33 thoughts on “Jewish Circumcision: Mark of the Convenant or Mark of Cruelty? – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم
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  1. “But this is an ancient religious ritual,”
    So is Female Genital Mutilation (Type I removes the clitoral prepuce/foreskin, just like circumcision), So is sacrificing animals. So is sacrificing newborns. Are those ok too?
    Circumcision is a violation of human rights, the right to genital integrity everyone is born with. It’s sad you didn’t value your sons enough to grant them an intact body and the ability to make their own choices with it.

    What a way to celebrate the miracle of life! Let’s cut part of his penis off without his consent. Torture and child abuse! Sexual mutilation! Hurray! Where’s the food?! Pass the wine!

  2. UPDATE: Apparently, someone at MotheringDotCommune (“the natural famly living community”) has linked disparagingly to this post. Unfortunately, you’ll have to register to read whatever’s been written. I choose not to because I have only too good an idea what propaganda I’d find. All the negative comments below were spurred by this site. You’ll notice that all the arguments are basically the same and use the same shrill, incendiary rhetoric. Since visitors from this site are only interested in propagandizing their views rather than open-minded discussion, no further comments will be allowed here from such visitors. I exclude Renee’s comment from this description as she at least is critical, but open-minded & doesn’t engage in vicious attacks.

    Jenna: Gimme a break. Male circumcision can in no way be compared to female circumcision. The fact that you do shows you’re nothing more than a strident ideologue on this subject. My blog definitely isn’t meant for know it alls like you. It’s meant for people who try to have an open mind & understand the perspective of someone who doesn’t necessarily share yours. So I suggest you go somewhere where everyone will agree with you. You’ll be more comfortable there.

    In addition, you are ignorant about female circumcision as I’ve read in the New York Times that the practice is not ancient and that it’s performance has waxed and waned in the places in which it is employed. I’ve never read that it’s at the heart of any religion as it is in Judaism.

    Male circumcision has no effect on a man’s future ability to enjoy sex unlike female circumcision. It is not done to lessen desire or enjoyment of the sex act as female circumcision is. It is not done to subjugate men or ensure that they understand their proper place in family life as is the case with female circumcision. And male circumcision, when performed properly, will cause very few health problems for the baby unlike female circumcision which can render girls infertile.

    Male circumcision is at the heart of the Jewish religion. You cannot separate Judaism from this ritual. Guess you must not like us too much since we represent what is to you such a hateful approach to this subject.

    There is a difference between cutting off a foreskin and “cutting off part of [a man’s] penis.” Jewish men have undergone circumcision for thousands of years and never has one complained of “torture,” “child abuse” or “sexual mutilation.” I suggest you stay home the next time you’re invited to a brit milah.

  3. Male circumcision has no effect on a man’s future ability to enjoy sex unlike female circumcision. ” INCORRECT

    “There is a difference between cutting off a foreskin and “cutting off part of [a man’s] penis.” ”
    if it is not part of his penis, what is it? a part of his elbow?

  4. Hi Mr. Silverstein,

    While I respect your identity as an observant Jew I agree with the first poster in that I veiw routine infant circumcision as a violation of the infant’s right to his body.

    You said, “A Jewish boy who does not have a bris distances himself from his forbears and the tradition itself. I’m not making an argument here that circumcision somehow guarantees a boy will become an observant Jew. But it allows him the option to become whatever type of Jew (observant, secular, agnostic, atheist) he might choose to be once he develops the ability to make such a choice.” Why can’t he make the decision for himself when he is old enough to decide? I know that isn’t tradition, but I also know many Jews are moving away from the traditional bris to one that involves no cutting.

    Again, no hard feelings. You can email me privately if you’d like. I don’t know any Jews in real life so I am not very familiar with your culture.


  5. To the cowardly “No Thank You” who shields him or herself in anonymity & a fake e mail address–by what authority do you claim to know whether circumcision inhibits a male’s sexual enjoyment? Since you don’t bother to quote your authority or any supporting reference, your judgment isn’t worth a plug nickel. In addition, I am circumcized and find intercourse quite pleasurable. That’s all the proof I need.

    To say a bris is like “cutting off part of one’s penis” makes the procedure sounds like Lorena Bobbit surgery. It is not. Cutting a foreskin is NOT castration which is the rhetorical effect Jenna was reaching for in her overstatement.

    Renee: The reason why a boy can’t decide for himself at a later age whether he wants to become an Orthodox or observant Jew & become circumcized is that circumcision at 8 days is a relatively minor surgical procedure while adult circumcision is a much more serious and painful procedure. In addition, each of the major Jewish denominations view circumcision as a male prerequisite for being Jewish. So to be uncircumcized is to be something less. You certainly would still be Jewish, but you’d be in some sort of weird limbo.

