"I pose a hypothetical question. As a man of some fifty seven years of age, I am discovered sucking the penis of a baby boy. I ask you to picture your own outrage and revulsion. Ah, but I have my explanation all ready. I am a mohel: an appointed circumciser and foreskin remover. My authority comes from an ancient text, which commands me to take a baby boy's penis in my hand, cut around the prepuce, and complete the action by taking his penis in my mouth, sucking off the foreskin, and spitting out the amputated flap along with a mouthful of blood and saliva.
This practice has been abandoned by most Jews, either because of its unhygienic nature or its disturbing associations, but it still persists among the sort of Hasidic fundamentalists who hope for the Second Temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem. To them, the primitive rite of the peri'ah metsitsah is part of the original and unbreakable covenant with god. In New York City in the year 2005, the ritual, as performed by a fifty-seven-year-old mohel, was found to have given genital herpes to several small boys, and to have caused the deaths of at least two of them. In normal circumstances, the disclosure would have led the public health department to forbid the practice and the mayor to denounce it. But in the capital of the modern world, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, such was not the case. Instead, Mayor Bloomberg overrode the reports by distinguished Jewish physicians who had warned of the danger of the custom, and told his health care bureaucracy to postpone any verdict. The crucial thing, he said, was to be sure that the free exercise of religion was not being infringed. . . . It happened to be an election year in New York for the mayor, which often explains a lot. But this pattern recurs in other denominations and other states and cities, as well as in other countries."