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13 May 2011

small unimportant controversy / $1000 fine and 1 year in jail if you cut off a baby boy's foreskin

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Agence France-Presse
(newswire, France, founded 1835 -- the world's oldest news agency)
Thursday 28 April 2011

Push to ban 
in San Francisco

by Hannah Dreier (AFP)

SAN FRANCISCO -- Activists who want to ban male circumcision in San Francisco have taken a step toward putting the issue to a popular vote, sparking outcry from Jewish and Muslim groups.

A coalition of "intactivists" submitted 12,000 signatures to Californian city's authorities this week in support of a ballot measure which would criminalize circumcision of males under 18 years old.

The city's Elections Division now has a month to verify that at least 7,000 of the signatures came from registered city voters. If so, the issue will appear on a November ballot.

A growing community of anti-circumcision activists say that the procedure can cause health risks and diminished sexual function, and should be a matter of individual, not parental, choice.

Lloyd Schofield, 59, who been at the helm of the San Francisco effort, says that infants should not be forced to participate in what is essentially culturally accepted genital mutilation.

"Parents are guardians -- they're not supposed to harm their children," he said. "Circumcision is harmful and very, very painful."

Jewish organizations have pledged to campaign against the measure, should it be placed on the ballot.

Anti-Defamation League director Daniel Sandman called Schofield's effort discriminatory and misguided, and noted that circumcision is a central religious obligation for Jews.

"Circumcision has been practiced safely for thousands of years," Sandman said.

"We're currently reaching out to form a broad coalition of people who feel this is an attack directed at religion, parental rights and privacy rights," he added.

Circumcision is also a common rite among Muslims. Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said his group would join with Jews to protect their religious freedoms.

"I think this ban is a solution in search of a problem," he said. "I don't see it even as an issue to be addressed."

Opponents say the ban would never hold up in court because it violates the freedom of religion clause of the US constitution.

Both pro- and anti-circumcision advocates make health claims, but the medical research does not firmly support either position.

If the ban passes, those caught cutting foreskins in San Francisco would face a fine of $1,000 and a year in prison. Only people over 18 could have their foreskins removed, though exceptions might be made for health reasons.

The anti-circumcision group, which spent $8,000 on professional signature gatherers, plans to step-up outreach in Asian and Latino neighborhoods in anticipation of the fall election.

If nothing else, Schofield said, the campaign has sparked an important national conversation.

"This has been a taboo subject even to bring up," he said. "This is a discussion that has been repressed."

California's unique voter initiative system allows residents to place virtually anything on the ballot so long as they secure the requisite signatures.

Many of California's most controversial and restrictive policies have been passed this way, among them a drastic reduction in property taxes and a ban on gay marriage.

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.
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The Forward / פֿאָרווערטס
also: The Jewish Daily Forward
English and Yiddish editions
New York City / founded 1897
Wednesday 11 May 2011

Don’t Tread 
on a Sacred Tradition

by Melvin Konner

A group in San Francisco has collected enough signatures to force a vote on a law that would make it illegal to “circumcise, excise, cut or mutilate the foreskin, testicle or penis of another person who has not attained the age of 18.”

This ban, if it passes, might infringe on the First Amendment guarantee to freedom of religion.

Constitutional or not, it is without a doubt a slap in the face to Muslims and Jews, an attack on their rights to privacy that would keep them from continuing a millennial tradition of their ancestors, not to mention keeping them from raising their children according to their own conscience and values.

As a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to choose, I find it ironic that a city that would never countenance an infringement on abortion rights, and that at one time defended gay cultural practices that were spreading HIV, is now seriously considering listening to these self-proclaimed “intactivists.” San Francisco would be banning a practice that not only has no known health consequences, but also offers possible health benefits, including protecting against some sexually transmitted infections, as well as against cervical and penile cancers.

Because “scientific studies show some medical benefits of circumcision,” the American Academy of Pediatrics recently debated whether to recommend circumcision for all male newborns. But because the benefits to American boys and men are small, their official statement simply says,“Parents may want their sons circumcised for religious, social, or cultural reasons. Because circumcision is not essential to a child’s health, parents should choose what is best for their child….”

But this is not the case in Sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV/AIDS prevalence rates are the highest in the world. Recent studies showed that circumcision lowered by about 60% the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV infection. This has caused the World Health Organization to strongly recommend the practice, and the Centers for Disease Control to seriously consider doing the same. And while the health advantages have become increasingly clear, the risks have always been minimal, usually limited to pain and bleeding that are easily controlled.

There is very little evidence proving that removal of this flap of skin diminishes future sexual satisfaction or performance. This is in stark contrast to the removal of the clitoris in females, which reduces sexual satisfaction for most, and which is not approved by any major religion.

Foreskin removal does tend to make babies cry. So does putting them (circumcised or not) to bed in a separate room at night, as many pediatricians advise. So does vaccination, urged by all health authorities. So does dropping them off at day care. There are 2,000 pediatric and adolescent football-related injuries treated in American emergency rooms each day during football season. This number is increasing, and it includes thousands of concussions, many spinal cord injuries and at least one death a year. Each year, more than 700 people die in bicycle-related injuries, mostly children.

