links are highly recommended for those concerned with the religious
aspects of preserving the foreskin:
>Circumcision: A Source of Jewish Pain
Circumcision in the News
On this page:
Just a Manicure
The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish
Feminism, Judaism, and My Son's Foreskin
Another Jewish Man Speaks Out on
Behalf of Many
Statement by the Leadership
Conference of Secular and Humanistic Jews
Though only a very few circumcisions are performed for religious
reasons in North Dakota, sooner or later the right to one's religious
beliefs must be addressed. In a democratic society where each individual
has certain inalienable rights, these rights cannot be abridged by the
actions of another carrying out his or her own religious convictions.
One can have any beliefs one wants, but imposing them on another in such
a way as to violate the freedoms guaranteed to all is unconstitutional.
Even children are no longer considered the property of their parents,
without rights of their own. We do not tolerate parents beating,
starving or denying medical assistance to their children because they
believe it is required by their religion. Parents have even been known
to kill their children in the name of religion. The boundary between
abuse and strict-upbringing can be gray, particularly when the abuse is
psychological rather than physical.
However, religiously motivated attacks on children's genitals steps
well over the line of actions in the name of religious freedom.
no medical justification, diminishes one's normal bodily integrity and
function and forcefully imposes one's beliefs on another
individual in an irreversible way. Religious freedom is to two-sided:
One is free to believe what one wants, but one is not free to take the
same freedom away from another, not even one's own child because that
child is guaranteed the same religious freedom, and other Constitutional
protections, as the parent. Children can be educated or indoctrinated
into a religion, but not beaten into submission or otherwise physically
or sexually harmed as a means to this end.
Freedom of religion is not
practiced with a knife. When females are in
considered, this is not questioned (though it is just as volatile an
issue as restricting male circumcision is in other parts of the world).
Time has come to recognize the protections constitutionally guaranteed
to all, also apply to male children.
The question of anti-Semitism (see >Addressing
Anti-Semitism) surfaces as it did when information
was requested from Dennis Lutz at
the UND School of Medicine. To exclude children of Jewish parents or any
other religion from the same protections that girls and other boys
receive, would be the highest form of discrimination. The many Jewish
activists know this. More Jews, percentagewise, are involved in the
genital integrity movement than any other group. Follow the specific
links above from the >Circumcision
Resource Center for
information for and by Jews.
Historically, the Semitic peoples did not invent circumcision. It
seems to have been a rite performed at puberty (as it is for many yet
today, including many Moslems) long before it was imposed on infants.
Some thoughts on why this was the case can be read at
the history page. Research has shown that infant
circumcision is not a medical issue. As a matter of law, it is not a
religious issue either, unless democratic principles are to be
subordinated to a theocratic social structures. Diverse religious
beliefs have thrived under the democratic freedoms of United States, but
those freedoms are for all and must be protected, even from those who
would deny them to someone else in the name of religion.
The following is a recent published letter by a renowned medical
ethicist who did not speak out on the harm of infant circumcision for
many years in part because of the religious issue:
Thursday, 12 April, 2001, Letters
CIRCUMCISION NOT JUST A MANICURE
Margaret A. Somerville
Somerville is a bioethicist and founding director of McGill
University's Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, Canada.]
In her column of
March 31,  "Ancient ritual does no harm," Catherine Ford
provides a stunning example of ignorance regarding the current medical
knowledge about infant male circumcision. She demonstrates a similar
understanding of the ethical and legal arguments relevant to
that are set forth in my book, The Ethical Canary.
She is wrong when
she says there is medical evidence the procedure does no
harm to the child. Leaving aside circumcisions that go wrong --
and in rare
cases have even resulted in death -- and the serious pain involved,
circumcision removes healthy, erogenous tissue with specialized
protective and sexual functions.
But even if Ford
were correct about the medical evidence, it would not
justify circumcision. To justify, ethically and legally, carrying out
surgery on persons unable to consent for themselves, the surgery must be
necessary therapy and the least harmful and invasive way to obtain the
therapeutic benefit. Routine circumcision fulfils neither of these
Ford accuses me of
seeking to break the covenant that circumcision
constitutes for Jews by speaking against it. She also accuses me of
to marginalize religions that mandate circumcision by my suggesting
if circumcision were generally prohibited, it might be able to be
on the basis of a charter right to freedom of religion, for those people
whom it is a religious obligation.
