Thursday, February 10, 2005

Rockland Health Commissioner, has ordered Rabbi Fischer to take a blood test Monday


At 5:30 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...
1010 Wins, NY
Rabbi Told To Stop Old-World Circumcisions
Feb 10, 2005 7:25 am US/Eastern
(1010 WINS) POMONA, N.Y. The Rockland County Health Commissioner has ordered a Monsey rabbi to stop performing oral-suction circumcisions and to take a Herpes test. Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer's old-world method of performing circumcisions also has come under scrutiny by the New York State and the Orange County health departments.

The New York City Health Department says three infants circumcised by Fischer got herpes and one died. Fischer uses his mouth to suction blood from the wound after he removes the foreskin. The ritual is used predominantly by Hasidic Jews. Many rabbis say Jewish law does not mandate mouth suction. Defenders contend the spread of disease is rare. New York City health officials have prohibited Fischer from performing circumcisions and ordered him to take a blood test for herpes. Lawyers for the city and Fischer have declined to discuss whether the rabbi took the test and the results if he did.

Rockland Health Commissioner - Doctor Joan Facelle - has ordered the rabbi to take a blood test Monday.

A spokesman for the rabbi says he is cooperating with the city health department.

At 5:34 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

White Plains Journal News, NY
Rockland halts rabbi's circumcisions
(Original publication: February 10, 2005)

The Rockland health commissioner has ordered a Monsey rabbi to stop performing oral-suction circumcisions and to take a herpes test.

Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer's ritual method also has come under scrutiny from the New York state and Orange County health departments, officials said yesterday. The rabbi's techniques are not illegal, but pose a potential health hazard, officials said.

The New York City Health Department has said three infants circumcised by Fischer contracted herpes and that one died.

Fischer uses his mouth to suction blood from the wound after he removes the foreskin. The centuries-old ritual, called metzizah bi peh, is used predominantly by Hasidic Jews. Many rabbis say Jewish law does not mandate mouth suction; defenders contend the spread of disease is rare.

New York City health officials have prohibited Fischer from performing circumcisions and ordered him to take a blood test for herpes simplex virus type 1. Lawyers for the city and Fischer have declined to discuss whether the rabbi took the test and the results if he did.

Dr. Joan Facelle, the Rockland health commissioner, issued the same prohibition this week and ordered the rabbi to take a blood test Monday.

"We're trying to ascertain if he carries the virus, which would make him capable of transmitting it to the population," Facelle said.

Facelle said she hoped the rabbi would comply and take the blood test. If not, she said, the county would take him to court.

Hillel M. Kurzmann, who represents Fischer with his father, Mark J. Kurzmann, said yesterday that the county's order was similar to New York City's.

"We are eager to learn the true source of the infection," Hillel Kurzmann said. "He is cooperating with the city. He will cooperate as much as possible with the county."

Mark Kurzmann has said the rabbi performed the traditional circumcision at the parents' request. He uses sterilized instruments and antiseptic mouthwash, Kurzmann said.

Most mohelim who perform that part of the ritual use a medical tube to suction the blood.

Fischer's methods came under scrutiny when a Manhattan newborn died of herpes in November and his twin was diagnosed with the virus a little more than two weeks after the rabbi performed their circumcisions in October. A Staten Island newborn also circumcised by Fischer was diagnosed with herpes in November.

The state Health Department is working with New York City, Rockland and other counties, spokesman Robert Kenney said yesterday.

"We're interviewing the two families," Kenney said. "One of our priorities is to ensure the infants and the families get appropriate medical attention."

Herpes is not a reportable disease in New Jersey, a state Health Department spokeswoman there said yesterday. There is no inquiry there involving the rabbi.

County health departments in New York state don't license mohelim or oversee circumcision because it's a religious ritual.

Fischer, 66, is a respected mohel in the region and in Israel and was trained in circumcisions by the British Milah Society, a rabbinical group.

The Orange County health commissioner, Dr. Jean M. Hudson, said yesterday that her department would meet with the Jewish community, specifically the Satmar Hasidic community of Kiryas Joel in Monroe.

