Questioning circumcision

Paul Jacobson photo

By REBECCA WALD
Founder, Beyond the Bris Project

A San Francisco ballot initiative that, if passed, will make it a misdemeanor to circumcise male children within that city has been drawing international attention. While there is a medical exemption, there is no religious one. A similar proposal is being considered in Santa Monica.

The prospect of a circumcision ban sits poorly with many in America where parents enjoy relatively broad rights to raise their children as they choose. Jewish people are understandably concerned, fearing such restrictions would be discriminatory, hurtful, and violate religious freedom. However, as a Jewish person who opposes the genital cutting of all children absent medical necessity, I’m glad these measures are being considered. What’s best for children deserves continual assessment and, thanks to these proposals, that’s happening.

My husband and I are both Jewish. We’re both American. Yet deciding to leave our son with the penis he was born with was not difficult. Causing pain to our beautiful child and forever changing his body didn’t seem right. We considered infant circumcision from different angles and concluded the surgery wasn’t in his best interest, either as a tender newborn or as the man he will become.

I realize that for very religious Jews circumcision is viewed as a direct mandate from God, an act of pure faith requiring no logical explanation. I feel strongly connected to Judaism but don’t view infant circumcision this way. My faith is aligned with what I feel in my heart to be right. God, as I conceive Him, would never require me to purposefully cause a helpless newborn pain or have him undergo a surgery of any kind absent clear medical need.

Even before I had a son the idea of circumcision didn’t sit well. I did, however, think it was essentially cosmetic. If it could be carried out with minimal pain, then it seemed to me like an acceptable practice for those who felt compelled to honor their Jewish heritage in this way. Once I took the time to really learn about the anatomy of the natural penis and the protective function of the foreskin and its role during intercourse, it became clear to me that circumcision does more than alter the appearance of the penis. At this point I felt the need to step-up the dialogue within the Jewish community about the harmful consequences of this procedure.

In December I launched Beyond the Bris, a web-based project that is putting real faces and voices to the Jewish movement against infant circumcision. It is an open and dynamic forum where likeminded Jewish people can come together. We share our ideas with one another and visitors to the project in whatever ways feel right to us. This includes original music, poetry and art. I couldn’t be happier with the terrific response I’ve been getting from Jews in America, Israel and elsewhere who agree that children are entitled to keep their whole sex organs.

Skim the recent headlines and you will likely read stories of Jewish outrage over the proposed circumcision bans in California. However this isn’t the full story.

I recently spoke with Lloyd Schofield, the San Franciscan who spearheaded the effort to place the ban on the November ballot. He expressed to me his amazement about how open, interested and positive many members of the Jewish community have been about his efforts. He told me that when he was gathering signatures, many people self-identified as Jews and some signed his petition on the spot. Others declined, but even within this group he said all were respectful and many seemed genuinely happy to take educational handbills and learn more about the subject.

I think the positive Jewish response to the Beyond the Bris project and to the efforts in California speaks tremendously of the Jewish people; that we are willing to seriously consider this issue even when it means challenging thousands of years of tradition. I can’t say I’m surprised. Jewish people have been integral in every rights movement in this country and this is no exception.

Parents agreeing to cut their children’s healthy sex organs has occurred throughout history among diverse cultures. Groups that cut rationalize their behavior yet are quick to criticize other groups who modify the sex organs differently.

Female genital cutting, or FGC, is a cultural norm in many societies. A first reaction might be to say, “Hey, that’s completely different from infant male circumcision.” Is it?

I would encourage anyone who thinks along these lines to look into the anatomy of the natural versus the circumcised penis and what foreskin removal really is and does from an anatomical perspective. FGC is done for many of the same reasons as male infant circumcision including perceived cleanliness, preferred appearance, cultural and religious tradition and the prevention of disease. In recent years, FGC has even moved to modern hospitals, for those families who can afford it, and is performed by trained physicians. Medical studies have even “proved” FGC prevents sexually transmitted disease.

It’s difficult to step outside of one’s culture and see it with perspective. For Jews in America and Israel I think it’s doubly hard to recognize our own brand of cutting as being harmful because it is both a cultural and a religious norm. But if you do the research and look at this issue in an openminded and intellectually honest way, it just might “click” that there’s something not right about infant circumcision.

For me, once this shift happened, my perspective changed forever and I could no longer see it as just another parenting choice.

Rebecca Wald, J.D., is the founder of the Beyond the Bris project. She lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Short URL: http://thejewishreporter.com/?p=1220

Posted by on Jun 2 2011. Filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

54 Comments for “Questioning circumcision”

  1. Sam

    Very well written! I agree with every word. I abhor body modification without medical need, proper pain control or informed consent (and a minor, a baby, cannot give informed consent). That is exactly what infant genital cutting is and why I vehemently disagree with the practise on every level.

    • As a Jewish man, active in Jewish culture, who wishes that he was not circumcised, and who views it as a horrendous sexual assault, I commend you on having the courage to say publicly, what many Jewish men only talk of in private. That we view circumcision as a violation of ethics, and a terrible misunderstanding of the intent of our religion and spirituality.