Note to San Franciscans: Consider other possible bans.

When our son was born three decades ago, we knew we wanted to circumcise him despite not being observant Jews. We found a certified mohel who was also a physician double-boarded in pediatrics and obstetrics, the two fields most concerned with the health and safety of babies. He told us that the only real reason to circumcise is religious. Actually, for us, the true reasons were cultural: We wanted to respect Jewish tradition, and we wanted our son to be and feel Jewish.

Today, these are the most compelling motivations for Jews to choose circumcision: religion and tradition. The Torah says that “he who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people.” It also tells the story of the midwives and mothers in Egypt who circumcised even those boys who were to be thrown into the Nile. According to the second book of Maccabees, mothers literally martyred themselves and their sons rather than fail to circumcise: “Two women were brought in for having circumcised their children. They publicly paraded them around the city, with their babies hanging at their breasts, and then they hurled them down headlong from the wall.” And under the Nazis, circumcisions continued, despite making it easy for the murderers of Jewish children to identify them.

This is a serious tradition, one for which Jews have fought and sacrificed throughout our long history.

It is not harmful, and it may have medical benefits. The proposed ban should and will be opposed by all right-thinking people of any religious faith and by decent people without faith who recognize the rights of parents to decide, within broad limits, what is best for their own children.

Melvin Konner is an M.D., Ph.D. and the author of “The Jewish Body” (Nextbook/Schocken, 2009)
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The Forward
Friday 6 May 2011

Outlawing Circumcision
Good for the Jews?

by Eli Ungar-Sargon

The subject of circumcision is often relegated to the realm of jokes and cheeky double-entendres, but a San Francisco ballot initiative now gaining momentum would ban the practice, and it raises some very serious issues. At the heart of the current controversy are three fundamental questions. First, is circumcising an infant wrong? Second, should infant circumcision be against the law? And third, would banning circumcision infringe on the rights of those who practice it as part of their religions?

The answer to the first question is relatively straightforward. Though practiced by Jews for thousands of years and more recently adopted in the United States for its purported health benefits, infant circumcision is an ethically problematic act. By surgically removing the most sensitive part of the penis, we permanently alter a person’s sexual experience and we do so without their consent. The argument that we ought to circumcise babies for health reasons is very weak. Consider an analogous situation: If all women had one breast surgically removed, we could probably reduce the incidence of breast cancer in this country. This is clearly not a sufficient reason to implement such a drastic measure and neither are the claimed health benefits of circumcision.

The answer to the second question is not as clear. Not all ethically problematic behaviors need to be criminalized. For example, sleeping with your wife’s sister may be unethical, but it hardly warrants a law prohibiting the behavior. Proponents of the ballot measure often point out that female circumcision is illegal in the U.S., while male circumcision is practiced routinely. The comparison between female and male circumcision may seem outrageous at first, but upon closer inspection, it is actually reasonable. Female circumcision is an umbrella term that refers to a variety of practices, some of which are less severe than male circumcision. Contrary to common belief, most forms of female circumcision do not completely eliminate a woman’s ability to feel sexual pleasure, yet any form of female genital cutting, even something as minor as a ritual nick to the hood of the clitoris, is illegal in the United States. The comparison to female circumcision is useful in so far as it helps to uncover a cultural bias that has yielded a legal double standard in the U.S. But understanding this inconsistency doesn’t get us any closer to answering the second question. The law prohibiting female circumcision might be as unnecessary as the proposed ban on male circumcision.

Nevertheless, one of the state’s primary responsibilities is to protect its citizens. And by allowing parents to permanently alter the bodies of their children, the state is failing to protect its most vulnerable citizens from bodily harm. It seems reasonable to draw a legal line when it comes to body modifications that have life-long consequences.

To answer the third question, I will focus on the Jewish community, as my knowledge of Islam is insufficient to do that community justice. I would argue that a clear majority of American Jews do not circumcise their sons out of a sense of religious obligation, but rather as a means of ethnic identification. These people mostly have it done in the hospital by medical staff rather than a mohel, which, ironically, means that their sons do not and cannot have an actual religious brit milah.

Criminalizing circumcision would not infringe on this group’s religious rights, as they are not doing it for religious reasons.   But there are religious American Jews who circumcise their boys out of a sense of religious obligation. These Jews can be divided into two groups: the fundamentalists and the non-fundamentalists. The former are a sub-group of Orthodox Jews who believe that our human understanding of ethics should not play a role in shaping Jewish law and practice. A ban on circumcision would indeed infringe on their right to practice their faith as they see fit. The human right to body integrity would, in this instance, override their religious right.

On the other hand, non-fundamentalist Jews, who constitute a very large number of Reform, Conservative, and even some Orthodox Jews, believe that human ethics are an essential element in the Jewish tradition. If my answer to the first question is correct, then there is a Jewish tradition practiced by virtually all Jewish parents today that is morally wrong. This should give pause to any non-fundamentalist religious Jew, and it is a black eye for the liberal movements that they have not taken this issue more seriously. Perhaps a law prohibiting circumcision is just what these Jews need to start a serious discussion about the problem of brit milah.