In other words,
I'm damned if I speak against it (as I believe ethically
must) and I'm damned if, in doing so, I act on the basis of a deep
for people's religious beliefs and practices (as I also believe
The freedom of
religion charter claim raises very complex issues about
parents' rights to impose their religious beliefs on their
children (see the
Sheena B case, Supreme Court of Canada). And such a right is in conflict
with the child's charter right to security of his person and
his bodily integrity.
does not understand the legal basis of the charter challenge
to circumcision that is based on the Criminal Code prohibition on female
genital mutilation. The argument is that in passing a law to
bodily integrity of girls and not giving similar protection to boys, the
discriminates on the prohibited ground of sex and, therefore,
The aim is
certainly not to wipe out the protection of genital integrity
given to girls, but to have a respectful discussion of what we owe to
in terms of protecting them.
No reasonable, properly informed person, including rabbis who
support infant male circumcision, believes it is like a manicure,
Ford might like to
consider that the reason the baby was so quiet after the
procedure was he was in a state of shock. The serious pain of
and of the resulting open wound which is in contact with the child's
urine for about a week, is a matter of common sense.
There is also
medical evidence of the impact of the pain, with possibly
life-long effects. We can speak of a human right not to have pain
unjustifiably inflicted on us, and this includes children. The fact that
circumcision has such important religious significance makes it an
extraordinarily difficult and sensitive issue to discuss. But
is unethical to avoid such discussions, which must be carried out in an
atmosphere of deep mutual respect.
I was not sure
whether Ford was implying that my statements were
anti-Semitic. But if she were, she might be interested to know
that when the
same has been alleged in the past, many Jewish people, including
have expressed their dismay at such labeling.
DICTIONARY OF THE JEWISH RELIGION
EDITORS IN CHIEF
R. J. Zwi Werblowsky & Geoffrey Wigoder
NEW YORK &
OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 1997
milah), removal of the foreskin in an operation performed on all male
Jewish children on the eighth day after birth and also upon male
converts to Judaism. Circumcision was enjoined by God upon Abraham and
his descendants (Gn. 17.10-12) and has always been regarded as the
supreme obligatory sign of loyalty and adherence to Judaism. As the sign
of the *covenant (berit) "sealed in the flesh," circumcision
came to be known as berit milah or the "covenant of our lather
Abraham." The presence of the foreskin was regarded as a blemish,
and perfection was to be attained by its removal (cf. Ned. 31b).
born in the wilderness, however, was not circumcised, an omission
repaired by Joshua (Jos. 5.2-9). Many Hellenistic Jews, particularly
those who participated in athletics at the gymnasium, had an operation
performed to conceal the fact of their circumcision (I Me. 1.15).
Similar action was taken during the Hadrianic persecution, in which
period a prohibition against circumcision was issued. It was probably in
order to prevent the possibility of obliterating the traces of
circumcision that the rabbis added to the requirement of cutting the
foreskin that of peri'ah (laying bare the glans).
To this was added
a third requirement, metsirsah (sucking of the blood). This was
originally done by the mohel (circumciser) applying his lips to the
penis and drawing off the blood by sucking. For hygienic reasons, a
glass tube with a wad of cotton wool inserted in the middle is now
generally employed, or the blood is simply drawn off by the use of some
reasons interpose, the circumcision must take place on the eighth day
after birth, even if that day falls on a Sabbath or Yom Kippur. If
circumcision has been postponed for medical reasons, the ceremony may
not take place on a Sabbath or major festival. The only exception
permitted to the otherwise universal requirement of circumcision is if
two previous children of the family have died as a result of the
operation: that is, in cases of hereditary hemophilia.