  2. roger desmoulins

    If bris is criminalised in SF and Santa Monica, that simply won’t matter. There are shuls in West LA, Berkeley, and Palo Alto that will be quite happy to host the brises of noncongregants. San Francisco and Santa Monica activists are grandstanding, pursuing form over substance. An example of what I mean by “substance” is to write like Mrs. Wald does. I, a gentile male, have learned much from reading her and her blog. Another Jewish mother and intactivist from whom I have learned much is Mrs Miriam Pollack.

    Keep in mind that no one questions the right of a young adult male to have himself circumcised, whether out of loyalty to his Jewish heritage and to his fellow Jews, or to honour his frum fiance, or simply to make it less embarrassing to date Jewish women. To be circumcised of one’s own free will is a gesture rich in meaning and existential significance. To circumcise a an uncomprehending newborn, screaming with pain, cannot convey such meaning and significance.

    There is no User Manual for the human body; we have to research and “write” that Manual for ourselves, a never-ending task. A small part of human sexual behaviour is sufficiently instinctive as to assure the reproduction our species no matter how ignorant we are. But the vast part of human sexuality is a endless discovery process. And in recent decades, that process has come to encompass the tender moving bits on the end of the penis, and what they contribute to the pleasure and functionality of both genders. What has been discovered, and continues to be discovered, is not kind to brit milah. Bris is also in fundamental conflict with Jewish feminism (why is this very powerful rite of passage reserved for boys alone??), with the Jewish disdain for violence, and with the very powerful Jewish heritage of medical and sexual sophistication. Never forget that marital intercourse is so sacred that doing it on the Sabbath is recommended.

    Over the past 150 years, many Jewish families outside of Israel and North America have quietly stopped circumcising. Nelly Karsenty, in an article published in 1988, argues that bris was unknown in her baby boom generation of French Jews. But almost no family that has crossed this bridge has put this fact in the public domain, for common sense reasons. Jews who admit to being atheists or agnostics, or who are embarrassed by the phrase Chosen People, or who see the Covenant as a myth, or who simply do not belong to a temple, should seriously consider not circumcising their infant sons. Especially given a son is entirely free to opt for circumcision later in life.

    • Roger is right that many European (and South American, I might add) Jews have quietly stopped circumcising.

      For your information, the movement to abolish genital mutilation includes many intelligent and courageous Jews all over the USA and world. A few of them are…

      * Eli Ungar-Sargon ( http://www.cutthefilm.com ) a documentary filmmaker based in Chicago, who grew up in an Orthodox family in Israel, and kept his son intact. The Jewish father of an intact son, he has produced a documentary on the subject, and wrote an op-ed in the Jewish daily, the Forward, in favor of a legal ban on circumcision ( http://www.forward.com/articles/137577/ ). He is currently going on a tour of the United States showing his movie to promote discussion in the Jewish community.

      * Rebecca Wald, J.D. a Jewish writer in Fort Lauterdale, Florida, has been an outspoken Jewish opponent of circumcision. Her blog discusses the growing movement of Jewish parents who choose to keep their sons intact ( http://www.beyondthebris.com ). She wrote an op-ed praising SF’s proposed ban published in TheJewishReporter ( http://www.thejewishreporter.com/2011/06/02/questioning-circumcision/ ).

      * Leonard Glick, MD., Ph.D., ( http://www.historyofcircumcision.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=92&Itemid=53 ) a professor of Jewish European history in Amherst, Massachuttsetts wrote the most complete scholarly text on the history of circumcision among Jews and advocates for it’s immediate ban worldwide.

  3. Thank you so much for this article! I completely agree and am so glad to see Jewish people standing up their sons. I’m not Jewish myself, but as a fierce opponent of the American circumcision industry I’ve been trying to learn about Judaism and its justification for neonatal circumcision. With the help of Jews Against Circumcision I’ve learned about pikuach nefesh and onah, as well as the covenant that circumcision is supposed to represent. From my point of view it is utterly clear that circumcising a baby actually violates the first two, and that when performed on a baby the third one is void. He is too young to comprehend what it represents – why not wait until he is 18 and can freely choose to make that commitment to his faith, when it will have much deeper spiritual significance and will not infringe anyone’s rights? I’m so happy that Jewish people are learning about and questioning and debating about their religion. There’s no reason why ‘intactivists’ as we’re called need to be forced into a type of war with religious people…

    Thank you again, dear author – you’ve cheered me up just when I was beginning to think that all our efforts were in vain!

  4. Adele

    One can only hope this woman has perfect children with perfect teeth and no warts. And I hope someone reports her to the Control Police if she takes any of HER darlings in for a haircut or as she might call it, a “Follicle Modification”.

    FGC is performed for reasons of tradition, control of female sexuality, enhanced fertility, purity (literal or symbolic), religion, marriageability, female gender identity, adult status, and ethnic identity. But it is NOT performed as a means to achieve perceive cleanliness! It is not comparable to male circumcision on any level – and it is generally performed on girls who are much than the male infant.

    Parents have been circumsizing their boy children for centuries without any lasting harmful effects. I really resent this author’s intentional intellectual dishonesty.