Eli Ungar-Sargon is an independent filmmaker who grew up in an Orthodox home. His first film, “Cut,” was about circumcision and Jewish identity.
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The Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, the Forward requires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, the Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Bert · 4 days ago
Egotistical Jews Like Eli can gain undeserved attention by making this argument. There is no real problem except for those who need to manufacture a problem to advance an agenda that is not totally upfront. Notice that Eli does not dare to include Muslims and that suggests a double standard. Let's attack Jews and exempt Muslims. Those who want to destroy Judaism always conjure up a convenient pretext such as dividing Jerusalem and even internationalizing Jerusalem and also blocking Jews from the Temple Mount. It is always a thrust to the heart of Judaism along with a clever argument to influence the foolish. People like Eli will never be found doing anything to support the Jewish cause such as feeding the Jewish poor of which there are still too many.

sydney · 4 days ago
It should be pointed out that no one forces someone to have his/her son have a brit. We give our sons a brit as part of our covenant with G-d. It is part of belonging to the Jewish people.

The author feels that the State should decide what is good for us. Has he forgotten that he is in the Land of Liberty.

The Brit

[not as in "British" -- Here, Brit is the Sphardic Hebrew pronunciation of the word for ritual infant circumcision. Ashkenazi (European) Jews pronounce it "Bris"]

is essentially a private religious matter. that we make a party and invite people--just like any other simcha.

And as Bert (comment #1) says--let him start with Moslems who do it when the child is an adolescent and on young women as well. Let's see what happens to him after that.

Cassandra · 4 days ago
First, the government already decides what you can and can not do to your children in the name of religion. You can't just do whatever you want to your kids in the name of G-d. Circumcision is a long-overlooked subject, and most people in this country are not circumcising for religious beliefs. Female genital cutting is illegal with no religious exemption. It's unconstitutional that we protect girls but not boys. People forget what 'private matters' or 'personal decisions' really are. In the context of body modification, it's only 'private' or 'personal' if you're referring to your OWN body. It does not make sense to say "It's my 'personal decision' to permanently alter the genitals of another person." A law to ban circumcision would NOT take away rights of the parent, but rather put the rights in their rightful place.... with the person who is receiving the penile modificaion.

David Kelsey · 4 days ago
"If all women had one breast surgically removed, we could probably reduce the incidence of breast cancer in this country. This is clearly not a sufficient reason to implement such a drastic measure and neither are the claimed health benefits of circumcision."

This is an excellent way to phrase it! It is so awful the way Jews--including powerful doctors like Edgar Schoen-- have lobbied for neonatal circumcision ostensibly over "health" issues when in fact, they are motivated by cultural bias.

jindal · 4 days ago
if female genital mutilation is bad, then why isn't its male counterpart?

jindal · 4 days ago
its male counterpart being, of course, circumcision!

karen · 4 days ago
From a Jewish perspective, where is the compulsion to mark your religion on a sex organ? That's just sick! Freud left his sons intact, he saw the wrong in his religion. Our religion comes from the heart, not the penis! And where is the female equivalent? Circumcision is also sexist.

My mother, 95, recalls the horror of my brother's brises. Blood curdling screams, money hungry mohel, torture. There is nothing to celebrate. She is relieved her grandsons are spared this curse and her daughters do not have to live with the gruesome memories she can never forget!
Circumcision is a human right's violation. It should be illegal!

Cyn · 4 days ago
The religious right of Jewish infants are infringed upon when they are circumcised; their right to freedom of religion is being denied by the very act of genital cutting. Muslims cannot subject their female children to genital cutting in the name of their religion. Boys deserve equal protection under the law.

C. Mucius · 4 days ago
Parents are free to form and make decisions for their children in any number of ways. Singling out this one for legal interference is suspect, as are the claims that it is harmful. Take a survey of circumcised Jewish men and compare the number who wish they hadn't been to the number who would have been very upset if they had not been. I suspect those with regrets are substantially in the minority.

Jack · 4 days ago
Baby boy penis part removal should already be considered illegal in the US -- the 1996 federal law banning genital cutting +14th Amendment equal protection clause. Those saying that preventing the cutting off of penis parts of a baby boy violates the cutter's freedom of religion, are way out there in irrational land. One's religion ends where their knife touches another human's body. The idea that another human's ritual trumps ones right to body parts is insane and creepy. Baby boy penis parts removal cuts off thousands of fine touch and stretch nerves. This is like disconnecting the fingertips or lips from the brain. No human should be subjected to sensory system harm as well as a forced decrease of sexual function and PLEASURE for life!

Ben · 4 days ago
This post singles out ritual circumcision when in fact it raises the entire notion of parental authority over children into question. Yes, it is convenient to discuss circumcision in light of the bill brought in the S.F. legislature but why not every other area where parents make decisions that
drastically alter their baby's life? Whether they be other physical choices: immunizations as one example (which has literature on both sides of the debate) or psychological: political, philosophical, religious and ideological outlooks influenced by neighborhood, school and social choices.

