PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A local rabbi is being sued after allegedly botching a bris, the traditional Jewish circumcision ritual, and severing a newborn boy’s penis.
The incident detailed in the lawsuit happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill within the last year.
The Jewish circumcision ceremony was performed by Pittsburgh Rabbi Mordechai Rosenberg – who is also a mohel.
Sometime during the bris, according to the lawsuit, Rosenberg severed the baby boy’s penis.
The baby was rushed to Children’s Hospital, where doctors performed emergency microsurgery.
“If your finger, your thumb was cut off and was put back on, that is pretty exciting,” said renowned UPMC plastic surgeon Dr. Joe Losee.
Dr. Losee was not involved in the boy’s treatment and he can’t talk specifics.
But our sources say it took eight hours. The baby needed six blood transfusions and was hospitalized for nearly two months. Sources describe the reattachment procedure as successful.
Dr. Losee says microsurgery advances every day, but it’s risky.
“Sometimes, it doesn’t always work,” he says. “When you’re reattaching a portion where you include nerves, sometimes the nerves don’t heal well beyond where you reattached it. So there are limitations for sure.”
On his website, Rabbi Rosenberg says he is recognized as a “certified mohel by the American Board of Ritual Circumcision.” His site also says “a doctor’s medical circumcision, usually performed in the hospital, is not considered valid according to Jewish law.”
“That is extraordinarily serious and is extraordinarily rare,” said attorney David Llewellyn.
Llewellyn handles cases involving injury during circumcision – injury brought on by both doctors in the hospital and mohels in religious ceremonies.
“Your average pediatric urologist probably spends about 20 percent of his or her time repairing children who have been circumcised,” Llewellyn says.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, one in every 500 newborn boys experience significant acute complications as a result of circumcision.
“This is pretty much unregulated,” Llewellyn said.
He says there is no regulated standard for training or certification of mohels, or any place for reporting injuries from circumcision.
“There’s virtually no regulation of this any place in the United States that I know of,” Llewellyn said. “I think the government probably should require some sort of training if this is going to be done.”
Rabbi Rosenberg told KDKA “I am trained in this.” He also called the case a “tragic accident” and a “horrible situation.” But also said he continues to perform circumcisions.
Sources close to the case say, while the baby is recovering, there’s no way to know if he’ll make a complete recovery. The incident happened about eight months ago.