I can think of at least three important reasons why this story is news -- each instructive, not only regarding the ongoing debate about circumcision, but about the dangers of religious fanaticism and the meaning of religious freedom in America.
First, the story catches our attention because it is a story of religion gone awry -- a topic of constant interest, especially with an American media that is both fascinated with faith, and yet seems to delight in mocking or unmasking those who practice it in ways deemed “unenlightened.” And of course, this story gets our attention because of it’s sexual, and potentially pedophilic, overtones.
Does anyone really think that if the blood was drawn from the infants’ fingers, even by mouth, the stories of subsequent infection would garner as much attention? Does anyone think that the debates over circumcision in general would be as fierce, and fiercely emotional, were some other part of the anatomy involved? The answer is obvious.
All that said, the second reason this story deserves our attention is because it is genuinely disturbing that this practice continues despite the clear evidence that the practice itself is dangerous. In fact, according to many religious authorities the practice is not only unnecessary, but actually prohibited precisely because of the evidence that it is harmful to the babies.
So however scintillating the story may be, it is also an important episode about a serious breakdown within religious community. The fierce attachment to oral bloodletting may well reflect a dangerous approach to faith which can be found, not only among some segments of the altra-Orthodox Jewish community, but among practitioners of every faith I know.
This is a story about the dangers of confusing belief in the perfection of a tradition and its institutions -- an entirely reasonable claim made by many traditional adherents in many different faiths -- with the arrogant presumption that the way any particular group practices their faith is, by definition, perfect and above critique.
One need not be ashamed or uncomfortable about a tradition that was practiced in good conscience for millennia in the absence of any evidence that it was actually harmful. I appreciate, and even respect, fierce attachment to a tradition.