    In regard to male circumcision, the removal of a skin flap does NOT “modify the sex organs”.

    The co-mingling of male with female circumcision (numerous) times and using references to FGC to drive home her points and make the arguments favoring what is a seriously wrong-headed attempt at control by her organization shows she must and will go to any length to obfuscate an issue that is of deeply religious significance to some and a very personal choice for others. I am SICK of people who want to legislate EVERYTHING!

    • Hi there, I don’t know if you are aware that 300 boys die in the USA every year from circumcisions, and that others undergo gender reassignment after having the whole organ chopped off? I don’t know what you consider to be ‘lasting harmful effects’, but I would have thought that death is kind of a major harmful effect… Also, the foreskin is a lot more than just a skin flap, and there is a lot of information about its functions and purpose if you would like to educate yourself. http://www.norm-uk.co.uk have lots of excellent information about it! I’m not affiliated with the charity, I just think their website is top quality.

    • Gumberules

      Adele,

      The foreskin is not a mere skin flap. You should to as the author suggested, and actually find out about the anatomy and function of a normal intact penis, which includes the foreskin. It’s not a skin flap. It’s highly errogenous tissue. In fact, a study by the British Journal of Urology showed that circumcision removes the most sensitive parts of the penis.

      Male genital mutilation and FGM are identically unethical. You don’t like that FACT. The only reason is cultural bias and ignorance.

      • Adele

        Gumberules,

        I understand it isn’t a flap without nerve endings; however, I suggest the author actually educate herself. As for “a” study by the British Journal of Urology or any other, for every one of those, I can counter with 20 medical studies to refute those findings.

        Further, male circumcision is NOT comparable to FGM by any stretch of the imagination. Total removal of female external genitalia also removes the possibility for most victims of achieving orgasm, but the removal of the male foreskin does not or the entire Jewish population would have become extinct centuries ago. And yes, before you begin celebrating, I’m quite certain that there are some exceptions to my statement, but equally that they’re rare.

        As for my bias, it is against people like you who believe that those who dare hold different views must of necessity be “ignorant”.

        But, what I find most despicably hypocrital is that the self-same people ultimately grabbing for the control to dictate parental decisions regarding circumcision and touting it as a “human rights” issue, have absolutely no compunction about simultaneously defending abortion as a “woman’s right” without a single thought for an unborn child’s human right to life.

        • staMerrill

          I find it disgusting that a parent would dare mutilate their newborn child, any child for that matter. People, (children included, are they not people?), should have control over their own body and what they do with it. Parents should not be granter permission, both for religious and any other reasons, to circumcise or otherwise ‘modify’ their children before a reasonable age at which children can make their own decisions.

          Furthermore, MGM is a direct violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. I do understand that this could be interpreted as impeding on your choice of religion. None the less, it is not something that should be taken lightly. Even though some people may disagree, children, just as adults, teenagers and any other human being, should be granted to make decisions of their own that would permanently change their life.

          I do find MGM comparable to FGM. In both cases, it is most commonly done without the victim’s consent, as well as they both limit the functionality of the reproductive system. I can agree that most commonly the ramifications of FGM are greater than those of MGM, however, it is clear that MGM is something that effects millions of people country wide; and it is obvious that whether intentionally or unintentionally, MGM because of FGM, are outlawed in the US because of the Equal Protection Clause. The government may not recognize it, but it is there, hiding, lurking in the background.

          I swear someone is going to make a million dollar lawsuit of MGM and the Equal Protection Clause, who wants to go first?

    • James

      If you think that it doesnt modify the sexuam organs, then you obviously have not researched or even know what function it is; the skin is part of the organ! And to say “without any lasting harmful effects” is totally illogical. You haven’t seen what a botched circumcision is; that is a definite lasting effect. You don’t know about all of the nerves that are cut off of the male, that is a definite lasting effect. Besides, its not your penis, leave it alone.

      What about the cultures that just remove the clitoral hood? That is exactly like a circumcision. I’m sure you wouldn’t be too happy if a doctor cut yours off…but of course you shouldn’t mind since it wouldn’t have any lasting affects, right?

    • Shannyn

      Actually Adele FGM is done for cleanliness, which is not surprising because women produce much more of the smegma than men and the smegma is what people consider so dirty. Females are far more likely to have infections than men.

      And in fact, since some infants have died as a result of their circumcision, I’d say that’s one doozy of a lasting harmful effect.

      I’m a Jewish mother with an intact son. My religious freedom ends where someone else’s body begins.

    • Ellipsis

      So you think the 100+ that die each year in the US as a direct result from being circumcised isn’t a harmful effect? Or the few that lose their whole penis and had to be sexually reassigned?

      What do you class as modifying sexual organs then? Last time I checked, the foreskin is part of the penis, which is a sexual organ. So hacking part of the penis off would be classed as modifying the sexual organs.

      We don’t want to legislate “everything”, we want everyone to have the same rights, regardless of age or gender.

    • A Mom

      Your reply does nothing to further your cause.

