THE BLOG
06/18/2013 10:58 am ET | Updated Aug 18, 2013

"Oy-Vey." In Circumcision Debate, Mayoral Candidates Hit Below the Belt

It is still early in the campaign for New York City mayor, primary is not scheduled until in September 10, 2013, but the candidates are already pandering to ethnic and religious blocs as they maneuver to scoop up as many votes as possible.

Some of the political machinations by the candidates border on the absurd. At a political meeting sponsored by the Jewish Press at the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center in Brooklyn mayoral candidates twisted in the wind as they struggled to define their positions on the suddenly "controversial" issue of male circumcision.

First let me say, I was circumcised seven days after birth in a traditional Jewish ceremony where the foreskin on my penis was "snipped" by a religious figure known as a mohel. Less religious than my parents and grandparents, I had my infant son circumcised for medical reasons by a doctor while he was still in the hospital. However, my son-in-law preferred to have my grandson circumcised at home by a mohel in a religious ceremony that followed modern medical procedures.

The problem is not so much circumcision as it is an ancient, perhaps primitive is a better word, practice called metzitzah b'peh. Among some ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects the mohel uses his mouth to suck blood from the circumcised penis. There have been at least twelve documented cases of infant boys contracting the herpes simplex virus from the mohels as a result of this procedure since 2000.

New York City health officials now require parents to fill out a consent form that acknowledges they are aware of the risks. Outraged Orthodox Jewish groups charging abridgment of their religious freedom unsuccessfully sued the city to block the consent requirement and are now pressing mayoral candidates to pledge to have it revoked.

Normally, no one would or should care what this group wants, the health of the child being more important than religious fundamentalism. But because members of these sects often vote as a bloc, they can influence the mayoral contest, especially if there is a small turnout.

By some estimates, Jews make up about one-sixth of the voters in the New York City Democratic primary. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who mostly live in Brooklyn, are about one-third of that total and may constitute five percent of the total vote.

So at the Brooklyn meeting, John C. Liu, who is Chinese American and the city comptroller, said he would abandon the requirement for consent forms, defending a procedure that has been used for "thousands of years." He also attacked "a billionaire mayor " who "decided he knows better than anyone else." Bill de Blasio, the public advocate and a non-Jew, attacked Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for trying "to impose his will" without sensitivity to religious traditions and urged officials to join with religious leaders to work out a plan that indicates "respect for religious tradition." William C. Thompson Jr., who is African American and a former city comptroller, had previously told ultra-Orthodox leaders that his goal would be to bring the parties together to work out a protocol that "balances safety and religious practice." Anthony Weiner, the only Jewish candidate in the mayoral race, reiterated his long held support for metzitzah b'peh.

Only, Christine Quinn, Roman Catholic, Irish, the City Council speaker, and a strong supporter of the current mayor, defended the consent forms. However, it was not clear if the seven-day old infant boys actually had any say in what their parents decided.

Based on the intensity of this debate and the need to hold onto potential supporters in what promises to be a close primary race, I am waiting to learn where the candidates stand on other traditional religious and cultural practices that might be held by small but influential voting blocs such as female genital mutilation, the burning of witches, and the stoning to death of women who have been raped?

I also recommend that before the candidates agree to too much, they should take a look at Chapter 20 in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus which the Ultra-Orthodox Jews who practice this circumcision ritual hold to be the word of God and their sacred obligation to uphold.

According to Leviticus 20:9, "For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him." In Leviticus 20:18, "if a man shall lie with a woman having her sickness [menstrual period], and shall uncover her nakedness; he hath discovered her fountain, and she hath uncovered the fountain of her blood: and both of them shall be cut off from among their people. In addition, Leviticus 20:27 states "A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them."

The candidates may also be leery about Leviticus 20:10 because a "man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death."

And in an era when most progressive candidates have endorsed same-sex marriage, this is a group that believes "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them" (Leviticus 20:13).

Warning to Anthony Weiner: I'm not sure what Leviticus has to say about tweeting photographs of your erect penis strategically covered by your underpants, but he should probably be especially careful about what he promises if he is elected mayor.