Post that no one will comply with the law, even if it’s passed. “For the government to force a rabbi who’s practicing a religious act to tell his congregants its dangerous is totally unacceptable,” Niederman told The Post.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind went farther in accusing the mayor of “speaking condescendingly about our cultural traditions” and implying that Orthodox Judaism is “barbaric.” On the Dov Hikind Radio show last Saturday, Assemblyman Hikind called it “a chutzpa, insulting and degrading” for the Mayor and his administration to interfere with Religious freedom.
In a recent speech, later posted on YouTube, NYC Councilman David Greenfield recounted how, in a conversation with a deputy mayor, he “tried to explain to him [that] bris milah … is an issue that we’ve been dealing with for three and a half thousand years”. When asked about his position on the ‘informed consent’ proposal, Greenfield told The Jewish Week, “The administration’s attempt to regulate the 3,800-year-old practice of bris milah is a shocking affront on the constitutionally protected religious freedom of New York’s Jewish community”.

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