      Do some actual research before you spout off:

      The prepuce organ AKA the foreskin is not a ‘flap of skin’ it is a protective sexual organ rich in fine-touch, pleasure-oriented nerve endings- so rich in fact, that the number of pleasure centers in an adult male foreskin compares to the female clitoris. The ‘little flap of skin’ that is removed during a circumcision becomes 12-15 SQUARE INCHES of flesh on and adult male. Take a pen, draw a rectangle on your forearm 3 inches wide by four-five inches long. What is the logic behind thinking that a section of flesh of that size has no function or benefit to a man?

      At birth, the foreskin is FUSED to the head of the penis just like a fingernail is to the finger. To remove it, it must first be ripped free, causing significant pain and scarring. The open wound is then kept in a damp, stagnant diaper where it is continually exposed to urine and feces. Infection is very common. Repeated surgeries are very common. Significant, dangerous bleeding is common. Fatal infections are not uncommon. Fatal hemmorhage is not uncommon. Significant scarring is not uncommon. BOTCHED surgeries are not unheard of. There is no safe pain relief that fully covers the agony of the procedure, so many babies go without any, or are given ‘sucrolose therapy’ which is a pacifer dipped in sugar solution. These are all FACTS.

      Are you aware of how little blood a newborn needs to lose before they are at risk of brain damage? Organ damage? Death?

      Read the full consent form for male infant circumcision. Ask for details of possible complications. Look up the research into the frequency of those complications.

      Female circumcision has many forms and many of them DO correlate to infant male circumcision in terms of what is removed. There IS a comparison, even if it is just in terms of ‘surgery performed on the genitalia of a minor’.

    • Greg Hartley

      It always happens…people making arguments with incorrect facts. The prepuce (foreskin) is not merely a flap of skin. It contains over 20,000 specialized sensory receptors, ridged bands (which some condoms attempt to duplicate for cut men), the movable portion of male genitalia, and mucosal tissue, among other features. Non-ritual circumcision was started with the expressed purpose of sexual control – a misguided attempt to stop “self-abuse.” As Kevin Bacon said in a few good men, “These are the facts, and they are not in dispute.” Please learn the facts before attempting to argue your position.

    • To call the foreskin a “flap” is a concise way to admit ignorance of what the foreskin is and does.

      And to say there are no ” lasting harmful effects” also belies this ignorance.

      EVERY circumcision removes thousands of pleasure-receptive nerve endings, eliminates the exqusite frictionless rolling/gliding mode of stimulation, and removes the protective sleeve for the mucosal glans.

      MANY circumcisions have unintended outcomes. Just google “circumcision damage” on an empty stomache. No male deserves to live with these haphazardly doled out effects from a procedure that not one national medical association on earth (not even Israel’s) endorses.

      The FGMs that are rightly illegal (with no religious exemption) include a “harmless” pin-poke to draw one ceremonial drop of blood. The 14th amendment demands equal protection. HIS body, HIS decison.

    • Adele,

      This is an article you might want to read. It’s an open letter by a young man to the moyel who did his circumcision. It might give you a perspective of how some men feel about it.

      http://blog.shealevy.com/2011/05/17/an-open-letter-to-mohel-michael-henesch/

    • nate

      hair grows back. penises dont.

  5. Anna

    I must disagree with you, Adele. Labia cutting, which is what most female circumcision is, (and different than FGM) is VERY similar to male circumcision. Furthermore, an adult male’s ‘skin of flap’ (and really who are you to say it does or doesn’t modify the sex organs?) is approximately the size of a 3×5 index card and contains roughly 20,000 (more than double the amount in a female clitoris) nerve endings.

    It should be illegal to modify sex organs regardless of the gender of the baby. It was legal in the US to perform female circumcisions and FGM until 1996. It was, amongst other reasons, done so for tradition and religion, same as male circumcisions.

    When your child is born, they are given the right to freedom of religion. It is not fair to steal your child’s rights just because of YOUR religious beliefs.

    Furthermore, if you would do a bit of research, you would find that circumcision has only been popular in the US in the past century or so, and it was initially encouraged by physicians as a means to prevent masturbation. It’s only recently that the bogus reasons of ‘cleanliness’ and ‘STD prevention’ have been tossed about. There are also many lasting effects (ED, micro penis, shaft damage and even death) I’m sorry to say.

    When it comes down to it, the penis belongs to it’s owner. It is not his parent’s, his rabbi or pastor’s, his government’s penis. It belongs to him and him alone. Fortunately cutting rates have dropped sharply from 56% in 2006 to 32.5% in 2009. I can only hope that this RICis banned, such as it has been in Australia.

  6. Donald

    I am guessing our covenant with G-d has little or no meaning to some who claim to be Jews. Somewhere, I once read, “Thou Shalt Not Tempt The L-rd Our G-d.”

    • Shannyn

      They are just allowing their children to decide if that is what they want for themselves. Converts aren’t 8 days old when they are circumcised and may join the covenant. We should encourage families to allow their Jewish born children to make that choice when they are old enough. We Jews are not to inflict pain on any living creature, why should our infant sons be an exception to that?