The truth is parents make innumerable amount of choices for their children before their children can exercise the right of agency and determine their own course. Many of these choices have, at the very least, as much of a lasting impact on the development of the person as circumcision does, if not more of an impact. Eli Ungar-Sargon's article, while politically relevant and contemporary, does nothing more than chip away at the institution of parenthood and drive society towards a system of anarchy.

If one truly wants to remove the religious argument advocating for or against circumcision than what is called for is a civil debate on the matter, with arguments made much better conceived and not as poorly thought out as this one. True policies, that last and stand the test of time, for a civil society are not made by partisan ideological fighters, who wear blinders and fail to see the irrationality of their argument, but rather made by sincere, thinking individuals who are open to discovering a road that can be paved for the future.

@KOTFrank · 3 days ago
I understand circumcision is part of the Jewish religion. But it wasn't always, not in meaning, ways, amount, and who it was for according to historians. Circumcision just like other aspects of Jewish religion has changed. It is a living religion. I'm not a Jew but after reading Leonard Glick's book Marked in Your Flesh everything on Jewish circumcision ancient to modern, on this subject I feel more Jewish than some of these comments. It was the father's responsibility to circumcise his boy. There was no Mohel. Use to be just cutting the acroposthion off which prevents the scarring of the glans from having the foreskin torn off and preserves half of the foreskin. Circmcision is not mention in Genesis 15. So as an outsider to the Jewish religion, I see enough room historically to stop this particular mitsvah.

Ari · 3 days ago
Part of being a parent is making decisions on behalf of your child. Just as parents make consequential medical decisions on behalf of a young child, so too should they be able to make consequential spiritual decisions. The Brit Milah ceremony joins a child into a 3,000 year old covenant, and
establishes that the child will be raised in a home based on Jewish values. For many Jewish families, this decision is as significant as any decision they'll make about their child's life.

The state should be allowed to intervene only if the child's health or wellbeing is not put in serious danger, which it almost certainly isn't. The infant's nerve endings still aren't fully formed, and any discomfort they feel is soon forgotten. Many Jewish men would be surprised to learn that their
circumcision has "permanently altered their sexual experience."

Ungar-Sargon should have the humility to think significantly harder before judging himself qualified to discard one of the seminal ritual experiences of our 3,000 year history.

Alejandro · 3 days ago
When I was 7 I found out that the body I thought was not just mine but ME, had been altered without my prior informed consent. Fifty years later I can still remember the rage and sense of betrayal I felt at the time. "How could you do this to me? I thought you loved me and wanted to take care of me, not cut me up and change me."

Alejandro · 3 days ago
It's curious to me that circumcision is one of the last attachements to tradition that many secular Jews still adhere to. Theodore Herzl did not have his sons circumcised, and an earlier comment says that was true for Freud too. If a new revelation came along that said "You must cut off your children's ears as a sign of the covenent to hear ME and follow my commandments," how many of us would even consider doing it? Why do we cling to this ancient practice?

That the covenent excludes women is significant. Why retain a divisive practice that harms our childlren, by clinging to medical benefits that are negated by teaching our sons to care for their bodies?

There are many strands in our tradition. I think a concerned response would be to ground our actions in the belief that we are created in the image of God, from birth. Our bodies are holy, are not in need of improvement, and certainly not to imprint on some of them the privileged male covenant most Jews don't believe in anyway.

Harmed · 3 days ago
"It's curious to me that circumcision is one of the last attachements to tradition that many secular Jews still adhere to."

It's because the victims of this have no voice. The other rites that caused harm to another were stopped because they could speak out. An 8 day old infant can only scream and obviously no one is listening.

bert · 3 days ago
By all means let us empower the government to make ALL decisions about children and their welfare because the government always knows best. And let us thank G-d for President Obama who had the wisdom to appoint a School Safety Czar to protect our school children in the government-mandated public schools. (Home schoolers must be prosecuted!) Obama's Czar is promoting his brand of sex education for teenagers. He is reported to be indoctrinating our youth to the sexual pleasures of 'fisting' and other
such delights. We are all morally obligated to obey because Obama was democratically elected and he has assumed the power to appoint many Czars to rule wisely over us. Anyone who disagrees should be prosecuted for denying children the blessings of government control over their lives rather then their parents.

Becca · 3 days ago
TRUTH. Circumcision is immoral when done without permission.

Mark · 3 days ago
When you look at a baby in the mothers womb after a few weeks it can be identified with a ultra sound as a baby.Where is all the whining about a real crime.I bet most of the anti Circumcision posters here are all for Abortion.

Mr.Stephen · 3 days ago
Realistically, traditional Jews do not have to worry about this measure passing the ballot. It won't happen.

What they do have to worry about is that this vote makes circumcision a legitimate political issue.

Therefore, it will be discussed back and forth. Those in favor of the measure will bring forth evidence - which will now be a subject of discussion - for the function of the foreskin in sex, how it enhances the male's sexual experience, as well as the sexual disadvantages and losses which result from a circumcision.

