What do you call it when a man places his mouth over a child’s penis and sucks on it? If you said, ‘a crime,’ ‘sexual molestation,’ or ‘rape,’ you’re right. It’s all of these things.
Yes, believe it or not, there is — appallingly — an ‘unless’ here. It’s a familiar one, and one that has been said many times in order to justify and excuse a plethora of perverted and unconscionable acts throughout history: “It’s my faith.”
Faith is what’s currently at the heart of a controversy between New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and some in the Orthodox Jewish community. The dispute involves the archaic circumcision rite among some Jews known as metzitzah b’peh, or ‘oral suction.’ In this ritual, a mohel circumcises an infant and then places his mouth on the penis where the cut is in order to suck blood from the wound. Thankfully, the practice is relatively rare, but still some 3,600 of these types of circumcisions are estimated to occur in New York City every year. As a result there have been 16 documented cases of neonatal herpes arising from them since 2000, two of which were fatal.
In 2012 the Bloomberg administration took action. And if you think that action was to outlaw this practice whereby an adult puts a baby’s penis in his mouth, you’d be wrong. Rather, the city required that mohels receive a signed consent form from the parents. In response, Orthodox rabbis stated outright that they would ignore the regulation. As the head of the American Board of Ritual Circumcision (apparently an actual thing) said at the time, “I have another mayor, the Almighty, and I will do it His way.”
And why not? It’s not as if the city is enforcing its own mandate (really, how could they?). Two attempts by the Jewish Daily Forward to obtain information regarding the consent forms in question have been rebuffed. More incredibly, the city “refuses to say whether such forms even exist.”
Picking up where his predecessor left off, de Blasio wants to nix the signed consent regulation and instead force mohels and rabbis to verbally inform parents of the health risks associated with oral suction. A de Blasio spokesperson explained the reasoning, saying, “We believe the right policy here raises awareness of parents to the risks but is also respectful of religious freedom.”
At the risk of appearing flippant, allow me to convey the absurdity of the situation as tersely as possible — in a haiku:
A child’s penis
Inside of a grown man’s mouth.
De Blasio is seeking the verbal warning alternative after a circuit court last year incredibly sided against the city’s signed consent mandate because it “purposefully singles out religious conduct performed by a subset of Orthodox Jews,” and said it does not withstand strict scrutiny. Once again, “religion freedom” prevailed, even when it was being invoked to justify what in any other context would be considered child molestation worthy of at least a criminal indictment and a mental evaluation.
While criminal charges may be warranted for mohels practicing oral suction, without question the mental evaluation would be wholly unnecessary. We have already identified their disorder, which is simultaneously the source of their abhorrent behavior as well as their highly successful defense of it: It’s my faith.