  7. I support the ban. I am circumcised and would’ve chosen to be intact the right to my body as 200,000 men are restoring their foreskins cause they would’ve said no to circumcision: tlctugger.com

    It is a human rights violation under the Constitution and UN and a breach of doctors do no harm oath to remove a healthy body part against someone’s will and without their consent.

    Jews oppose circumcision: Jews Against Circumcision.org BeyondTheBris.com
    Bris shalom is a jewish practice that requires no cutting.
    Muslims Oppose Circumcision: http://www.quranicpath.com/misconceptions/circumcision.html

    All the info you need: Wholenetwork.org DoctorsOpposingCircumcision.org

    No medical organization IN THE WORLD recommends routine infant circumcision(including the AAP, CDC, etc)

    Religion teaches love and protection, and it is the opposite to harm a baby for any reason. Keep your babies intact whole and happy.

    80% of the world’s men are intact.

  8. Kelev

    I’m Jewish and did not circumcise my sons. It is not my right to permanently alter their bodies in the name of my religion. They can decide for themselves when they are consenting adults what to do with their own bodies based on their own beliefs. That is their right and no one else’s. Many Jews are actually keeping our sons whole these days. A number of our friends and relatives have made similar decisions and the movement to keep Jewish boys whole is quite a growing movement.
    ALL the claims about circumcision helping to fight HIV, STDs, or cancer have been debunked repeatedly. Over half-a-dozen medical and pediatric associations in Holland, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere have therefore officially condemned circumcision. They have looked at all the latest and best research from around the world and found no reason to cut off perfectly healthy foreskins. The risks and disadvantages of circumcision, however, are undeniable. It is undeniable that up to 15 sq. inches of sensitive, nerve-filled, and vein-rich tissue is lost to adult men who are circumcised. It is undeniable that many men suffer physical scarring and life-long trauma from being circumcised. And it is undeniable that many boys die each year from circumcision. Ultimately, it is undeniable that circumcision is needless and immoral. I therefore support the proposed ban on infant circumcision.

  9. Gary

    Seems to me that there are two issues here.

    One is the right to decide whether or not to circumcise. The other whether circumcision should be outlawed.

    I respect the decisions of those who decline to not circumcise their newborn sons. But I also respect the decisions of those who elect to circumcise, whether on religious or health grounds or both.

    To make it illegal to conduct a circumcision seems a violation of the First Amendment since it would encroach on a person’s religious freedoms. If these referendums succeed, I suspect they would be successfully challenged.

    That said, at least the referendums are prompting healthy debate, both within and outside the Jewish community, on this issue.

    • Jamie

      Freedom of religion ends where another person’s body begins. Cutting a male child is taking away his freedom of religion. Circumcision is a violation of a child’s rights. Female children are protected by the FGM bill and in turn a boy’s rights are being violated since the 14th Amendment says equal protection. If people want to continue to bring up the Constitution, then they need to understand whose rights we are talking about.

      • Avi

        The 14th amendment? The 14th amendment was written to give blacks equal rights and equal opportunities in this country, now that they were no longer slaves. What on earth does that have to do with a personal and private decision, religiously motivated or otherwise, made by the parents who bring the child into the world?
        I agree that healthy debate is warranted. But the United States is a place that advocates freedom of choice and freedom of religion. When the author writes – “My husband and I are both Jewish. We’re both American. Yet deciding to leave our son with the penis he was born with was not difficult.” – she is making the same mistake you make in reinterpreting the 14th Amendment to suit your needs. She is reinterpreting Judaism.
        If she is Jewish as she claims, she doesn’t know very much about Judaism. And certainly has no respect for her Jewishness’ history.
        Just as you have no understanding of the history of this Amendment to your nation’s Constitution.

      • Adele

        Jamie,

        Current statistics indicate over 60% of male infants born in US hospitals are circumcized. Circumcision doesn’t dictate a man’s religion and of that 60% I would venture a guess of that number, the vast majority aren’t of either Jewish or of Middle Eastern descent.

        Of course, I’ve never polled my male co-workers to determine their circumcision status, but since the procedure is down from circumcizing 85% of male infants born in US hospitals in the ’70′s, it’s safe to say the majority of them are (circumcized) – and probably Christian. But, I’ve still never heard a single one of them say, “Nope, sorry. Can’t work overtime Saturday – I mean I would, except I’m circumcized so my parents took away my freedom of religion so now I have to observe Shabbat.”

  10. @Adele: Interesting you are so keen to make bad analogies and deny a good one. Warts are not normal and can be treated without surgery. Hair grows back. The rest of the world is astonished at the US preoccupation with straight teeth, and orthodontistry is not generally done until the child is old enough to at least have some input.

    Male genital cutting is done for all the reasons you assign to female genital cutting, and female cutting IS done for “cleanliness”. See http://www.circumstitions.com/FGC-stitions.html

    “Parents have been circumsizing their boy children for centuries without any lasting harmful effects.” Then why did rabbis seriously discuss how many brothers might die before one could be excused circumcision? In those days, infant mortality was much higher, and more accepted, than today. Circumciision was of a piece with many other human rights abuses that were once common, but the tide has gone out, leaving it prominent and isolated.