The more that parents become aware of the foreskin and its advantages, the more that parents - including Jewish parents - will choose not to circumcise their sons, instead allowing their sons to make that decision for themselves.

This is the real danger to traditional Jews and Judaism.

Saul · 3 days ago
All I had to read was that this is coming from San Fransicko

diane · 3 days ago
There is everything immoral about circumcision and as Jews we need to learn our own history and stop hiding behind this barbaric ritual. Originally circumcision was a tribal nick and only thousands of years later did it start to include the p'riah, which is removal of the whole foreskin.

The foreskin is not just a piece of unnecessary skin. The foreskin has the same extra-sensory nerve endings as the tip of your fingers. These nerve endings are not found on the penis. I don't think G-d made a baby boy's body so deformed that something needs to get amputated right away.

Also the medical reasons for it change for each generation after the last reason gets debunked: masturbation, penile cancer, cervical cancer, UTI, HIV. It is also easier to keep an intact penis clean than it is to clean a baby girl's vulva - but no one has ever told me I should cut off my daughter's ****oris to make it easier.

Maybe as "people of the Book" we need these types of referendums so that we look at ourselves and our actions. We no longer stone to death masturbators. We don't sacrifice bulls anymore. But we still strap down our eight-day-old sons and cut off an integral part of their penis - and we do it without anesthesia.

So let's stop doing knee- jerk reactions to this discussion and fellow Jews educate yourselves. It is a hard look in the mirror but I think we owe it to our beautiful religion to examine this issue. And we owe it to our baby boys.

A Jewish mama with an intact, Jewish son

bill · 3 days ago
Circumcision is a public health issue. Uncircumcised males are more likely to get STDs than are circumcised ones. AIDs is a problem in Africa precisely because circumcision is not practiced. Nor does circumcision have any effect on sexual performance. For the same reasons the author's comparison of male and female circumsion is outlandish. Female circumcision destroys the ability to obtain pleasurable satisfaction from sex and is rightfully considered to be sexual mutilation. Male circumcision does not. This is an extremely irresponsible article which is completely distorting the very serious issues involved.

Borg · 3 days ago
This comment has been deleted by the administrator.

Ari E-B · 3 days ago
I think you need a new fact checker. Firstly, the argument against circumcision seems to be simply that it's a bodily change with minimal benefit. Should we also outlaw ear piercings for infants? unhealthy food? How about parents who give their children horrible names? Studies have shown it can have a long lasting affect. (And if you don't know what I mean by horrible names, you need to spend more time in a children's hospital).

The author also claims that circumcision reduces male sexual pleasure. I have seen no studies that actually show this. I have however seen studies which show that circumcision reduces the likelihood of HIV transmission. (The link to penile cancer was found to be specious as the author claims, but picking and choosing your studies like that is the worst form of the straw man argument). The most recent AAP guidance does list several benefits to circumcision, but does not issue a recommendation, for or
against, for making circumcision routine.

The author also claims that Jews who circumcise in a hospital (as opposed to a mohel), would not have their religious belief infringed upon if circumcision were outlawed. I'm not so sure many of them would agree. I know many people who have their children circumcised in the hospital. True, they were not fulfilling the tradition of the brit to the letter, but they were doing what they felt was necessary to fulfill the spirit of the law and continue the spiritual and physical connection to their faith.

Claiming, as you seem to be, that any Jew who complies with the law in any amount less than 100% has no claim to Judaism is perhaps the most offensive argument you've used.

Lastly, you even got the facts wrong in your metaphor. Sleeping with your wife's sister is adultery, and is illegal in 26 states and DC.

Lenny Tone · 3 days ago
G-d commands all Jewish males to be circumcised, period. Where is the debate? The choice is whether or not to obey G-d. And I'll bet that most that are concerned for the rights of the 8-day old boy are also pro-abortion.

Cheski · 3 days ago
The following story was told by Rabbi Israel Spira, the Rebbe of Bluzhov, who witnessed it in the Janowska Concentration Camp:

Each morning at dawn, the Germans would lead us out of the camp for a day of hard labor that ended only at nightfall. Each pair of workers was given a huge saw and expected to cut its quota of logs. Because of the horrendous conditions in the camp and the starvation rations on which we were supposed to subsist, most of us could barely stand on our feet. But we sawed away, knowing that our lives depended upon it; anyone collapsing on the job or failing to meet his daily quota was killed on the spot, G-d forbid.

One day, as I pulled and pushed the heavy saw with my partner, I was approached by a young woman from our work detail. The pallor of her face showed her to be in an extremely weak physical state. "Rebbe," she whispered to me, "do you have a knife?"

I immediately understood her intention and felt the great responsibility that rested upon me. "My daughter," I begged, concentrating all the love and conviction in my heart in the effort to dissuade her from her intended deed. "Do not take your own life. I know that your life is now a living hell,
from which death seems a blessed release. But we must never lose hope. With G-d's help, we will survive this ordeal and see better days."

