Mohel practice may do more harm than good

by Beacon Staff • March 1, 2006

There are far too many examples of this to name, but some that immediately jump to mind are the violent response to the Danish cartoon in Europe, the apocalyptic rants of Pat Robertson and the bombing of a beautiful Shiite mosque in Iraq by Sunni extremists.,Religion hasn't been getting too much in the way of good press lately.

There are far too many examples of this to name, but some that immediately jump to mind are the violent response to the Danish cartoon in Europe, the apocalyptic rants of Pat Robertson and the bombing of a beautiful Shiite mosque in Iraq by Sunni extremists.

Just when you think the Jewish community comes away looking pretty good considering the above examples, think again.

A scandal involving Orthodox Jewish leaders in New York City has caused outrage among health advocates and city officials. The controversy involves a circumcision ritual practiced by some Orthodox Jews.

After performing the surgery, the practitioner, or mohel, sucks the blood from the baby's wound to clean it. This practice received citywide attention after three infants contracted type-one herpes.

Tragically, one of these babies has died.

Surely this issue couldn't be more straightforward.

When children are put into such a blatantly dangerous situation, the deadly consequences of which have already been seen, the response from politicians and law enforcement will undoubtedly be swift and unambiguous. Right?

Wrong. Orthodox leaders are actually framing this debate in terms of religious freedom and are refusing to change their policy.

"The Orthodox Jewish community will continue the practice that has been practiced for over 5,000 years," insisted Rabbi David Niederman of the United Jewish Organization, as quoted in The New York Times.

What's more staggering is that Mayor Bloomberg is buying it.

After lamely promising to look into the issue, he said, "it is not the government's business to tell people how to practice their religion."

Really? It's not the government's business to step in when children are dying because of an outrageous ancient ritual?

Republicans believe in limited government, but since when do they believe that preventing death was infringing upon rights?

Bloomberg changed his stance -slightly-after his re-election, when he no longer needed the Orthodox Jewish vote.

The health commissioner of the city issued an official warning, and there are great efforts being made to educate people on the practice. However, Bloomberg is proposing no ban of the ritual, the idea being that such a prohibition would be unenforceable.

Maybe so, but it doesn't mean that symbolic action shouldn't be taken to oppose this practice.

If criminalizing it, the same way female genital mutilation and human sacrifice are criminalized, causes one rabbi or mohel to change his stance and refuse to perform this act, will it not have been worth it?

There are a few situations for which I accept that peoples' religious rights are genuinely being infringed upon.

But the fact that Jewish leaders are actually using that line of argument in this case is beyond offensive. There is no right to speak of.

Society, however, not only has the right but the obligation to protect its most vulnerable citizens.

Mohels who perform this act should not only have their right to do it revoked, they should be arrested and charged with child endangerment, as should the infant's parents.

Mayor Bloomberg, that's what a clear stance looks like.

It's time we realized that the underlying problem here, as is the case with so many issues facing society, is religion. After remarking that he would not alter the policy, Rabbi Niederman stated, "We do not change. And we will not change."

It is not only the inability to evolve, but the sheer unwillingness to do so, that is so disturbing about many aspects of faith. It can be seen in the views of Christian fundamentalists like Pat Robertson and those Muslims who rioted in the street over a Danish newspaper's decision to exercise free speech rights.

Simply because Orthodox Jews like Rabbi Niederman desperately cling onto an unchanging religious belief and act on it doesn't make them immune to criticism or the law.

Childrens' lives are being threatened-some 2,000-4,000 per year, according to Jewish leaders. What a shame no one seems concerned about their rights.