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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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Name Shield for Mohel Who Gave Herpes to Baby

(CN) - A New York City newspaper cannot have the name of the mohel who infected a baby boy with the herpes simplex virus during a circumcision ritual, a state appeals court ruled.

After the infection, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued an alert in December 2012. It stated that 12 infant boys were infected over a 13-year period during a circumcision using the "metzitzah b'peh" method.

That version of the ritual involves the mohel, who performs the ceremony, making direct oral contact with the circumcision wound.

Reporter Paul Berger and his newspaper, the Jewish Daily Forward, asked the department for the mohel's identity in a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, which was denied, according to court records.

Berger was seeking information on the infection that took place in December 2012. In the days following the circumcision, herpes lesions reportedly appeared on the baby's penis.

Berger's administrative appeal failed on the grounds that the mohel's privacy would be violated because the request sought information about his medical condition.

The request was also denied by Queens County Supreme Court and, on March 9, by the Brooklyn-based New York Appellate Division's Second Department.

In an unsigned opinion, a four-member panel of appellate justices stated that the relevant law "expressly exempts from disclosure records that 'if disclosed would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.'"

"Here, inherent in Berger's request for 'the name of the mohel who infected an infant with HSV-1 during ritual circumcision in December 2012' is that the mohel is himself infected with, or a carrier of, the HSV-1 virus," the ruling states.

Therefore, Berger and the Forward's assertion that they are only seeking the mohel's name, not his medical history, is "without merit," according to the justices.

Before this infection occurred, the New York City Board of Health mandated that the health risks of the practice must be disclosed to parents. Ten infected babies were hospitalized, and one died.

While a federal judge ruled in 2013 that consent forms did not violate mohels' religious freedom, the Second Circuit remanded the case in 2014 for review as "subject to strict scrutiny under the Free Exercise Clause."

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