    @Gary: the First Amendment does not grant unlimited freedom to practise one’s religion on other people. (Much minor, surgical FGC is done in Malyasia and Indonesia in the name of Islam, but it’s ALL outlawed in the USA.)

    This bill would in fact restore to males their First Amendment right to choose their own religion without having had one pre-emptively carved into their flesh.

    At least one religious, Sikhism, values the intact body, restricting even the cutting of hair, but it does not, so far as I know, exclude circumcised converts. (The idea is not unthinkable: another religion, Catholicism, will not ordain as priests men who have had another genital modification, castration, even against their will.) Still, a circumcised man could feel he was “not a real Sikh” just as some think an intact man is “not a real Jew.”

  11. Greg Hartley

    Excellent article – very well written! It takes courage to challenge entrenched cultural and religious beliefs – I applaud you. I was cut for “quasi-medical” reasons, and strongly oppose this violation of my bodily integrity. Whose Body, Whose Rights?

  12. Tom Riddle

    Outlawing the forcible circumcision of a completely healthy boy PROTECTS the religious freedom of that boy. If a man wants to express his faith by having HIMSELF circumcised, then nobody cares; let him turn himself into a woman if he so chooses. However, it is a violation of human rights, dignity, respect, and personal liberty for one person to express his faith by cutting up the genitalia of ANOTHER person. How is this not obvious?

    If you forcibly circumcise a child, then you forcibly circumcise the independent adult man whe will become. How can you respect a parent’s decision to circumcise a completely healthy child who might himself grow up not respecting that decision? You are completely ignoring the person whose penis is in question. Where are the rights of the person whose penis is being cut up? Please, take off your self-imposed blinders and think a little!

    Parents do not own their children; rather, parents are guardians of a child. Begin viewing children in light of the independent adults they will become and keep in mind that virtually no man will ever need or want to subject himself to such penis-reduction surgery because the foreskin tissue—the proportionally huge, protective, sexually pleasing swath of genital tissue amputated by circumcision—is ENJOYABLE and valuable.

  13. Zaries

    I see it as everyone has their own thoughts, but to try to come across and banned something that is someone elses right is just wrong completely. It should be and ONLY BE the parents choice to do it. I’m not for nor against it, I think again its the parents choice of their preference. I know plenty of parents who got the surgery and others who didn’t. Both have different reasons of why they did or didn’t do it. None had to do with this bullshit. I mean what if I decided that all Jewish people should start eating pork b/c its better for them. Should I start shoving pork down Jew’s throats just because that is what I think should happen?

    • Tom Riddle

      @Zaries, How can you not see that you have successfully argued against yourself? The idea of forcibly circumcising a completely healthy child is equivalent to the idea of shoving pork down an observant Jew’s throat (for the rest of his life).

      Just like there are people who want a diet without pork, there are people who want a sexual organ without circumcision.

      Nobody is saying that a man shouldn’t be able to have himself circumcised. Rather, people are saying that one person should not be able to forcibly circumcise another person (a completely healthy child, no less). How is this not obvious?

      It is a copout for one person to express faith by cutting up the sexual organs of another person. How is this not obvious?

  14. Thank you for this excellent article!

    I am a Jewish man who suffered a “botched” circumcision that has significantly lowered my quality of life. I do not believe that anyone had the right to amputate part of my genitals. Every human being is entitled to basic rights, like bodily integrity.

    Best

    ~Barefoot Intactivist

  15. A rabbi recently said: “You know, I always believed that San Francisco was a “Live and let live” city. I now see that it has a curious attachment to the male foreskin.”
    I’m afraid I’m VERY “attached” to my foreskin; it is as much attached to me as my head or hands. Let the foreskin live, dear Rabbi!

  16. No religion may practise human sacrifice.

    My sister is intact, I want to be intact too!

    No Nobel prize will ever balance the loss to circumcision!

  17. Dave S

    I am a man that was circumcised as a baby and I wish I was NOT. I wish I could have experienced sex the way it was intended. But more importantly, I was denied my choice to keep a functional, natural, healthy body part.

  18. Len Glick

    Thank you, Rebecca, for this beautifully expressed statement on why so many of us, committed to preserving our heritage as Jewish Americans, realize that cutting the genitals of helpless infants does nothing to promote Jewish identity. To the contrary, those of us who have studied the history and sociology of circumcision in America know that many Jewish men have felt alienated from Judaism and Jewish identity precisely because they resent the damage done to their bodies without their desire or consent.
    I hope everyone who reads your fine essay will be encouraged to learn more and to think honestly about what you’ve said. Yours is a truly Jewish voice.

  19. Martin

    Thank you for a very well-written article explaining your approach to the issue of circumcision in the context of religious observance and fidelity. Obviously, no one has the right to question your faith or your value system as you make decisions that affect your life and those of your children.

