August 20, 2023

Michael Borenstein responds to Avi Schick on Ritual Circumcision

To the Editors:

In his article entitled “New York’s New Untouchables,” Avi Schick argues that politicians in New York have bragged about regulations they imposed on the Jewish community, and that this is a form of antisemitism. He cites three examples including the following. “The challenges to religious life here began a decade or so ago, when New York City cited a concern about neonatal herpes to require signed consent forms prior to certain forms of circumcision. This was the first regulation of circumcision ever adopted in the United States. That became a point of pride for Mayor Bloomberg, who claimed ‘that nobody else would take that on’ because ‘who wants to have 10,000 guys in black hats outside your office, screaming?'” Mr. Schick says that he successfully fought this regulation in court and had it overturned.

Mr. Schick mentions “certain forms of circumcision”. This refers to the practice of the mohel putting his mouth on the open wound on the penis and sucking out blood. This practice was not originally part of the circumcision ritual and was probably adopted hundreds of years ago as a means for reducing infection. Ironically, in today’s society it has precisely the opposite effect, which is to endanger the child. There have been documented cases where the mohel transmitted herpes to the infant using this procedure. Some children died. Others suffered irreparable brain damage or lost the ability to see.

Mr. Schick takes obvious pride in his role in overturning the regulation. He argued to the court that herpes transmission from this practice is rare and had been singled out by Mr. Bloomberg despite the fact that other infections are more common (if less easily addressed). What does “rare” mean? Let’s say the risk of brain damage is 1 in 10,000. If someone offered Mr. Schick $1,000 against a 1 in 10,000 chance that Mr. Schick’s child would suffer irreversible brain damage, would he take it? I hope not.

Mr. Bloomberg did not try to take away the parents’ right to put their children at risk. He merely tried to ensure that the parents made an informed decision. If Mr. Bloomberg expressed himself poorly on one occasion, that might have been a mistake. But for Mr. Schick to brag about the fact that he had this regulation overturned is a more serious mistake. It seems likely that innocent children will spend their lives with debilitating cognitive and physical disabilities as a result. That is not something to be proud of.

Michael Borenstein