Active RNS subscribers and members can view this content at the RNS Archives website.

(RNS) Jews have been circumcising their sons for thousands of years, but this does not justify or reduce the harm. It perpetuates it.

24 Comments

  1. Good points. It is more of a custom than a religious obligation. There are other ways to show Jewish culture. Having a non-cutting brit instead of a bris should be fine and more ethical.

  2. Heyward McKinney

    I applaud this very well reasoned article. I admire the fine Jewish folks who have the conscience and courage to confront this issue within their community.

  3. These are very true words. I am an Orthodox Jewish man, and my penis was irreparably mutilated when I was a baby. While I understand my parents’ choice (I can’t say I wouldn’t have done differently in their position), I doubt I will circumcise my son, if G-d willing I have one.

    Circumcision needs to go the way of karbanot (sacrifices)…something that we will abstain from doing until Moshiach (Messiah) comes and shows us how to do it properly. The Torah is against mutilation (Leviticus 19:28, Deuteronomy 14:1), and this is exactly what a bris can be without the perfect guidance of Hashem. I can’t speak for those who are happier with a circumcision and know better, e.g., converts, but it mutilates many people, including myself.

    • George C Denniston MD

      Parents, Jewish and non-Jewish, should read these thoughtful comments before harming their sons. No one, and especially not a doctor, has the right to remove normal body parts from an unconsenting infant or child. The harm is far more pervasive than most people realize, but for those of us who have been involved in ending this tragic practice, we have found that it touches many corners of the individual’s life, not to mention the society. If we are to survive as a species, we need to develop all the love we can, for that is our destiny. As President of Doctors Opposing Circumcision, (.org), I encourage each of you to really think about what you are doing to another person, when you give permission to circumcise.

    • whatismisophonia

      As much as I respect your willingness to do what is right before anything else (including religion), I have to question some stuff. The parts in leviticus and deuteronomy say not to cut or tattoo your body, nor shave parts of your head FOR THE DEAD. What’s up with that? Also, in the same chapter in leviticus, the Lord commands you not to wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. I think the point we should take away from this is that these old laws are so strange and out dated you might as well only obey the golden rule.

  4. The medical community has never researched the long-term adverse consequences of newborn circumcision to boys and the men they become. The Global Survey of Circumcision Harm (CircumcisionHarm.org) is a grassroots effort to identify this harm. In 2011-2012 more than 1,000 men whose genitals were surgically altered documented in a detailed online survey the physical, sexual, emotional and psychological damage they suffer from this violation of their genital integrity and eventual self-determination. Many uploaded photographic evidence and video testimonies of their harm.

    The vast majority of respondents came from the U.S., where the practice continues as a matter of social conformity with only a thin veneer of medical respectability that is rejected by most parents and doctors around the world. Of those respondents, 4% were Jewish men, which is much higher than their presence in American society. Are these men anti-Semitic for questioning or opposing circumcision of children who are too young to understand, consent, refuse or escape?

  5. Paul Fleiss,MD MPH, FAAP,

    Every Nerve that goes to the penis goes to the foreskin. Every cut sends a message to the brain. With every circumcision the male is damaged for the rest of his life. It is a primitive barbaric procedure that has no place in todays world.
    The reasons for doing circumcisions now are basically tradition and superstition and certainly NOT in any way justifiable for medical and or health reasons.
    STOP infant circumcision now.

  6. Thank you, good arguments! In Germany Holm Putzke is also a strong fighter against circumcision. He is a Professor for Criminal Law. His work has influenced the Cologne Court and last but not least the European Council. Here you can read his first article in English: http://www.holmputzke.de/images/stories/pdf/2008_putzke%20fs%20herzberg%20essay%20on%20circumcision.pdf. Another article was published in JME: After Cologne: male circumcision and the law. Parental right, religious liberty or criminal assault?, J Med Ethics 2013, 444-449: http://jme.bmj.com/content/early/2013/05/21/medethics-2012-101284.short?rss=1

  7. Granted there will be those in Europe and elsewhere who attack circumcision, in whole or in part, because they hate the Jewish people. However, this doesn’t mean that the larger movement against circumcision is anti-Semetic. Rather, it comes out of the desire to treat infants and young children with kindness by not subjecting them to a painful and unnecessary procedure–one that is not without risk. It also favors freedom and personal choice. Removing part of the penis is no small act. The consequences are lifelong and many feel they are significant; therefore it should be up to adult men to decide for themselves if they want to get circumcised. A number of the most outspoken and influential circumcision critics are Jewish. Please visit Beyond the Bris to read their stories.