    And I am actually not an “observant” Jew in the sense that I do not adhere strictly to the 613 commandments. I am a knowledgeable Jew and one who honors his tradition and heritage. But I am not Orthodox or fully observant.

  6. I’m in no way anti-semitic. But sexually mutilating babies is still just messed up.
    4 thousand years of tradition does not justify it any more than 20 years of tradition does.
    I’m glad you gave him some anentesia, though. I hope he didn’t scream for you to help him while a useful part of his body was being amputated. Please tell me he just slept right though it.

  7. Accusing Jews of “sexually mutilating” their babies is deeply offensive and culturally hateful. You can claim you aren’t anti-Semitic. I don’t care what you think you are or aren’t. I know how I experience your comment.

    I was circumcized through brit milah (along with millions of Jewish males during the past 2,000 years) and your comment reflects your own hysterical biases but not my own personal experience. I was not sexually mutilated & I object strenuously to your comment & find it reprehensible. I say to you what I said to Jenna: if you don’t like what you read here you’re more than welcome to go somewhere where the rhetoric suits you better. I’d strongly urge you to do so.

    He was 15 days old you moron. Of course he didn’t scream for me to help him. He cried for three or four minutes and went to sleep.

  8. Dear Richard,

    I am so sorry to hear of, and read, such intensely ignorant rhetoric and invective directed against you for the practice of male circumcision on your son. These people have obviously not taken the trouble to educate themselves fully about the traditions and the significance of Brit Milah as a sign of the Covenant between God and the children of Abraham (and that includes Muslims who also circumcise their male children).

    Although I was not ‘officially’ Jewish at the time of the birth of my two sons, I begged my GP to allow them to be circumcised – he refused as he said it was ‘not for religious reasons’ (this was despite the fact that all the boys in my family had always been circumcised). So I was not allowed to have them circumcised at that time.

    This was a decision which I regretted – much later, my eldest son had to be circumcised at the age of eleven which was an awful trauma for him then. Added to which, the surgeon who perfomed the procedure made an absolute ‘dog’s breakfast’ of it and left my son scarred for life!

    In retrospect, if I had know where to find a Mohel at the time, I would have gone to him directly and by-passed my GP! A Mohel is specially trained and he know exactly how to do the job properly with the limited amount of pain and discomfort to the child.

    So, I say to all these people, ‘Do not criticise those about whose traditions you know nothing, but allow us our God-given traditions – God has his reasons and He knows best! FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) is a VERY different matter and, quite rightly, should be campaigned against – concentrate your well-meant efforts on that, because that IS an infringment of human rights – it was invented so that women may not enjoy sexual relations but just submit to being a possession and plaything for men!’

    Richard, do not take any notice of these bigoted people – they know not what they are talking about!

    Mazeltov on your lovely family! May they live long and bring you great joy!

    Yiddishe Bubbeh : )

  9. Rivkah: Thanks for yr. comment & support. Lord help us from the true believers!

    I agree with you completely about not using a G.P. for a brit. You’ll note in my post above that I too strongly recommend not using an M.D. They just don’t do enough such procedures to be proficient at it. The good mohels do hundreds of britot and keep themselves constantly abreast of medical developments in the field.

    I too used a G.P. for our first brit and while not scarred for life, the procedure didn’t go as smoothly as it should have. The second time around w. a mohel it went perfectly.

  10. I’ve been at a few Brit Milah’s and the babies were not traumatised. Most didn’t even cry or only cried a little for a few seconds. As we are commanded to do it, we must. Little girls cry far more when they have their ears pierced. Ear piercing of infants is comman in many cultures, but not mandated by religion. All you anti-circumcision people should jump on the anti-ear piercing bandwagon instead and leave us Jews alone to practice our religion in peace.

  11. Oh please. Everyone take a anti-rant pill.

    Jews have been circumsizing their sons without incident for over 5,000 years now. As afar as I know, my wife has no complaints. I certainly don’t!

    Tell me ladies and gentlemen. Do you have the same disdain for the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of little girls (and now boys) out there who’s mommies rush them off to have their ears pierced, all for reasons of vanity?

    I think you all need to find a more just causse to vent your anger on. We Jews don’t need your advice on this stuff.

  12. “YOU shall circumcise the flesh of YOUR foreskin and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and YOU.
    –Genesis 17:10-11”
    (all caps my addition.) Sounds like G_d meant for it to be a covenant between Himself and a consenting adult who could choose to enter into the covenant. Every man should have the right to make this choice himself; indeed it has FAR more meaning when the covenant is entered into knowingly. How did we go from YOU shall circumcise the flesh of YOUR foreskin to you shall cut the flesh off the foreskin of someone else?