The duty of
circumcising the child is the responsibility of the father. In his
absence or in case of his failure to do so, the religious authorities
are bound to see that it is performed. The occasion of a circumcision is
regarded as a festive event for the whole community and takes place,
where possible, in the presence of a minyan. If one of the participants
(the father, godfather, or mohel) is in synagogue on that day, all
penitential and supplicatory prayers are omitted.
A sentence in the
prayer of Elijah (I Kgs, 19.10), "for the children of Israel have
forsaken your covenant," was understood by the rabbis to mean that
the Israelites had abandoned the rite of circumcision, which is always
referred to (on the basis of Gn. 17.9) as the berit (covenant). Elijah
is regarded as the patron of circumcision, and it is said that his
spirit is present at all circumcisions. This is the origin of the chair
of Elijah (see ELIJAH. CHAIR OF), now an integral part of the ceremony.
In eastern communities, and in Hasidic groups, where the ceremony takes
place in the synagogue, such a chair is a permanent feature of synagogue
appurtenances, Among Ashkenazim, it is customary to appoint a couple as
kvatter (godparents). The godmother carries the child from his mother's
room to the room in which the ceremony will take place and gives him to
the child's father, who, in turn, hands him to the mohel. The mohel
places the child upon the chair of Elijah and proclaims, "this is
the chair of Elijah, may he be remembered for good." He then lifts
up the child, places him upon a cushion in the lap of the godfather (*sandaq),
and, in this position, after the mohel recites the appropriate
blessings, the operation is performed.
The father also
recites a blessing to God "who has sanctified us by his
commandments and commanded us to enter our sons into the covenant of
Abraham." According to some authorities, the father also says the
*She- Hebeyanu blessing. The mohel then recites a prayer dating from
geonic times, in the course of which a name is bestowed on the child.
The circumcision ceremony is normally followed by a Se'udat Mitsvah, a
meal of religious character. Special hymns are sung, and blessings for
the parents, the sandaq, the child, and the mohel, as well as for the
advent of the Messiah and the righteous priest, are inserted in the
Reform Jews were opposed to circumcision, but now it is usually
performed, although often by a doctor rather than a mohel. Circumcision
is enjoined upon male proselytes (and slaves) as an essential condition
of their acceptance into the Jewish faith. Circumcision was widespread
in many ancient cultures. Some of these also practiced female
circumcision, which was never allowed in Judaism.
Berit Mila Board of Reform Judaism. Berit Mila in the Reform Context
(New York. 1990).
Anita Diamant. The New Jewish Baby Book- Names. Ceremonies, and
Customs (Woodstock. Vt., 1994).
Laurence A. Hoffman. Covenant of Blood: Circumcision and Gender in
Rabbinic Judaism (Chicago, 1996).
Paysach J. Krohn. Bris Milah: Circumcision, the Covenant of Abraham A
Compendium (Brooklyn, N.Y.. 1985).
Judaism, and My Son's Foreskin
The Kindest Un-Cut
Michael S. Kimmel
Tikkun May/June 2001: http://www.tikkun.org/tikkun/magazine/index.cfm/action/tikkun/issue/tik0105/
a long but insightful article. [dead link?]
Jewish Man Speaks Out on Behalf of Many
I am writing on behalf of
myself and a group of Jewish men and women advocates in the United
States and Canada who are adamantly and diametrically opposed to the
practice of infant Male Genital Mutilation (MGM), euphemistically termed
"circumcision", whether for religious, traditional, or other
Judaism is a fluid religion
that has been subject to change as it meets new challenges and reaches
new and better understandings. This is shown with the advent of
non-traditional ceremonies, like Bat Mitzvah and other significant
changes to advance the roles of females including the ordination of
women rabbis, women chazzans and shamases, women getting Torah honors
and even the abhorrent notion of female mohels.
All of these
"privileges" are against Halacha. Yet for years, women have
demanded equality - access to these privileges - for free. Men pay a
tremendous price for these privileges, the so- called “covenant with
God”. They are sexually mutilated! That is to high a price to pay.
When I was being given these privileges for free, I didn’t give it a
second thought. If I had realized the price men were paying for them, I
would have refused to be Bat Mitzvahed.