"We're preparing to alert the Hasidic community," she said, "that this circumcision practice is not hygienic and has potential risks."

Send e-mail to Steve Lieberman

At 1:09 PM, Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

Rockland Health Commissioner needs to have a colonoscopy done with a louisville slugger
but first Woojee Woojee

At 5:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what the hell is Woojee Woojee and why are you so obsessed with it?

At 8:47 PM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Feb. 10, 2005
Circumcision tragedy shines spotlight on rituals of ultra-Orthodox community

by Johanna Ginsberg
NJJN Staff Writer

Accusations that an infant died after contracting herpes from the man who performed his ritual circumcision have highlighted sharp differences in practices between some haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, Jewish communities and other Jewish factions.

According to a complaint filed in Manhattan Supreme Court by the state’s health department and publicized on Feb. 2 in the New York Daily News, Rabbi Yitzhok Fischer, a hasidic mohel in Monsey, used his mouth to draw blood from the penis during the ritual circumcision of twins last October. One of the babies died from herpes. The other tested positive for the virus caused by herpes.

While a spokesman for a haredi group said the practice of using the mouth to draw blood is “normative” among the ultra-Orthodox, Conservative mohalim call the practice one of “extremists” and “fanatics,” and Modern Orthodox authorities also say they reject the procedure, and that it is “very, very rare, even in other communities.”

Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, an advocacy group for haredi Judaism, called the practice, known as metzitza bapeh, “normative” among all haredi Jews, who include hasidic and non-hasidic movements. “In the yeshivish haredi world, it is de rigueur to do metzitza bapeh,” Shafran told the New Jersey Jewish News. “I have seen it at all of the brisim [circumcisions] I have been to, including my own sons and one of my grandsons. There’s never anything to talk about. It’s just done.”

But Rabbi Elazar Teitz, a leader of the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth and its affiliated congregations, who said he feels equally at home among modern Orthodox and haredi camps, said that “in a good part of the haredi community, metzitza bapeh is not used.”

Conservative and Modern Orthodox mohalim say the practice was dropped from Judaism long ago.

“The mohalim I know perform circumcision in strict compliance with medical standards that assure that the procedure is safe and sterile,” said Rabbi Mark Cooper of the Conservative Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange, who is a mohel.

“It is not a custom used in modern Orthodox communities,” said a spokesperson from the Orthodox Union. “Mohalim in modern communities use latex gloves and a glass tube for suction, and they take every precaution so they do not come into contact with the baby’s blood and the baby does not come into contact with their blood.”

And Teitz said, “I have seen the practice being done, but if I were asked, I would tell a mohel not to do it. The tube is used virtually exclusively [in our community]. This is something I learned from my father, and he was certainly accepted [as an authority] in the haredi world.”

At the heart of the controversy is the third of three steps in a circumcision required under Halacha, or rabbinic law. After the removal of the foreskin and removal of the inner membrane underlying the foreskin, the mohel must draw out a drop of blood. The practice is known as metzitza, from the Hebrew “to suck.” Many Conservative mohalim perform metzitza with gauze, while Orthodox mohalim use a sterilized glass tube filled with gauze to prevent direct contact. Health officials in New York said the mohel performing the fatal circumcision performed the practice bapeh, or by mouth.

“The kind of mohel that did this is someone who lives in a different world, who ignores the evidence of medical reality,” said Cooper. “For example, he may not wear gloves, preferring to focus on the religious and theological aspects of the ceremony and overlook matters of hygiene.”

Of the four Conservative mohalim in the local area, only one uses a tube. The rest use gauze. “The Halacha is to have a drop of blood,” said Cantor Menachem Toren of the Pine Brook Jewish Center Chevra Agudas Achim Anshy in Montville. “You only need to touch the penis and it starts to bleed. I use a piece of gauze. It’s just the extremists of the extremists that do metzitza [orally], and only the ultra-Orthodox that use the tube.”