    “But [circumcision] allows him the option to become whatever type of Jew (observant, secular, agnostic, atheist) he might choose to be once he develops the ability to make such a choice.”
    Leaving him intact also allows him ALL those options, along with the added option of keeping his body whole.

    I don’t have a Passover Hagadah in front of me, so I don’t have the wording right, but doesn’t it say in there that in every generation to look for more ways to see wrongs not previously seen to be wrong and find ways to right them? So later generation could decide that an ancient tradition in fact goes against human rights and can be replaced with something else. And by doing so they would not be going against their faith but in fact following a very commandment of it!
    Peace to you all. May you keep an open mind.

    Not a jew hater; in fact married to one and part of the family for seven years.
    Not hiding behind fake name or address.
    Just stating my thoughts in I hope a peaceful manner and trying to open minds to an idea that is unusual to us Americans.

  13. Jen: I’d suggest that your skills in Biblical and linguistic interpretation are lacking. Yours is a tortured & illogical interpretation. In the Biblical command to circumcize male children, “you” is meant as a COLLECTIVE pronoun to include ALL the children of Israel. The use of “you” is meant as an intensifier. This is a very common linguistic principle in Biblical texts. Besides the Bible itself tells us to circumcize at 8 days. So explain how the Bible can mean to say only adults should decide on circumcision & yet also say all males shoule be circumcized at 8 days?

    I have no idea what passage you’re referring to in the Haggadah. I’ve been reading it every year for 50 yrs. & whatever you’re referring to is not familiar to me. Besides, you again show a lack of understanding of Judaism and halachic precedent. Yes, traditions can change if social & theological circumstances do. Rabbeynu Tam outlawed polygamy around the 10th century for some of these reasons.

    But circumcision is an entirely different matter. Rabbeynu Tam was a deeply respected rabbinic figure in his time (& up to the present). No respected rabbinic figure has come remotely close to saying circumcizion should be redefined. One very major diff. bet. polygamy & circumcision is that polygamy was never considered a central precept of Judaism while circumcision is. No respected rabbi would declare circumcision null & void or seriously reinterpret it for that very reason.

    I am continually amazed that so many non-Jews would seriously believe that our religion will have to change merely because they say it should. It’s the height of cultural insensitivity and arrogance.

    A note to commenters here: ALL comments using incendiary, histrionic or overly melodramatic terms to describe circumcision will be deleted & the authors banned from future comment. There’s a way to disagree without lapsing into overwrought prose (Jen’s comment is an example of one that didn’t cross the line).

  14. Mr Silverstein:

    I am the mother of daughters, age 17 and 18 as well as a 15 year old son. My children were baptized Catholic when they were grade schoolers as my husband finally decided to start practicing his childhood faith again and wanted them to do the same. They went through the full gamut: CCD, First Communion, First Reconciliation, weekly mass, etc. My eldest now considers herself an Atheist, my younger daughter and son are most definitely agnostic. None want nothing to do with the “religion” they were raised and educated in.

    I know of a man, the son of a Rabbi, who was raised with your faith but is most definitely Atheist now. He was circumcised as your religion requires (at 8 days old I believe, am I right?) He is not happy about what was taken from him without his consent.

    I understand what your religion teaches but what about the individual who does not want his parent’s religion? What if the Catholic faith required some sort of major sacrifice that left a permanent, physical mark? What if, like my children, your son does not want to practice your faith? What if your son someday wants his foreskin as my previously Jewish friend does?

    Where does that leave your son and what do you say to him then?

    Please know, I ask these questions to you respectfully and hope you can answer thoughtfully.

    Sincerely, Pam in Michigan

  15. Pam: I can hear your disappointment (at least I think I can) at your children’s religious choices. But I’m not sure what you’re saying about them that relates to circumcision. Are you saying that by making a choice for them when they were small & having them baptized this drove them fr. Catholicism? More likely, it was something they found wanting in the Church or something within them that caused rejection of their faith.

    As for the son of a rabbi, there are many reasons why people turn away fr. the faith of their fathers. The fact that your parents decided to have you circumcized seems a terribly unlikely influence on this decision. Trust me, I’ve wrestled with dissatsifaction and questioning of basic aspects of my tradition and am not sure that I’m a believer (perhaps that would make me an agnostic except that I still feel a strong spiritual connection to my religion). But my circumcision has had absolutely no bearing on any problems I might’ve ever had w. Judaism or the Jewish community.

    The number of Jews who “want their foreskin back” is absolutely infinitesimal compared to the number of Jews who are circumcized & do not want it back. I don’t know what kinds of people my 2 sons are going to become & whether they’ll feel connected to their religious faith (I hope they will & we plan to try to encourage it), but I trust & am certain that circumcision will have no bearing on any decision they might make.

