Sometimes You Just Got to Stop Religious Rituals

I am generally a fairly liberal guy when it comes to religion. People believe all sorts of weird nonsense and fantasies but so long as they keep their beliefs to themselves and do not impose upon others then what’s the harm? Well, of course, that the problem, isn’t it? Especially when those others are not capable of making their own decisions about what to believe and practice.

So I was both shocked and saddened to hear about the death of an infant boy last September who contracted herpes after his circumcision by a rabbi using the ultra-Orthodox ritual known as metzizah b’ peh where the rabbi removes blood from the wound with his mouth. Where was this medieval ritual performed? Can you believe it took place in Brooklyn Hospital, New York? It’s unclear who performed the circumcision but it is not the first time infants have contracted herpes in this bizarre ritual. In 2004, three infants circumcised by Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer were determined to have contracted herpes, city officials said. In 2005, there was another infant death following this practice.

I am all for the importance of tradition as Topol would say, but enough is enough. No doubt the parents are distraught at losing their child but this ritual needs to be criminalized. Needless to say, the rabbi who is responsible for this is beyond contempt. He must have known that he had herpes at some point and he also must of known of the risk. I can’t really see any justification for allowing this practice to continue.


Filed under In the News, Weird Story of the Week

9 responses to “Sometimes You Just Got to Stop Religious Rituals

  1. Dr. Hood, correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the article said it was unclear who performed the 2011 surgery. To me that would make more sense; I know nothing about the ritual, but what hospital on this planet allows a rabbi to perform surgery on their grounds? Are these rabbis also doctors? It’s outrageous.

    The other problem you have here is the right wing screeching that their religious freedoms are being trampled in classrooms and other places of science. So institutions are pressured to be “sensitive” to the issue.

    When I was an outpatient with pneumonia at a large hospital a few years ago, I was asked if there were any religious beliefs to which the hospital needed to be sensitive. Does this even happen in the U.K.?

  2. Rox

    On the other hand, the article does say that blood was removed with the mouth, and what surgeon on this planet does that ?

    I fully agree with Professor Hood on this one.

    I have been in hospital a few times, and nobody has ever asked me about religious beliefs. If I was a Jehovah’s Witness or something, I think it would be up to me to say so.

  3. Rox

    Perhaps New York hospitals consider approved rabbis qualified to act as surgeons when performing circumcisions only, rather as in Britain approved nonconformist ministers are allowed to act as registrars for performing marriages (but not for registering births or deaths). This is only a guess.

  4. I am atheist, and this religious rituals, for people like me, are even funny. It´s a sad reality, but our hope is that time will destroy all this nonsense rituals.

  5. DebashishSharma

    Ultimately any attempt to circumcise infant males irrespective of the health consequences of the procedure is a form of genital mutilation as the infants were never in a position to give consent in the first place.

    I agree with Bruce (and by the way it was a fantastic series of Christmas Lectures – thank you!).

  6. Rox

    Surely this is genital mutilation simply because genitals are mutilated. I don’t think the consent of the infant comes into it, it is just a question of whether it is good for the infant’s health or not. If you gave it an injection of penicillin , the infant would not be in a position to consent to that, but the procedure would not be a form of genital mutilation as the infant was not in a position to give consent. This doesn’t follow at all .

    This is quite a tricky area, because (for example) in some cultures very small girls have their ears pierced without their really being able to withhold their consent, but it doesn’t actually do them much harm. The same might be said of a less bizarre method of male circumcision. It doesn’t confer benefits either, but if the male child is going to flourish later in a Jewish community not necessarily in such a “civilised” or multicultural place, one might argue that having been safely circumcised would be a benefit to him.

  7. Rich

    I’m always on the scene late – I hope you are still reading comments from here…
    A while ago you were taking mild fright at opening yourself up to religious fruit-cake comments . I am glad you have not been inundated by the organised religious posting groups who pass victims around for a communal gnashing and gnawing .
    It might be that what has happened in this instance is beyond defence , let alone belief . Certainly this is mutilation but , as you will know , when done at this age , it is also the signifier that the individual is a member of a group which has an exclusive pact with one (and only one) of the ‘gods’ .
    Another significantly more numerous group have this done to their males at a later age – I wonder why ?
    Dare I dig deeper into the primordiality of this ceremony – might the circumcision itself originally have been achieved by teeth alone ? Is this only a vestige that now remains ? Certainly the castration of new-born lambs used to be done this way as the use of teeth (and pulling) allows better healing than a straight knife-cut !
    God help us – now we’ll both have the hounds of hell baying after us !

  8. Rox

    Shouldn’t this be :
    Sometimes you’ve just got to stop religious rituals ?

    But I don’ t think many of us actually are going to go in and stop it, snatching the knife from the rabbi or the imam, are we, to be honest ?

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