    I struggled with the question of circumcision for many years. On a visceral level it did not sit well with me, but on an intellectual level it seemed to be an inescapable obligation of the ethnoreligion into which I was born. Many of my Jewish friends feel the same way, and the most reasonable (to my mind) among them have said, “I’m fine with infant circumcision if it does not harm. My take on Judaism is that most certainly allows for the possibility if it can be scientifically and empirically shown that newborn circumcision has physiological disadvantages and risks, then I would be willing to re-evaluate and very probably would opt for a brit shalom instead of a brit milah.” This way of thinking is consistent with the critical analysis and sensible decision-making I have come to very much appreciate about Judaism overall.

    Over the years, I have learned a great deal about what infant circumcision entails. I’ve read a lot about its sequelae, which is hard to come by because it’s not a widely discussed or written-about subject. A turning point for me came around 1996 when the first detail physiological and histological evaluation of the foreskin was published in the British Journal of Urology. It demonstrated for the first time the unique, complex structure and function of this tissue, along with a clear discussion of how the body is affected by its removal. If this was not the “proof” that my friends had previously alluded to, what would be? I began to take a more detailed interest in understanding circumcision’s evolution, practice and effects. Although I have taken a different route than Ms. Wald, I’ve come to the same conclusion that the best choice, with what I know now, is to not have my sons circumcised. I’m also satisfied that this conclusion is consistent with my religious beliefs, meaning consistent with God’s desires and instructions for us.

    I think most American Jewish families are open to scrutiny of circumcision’s history, including how it may have changed over the centuries, as well as modern medical understandings of surgery and our bodies. Our religion evolves with new discoveries; this should be understood and welcomed by all.

  20. Excerpts from http://bancircumcision.blogspot.com

    “You may not cause physical, emotional, or psychological harm to a child and argue freedom of religion or your right to privacy as justification. A child’s welfare supersedes any and all of the parent’s and guardian’s constitutional rights including but not limited to the parent’s right to practice their religion. ”

    “Citing the 1st amendment in the U.S. Constitution as justification for male circumcision but not allowing others to cite the 1st amendment for female circumcision is a violation of the 14th amendment. You cannot argue the 1st amendment but not allow others to do so. The 1st amendment has limitations. Yes you do have freedom of religion with limitations. You may not hurt or kill others for example. You may not use freedom of religion to justify performing female circumcision for religious or cultural reasons.

    So logically you may not use the 1st amendment to justify male circumcision. You cannot be selective with the 1st amendment and use it when it’s convenient to you but not allow others to argue freedom of religion to justify female circumcision. You cannot be that selective with the 1st amendment.

    The 14th amendment provides equal protection for both sexes. Female circumcision is banned unless the girl is 18 years old, you have her consent, and she passes a psychological evaluation, Therefore the same should apply to males. Equal protection for both males and females.
    The 14th amendment trumps the 1st amendment.”

    “Body modification that involves young boys and young girls and involves their sex organs is sexual in nature and clearly perverse. “

    • Daniel

      As a law student, I can’t remain quiet after hearing all of these incorrect references to the 14th Amendment! Under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, you have to classify the groups of people being treated differently by the law. I suppose the relevant groups here are males and females: the law prohibits female genital cutting, while it permits male genital cutting. We thus have different treatment based on gender. From a constitutional viewpoint, an ‘intermediate scrutiny’ is then triggered, under which you ask whether the disparate treatment is ‘substantially related’ to an ‘important’ interest. We can debate whether making the distinction between boys and girls here is substantially related to an important interest, but don’t go around saying that any difference in treatment necessarily entails a violation of the 14th Amendment. There are, of course, some pretty important interests involved; it is by no means an easy question.

      And your analysis of the 1st Amendment is horrible. Of course freedom of religion is not unlimited, but none of the examples you gave raise equal protection problems, or even Constitutional issues at all. There is no Constitutional violation when a person, for religious reasons, enslaves African Americans–that is criminal, and the government does not violate the 1st Amendment by prohibiting it, but a private person cannot violate the Constitution. If, on the other hand, the government were to protect one class of persons and not another from religious or racial discrimination, then we would have a problem under the 14th Amendment, but we would still have to apply the appropriate level of analysis to determine whether the failure to protect one class of persons actually violates the equal protection clause.

      In short, this is much more a political than a constitutional issue. There is no intentional gender discrimination here, and the constitution just doesn’t include a right to an intact penis. That doesn’t mean that you can’t argue that the government should ban circumcision and attempt to pass laws to that effect (although then you would have to have a debate about the limits of the 1st amendment, fully separate from the 14th amendment debate). If it were unconstitutional, a circumcised male could bring a lawsuit against the government for failing to protect him, and the entire nation would be forced to change the law, without any of the difficulty of these ballot measures. I can’t see that surviving the courts.

      • Robert S

        Sorry, but this is a fallacious argument, the 14th amendment guarantees EQUAL protection under the law for everyone, and merely saying that males are different from females does not preclude protection for males.

        The necessary immediate scrutiny has not occurred due to a lack of political will–the KEY word is equal PROTECTION, not treatment.

  21. Monique

    I am the proud mother of an intact Jewish son. After researching the issue, we chose to keep our son whole and held an Bris Ha Shalom on his 8th day of life. Thank you for your website and your efforts in sharing these stories with other Jews.