    I appreciate your closing line & your attempt to be respectful. You succeeded in this & your comment should be a lesson to others who do not know how to conduct a nuanced dialogue & only know how to shrei (“yell” in Yiddish).

  16. Mr Silverstein: Thanks for your response. To the contrary, no I am not saddened by my children’s religious choices. Remember, I mentioned this was my husband’s religion, not mine. I consider myself to be agnostic also, questioning Atheism. I have tried to be honest with my children about my feelings, answering their questions as they come up. Making every attempt to allow them to come up with their own decisions in this matter. I didn’t want to be overly influential so that my husband would come back and say that it was my fault they don’t want to be Catholic, KWIM? No, it was the Catholic church with all it’s ridiculous rules, laws and procedures that in the end, drove them away.

    For my 18 year old daughter, hearing that unbaptized babies do not “go to heaven” but to purgatory was the end of any faith in her life, for example. She came home (she was 16 at the time) on that night, not understanding how a merciful god could be so cruel. I had no answer for her that night.

    My point in bringing this up to you is simple, I’m sorry you did not see it.

    My children were raised with a religion that they (all) have since rejected. I don’t feel this is uncommon considering the current state of our world which allows and encourages people to question and to think. They decided religion/god will hold no part in their lives. Period.

    What if your son decides the same?

    It matters not that few Jews you know of stray from your faith. It may only be a very small percentage yes, but WHAT IF your son may be one of those?

    I don’t really need an answer back from you. My questions are simply rhetorical in nature. I simply do not understand how a religion can require something such as this. It took my nine months to perfectly grow my son in my womb and there is no way anyone or anything, not even the threat of burning in hell for eternity would get me to alter it’s perfection. (now my husband’s scars, that’s a story for another day)

    By the way, your son is adorable! I truly hope he is satisfied with the choice you made for him however, if he grows up to question…more power to him!

    Best wishes,

  17. A religious Jew has an obligation to circumsize his/her son. If later in life the child objects and wants to have the operation reversed, that is their choice as an adult.

    Do Christians feel it’s acceptable for Christian parents not to baptize their children because later in life, the child may have an objection to being baptized without his/her consent?

  18. I read about your blog on a Judaism website and decided to take a look.
    First of all: MAZZEL TOV!!! A DOUBLE Blessing!!

    When I became a parent I wasn’t living “Jewishly” and yet when I looked into my son’s eyes I knew that he didn’t only belong to me; he was a part of our people- he was the first grand child of Holocaust survivors- he was a thread in the multi-coloured tapistry which makes up the Jewish People; He had a right to be confirmed into the Covenant.
    So I called the most Orthodox Mohel I could find and asked if he could perform a Brit Milah on the son of a wayward single Jewish mother.
    The Mohel- who also was a Rabbi- laughed and said it would be an honour for him to do it.
    I was still in an 300 year old [Xian] hospital because of a ceasarian section so my son was the first child to have a ritual circumsicion in the history of that hospital.
    The whole blessed event was a joy and a relief to me; it opened my eyes to the fact that I could go back; that this child afforded me a second chance to get it right as far as Judaism was concerned.
    So as he grew I also grew in Observance.
    My son is 21 years old now and I am living a fully Observant life.

    From another perspective I am so grateful that I had my son circumcised; when he was but 3 years old two of his little Gentile friends needed to have the procedure done because of medical reasons…….. and when I saw how disgusting and painful and mutilating THAT was I thanked G-d for the ease and painlessness and lack of anesteasia etc that my son experienced with a “proper” circumcision!
    During his growing up years, 4 more of his friends at various ages needed this procedure and it was very traumatic.
    I asked my son recently wether he minded being circumsised; he thanked for me doing it for two reasons; one for raising him properly in a religious sense and two) he figured that he was a much better lover because of his circumcision than his friends!! ;O)

    There’s also this; No Jewish parent (whatever their level of observance) has the right to exclude their child from The Covenant and by not circumsising our children we basically exclude them from Aim Yisrael so Baruch HaShem you gave your two beautiful sons their birthright; may they grow in joy and become a blessing to us all.
    with affection,

  19. “Do Christians feel it’s acceptable for Christian parents not to baptize their children because later in life, the child may have an objection to being baptized without his/her consent?”

    Respectfully Adamn, baptism takes no body parts, leaves no scars, makes no permanant marks whatsoever on a child. My children were in no way harmed by their baptisms.

    It is not the same thing as circumcision.

    (By the way, I don’t believe in baptism for infants anyway. It makes more sense to me that someone should understand what they are committing to and why.)

  20. Pam:

    My children were raised with a religion that they (all) have since rejected. I don’t feel this is uncommon considering the current state of our world which allows and encourages people to question and to think. They decided religion/god will hold no part in their lives. Period.

    What if your son decides the same?

