Study: Circumcision does not increase risk of herpes in infants

Jewish leaders this week pointed to a recent independent study by Penn Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania that found little evidence to support the claim that a circumcision practice known as Metzitzah B'Peh (MBP) leads to an increased likelihood of herpes in infants.

 In a study published in December last year, University of Pennsylvania's Center for Evidence-based Practice reviewed several studies linking circumcision with oral suction, a common ritual for many Orthodox Jews, and herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1. Though four published studies since 2000 suggested that such a link does exist, Penn doctors found the evidence to be "small and significantly limited."

The study was cited in an appeal filed Monday in the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals challenging a New York City Department of Health (DOH) regulation that seeks to place limits on the practice.

"We have been saying for years that the evidence attacking this religious practice is highly dubious, and now we have world class doctors agreeing with us," said Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger , chairman emeritus of the board of trustees of Agudath Israel of America, a party in the suit. "Hard scientific evidence simply does not back up the alarmist efforts of the New York City Board of Health and others who are needlessly interfering with the fundamental constitutional rights of thousands of New Yorkers."

In the Penn study, the center explains that the evidence base is substantially limited by several factors. First, the number of events – some that date back to the 1980s – is too small to establish a causal relationship. Second, the way the cases were reported led to many questions about their validity. Third, important information about some of the cases is unknown, specifically the infection status of the mothers, which suggests that the disease could have been transmitted in other ways.

"This evidence has important limitations.  The total number of cases is very small and was distributed across three countries and a fifteen year time frame.  As with all case reports, they were identified and selected in a non-systematic manner and cannot be compared with a specific control group," the Penn review said in reaction to one particular study.

Last year, the DOH passed a regulation requiring rabbis, as a condition of performing MBP, to inform parents that the DOH advises that MBP 'should not be performed' because of its alleged risks, and to obtain the parents' signed consent.  The regulation thus expressly seeks to deter New Yorkers from participating in this religious practice.

Several rabbis and Jewish groups later filed suit, arguing that the DOH regulation violates both the U.S. and the New York State constitutions. By forcing rabbis to communicate the DOH's subjective advice that MBP should not be performed, along with equally subjective views about unproven health risks, the DOH is imposing its own beliefs on others and violating the rights of the rabbis. Moreover, the suit casts doubt on the DOH's contention that undisputed medical facts show that MBP poses a risk, a contention now further undermined by the independent Penn study.

"The Department of Health would have the public believe there is an epidemic going on, which is not only untrue but irresponsible," said Dr. Brenda Breuer , PH.D., M.P.H., an expert witness in the case. "This is a procedure the Jewish community has been performing for thousands of years without an issue, and that has not suddenly changed in the last ten years."


  1. John Smith John Smith United States says:

    Do the rabbis have rights over the babies? Do they "own" the babies? How is it their "right" to put the babies' penises on their mouths?

  2. James Mac James Mac Australia says:

    Excuse me, but the self-interested opinions of holy men in denial of the damage and diseases their genital cutting and sucking practices cause to little boys has no place here.

  3. Ron Low Ron Low United States says:

    ^^ The {NYC DOH} regulation thus expressly seeks to deter New Yorkers from participating in this religious practice. ^^

    Nonsense.  Anyone who volunteers to be circumcised can certainly have it with or without suction at their own discretion.  

    The regulation protects the health (and to a lesser extent, religious freedom) of the one person who actually has a stake in the outcome.

  4. Ron Low Ron Low United States says:

    Circumcision increases the risk of foreskin amputation to 100%.  

    Foreskin feels REALLY good.  Seriously, it's the best part.

  5. Nancy Wyatt Nancy Wyatt United States says:

    Wow... so apparently all of those babies who got herpes must have gotten it from the irresponsible sexual activity they must be participating in

  6. Karen Goldis Karen Goldis United States says:

    There is absolutely no instance in medical practice where bodily fluids are exchanged between provider and patient. MBP is a perversion practiced under the disguise of religion. Whether or not the intention is pedophilic, MBP is nonetheless a pedophilic act. It is illegal on all counts. An attempt to justify this with religious scripture brings shame to the Jewish religion. MBP is already illegal, it must be recognized and enforced by not only the state, but the religion.

  7. James Mac James Mac Australia says:

    "Agudath Israel of America clearly misrepresented the study's conclusion, which does not fully support its position. Even so, the inescapable conclusion is that two Orthodox Jewish employees of Penn, at least one with close ties to a haredi institution and local haredi leadership, conducted a brief study for Agudath Israel of America (or for one of its supporters) with the intent of bolstering Agudath Israel of America's lawsuit against the city, and did so using a degree of deception."

  8. Mateo Roberts Mateo Roberts United States says:

    Pennsylvania has one of the highest circumcision rates in the country (86%).  Why?  The hospitals and medical schools "push it" on the patients. I hope these kids grow up and sue.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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