But the woman seemed oblivious to my words. "A knife," she repeated. "I must have a knife. Now. Before it is too late."

At that moment, one of the German guards noticed our whispered conversation and approached us. "What did she say to you?" He demanded of me.

We both froze. Conversing during work was a grave transgression. Many a camp inmate had been shot on the spot for far lesser crimes.

The woman was first to recover. "I asked him for a knife," she said. To my horror, she then addressed her request to the guard: "Give me a knife!"

The German, too, guessed her intention, and a devilish smile flickered on his lips. Doubtless he had seen the bodies of those who, out of desperation, threw themselves during the night on the electrified fence that surrounded the camp; but this would be a novel sight for him. Still smiling, he reached into his pocket and handed her a small knife.

Taking the knife, she hurried back to her work station and bent over a small bundle of rags that she had placed on a log. Quickly unraveling the bundle, she took out a tiny infant. Before our astonished eyes, she swiftly and skillfully circumcised the week-old boy.

"Blessed are You, G-d our G-d, King of the Universe," she recited in a clear voice, "Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to enter him into the covenant of Abraham our Father."

Cradling the child in her arms, she soothed his cries. Then, she addressed the heavens: "Master of the Universe! Eight days ago you gave me a child. I know that neither I nor he will long survive in this accursed place. But now, when you take him back, you will receive him as a complete Jew."

"Your knife," she said, handing the holy object back to the German. "Thank you."

Jason · 3 days ago
Religion is the only thing preventing infant circumcision being outlawed. It's unnecessarily complicating something that should be simple. I've seen here and elsewhere countless people saying that parents have the right to make decisions for their kids, but to what extent? These same people always bring up the same arguments, "So does the kid get a choice about going to school?" being one of their favourites. It is a stupid comparison, often made by people smart enough to know better. Suppose a parent, for whatever reasons, decided that their kid would be better off with scars all over their
face. Would it be acceptable for them to inflict such damage on their kid? They are, after all, the child's parent, and they only want what's best. It seems clear to me that the only reason most folks circumcise their kids, for religious reasons or otherwise, is because they know that few grown men would submit themselves to such an procedure.

Ari · 3 days ago
As someone whose parents had me circumsized in a religious ceremony when I was eight days old, I can tell you that I don't at all feel "abused," "victimized," or "damaged." I would feel "abused" "victimized" and "damaged" if rabid secularists had forced my parents not to circumsize me and prevented them from marking my entry into the coventant of Abraham.

Yishai · 3 days ago
A technical point, which I feel is important to make as it illustrates, as with many aspects of this author's article, a lack of sophisticated understanding of the religious significance of the ritual and thus should be taken with a grain of salt. He notes that a medical circumcision renders the religious aspect of the ceremony impossible. This is wrong on two points. First off, while I am not an expert in the issue, I am fairly certain that for reasons of the fulfillment of the mitzvah of brit milah, the circumcision would be "b'd'avad" -- that is, post facto -- considered acceptable, if not ideal. Second, even if this were not the case, there is a halakhic [Jewish legal] remedy (which American males who convert at least within the Orthodox and Conservative streams of Judaism, most of whom under 50 were likely circumcised if born in an American hospital) called hatafat dam brit, in which a ceremonial drop of blood is taken in lieu of a full circumcision. But this underscores a larger point. The good doctor doesn't understand these things and doesn't care about them -- fine. But he is treading on dangerous ground by demanding that our civil law reflect his poor understanding. He doesn't care about Jews and our barbaric customs? Fine. But he should reflect on the wider implications and, as many posters here have underscored, historical resonance of his opinions.

Michael · 3 days ago
There is medical proof that male circumcision reduces transmission of AIDS. This alone is sufficient argument to advocate for universal male circumcision, all other considerations aside. As for those who argue the government cannot enforce universal male circumcision, let me point out the mandatory government policy for smallpox vaccination - a policy that was physically enforced regardless of whether person being vaccinated agreed to immunized or not.

Also, grouping Jews into 'fundamentalist' and 'non-fundamentalist' is meaningless. There are no 'fundamentalist' Jews unless you count the Samaritan sect (all 500 + or - of them). There are observant Jews and non-observant Jews. There are Jews of varying observance. But modern Jewish thought and observance is still rooted in the Talmud, Mishneh and other post biblical commentary. To be fundamentalist would be abandon these and to hew strictly to what is contained within the Torah.

Michael · 3 days ago
Another comment - this argument is not old. During the pre-Maccabean era, when the Greek Seleucid Empire ruled Judaea, there was a struggle over this very issue. The Greek view was that uncircumcised males felt less pleasure, but more to the point circumcision was a barbaric custom denoting inferiority. Since Greek culture was paramount (after all, they ran everything) and it's influence pervasive, it led to the absurd situation of Jewish men seeking to assimilate or advance in that society would attempt reconstructive surgery or other methods (300 BC style) to regenerate a foreskin.

This was not a laughable issue, as there was little chance of hiding one's circumcision (and hence inferiority) as an assimiliated Jew - the Gymnasium (literally meaning 'train naked' ) was a very important cultural public institution in which men were expected to participate.

