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NYC Board of Health moves to end controversial circumcision rule

New York City Department of Health and Mental

New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Mary Travis Basset holds a newly designed pamphlet about ritual circumcision during a Board of Health meeting in Queens on June 10, 2015. Credit: Charles Eckert

A Bloomberg-era consent form required for a controversial circumcision ritual used in some ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities is on its way out as New York City officials look to other means of educating parents about the health risks.

The Board of Health agreed Wednesday to open to public discussion its proposal to rescind the rule.

The form calls for parents to acknowledge knowing the risk of contracting herpes in the ritual known as metzitzah b'peh, a bris ceremony in which a religious officiant -- known as a mohel -- orally removes blood from the incision.

The form, approved in 2012 under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has met fierce resistance in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and proved difficult to enforce. Since the rule took effect, there have been six recorded cases of neonatal herpes linked to metzitzah b'peh, health officials said.

"The Bloomberg administration pursued a strategy that resulted in a huge amount of uproar," the Health commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, told reporters. "I don't think that that was the intent . . . but the fact is that it's really hard to convey educational information when you've polarized a community."

A board vote on the repeal is set for September.

The Department of Health has also begun to circulate a new brochure to hospitals and obstetricians and pediatricians' offices so parents can receive information through their doctors before the bris instead of from mohels at the ceremony.

"Make a safe bris for your baby," the brochure reads -- reminding parents it is ultimately their decision what to allow.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, speaking in favor of the change at an unrelated event, said the form "was often ignored and did not do anything to prevent unhealthy practices."

Rabbi David Niederman, president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, said outside the Board of Health meeting, "We believe this is a major improvement."

The Board of Health Wednesday also unanimously approved opening to public comment a proposal to require high-sodium warning labels on the menus of the city's chain restaurants.

An icon featuring a salt shaker would be placed next to food items with more than 2,300 milligrams -- or a teaspoon -- of sodium, which is the daily recommended limit.

If approved, the warnings would appear in December.

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