New York City health officials are investigating the death of a baby boy who died of herpes after a circumcision by Rabbi Yitzhok Fischer. Fischer carries the herpes virus and is believed to have infected two other infants while serving as a mohel. Under the Orthodox practice followed by Fischer, he actually uses his mouth to suck the blood from the infant’s penis when he cuts the foreskin.
Infants are particularly susceptible to the virus given their reduced immunity systems. Within ten days of the circumcision, one of twin boys died from the virus and another was infected.
The Book of Genesis stipulates circumcision as a defining mark for the descendants of Abraham: “Throughout all generations, every male shall be circumcised when he is eight days old…This shall be my covenant in your flesh, an eternal covenant. The uncircumcised male whose foreskin has not been circumcised, shall have his soul cut off from his people; he has broken my Covenant.” (Genesis 17:1-14)
Metzitzah b’peh (“suction by mouth”) is rarely used outside of the Haredi and Hasidic communities. Under this practice, the mohel spits the blood into a receptacle provided. While most mohelim rinse their mouths out with alcohol to sanitize them, alcohol may not kill the herpes virus.
This will make for some novel criminal and tort litigation. It is difficult to see how this shocking practice can be allowed as a public health matter. As a matter of torts, the families can clearly sue this rabbi for negligence with punitive damage potential. Indeed, I believe that there could would be a strong case for battery. The question will be reckless homicide and other criminal charges. Presumably, this rabbi knew he was a carrier and yet proceeded to use his mouth rather than the more common suction device.
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