    First, I certainly didn’t mean to say that “few Jews stray from their faith.” Many do, in fact a very large minority do. But there is an important distinction between Judaism and other religions like Catholicism that you’re not aware of. Judaism does not place doctrinal requirements upon its adherents. One can be a Jew and be a complete atheist. THere are many Jewish atheists who nonetheless consider themselves good Jews & under our system they are so. Usually they call themselves “secular Jews” to distinguish their belief system from religious Jews.

    This could never happen in Catholicism which places strict doctrinal burdens on its adherents. If God forbid, a rabbi ever told my son that he would burn in Hell if he commited thus & such a sin (thankfully our rabbis do not talk in these terms), I would just say let’s go hear thus & such rabbi preach & I think you’ll get a different taste of our religion. Unlike Catholicism, Judaism is a decentralized religion which encourages penetrating questions about faith, belief and ritual practice. It leaves much to the individual’s conscience.

    So if my child turns away from Judaism at some point in his life, it will be his right. But under our particular belief system, he can drift back at some future point just as he drifted away at an earlier point. You can always go away and you can always come back (which is called teshuvah or “return”).

    All that being said, there are some elemental Jewish ritual practices embedded so deeply in the communal soul that they are a core part of being Jewish. Brit milah is one of these. If you are not circumcized, then I suppose many Jews would consider you a Jew, but the Orthodox would not. So if I do not circumcize my son & he decide to become Orthodox, then he would probably hate me for NOT circumcizing him when he was a baby. What would be worse? Facing his scorn should he become angry that I DID have him circumcized? Or facing his scorn later when he becomes angry that I DID NOT have him circumcized?

  21. Mr Silverstein: Please believe me when I say that I am trying to understand, not only you, but the idea of your faith’s believe in the continuation of this practice. I am not trying to “stir the pot” so to speak. You have helped me in some way to understand where you are coming from. I am not saying that I agree with you but I believe in the saying, “walk a mile in my shoes…” That said, I have one last question regarding your last paragraph above.

    You state that you were uncertain as to what you would do, had your son not had a Brit Milah and chose to be Orthodox. What would prevent him from doing so, making a conscious choice for that sacrifice. Would it not be the same thing? Or would it be like the Catholic baby not baptized going to purgatory, if you KWIM? I know that your religion states, “on the 8th day…” bu what would be the harm in MEN chosing to have a ceremonious circumcision? Wouldn’t it, in the end, mean more because of the conscious choice?

    I am curious about how you feel about the mainstream attitude in this country of non-religious circumcision.

    Now I will say, I have thoroughly appreciated your patience with my questioning. While I still consider myself to be a staunch intactivist, this has been a very worthwhile experience for me in learning to speak about circumcision with an open mind. As I’m guessing you probably have had enough of my persistent questioning, I have to wind this up.

    I guess in many ways we are more alike than than not. I guess when it comes down to it, the same could be said for many of us living on the planet.

    After reading your blog, as a whole, I have to say you and I have a good many ideas in common. Our political stances are practically identical as well as our ideas on the so-called War. We think alike as well about the peace process in Israel. I found myself thinking “yeah” and “alright!” as I read some of your entries.

    In the end, I hope I have also helped you to see where some of the people that visited your blog from the Mothering website were coming from. We are loving, caring individuals who want the only the best for newborn sons and daughters and never want to see them suffer pain or the loss of something valuable.

    Sincerely, Pam

  22. Please don’t deprecate yourself. You needn’t apologize for your questions. I was angry with other commenters for their propagandistic tone. For “knowledge seekers” such as yourself I have the utmost respect. As for the other commenters from Mothering.com…if they’d expressed themselves as thoughfully & respectfully as you I’d have no problem with any of them nor with any of their comments.

    The reason why it would be problematic for both me & my son if he were not circumcized & chose to be an observant Jew is that not only would he need to have the surgery as an adult (incredibly debilitating & painful) but he would not feel fully a Jew until he had it. That’s why he’d resent the choice I made for him when he was a baby.

    As for your question: isn’t it a more powerful statement for an adult to choose circumcision for himself than a parent to choose it for him? That’s a very good question. In fact, there is one story in the Bible of a tribe which chose to circumcize themselves as adults so their leader could marry Dinah, who loved her deeply. In our tradition, we have enormous respect for this choice. I’m sorry to say that Shimon and Levy were so angry at their sister’s ‘intermarriage’ that they slew the tribal leader & all of his followers who’d circumcized themselves. But the two brothers were severely punished for their heinous act. This is certainly not one of my favorite Biblical stories. But all this is beside the fact.

