Press Journal (Florida) — January 29, 1998

Rabbi Gets Sued Over Circumcision

By Adam Chrzan
Press Journal Staff Writer


An Indian River County couple has sued a Palm Beach County temple and a rabbi for a botched religious circumcision that required emergency-room stitches and has left their son scarred.

Lisa Alsofrom and Maxou Jacques Lapeyre want an unspecified amount of money from Temple Emeth and Rabbi Abraham Cohen, who performed the circumcision on the couple's son, Noah Benjamin Lapeyre, in June 1996.

A suit filed a week ago charges both the Delray Beach temple and Cohen, now a Connecticut resident, were negligent in performing what is known as a brith milah circumcision when Noah was 8 days old.

"He's scarred for life physically and emotionally," said David Carter, the couple's Vero Beach attorney. '`Everyone's going to think of him as the kid who was butchered by the mohel," one approved to perform circumcisions in the Jewish faith.

Alsofrom's mother, a Palm Beach County resident, contacted the temple in late May 1996 and inquired about hiring a mohel to perform the religious ritual. The couple's first son was circumcised in the hospital, Carter said.

A receptionist at the temple gave Cohen's name to Alsofrom's mother. The receptionist told her Cohen was affiliated with the temple, the suit alleges.

Cohen, an ordained rabbi, had been hired by the temple as a religious reader and was performing the circumcisions on his own according to attorney Buck Vocelle, who represents the temple. "He did this on his own," Vocelle said Wednesday.

Cohen's wife, reached at the couple's West Hartford residence, said her husband could not be reached for comment.

Carter said his clients were given one of Cohen's business cards, which listed the temple, Cohen's name and a notation about circumcisions. "The business card clearly gives the message he was (working) for the temple," he added.

Cohen met with the couple but never informed them of the risks, the suit alleges.

During the circumcision, which took place at the couple's house, Cohen reportedly "severed a portion of Noah's penis and a blood vessel," the suit stated.

The infant was rushed to Indian River Memorial Hospital where he received stitches and was transferred to Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital in Orlando, Carter said.

Noah, now 20 months old, has undergone numerous medical procedures including what is called a "revision" to the circumcision, and skin grafts to "improve the cosmetic appearance of the penis." the suit said.

"Visually, it will always be different," Carter said. "It's hard to say what kind of emotional effect this will have on him. It's tough enough going through puberty' without a disfigurement.

The suit contends the temple and Cohen should have highlighted the risks of the procedure should have used due care during the circumcision and should have made known Cohen’s background, training and status with the temple.

Rabbi Jay R Davis of Temple Beth Shalom in Vero Beach said there is no licensing agency for mohels.

"There is training, but no governing body," he said.

Typically, parents contact a temple to recommend a mohel. The mohel supposedly has studied with a doctor to learn the procedure, for which he is paid several hundred dollars.

"Temples have nothing to do with mohels," Davis said. Most mohels also carry no insurance, he said.

Neither Davis nor Temple Beth Shalom are involved in the lawsuit.

The couple's suit seeks money for the pain, suffering and mental anguish of Noah and his parents. The suit also seeks money to cover current and future medical bills. Carter said the bills now total several thousand dollars.

Noah's parents declined to comment on the suit.

"These people are reluctant plaintiffs," Carter said. Cohen agreed to pay for the medical bills, which would have concluded the matter, but he never followed through, he added.

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