Jews say that
circumcision is tradition? Show me the tradition that allows a
woman to have an aliyah, become a cleric, not perform mikvah, or, best
of all, become a mohel.
are among the actions punishable by death according to the Torah:
Cheating on your husband, (Lev. 20:10).
Fornicating - if you’re female (Deut 22:21).
Homosexuality (Lev. 20:13).
Blasphemy (Lev. 24:16)
Insulting one’s parents (Exod. 21:17)
Disobeying one’s parents (Deut 21:18-21
Obviously we no longer apply
capitol punishment for committing the above mentioned acts because we
are no longer a primitive society and we have come to believe in human
rights. Why then do we still mutilate our baby boys? It is unfathomable.
practices sanctioned by the torah that we no longer do are:
Slavery (Exod 21:1-11) (Deut. 15:12-18)
Animal Sacrifices (Lev. 4:3, 4:23, 4:32, 5:7, 5:15)
Divorce for men only (Deut 24:1)
Female subservience to men including obedience to every order and
no right to refuse sex, (Genesis 3:16).
It's time the
"tradition" is changed. We are not primitive, we should
reflect that in the way we treat all people. Men deserve the same
protection under the law as women.
MGM is a
cruel, painful, mutilating, torturous, violative act without valid
medical benefit that not only contravenes the UN Charter, but also
violates every principle of human kindness and medical ethics in every
civilized country in the world. It is a violation of torah
commandments to physically assault or harm another person (Exodus
21:18-27). Yet that is exactly what circumcision is thus, it is against
the most fundamental concept of Jewish law.
foundation of modern medicine is "First, do no harm."
Yet, circumcision does just that. In fact, it has been called
"criminal assault" by more than one legal scholar.
removes healthy, erogenous tissue. It has been estimated by
Canadian researchers that up to 80% of a male's erogenous tissue is
amputated during a circumcision. Further, a recent book published by a
woman in the United States indicates that there are sexual disadvantages
to women from this as well.
that circumcision is an invasive, violent and barbaric act of torture
and mutilation, that is a human rights violation, and that it is high
time that we stopped subjecting males to this abuse and suffering.
for and are appalled by the reaction of some Jews who have mentioned
"Sweden" and "Nazi" in the same breath regarding the
recent anti-circumcision legislation passed in Sweden.
"Shame" doesn't even begin to cover it. Let us never
forget that had it not been for Sweden, the Holocaust would have claimed
a lot more than 6,000,000 Jewish lives.
arrogance by these Jewish groups! It is the "chutzpah of all
chutzpahs." If this arrogant ingratitude is the attitude we
can expect from the World Jewish Congress (WJC), is there any wonder
that so many Jews are either leaving the religion outright or marrying
outside the faith?
anti-circumcision legislation is merely the invocation of measures
designed to make this butchery less agonizing for the victim. Jews
in the WJC and similar "groups" who find this humanitarian
reform outrageous might want to ask themselves why.
societies have no problem with our condemnation of Female Genital
Mutilation (FGM) in Africa. American feminists, and others who accept
their ideology, should rethink their notion of "sexism."
I assure you that sexism can also originate from women and be used
against men. If we did this to our female infants, or if such a
proposal was made in the name of giving Jewish girls equal rights with
boys, would Jewish women stand by meekly and accept the
"pronouncements" of the WJC?
indisputably the most blatant act of gender-hatred and sexism in the
Western World today. It is estimated that there are at least 200
deaths arising from it in the US every year - WITH all their medical
prowess. This number is, ironically, more than the annual number of
deaths from penile cancer by a wide margin (presuming the myth of
circumcision and penile cancer, a notion condemned by the both the
American and Canadian Cancer Societies, is still a "reason".)
We note that the case in Sweden arose from the death of a Moslem boy
from MGM in Sweden - not exactly a "Third World Nation."
Sweden ranks first in the world in health care... or don't Moslem boys
count to the WJC?
caution that, had this tragedy happened in the US, the cause of death
would NOT be listed as "circumcision", but as "drug
induced." The actual number of deaths from circumcision in
the US is suspected to be far greater than that 200+ number.
object to pain relief by a physician. As if two to four needles in
his penis - even if they are filled with pain killing drugs - isn't
considered torturous enough to accomplish this amputation for his
parents' psychological benefit, are we now to assume that only topical
anesthesia is acceptable to these people? Do Mohels have such
deep-seated psychological issues over their own circumcisions that the
only way it can be done to satisfy them is if the baby writhes in pain?
