Since even before he took office, Mayor de Blasio has made clear his intention to change the Bloomberg administration's policy of mandatory parental consent for the metzitzah b’peh, a controversial ultra-Orthodox Jewish circumcision ritual in which a mohel sucks blood from a baby’s snipped penis. After months of deliberations with Orthodox leaders—as well as a lot of political maneuvering involving the NYC Health Board—de Blasio is finally poised to repeal the law. And even Jewish leaders think this is a terrible idea.

In a joint statement, a group of prestigious Jewish doctors came out strongly against de Blasio's policy change in an op-ed published in The Jewish Week. It's a passionate, fact-filled plea to the de Blasio administration arguing that their current plan—which amounts to taking away the consent forms, crossing their fingers, and hoping that hospitals and ultra-Orthodox officials inform families about the deadly health risks of the procedure—is woefully inadequate at best. At worst, it's the 17 babies in NYC who have been infected since 2000, at least two of whom have died because of the ritual.

The whole op-ed is worth reading, but this part in particular struck a chord with us:

The third argument is that the new NYC policy represents a reasonable compromise, protecting an individual’s right to practice his/her religion while employing the tools of public health to limit the spread of disease. But allowing some babies to suffer the consequences of HSV infection before taking any action against the offending mohel, who must be proven to be the culprit by DNA testing, is not a preventive public health measure. It is too little, too late. DOS violates a baby’s right to be protected from an obvious impending harm. The government has an overriding interest in protecting infants who cannot speak for themselves.

DOS ignores the teachings of modern medicine and the overwhelming consensus of modern rabbinic rulings. Behavior by mohelim and local politicians that ignores fundamental principles of hygiene, and abrogates their responsibility to protect innocent children, is shameful and simply wrong, despite their express desire to maintain ancient religious traditions.

The Jewish medical community should strongly affirm its respect for religious pluralism and sectarian particularism. It should dedicate itself to working with rabbinic leaders to make them aware of the unequivocal scientific and medical facts about the dangers of DOS and the urgency of using existing safe and acceptable alternatives. Moreover, we urge our political leaders to go on record supporting this approach.

As they note, de Blasio is fulfilling a campaign promise to the ultra-Orthodox community, who felt alienated by Bloomberg's plan in 2012, by rescinding the consent forms. A de Blasio spokesperson said at the time that he would keep the consent form policy in place until a better solution was found.

That solution, as mentioned above, has taken the form of a pamphlet, which the administration doesn't require rabbis or mohels to give out (the administration just encourages it). Anyone who has ever been inside a doctor's office probably knows that those free health pamphlets are less than effective, but at least those ones are out in a place for people to see.

If Orthodox leaders dragged their heels about a mandatory waiver, what are the chances that this one will even be displayed under the circumstances? This "solution" is completely ineffective, as demonstrated by several Orthodox rabbis who have already pooh-pooh'd it to the Times: “Serious misstatements,” Rabbi Niederman told them upon seeing the brochure. They write:

City officials concede there is no perfect way to prevent infections, but the current system, they argue, served only to alienate, because the community felt persecuted by strict secular rules. Instead, Mr. de Blasio, who counts the Orthodox as an important political constituency, is betting that collaboration will be more effective.

Hospitals would be asked, but not required, to distribute English and Yiddish versions of the brochure. And although the city has proposed that circumcisers, known as mohels, be tested for herpes if an infant is infected, those tests would not be mandated by law. Instead, City Hall says that Orthodox leaders have pledged to ensure mohels undergo the test; penalties would be enforced by the Orthodox community, not by city law.

In the wake of a shuffling of the Board of Health, de Blasio has shown that he values politics over a serious—and completely preventable—health issue that endangers hundreds, if not thousands, of children in NYC a year. He's had his officials—like current Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Travis Bassett—do the political double-speak for him at times: "In retrospect the current requirement has mandated that education about medical risks of directorial suction be given at the wrong time in the wrong place and by the wrong person," Bassett told CBS about the "well-meaning" consent forms.

"What we’re doing, so well-intended, isn’t working, so we’ve got to find some new approach,” Pamela S. Brier, the chief executive of Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn (which has a lot of Orthodox clients), told the Times. Bloomberg's initial plan may have been flawed in execution, but at least it was an attempt to remedy a potential health crisis in an insular community that has a poor track record of self-policing.

The de Blasio administration has turned this into a referendum on the carrot-and-stick argument about governing, obfuscating the most important point: this procedure has scientifically been proven to be dangerous to babies. Seventeen children have already suffered for it; two have died. All of that was preventable. That's what the letter, from within the community, was all about: "For Jewish medical professionals to remain silent during this discussion would be, in our judgment, inappropriate."

This should be about the government making it clear as day that this ritual has become a deadly relic from the past that medical professionals—and most Jews!—agree should not be used still. As the doctors wrote, "since the formulation of germ theory in the 1800s the overwhelming majority of traditional ritual Jewish circumcisions no longer employ this practice, instead using alternative methods of suction."

Update: A City Hall spokesperson said in a statement: "Our number one priority is to reduce risk to infants, and the Board of Health unanimously agreed a different approach needed to be given consideration. Health care professionals running hospitals on the ground have agreed that the consent letter, delivered by the mohel performing the procedure, is not accomplishing its goal of reducing risk as the letter is being ignored, and that’s why we’re changing our policy to educate mothers on the risks of this procedure in hospitals with health professionals."