Jewish communal representatives have reacted with caution after an Israeli-born researcher working at a British university published a scientific paper about the links between brit milah and the sudden death of babies.
Dr Eran Elhaik, an Israeli-American geneticist and biologist working at the University of Sheffield, published his report in Biorxiv, noting strong links between Male Neonatal Circumcision (MNC) and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Boys are more likely to die from SIDS than girls and Elhaik said sudden death was “significantly and positively correlated with MNC and prematurity rates,” adding: “Our results suggest that MNC contributes to the high mortality and gender-bias.”
The scientist looked at “stressors” and said male neonatal circumcision “reduces the heart rate and together with the loss of blood there is a danger of reducing the blood volume, blood pressure, and the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues”.
He added that reduced blood pressure has been associated with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), a potentially-fatal condition where the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep, interrupting normal breathing, with SIDS victims showing “significantly more frequent episodes of OSA”.
Elhaik has previously said MNC “was known to be a deadly practice for over a millennium” and “prompted the splintering of Reform Judaism from Orthodox Judaism in the nineteenth century”.
In his latest report on “adversarial childhood events” associated with SIDS, Elhaik suggests Jews may have long known about the link, saying it would be of “interest to ask whether Jews were familiar with the association between MNC and SIDS”.
He said: “Here, we argue that several Jewish customs associated with MNC reflect the footmarks of SIDS, centuries before it was defined.”
In an unconventional reference, Elhaik says the Jewish practice of male circumcision arose around the same time as the myth of the baby-killer Lilith, and says the traditional customs and practices surrounding this area “are a testament to Jews’ beliefs that sudden death was and still is highly prevalent”.
His research team studied data from 15 countries and 40 US states from 1999-2016, but Jewish community representatives said they would need to wait for the study to be peer-reviewed before commenting further.
“This study has only been published on a website,” said Milah UK co-chair Dr Simon Hochhauser. “Relying on media reports, it seems that it has not as yet been peer-reviewed.”
He added: “Investigation and diagnosis of SIDS is a difficult, complex medical issue. Invoking parent blame – as this article appears to do – is a serious matter.
“We look forward to having the opportunity to consult with UK experts on SIDS once the paper has appeared in a reputable journal. In the interim, we note that no increased incidence of SIDS has previously been reported in Jewish boys compared with other boys in the UK.”