Isn't it bad enough that he's having the most sensitive part of his
genitals cut off against his will and for his parents' whim? Must
he be made to suffer the maximum agony to accomplish this domineering
millions of boys are being circumcised doesn't make it right. Millions
of girls are circumcised every year too. MGM is inhumane and it is
time this outlandish "tradition” is finally brought to an end.
embrace the notion of Bris Shalom, in which the genital mutilation part
of the ceremony is omitted.
I have heard
men say, “I want my son to look like me.” If you had lost an arm,
would you, for a moment, consider chopping off your child’s arm so
that he would “look like you?” Do you dye his hair, make him wear
colored contact lenses, make him get plastic surgery, and eat what you
do so that he “looks like you?”
I have heard
women say, “I think a circumcised penis is more attractive.” What if
you’re father thought women without clitorises were more attractive
and had yours removed at eight days old. How would you feel?
you’re financé told you that he thought women without clitorises were
more attractive and wouldn’t marry you unless you got your clitoris
removed (circumcised). Would you do it? Or would you tell him he has no
right to impose his sexual fetishes on you and promptly terminate your
heard people say, “it’s cleaner.” The American Medical
Association, the American Pediatric Association and the equivalent
organizations in Canada dispute that. If boys can learn to blow their
nose, brush their teeth and wipe their butts after using the toilet,
they can learn to pull back their foreskin and wash. (Incidentally, the
foreskin is attached until puberty). If you don’t believe that a boy
can learn basic hygiene, what kind of parent are you?
Some Jews are
afraid to look at circumcision for what it is because they think that if
you’re against circumcision, you’re anti-semitic. That is a
ridiculous notion. Jews are not defined by our practices. In fact, the
only requirement for Judaism is that you are born of a Jewish mother.
Jews are taught to pursue education and question everything. We have
questioned many practices in the torah. Due to our enlightment and
education, we no longer practice some of them.
who use the anti-semitism argument, the analogy I like to use is, if 90%
of all black people smoke and you’re against smoking, you’re not
anti-black, you’re anti-smoking. It’s the practice, not the
smart. We are 1/3 of 1% of the population, yet we hold 33% of the Nobel
prizes. This means that we are smarter than everyone else. We can come
to understand that sexually mutilating our boys’ genitals is NOT
Growing up in
my Conservative temple in New Jersey, I heard the same myths that all of
you have heard - it’s just a snip, it doesn’t hurt. Lies, Lies,
Lies! They have attached EKGs and EEGs to babies during circumcision.
Their blood pressure rises, their brain waves go off the chart, they
writhe in pain and go into shock. It hurts, trust me.
This is a
Call to Arms! We must stop this heinous, barbaric and primitive act.
It’s the 21st century. What are we doing mutilating our boys’
genitals! We are smart enough to know better. This must stop.
Leadership Conference of
Secular and Humanistic Jews
LCSHJ - April 7, 2002
of welcoming a child to the world and to the Jewish people can be one of
the most meaningful and experiences. It is a tradition of the Jewish
people to celebrate the arrival of sons with Brit Milah (ritual
circumcision or "Bris"), yet our commitment to the equality of men and
women inspires us to create new welcoming ceremonies. Secular and
Humanistic Jews do not see Milah (circumcision) as a sign of a Brit
(covenant), but circumcision may retain cultural or personal significance
Leadership Conference of Secular and Humanistic Jews, mindful of both our
commitments to Jewish identity and to gender equality, affirm that:
into the Jewish community all who identify with the history, culture and
fate of the Jewish people. Circumcision is not required for Jewish
parents making informed decisions whether or not to circumcise their
sons. We affirm their right to choose, and we accept and respect their
welcoming ceremonies should be egalitarian. We recommend separating
circumcision from welcoming ceremonies.