    If you read my post above you’ll find that I said (if I recall correctly) that if I weren’t Jewish I wouldn’t circumcize my son. There is no legitimate reason to circumcize except religious belief (according to what I read). Of course there are those who argue there are health benefits for circumcized men (I just read a scientific study that says they are less likely to get HIV). But I’ve heard of other studies saying uncircumcized men also get health benefits from their status. Who knows what the right answer is medically? I don’t.

  23. With regard to Brit Milah being a mutilation and destroying a man’s capacity for sexual fullfillment, I have a number of observations to make but, first and foremost, will those who are against the practice – whether religious or simply social – please accept testimony from the horse’s mouth? I was circumcised as an already sexually active adult, without pathological need, and found the result ENHANCED my sex life. Now, it has been said by detractors of the procedure that the only people who approve and enjoy circumcision are somehow “circumcision fetishists”. I am nothing of the kind. I prefer it. Simple as that.

    A properly performed circumcision does not result in the unnecessary ablation of pleasure-inducing tissue – it redistributes it with the added advantage of increased hygiene. Sorry, but it really is as simple as that. Much is talked of the psychological impact of the surgery – whether performed neontally or otherwise – and I have come to the conclusion that the physical results are so negligible in altering the efficiency of the penis’s pleasure receptors that the psychology of the procedure is indeed all-important. And this is where Brit Milah comes into its own as part of tribal identity, fostering a sense of belonging.

    Secondly, I would make the following observation. Although circumcision is, within Judaism, beholden on the FATHER to bestoy upon his SON (and if the father is remiss in not undertaking this mitzvah, it falls to the son to arrange his own circumcision once he reaches an age of discretion, usually considered to be when he is Bar Mitzvah), it has, of course, crucial importance for the mother and his future spouse. That said, I note with some grim satisfaction that many of those drawing the most vehement and vocal opposition to the practice are women, to whom I would respon, thus: Since when have you had a penis? Since when have you experienced sexual intercourse from a male perspective? You haven’t. So, kindly stop pronouncing on a subject about which you know, and can know, nothing.

    It is undeniable that those societies that practice true genital mutilation – on their women – tend to be societies that have a history of female sexual oppression and suppression. It undeniable, likewise, that Judaism itself has a long history of patriarchal social structure. And so I would ask this: If circumcision is a practice that expresses a patriarchal paradigm in which the dynamic is entirely masculine, do you really think that generations and generations of men would so readily mutilate their young – if mutilation it is? Of course not. In those societies where such a paradigm exists, we see it in action in the admitted mutilation of women, not men. Parallels with and corollaries to female genital mutilation with male circumcision are invalid. They are a conflation that detracts from the true horror of female genital mutilation – women deserve to be better served than this erroneous comparison.

    Thirdly, objections to Brit Milah as a procedure simply to have the son “look like daddy” or to have his place within Jewish society at large – or any other society that is a “circumcising culture” – is surely based on the erroneous, exaggerated and more than somewhat patronizing claims made by modern feminism that somehow have gained currency in the last forty years to the effect that men are intrinsically and innately emotionally illiterate, insensitive, uncaring by nature and naturally inept at parenthood. Rather than dwell on the presumption that a circumcised boy may grow to resent his parents’ decision on his behalf – as if it were some mantra – why not inquire into the suffering and sense of isolation that a uncircumcised boy may well feel as a result of differing from his peers? I would not wish that agony on any child – but most particularly a Jewish boy. It can blight a childhood, ruin an adolescent’s first sexual exploration and marr his future marriage prospects. Please be advised that not all men are hairy-backed primates. We can, and do, make caring decisions on our sons’ behalf. Mothers aren’t the only parents. We, too, have a too-oft-dismissed role to play as well.

    I am aware of opposition within Judaism to Brit Milah, which reflects a social trend, certainly within the United States, and confirms the fact that rather than being exclusive and socially isolated, Jews take their place in modern Western culture. However, I have to note that such opposition, in my experience, seems to be limited to those Jews who would define themselves by what they are against rather that what they stand for. In my synagogue I have been harrangued on more than one occasion by those whose opposition to circumcision is just one of a long, long list of grievances held in the main by the progressive liberal Left. Since when is it that those who do not subscribe to such an agenda are to have their views written off with an intolerance that would negate the social inclusivity for which their accusers irresolutely stand? I have to say that in respect of Brit Milah, these liberals are some of the most intolerant and illiberal people I have ever met, despite their well-trumpeted claims to the converse. Since when have these liberals been the only caring people? That is a myth that needs to be redressed in the best traditions of Leftwing historical revisionism.