Cantor Richard Nadel of the Conservative Temple Beth Ahm in Springfield also uses gauze. He said the traditional reason for metzitza was to ensure the baby’s health, a justification rendered moot by modern medical knowledge. “In antiquity, the mohel would suck the blood from the penis to draw out infection and then spit the blood into a plate of dirt.”

Before the modern era, however, mohalim were unaware that the mouth is full of bacteria.

“This is the best way to communicate disease,” said Nadel. “They recognized from time to time a baby would get an infection. They did not know what caused it. They felt if they drew the blood, they would prevent infection.”

Several of those interviewed for this story also indicated that, in today’s world of HIV and other diseases, there is a danger posed not only to the baby, but to the mohel as well. The OU spokesperson said that one prominent rabbi of an OU-affiliated community who is also an “experienced” mohel would only use the procedure on his own children. “They are the only ones he can vouch for” in terms of their health.

Calls to Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic, a mohel from the local Lubavitch Hasidic community, were not returned.

A study that appeared in the August 2004 issue of Pediatrics concluded that the practice of metzitza bapeh places newborns at risk of contracting the herpes virus from the mohalim who perform it and should be discontinued. Rabbi Moshe Tendler of Yeshiva University was among those conducting the study.

But Shafran of Agudath Israel insists that there is not enough evidence to reject the practice. “Show me the money — show me the sampling of cases,” he said. “If the transfer of virus was likely, we’d be seeing a large number of babies from the haredi communities showing up in hospitals. But they’re not….If there is no evidence, then the guesswork about the danger is just that. This is a terrible tragedy. But to leap from an isolated instance to say there’s a problem with a practice going on from time immemorial, when worldwide there are only a handful of cases where this is even a suspect, it’s not the monster people say it is.”

Cooper nonetheless suggests that parents gather information before hiring a mohel. “I urge any parent who will be having a bris to be fully aware of the medical standards a mohel follows, including wearing gloves and sterilizing instruments. What this mohel did was extraordinarily irresponsible, and should not be condoned by Jewish law.”

But, he added, Jewish families should continue to have their babies circumcised by mohalim.

“Mohalim can and should perform this ritual, following high standards for proper medical care and safety. I follow such standards, as do all the mohalim I know.”

Johanna Ginsberg can be reached at

At 1:55 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

February 11, 2005
Baby's death sets off scare
KJ mohels to meet with health officials

By Chris McKenna
Times Herald-Record

Kiryas Joel – Orange County officials plan to meet this month with men who perform religious circumcisions in this Hasidic community to discuss an ancient technique used in that procedure that has suddenly raised health concerns.

The concerns stem from recent allegations that three newborns – twins from Manhattan and a baby from Staten Island – contracted herpes late last year from a Rockland County rabbi who circumcised them. One of the Manhattan twins died, according to published reports.

New York City health officials blame a custom embraced by some Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews in which the mohel – the person trained to perform a bris, or ritual circumcision – sucks blood from the baby's genitals with his mouth, rather than using gauze or a plastic tube.

The Monsey rabbi, Yitzchok Fischer, has since been ordered by New York City and Rockland County health officials and a state Supreme Court judge in Manhattan to cease the practice until the three herpes cases are fully investigated.

Fischer referred calls yesterday to his attorney, Mark J. Kurzmann of Pearl River.

Kurzmann said his client was cooperating with the investigation and hasn't been shown to be the source of the infection.

Fischer, a renowned mohel who performs circumcisions around the world, is not believed to have done any in Kiryas Joel, where families would more likely use one of about 15 local mohelim or one from Brooklyn.

Kurzmann said Fischer performs the metzizah be peh – or oral suction method – only at parents' request, since it's a matter of preference.

Among the conservative Satmar Hasidim of Kiryas Joel, the technique – said to have begun with Abraham – is mandatory.

Dr. Jean Hudson, the Orange County health commissioner, called Kiryas Joel officials yesterday to schedule a meeting with the mohelim. The meeting will likely take place around the end of February, Village Administrator Gedalye Szegedin said.


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