  22. Mark

    A disturbed woman, whose child isn’t Jewish, by her choice. The circumcision is the link to the past..it’s the symbolic tie to Abraham…American idiotic “Jews” feel that they can rewrite the basic laws of the Torah and Judaism and still be Jewish-they can’t. Sorry, just become a Christian. Then there’s the inherent narcissism in her statement about how she is guided by what is right in her heart…what “feels” good-classic Leftist religion. This same woman most likely has no feeling whatsoever for Israel or Jerusalem. It’s all about “Me”…bad news for her and her hubby, but your son isn’t Jewish.

    • Robert S

      ““Me”…bad news for her and her hubby, but your son isn’t Jewish.”

      If your concept of being Jewish requires having a mutilated penis, then I guess all Muslims and many Americans are Jewish?

  23. Mark

    PS..this is just another Leftist’s shot at changing 4000 yrs of Judaism to suit her selfish and vain ego. If you don’t want to be a Jew then convert to Christianity and keep your child’s foreskins so that he won’t spend 25 years on the couch cursing all of the sexual pleasure that’s been denied him! Funny, Jews didn’t have any trouble procreating for thousands of years with that flap of skin removed, and many Orthodox seem to derive a lot of pleasure-so much so that they are quite prolific in their seed distribution. We live in the age of “Me” and Narcissism..and if it feels good then do it. The Left is such a bunch whining phonies. Judaism and Israel would be better off without them.

    • Robert S

      Yeh, Jewish men enjoy sex just fine–even though they have lost up to 3/4 of their sensation and sensitivity, so this fantasy justifies mutilating infants?

      How does this compute logically?

      And please all Jews spare me this “circumcision/covenant” nonsense–circumcision does NOT appear in the original covenant–it was added by priests ca. 550BCE

  24. Abe

    I’d like to add my voice as another Jew supporting the basic human right to genital integrity.

    My penis was cut when I was and I’m not happy about that.

    What was done to me can’t be undone, but we can change our society so that this no longer happens to future generations.

    People have every right to do modifications to their own body, but nobody has the right to cut off a normal, healthy, and functional part of someone else’s body.

    It’s great to see such a critical mass of people now acknowledging that everyone has a basic human right to all their body parts. We’re gonna change the world!

  25. Mark

    This isn’t the first time that Jews were influenced by outside forces and culture..when Greece under Alexander conquered Judea there were Jews who embraced Greek culture and not being circumcised. These Jews who embraced the Greek values were not the Jews who carried on the Jewish nation. It was the Orthodox. And it will be again. Those Jews who are passionately in love with their foreskins and lament their imagined loss of sensation can go their own way. But they break the covenant with Judaism. And please, it’s not mutilation. That’s your choice of words. It’s like those fools who say one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Well, it’s not. Sorry Chaim..it ain’t so. So embrace your genitals, but you’re not a Jew.

    • Robert S

      Perhaps you are not aware that circumcision was not in the original covenant, but added by the priests ca 550BCE. So you are demanding that all Jews follow a bogus mandate to BE Jews–give me a break!

      As for “mutilation”, perhaps you should check out the definition that exists outside of YOUR box?

  26. myrick

    No one is arguing that Jews should be forced to live out their lives with a long sleeve on their short arms. No one is arguing that frum American Jewish wives should be forced to endure the unendurable, namely be married to intact husbands. The debate is about when, not if. Should a Jewish male undergo brit milah at 8 days, when he is incapable of understanding what is happening to him, or sometime between his 21st birthday and his wedding day, of his own free will? The Tanakh does not mention this option. But the Tanakh does not mention pain management, STDs, oral sex, marital foreplay, and more. The Sin of Onan was not about masturbation.

    I hail the fact that Leonard Glick has seen fit to join this debate, briefly but very eloquently.

  27. 2cents

    A few questions:

    #1) Do infants have moral agency? Can parents act as proxies and speak for their children’s religious / health needs during childhood in general?

    #2) Is keeping some nerve endings for sexual satisfaction worth the loss of kedushah, which is the real purpose for brit milah (not cleanliness)?

    #3) If other people value kedusha and halachic practice over a modern rights structure, should they be prohibited from acting on that value structure?

    #4) The “timing issue” / “when, not if” issue may not be specifically addressed in the Tanakh, but Halakha is more than just tanakh for many Jews. Should their interpretation of Halakha which has deep roots be deracinated in favor of current secular socioculture norms? I don’t have any problem with Karaites, btw.

    For what it’s worth, I think the answers to all these questions are rooted in metaphysics; there is no Lancet study that is going to tell you the answer. The bottom line is that some people are so confident that their metaphysics/prejudices are superior, that they view the competition as inhumane monsters, idiots or worse. I know humility and careful epistemologic thinking are always hard to do – especially when you think in terms of champions for justice and unthinking lemming-like baby mutilators (i.e. when you think politically). Anyway, I would urge you to consider it. I think we’d all get along swimmingly that way.

  28. Good for you! and your child!! I wish more parents would come to the same realization that circumcision should be an adult choice just as Abraham was an adult when he made his covenant, it is much more meaningful for someone to come to that conclusion on their own than to have it forced upon them as a helpless infant,

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