    I am writing from London where, with the introduction of the National Health Service in post-War Britain, routine infanct circumcision – then at about 50% of the population – was deemed an unnecessary procedure and discontinued. Circumcision, however, remains the most medically and pathologically indicated surgery undertaken in NHS hospitals to correct a statistically increasingly incidence of naturally occurring abnormality. Some 35,000 circumcisions are performed annually in NHS hospitals, private clinics carrying out many more. These circumcisions are performed in boyhood, adolescence and early manhood, resulting in embarrassment and humiliation. Not for nothing is the state of being uncircumcised called “arel” in Hebrew, which derives from the same root as the word “blockage” or “inhibition”. The conclusion to draw is that in its long, long history, Judaism instigated – but at times also abandoned – a procedure of intrinsic worth for the wellbeing of the male of the species. Indeed, it is, as an idea, a symbol and a procedure, a full echo of Tikkun Olam – the perfection of the world. Hence the reply of the rabbi to the query that if G-d had wanted men to be circumcised, G-d would surely have created us that way: “Sometimes, G-d leaves some things up to us”. It is an imperfect world for us to make good – symbolically and also in the first days of life.

    There are other aspects to the benefits of circumcision that are only just emerging. There has been recent press coverage of a French and Australian medical trial in South Africa involving circumcision as a possible inhibitor of the AIDS virus that kills 600 people a day, with countless others contracting HIV. This properly organized medical trial involved the VOLUNTARY circumcision of one half of the control group of sexually active men between the ages of 18 and 25. The results in favour of the procedure were so dramatic that it was deemed unethical for the trial to continue and those men in the uncircumcised control group were offered a circumcision, the doctors declaring that it was the nearest they had come to a “vaccine”. In this instance, politically corrrect opposition to a small, cosmetic alteration to the male genitals quite literally kills. How right-on can that be?

    Other surveys on circumcision, quoted by the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, have resulted in an overview that it renders a man less prone to contracting sexually transmitted deseases, less indulgent of masturbation, more sexually active and more sexually adventurous. Hmmmmm, no wonder I like it.

    Anyone for tennis?

    Baruch atah, Adonai, Elohenu melech ha’olam she’asanee Yisrael.

  24. I am Jewish and was circumcised at birth, and am resentful about it. There are so many laws and traditions in Judiasm, and most casual Jews ignore them (keeping the Sabbath, the dietary laws, etc….) Interesting that the one law that everyone seems willing to keep is something that’s done to others … namely a baby with no power or choice. At least orthodox Jews who try to keep all the laws are consistent and don’t only keep the law of circumcision. But I find it a bit hypocritical that reformed and conservative Jews who virtually no other laws, justify to themselves and to others, keeping the tradition of circumcision.

    If for no other reason, Jewish circumcision should be stopped because the world is still (and will always be,) anti-semetic, and when yuo circumcise your baby, you’ve set him up for identification as a Jew when the next holocaust occurs (and unfortunately, given the hate in the world, it will happen again at some point.) Why would you do this to your child?

  25. First, let me say how sorry I am about your negative feelings toward your own circumcision & circumcision in general. But that being said, I think your view of Judaism is a bit Catholicized. Judaism is not a religion in which you have to keep all the commandments in order to be a good Jew. Thankfully, it’s a religion in which every Jew can define their own Jewishness. That’s not the view accepted by Orthodoxy but I’m not speaking to that approach here.

    Also, in our religion even following a single mitzvah is better than following none. So no Jew should look down on someone whose only performance of a mitzva consists of having their child circumcized.

    And as for Holocausts & anti-Semitism, Jew haters don’t need to look at your body to tell you’re a Jew. Hitler found ways to do so without that & if there’s a next Jew hater on a scale with him (God forbid) he won’t need to either. Arguing against circumcision based on anticipation of the next Holocaust seems a perverse way of looking at the world and Jewish practice.

  26. Here is my (very subjective) opinion. Please don’t think I’m comparing circumcision to FGM; this is purely hypothetical. It seems to me that if an act comparable to male circumcision was being performed on infant girls in the USA, it would not be tolerated by mainstream society.

  27. But you ARE comparing the two by claiming that if male circumcision was performed on girls (an odd analogy) it would not be tolerated.

    And this is a wild hypothetical which seems specious. Brit milah is NOT performed on girls & therefore your analogy is not valid. And suggesting an analogy in which it would be performed on them is, well, bizarre.

  28. Not quite – I said a “comparable act” i.e. the female equivalent of male circumcision, whatever that may be.

    And it may be a bizarre analogy, but I am dealing with a hypothetical situation, after all. Suspend disbelief for a moment and imagine society’s reaction *if* something similar to brit milah was being performed on girls.

  29. So what are we talking about here? What would be the “female equivalent of male circumcision?” You said you were ruling out female genital mutilation (clitorectomy). So what does that leave? Cutting off the tip of a girl’s finger? It’s ridiculous.

    And besides, many societies observe ancient rites & practices which we in the ‘enlightened’ West might object to considering them “deformation.” But the native cultures don’t see them that way. So why should we? Make no mistake, I’m neither talking about, nor endorsing FGM (which is NOT an ancient rite and is not performed as part of any religious tradition that I know of).

