Casting a Vote for Our Religious Liberties

Recently, a mohel — who is also a prominent Dayan — came to examine the newborn child of a friend of mine. He expressed concern about a seemingly minor rash. The mother took the infant to the pediatrician who assured the worried mother that it was nothing to worry about.

The mohel, however, wasn’t satisfied and insisted that a dermatologist see the child. The skin doctor examined the baby and said it looked harmless, but sent a culture to laboratory as a precautionary measure.

The lab results indicated a serious though treatable infection.

“They would like try to blame this too on the mohel,” the Dayan commented.

Indeed, they probably would have blamed the mohel — if not for the fact that the mohel had noticed the infection before the bris had taken place — and delayed the bris by two weeks until after the child had totally recovered.

He was, of course, referring to the New York City’s unprecedented regulation of bris milah, and its ongoing campaign against metzitzah b’peh.

As the lawsuit against a Bloomberg administration regulation requiring mohalim to ask parents to sign a consent form which espouses the NYC Department of Health’s view associating metzitzah b’peh (MBP) with serious health risks slowly grinds forward, there is much confusion and misinformation regarding what this controversy is really all about.

The viewpoint of the DOH hasn’t only been rejected by mohalim, it has been totally discredited by leading medical experts.

Unlike the experts cited by city officials, Dr. Daniel S. Berman, since 1989 Chief of Infectious Diseases at the New York Westchester Square Hospital Medical Center — who is considered one of the foremost experts on the safety of MBP — has personally investigated the cases of illness or death that were allegedly linked to MBP. Based on his firsthand knowledge and careful, unbiased research, Dr. Berman has repeatedly stated that there is no proof that MBP has ever caused a child to fall ill.

Throughout the generations, there have been those who have tried to use alleged health concerns to disguise their true intentions in their attempts to meddle and prevent the fulfillment of this great mitzvah.

In reality, halachah and mesorah is even more stringent than medical experts in regard to the safety issues pertaining to bris milah. While the importance of the bris taking place on the eighth day is so imperative that it is performed even on Shabbos and Yom Kippur, mohalim regularly postpone brisos if they find the infant to be yellow, even though doctors feel that such a level of jaundice isn’t a barrier to a circumcision.

The very notion that Jewish parents should be warned about a rite that has been safely practiced for millennia is deeply offensive and outrageous.

As a father of sons, I can personally attest that the parents in the Jewish community care much more about the safety of their children than anyone in the DOH or the Mayor’s office. Not only are we convinced of the safety of MBP, we are cognizant of the inherent spiritual dangers in tampering with our mesorah.

Let us not delude ourselves: This is about far more than a consent form — this is about our ability to live a Torah life.

The city has made no secret of its intentions. Their stated goal is that metzitzah b’peh (MBP) — which according to large segments of Klal Yisrael is an integral part of mitzvas milah — should not be performed at all.

The city has also indicated that MBP is only the first item on their list as they seek to interfere with and restrict other aspects of a bris. They have alluded to the need for a “sterile” environment for a bris, i.e. preventing brisos from taking place in shuls or homes, as well as requiring mohalim to wear gloves, an idea which is unacceptable for halachic reasons.

Furthermore, if the city hosting the largest population of Jews in the Diaspora is allowed to restrict bris milah, this sends a message to governmental authorities throughout the world that they can feel free to limit and tamper with the religious liberties of Jews in general, and specifically to interfere with bris milah.

The once mighty wall of religious rights that has allowed Torah Jewry to thrive on these shores has begun to crumble, and we dare not remain silent.

We must continue to daven to Hashem to thwart the plans of all those who seek to interfere with our ability to perform the mitzvos.

We must do all we can to help support the dedicated askanim and organizations who are leading the legal battle against this regulation.

In the coming days, New Yorkers will go to the polls and cast ballots in the mayoral primary elections. Before walking into the voting booth, take a few moments to find out what position the candidates have taken about the unprecedented milah regulation. It is crucial that we send a clear message how vital this non-negotiable issue is to us as Torah Jews.