Megan · 3 days ago
While I can't speak for Jews, I CAN speak for Muslims. Nowhere in the Koran is it written that males must be circumcised. It's "commendable" but not a MUST. My youngest is being raised both Muslim and Christian, and he is intact. If he wants to make that covenant with Allah, he can.

Jews opting for a Brit Shalom over a Brit milah is gaining in popularity, and more and more Jews are questioning this practice. Also, the circumcisions performed in the Christian's Old testament were nothing more than a knick in the foreskin, not the total removal of the prepuce as practiced at today's

Megan · 3 days ago
Let me also ask: why can't people make that decision for themselves? What would the harm be in leaving children intact, and if they decide to get circumcised as a token of the covenant between God and Abraham... wouldn't that mean MORE than doing it to every child at 8 days old? When my sons were baptized, *I* make the promise to raise them in God's house. If they decide to be Episcopalian on their own, they can get Confirmed.
@Michael: studies done in the third-world country where there is lack of education, lack of care, and lack of resources, those studies don't count... did you know that most of the men in those African studies are now HIV+? Why? THERE WAS NO EDUCATION. Even the CDC says that in the USA, circumcision will NOT drop the incidence of STDs/AIDS, because most cases here in the USA are caused by homosexual contact, not heterosexual contact like in Africa. Even the CDC acknowledges that circumcision may only decrease the incidence of heterosexual transmission, it will NOT decrease the incidence of homosexual transmission. Know what really prevents against STDs/AIDS? CONDOMS AND EDUCATION.

C. Mucius · 3 days ago
I find myself wondering how many of the "anti-snip" commentariat is comprised of regular Forward readers . . .

Dave · 2 days ago
And the City of San Fransisco would enforce this "outlawed" practice how exactly? Will there be special squads of penis police assigned to hospitals and brunches to make sure no illegal snipping will occur?

Will they post the penis police on the highways and byways of the city to prevent renegade mohels from entering the city?

Only a complete moron would waste tax payers dollars debating a completely unenforceable law.

c baumhaft · 2 days ago
the single most regretable action of my entire life is that i handed my sweet, trusting infant over for circumcision. if i could take it back, i would in a heartbeat. that's all i can say on this topic -- as a mother and as a jew.

Ezra · 2 days ago
In a nutshell, those promoting the proposed law have sex on the brain. Their definition of themselves is based on what kinds of pleasure they can get from their sexual organs, and to them, the most horrifying fate possible is that they might lose the slightest bit of such pleasure.

To such people (many commenters on this thread included), there is nothing higher to live for, no concept of a covenant, no notion of self-sacrifice for something greater than themselves. One commenter upthread had it exactly right when he noted that it is hardly surprising that this measure comes from San Francisco, spiritual home of the "Me Generation."

So, in fine, why should we Jews be required to abandon a millennia-old practice in order to please a couple of narcissists?

Jack2 · 2 days ago
David and Michael Benatar have addressed the more rational of anti-circumcision comments in "How not to argue about circumcision," 2003 _The American Journal of Bioethics_ 3(2): W1-W9, a response to comments
to their previous article “Between Prophylaxis and Child Abuse: The Ethics of Neonatal Male Circumcision” [_The American Journal of Bioethics_ 3(2):35-48]. In particular, they argue that circumcision can be beneficial to a male before he would be able to otherwise provide consent. They conclude the issue of consent regarding infant circumcision is ethically analogous to parents making other "...decisions on behalf of their incompetent offspring," e.g., other childhood surgical procedures [example mine].

Dr Zawahiri · 2 days ago
In order to accomodate the overwhelming demand for circumcision reversals, I have opened the Sargon Clinic for Circumsizion Reversal in San Francisco. We are a team of transplant surgeons who have lost their license in other states because of insurance fraud, but are skilled in removing the corona of the penis and using microsurgery to attach foreskins that we pilfer from San Franciso General Hospital. We attempt to color match the donor foreskin with the host, and then prescribe anti-rejection drugs such as prednisone, cyclosporine and imuran to prevent rejection of the foreskin. We usually can get insurance companies to pay for this. Contact us at

AMB · 2 days ago
If you are required to look inside your underpants, everyday of your life, to know exactly what your true identity is, you aren’t playing with a full dick!

AMB · 2 days ago
For those who continue to deny that circumcision causes harm, despite all evidence to the contrary, you should really consider joining the “Flat Earth Society”. Google it.

For over 3000 years people thought the earth was flat, hollow and square. The Bible speaks of ‘the four corners’ of the earth. How could something that was believed for so long, be so wrong? Especially if it is in the bible?

Turns out that the earth isn’t flat, hollow, or square! Amazing! And, that males actually DO need their foreskins!

Dear Dr Zawahiri-
Q: What do you call a newly brised, screaming baby boy, with a wine soaked rag shoved in its mouth?
A: A gag order.

Elaygee · 1 day ago
18 and over before any parts can be cut off would be a fair policy.

