I don't even know where to start with this story from the Daily News:
City health officials are investigating whether a baby boy died after contracting herpes from the rabbi who circumcised him, the Daily News has learned. The probe was launched after city officials realized that three infants in the city who tested positive for herpes last year all were circumcised by Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer. The Rockland County-based Fischer is a prominent mohel - someone who performs religious circumcisions.
I appreciate the Daily News' attempt at defining mohel. But I kind of feel like if you don't know what a mohel is, maybe you're not really a New Yorker. Or maybe you never saw an episode of Seinfeld.
Under Jewish law, a mohel is supposed to draw blood from the circumcision wound to remove impurities. While many mohels do it by hand, Fischer uses a practice little known outside ultra-Orthodox communities called metzizah bi peh, in which the mohel uses his mouth.
FWIW, I have never heard of this practice, but I know precious little about the mechanics of circumcisions. And I like to keep it that way. (Need-to-know basis: And I don't need to know.)
The word metzitzah means "sucking." Not as in "this Dawson's Creek storyline is really sucking," as in "I gave the baby a motzetz (pacifier) so that when I'm not nursing he can still have the comfort of metzitzah." Bi peh, or more correctly (I think) ba'peh, means "by mouth" or "orally." (I'm gonna go with "ugh.")
There are actually a number of herpesviruses. (Click here for a list and some pretty gross pictures that should tell you why medical school wasn't part of your professional plan.)
Herpesviruses are extremely common and around 100 have been identified in a variety of animal species. All of the herpesviruses are members of one family, the Herpesviridae, and have certain characteristics in common, such as their ability to establish latency during primary infection. This means that following initial infection the virus remains dormant, to be reactivated by certain triggers such as an individual’s immune status, stress or sunlight.
Only 8 of these viruses have been identified in humans. This list includes varicella zoster*, which causes chickenpox and shingles, and Epstein-Barr, which can often lead to infectious mononucleosis. I already knew this because when my old roommate got mono, I loved to tease her by telling her she had herpes. (It was way funny at the time. By the time I got mono four years later, the comedy had expired.)
But back to the story...my point is that we all assume that "herpes" means "genital herpes." And it may not. That's all I'm saying. The only thing funny about this story is the headline to this post. And even that, I freely admit, is more cringeworthy than funny.
As if parents of newborn Jewish boys didn't have enough to worry about...
UPDATE: A medical abstract about this custom....
*I can't swear to this, but I seem to recall a member of my parents' shul was named Varicella Zoster. It's quite a beautiful name, actually. I'll add it to my shortlist of baby names for my yet-to-be-conceived children. (Her Hebrew name will probably be "Vered" or "Varda.")