  8. The cries of anti-Semitism are a distraction from the real issue and dilemma faced by observant Jews. They believe that circumcision is a “requirement” but know deep down that this “requirement” is also a human rights violation. Attempts to deflect this issue by citing faulty medical claims, pretending that the procedure is painless, pretending that the procedure does not remove highly erogenous tissue, pretending that the procedure is more painful later in life, or pretending that you are not really Jewish unless you are circumcised are both transparent and futile. Non-Jews are not responsible for the dilemma infant circumcision presents Jews. One solution is to let the young man who is old enough to make a non-coerced decision choose to show his faith by undergoing the procedure. This would be a sign of the young man’s courage and faith. What courage is there in doing this to an infant who has no way of stopping those who want to cut his genitals?

  9. It has recently become very clear to me that circumcision is child abuse. It is a form of socially-sanctioned child abuse, but it is child abuse, nonetheless. If you or I were to cut a child’s healthy body, we would immediately be sent to jail. Just because a doctor or a mohel does it, does not change the fact that they have just committed child abuse. They have harmed a child irreparably. They have abused his human rights. They have denied him a whole, healthy body and his rightful peace of mind. Circumcision does not end with the physical. The trauma of being intentionally harmed by another human being goes underground, causing mysterious effects that seem to the uneducated to be irrational. But once all the facts are in, it becomes clear that what we think of as “male” traits are not ‘male’, but are the natural response of a “traumatized person” to a long-forgotten assault. We should not be doing this to our boys.

  10. I wasn’t circumcised because my parents came to the US from Europe where there is no tradition of circumcision. It has always seemed so normal that I never realized that there was another way. I was in school at a time when 90% of boys were circumcised, yet, I was never embarrassed in front of other boys. That reason for circumcising is totally spurious. There is no reason at all for circumcision. I don’t understand why the remaining 50% of parents don’t get it.

  11. Kudos to Ronald Goldman for an excellent article. Yes, the Torah (The Hebrew Bible or Old Testament) does mandate circumcision. But it also mandates slavery, stoning adulterous women to death, and denounces homosexual activity. Most enlightened Jews of the 21st Century reject these biblical mandates. And those of the Jewish faith who do not practice Kosher dietary habits, who violate commandments by working and traveling on the Sabbath — they are not considered antisemitic. Jewish parents who understand the deep physical and psychic trauma of circumcision, are knowledgable about the anatomy and function of the foreskin, and of the surgical complications (including death) of this unnecessary procedure, and who realize that circumcision is a human rights violation of the infant — when they refuse to circumcise their sons, should they be considered antisemitic? I think not.

    Brit Mila (commonly known as Bris) is a ceremony performed on newborn baby boys at 8 days of life, where they are given a Hebrew name and their foreskin is removed. More and more families are now having peaceful alternative Brit Shalom ceremonies, eliminating circumcision. Many of these genitally intact Jewish boys are growing up receiving a Jewish education, having a Bar Mitzvah at age 13, and ultimately taking their place in the Jewish community.

    Mark D. Reiss, M.D.

  12. Geert ter Horst

    Circumcision is certainly not a choice matter. It is a fundamental religious obligation commanded in the Written Torah, in the Book of Genesis (ch. XVII): “This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant” (Gen. 17:11-14).

    The fact that there are Jews who don’t practise circumcision and are disobedient to the Torah doesn’t make circumcision a matter of choice. The question who is a Jew is defined by the Torah, and anyone who calls himself a Jew but refuses circumcision lives in contradiction with himself.

    A proposal to prohibit circumcision is surely antisemitic, for it amounts to the prohibition of the Jewish religion. Nobody will convince me that an attempt to criminalize all traditional observant Judaism is not antisemitic.