Joseph4GI · 1 day ago
To all those talking about "the state infringing on our rights," remember the state already regulates other religions. Jehovah's witnesses can't deny blood transfussions for their children, for example. Snake handlers will get in trouble if they involve children in their rituals. Muslims cannot slash their heads on the day of Ashura. And, Malaysians, Indonesians and Singaporians cannot give "sunat" to their baby girls. "Sunat" is not as bad as male circumcision either.

Michael · 1 day ago
Another question for those who argue it is immoral to force circumcision on infants - can't the same argument about postponing circumcision until age of consent also be made with respect to immunizations?

If the argument is what right does a parent have to perform a surgically irreversible procedure on an infant who is incapable of understanding what is happening and has no choice, what about vaccines that have potentially harmful, irreversible, or fatal risks (this applies to all vaccines - there is no such thing as a risk free medical procedure)? What about the decision on whether a child should be forced to go to school - how many wasted years

Joseph4GI · 1 day ago
Michael, you are assuming that circumcision is anything like an immunization. I'm afraid that circumcision can't come anything close to behaving like a vaccine. Whereas a vaccine actually effects the immune system, and it strengthens it against microbes that cause disease, circumcision does no such thing. Once HIV invades the body, it doesn't really matter if somebody has been circumcised or not.

Now, are you seriously trying to bring up "medical benefits?" Let's see how much you actually care.

Let's say an actual medical genius came up with a super vaccine that provides all those "benefits" circumcision is supposed to give. Would wave away the mohel?

I mean it sounds like you're seriously suggesting that Jews would stop circumcising if this were the case. I mean if this is so, then let the search for a better preventative solution begin!

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patfromch said...

Now me being an absolute idiot I have a very stupid question: and critique: There is little doubt that a brit has medical benefits. How come then that my catholic and protestant forefathers did not steal this idea from jewish faith ? Now I don't get that.

Fun Fact: According to studies the amount of herpes cases in Isrle is enormously low. Coincidence ?

The second article is much more balanced than the first, being a biased idiot. in order to actually fully understand the argumentI now have to google or bing the original proposal to see what their motivation is. they can't be atheists, we don't do this sort of thing.

And while we go on talking about the health of our whatsnames thousands of animals die horribly while bleeding to death in a practice called schechten on a daily basis. Could the two editorial writers you posted explain that away with cultural or ethnical reasons for me being an idiot please ?

patfromch said...

herpes cases in Israel. Speed typing on a Mac is next to impossible, sorry bewt that typo.

Vleeptron Dude said...


I can drive my car again! And I WILL, I'm gonna go see a pal on the other side of the valley today!

So this is going to be short, I gotta get out of here.


1. What's wrong with AFP? They assigned this story to a reporter who CAN'T POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND what the story is about!!!

Would you read "Possessing the Secret of Joy" („Sie hüten das Geheimnis des Glücks“) if ***I*** wrote it? I can find a clitoris, but I certainly have no personal experiences with one.

2. Okay, I will have to Bingoogle this myself, BUT ... it's my understanding that when the very early Christians began to spread their belief system -- which was essentially Judaism -- throughout the Mediterranean -- to Greece, to Rome, to North Africa, etc. -- they quickly realized that they weren't getting a lot of adult male customers when they explained that it was necessary to slice off their foreskins. I guess those guys went down the street and became Zoroastrians or Manicheans instead.

So the early Christians dropped the requirement of male circumcision. That's the way I heard it.

Did you get the cute little joke/pun/wortspiel of "intactivists"?

I LOVED THE COMMENTS!!! Boyoboy this subject sure brings out EVERYBODY!!!

Okay gtg and DRIVE MY CAR!!!

patfromch said...

Good to hear that you can drive again !

Ah, yes, that sort of pun is only possible in english....
Fun facts from around the world: In the UK and Canada Medicaid or whatever the eqivaltnt is will not pay for eventual consequenses resulting from the brit.
In Finnland you need a signed confirmation from the parents plus a statement from the son in question.
After several infant deaths the practice has been prohibitet for boys older than 2 months without a medical reason in Sweden. Below 2 months anesthesia is required and a certified doctor must perform the brit. This is remarkably strange since Sweden is a rather liberal country.
The WHO came under fire recently, recommending the practice in relation to HIV prevention in Africa, which has caused much confusion and bodily harm.
In my home country, the most beautiful Switzerland circumsicion for girls is verboten. The Green Party wants to introduce a smiliar model as in Sweden but thus far nothing came of that. The german wiki article also mentions something about circunsicion in Christianity but I can’t be bothered at this very moment.
It seems that there is no agreement wether this has a value for medical benefits, religious, moral or ethical reasons. Even the experts are divided, severeal issues are colliding here. And it is indeed interesting to read the comments !

Ryszard Wasilewski said...

Circumcision for girls is a very different issue than it is for men, and I think it is banned everywhere outside of some very savage, fundamentalist societies. It's kind of like putting your dick on the block as opposed to having it gently peeled.

muebles said...

I suppose one and all should browse on it.