    So I reject the notion that Judaism has to adapt itself and its rituals to the ‘accepted norms’ (whatever that means) of western culture.

  30. For the love of useful rhetoric, people!
    I have to agree with Adamn’s reccomendation for the anti-rant pill, some of you posters really need it.
    My husband, who was born into an observant Catholic family, was circumcised at the hopsital when he was two days old. It wasn’t done for religious reasons, it hasn’t harmed him for life, he doesn’t wander around woebegone and disadvantaged because skin was removed from his penis. As for scarring–what on earth do you think mohels are doing? They don’t drag out a knife, shut their eyes, and hope to get it right, I don’t imagine most GPs would have a lot of practice, but my mother-in-law’s obstetrician did, and he was the one who performed the absolutely minor, cosmetic surgery. It has happened, and it will happen, where male circumcision has a disadvantageous effect for men, and it has happened, and it will happen, where female circumcision is no more harmful for a girl than it was for my husband.
    How do I know this? Because I’ve done some research into the subject. I didn’t just rely on a New York Times article (sorry, Richard, but your response to these accusations is as ignorant in its own way as their attacks in the first place), I’ve looked into it at greater length. There is circumcision and there is circumcision, for boys and for girls, and this is not a subject you can reduce to a simple, single emotional argument, which is what has happened here.
    All of you should visit historyofcircumcision.net, a website run by a medical historian from Australia, it has some informed, intelligent, and above all accurate information about both male and female circumscision.
    Everyone take a chill pill with your anti-rant pills, because you’re grossly misinformed, as several other posters have said, and you’re on the verge of rabid hysteria, which is just not healthy for anyone.

  31. female circumcision is no more harmful for a girl than it was for my husband.

    I’ve always thought the NY Times was an excellent reference on this subject and many others, and merely pointing us to a website w/o providing any proof for this odd contention does not constitute argument or debate. I simply do not believe or accept that female circumcision can be anything but harmful to a young girl. You’ll have to do better than merely state that it isn’t.

    I’ve just reviewed HistoryofCircumcision.net and you have not properly characterized the perspective of the author of this site. He is opposed to ALL circumcision, whether male or female. So he would definitely have a problem with your husband’s circumcision. He does acknowledge that many men feel the way your husband does about his own circumcision (which is how I feel about mine). But he’s opposed to it nonetheless.

    Curiously, he acknowledges the religious reasons for circumcision and understands that they are distinct from the medical reasons. He agrees that those practicing it for religious purpose have more authenticity to their argument. But he never endorses ritual circumcision. I find his silence on this subject to be baffling in a website that attempts to be fully comprehensive in its dicussion of the subject. In fact, he does quote Andrew Sullivan as saying that even those who practice religious circumcision cannot justify cutting children who have so say in the matter (an argument advanced by a previous commenter). So, in effect the site author implicitly criticizes this form of the procedure as well.

    As you say, he does indicate that there are more and less severe forms of female circumcision. But he still places the procedure for both genders in the category of unnecessary.

    I do agree with you that the site presents a huge amount of useful information and reference material on the subject and that anyone interested in it should spend some time there. But everyone writing on this subject has a position as this person does. It’s foolish to argue that there is a purely objective, dispassionate website out there. At least, I haven’t seen one yet.

  32. i likd the idea in your article that ‘ritual power of brit milah is not the stuff of reason’ because that admits that knowledge would dictate not removing purposeful and sensitive protective tissue.
    I also liked that ‘the procedure prevents “rare mechanical and inflammatory problems of the penis” because that admits that it is ‘rare’ even without the cut.
    you took the risk that your son will sue for lack of consent like someone already has and was awarded compensation.
    about jewish, plenty of jews have abandoned this cruel custom and the original hebrew of our tora lacks both the words skin=or and cut=gzor/hatok in the claimed source so the bible never said cut skin. oops.

    1. You don’t know my son, nor do you understand Jewish ritual practice or halacha. Jewish law is not based solely on the Torah (& if indeed you were Jewish as you claim you’d know which of the words should properly be capitalized in your comment above). Rather, it is based on the Talmud & other legal texts which have prescribed the rituals we practice.

      You’re also distorting what I wrote. I talked about “reason” not “knowledge.” Knowledge doesn’t dictate anything in this matter. And human beings do millions of things every day for a myriad of reasons having to do with religious belief or faith that they might not otherwise do if they were atheists or non-religious. Brit milah hasn’t harmed the human race one iota in the course of its practice. In fact, it has enabled Jews to remain true to their traditions & retain their religious identity. And evidence now points to the fact that it can act as a prophylactic protecting from HIV infection.

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