    Secularism, which is the main inspiration for modern anti-Jewish legislation is deeply influenced, historically, by the antisemitism of the Enlightenment (e.g. Kant and Voltaire). But, more important, this secularism is a modern spin-off of Christian Replacement Theology. In a similar manner as Christian Replacement Theology considers Judaism to be obsolete and antiquated, so modern Secularist Humanism considers all traditional religion. It is the spirit of persecution which is at work here.

    Judaism, however, will never, never give up circumcision, come what may, even if it costs Jewish lives to protect it. Each year Jews still celebrate Chanukah, the victory over the Greek king Ptolemaeus IV (the Epiphanes), who tried to force Hellenism on the Jews. Nowadays we face attempts to enforce Secularism upon them. This will never succeed, for the Jewish nation will not change. In the end, only the persecutors will stand ashamed.

    • ‘It is a fundamental religious obligation commanded in the Written Torah’

      and I have read that in the three oldest existing copies of the Torah that circumcision is not mentioned – that the ‘necessity’ of circumcision was added to the Torah ca.500BC by the Jewish priesthood, presumably as a means of keeping their flock under control.

  13. Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room of religious discussion of circumcision. Religion skeptics can rightly ask why there is this fixation on the male sex organ and its mutilation as part of acceptance in a religious body. The bible was written by people, allegedly with divine inspiration. That does not preclude, however, asking about the psychological makeup of the writer supposedly doing God’s work.

    “You have to have your penis tampered with to be part of My group” is the claim of the writer allegedly speaking for God. Somehow there’s reason to suspect some aspects of divine revelation.

  14. Are there benefits from circumcision?

    There are several:

    1 Many older men, who have bladder or prostate gland problems, also develop difficulties with their foreskins due to their surgeon’s handling, cleaning, and using instruments. Some of these patients will need circumcising. Afterwards it is often astonishing to find some who have never ever seen their glans (knob) exposed before!

    2 Some older men develop cancer of the penis – about 1 in 1000 – fairly rare, but tragic if you or your son are in that small statistic. Infant circumcision gives almost 100% protection, and young adult circumcision also gives a large degree of protection.

    3 Cancer of the cervix in women is due to the Human Papilloma Virus. It thrives under and on the foreskin from where it can be transmitted during intercourse. An article in the British Medical Journal in April 2002 suggested that at least 20% of cancer of the cervix would be avoided if all men were circumcised. Surely that alone makes it worth doing?

    4 Protection against HIV and AIDS. Another British Medical Journal article in May 2000 suggested that circumcised men are 8 times less likely to contract the HIV virus. (It is very important here to say that the risk is still far too high and that condoms and safe sex must be used – this applies also to preventing cancer of the cervix in women who have several partners.)

    A BBC television programme in November 2000 showed two Ugandan tribes across the valley from one another. One practised circumcision and had very little AIDS, whereas, it was common in the other tribe, who then also started circumcising. This programme showed how the infection thrived in the lining of the foreskin, making it much easier to pass on.

    5 As with HIV, so some protection exists against other sexually transmitted infections. Accordingly, if a condom splits or comes off, there is some protection for the couple. However, the only safe sex is to stick to one partner or abstain.

    6 Lots of men, and their partners, prefer the appearance of their penis after circumcision, It is odour-free, it feels cleaner, and they enjoy better sex. Awareness of a good body image is a very important factor in building self confidence.

    7 Balanitis is an unpleasant, often recurring, inflammation of the glans. It is quite common and can be prevented by circumcision.

    8 Urinary tract infections sometimes occur in babies and can be quite serious. Circumcision in infancy makes it 10 times less likely.

  15. No question but that there are benefits to circumcision. Hygiene will take care of some of the issues related to foreskin retention. The entire argument centers on circumcision for every male, when circumcision should be performed only as needed.

    Having a foreskin also serves to prevent irritation of the glans from contact with clothing. Some of us “cut” males resort to stretching the shaft skin in order to pull it over the glans to prevent irritation.

  1. […] After the Council of Europe passed a resolution calling male ritual circumcision “a violation of the physical integrity of children” earlier this month, members of Israel’s Knesset are suggesting that circumcisions in Europe might be moved to Israeli embassies. Insert “passport renewal gone wrong” joke here. Despite some claims to the contrary, Ronald Goldman of the Jewish Circumcision Resource Center explained why questioning circumcision isn’t anti-Semitic. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments with many links may be automatically held for moderation.