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To cut or not to cut: Is religion a good enough reason for circumcision?

June 3, 2011

I’ve been following with interest this San Francisco ballot initiative to ban circumcision. This has gotten lots of folks up in arms, particularly the Jewish community where circumcision is considered an essential religious ritual. Brad A. Greenberg writes about it in today’s WSJ. Greenberg acknowledges the medical arguments on both sides of the debate but points out:

From a Jewish religious perspective, the medical evidence is largely beside the point: Circumcision was ordered by God, so it requires no independent justification. Likewise for Muslims, who also circumcise per religious tradition.

This is a tough one. I’ll be up front here: I think infant boys are better left intact. (And many doctors and parents today would agree.) Religious arguments don’t sway me. There are plenty of other rituals and laws proscribed in the Hebrew Bible that are no longer observed (by most). Why is circumcision so important? That is a sincere question, not a rhetorical one. I truly don’t understand.

That said, the one bris I’ve attended was one of the most inspiring and moving religious ceremonies I’ve witnessed. But, honestly, I think that could still be accomplished without actually cutting the baby. (Don’t get me started on the poor mom who, at eight days postpartum, has to watch this. I imagine this is harder for her than the kid.) And it appears some Jews agree. Check out Brit Shalom.

On the other hand, I don’t think a ballot initiative is the way to go. More education about circumcision will (one can hope) lead parents — Jewish and non-Jewish — to making the right choice for their sons.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2011 1:09 am

    In Indonesia circumcision is observed not only by Muslims. It’s also observed by nonmuslim alike. Some of them (nonmuslims) argues, circumcition is good from medical point of view.

    Also, the circumcision take place not right after the baby boy’s birth. Many boys are circumcised betwee 6 to 13 years old.

    By the way, I happen to visit your blog after reading your reports on Quraishi.

    • eeflynn permalink*
      June 4, 2011 8:29 am

      Thanks for your comment. And thank you for letting me know what led you to this blog.
      Best wishes,
      Eileen

  2. Jack Wirtz permalink
    June 4, 2011 11:56 am

    It would not be a far venture to say that the majority of folk who oppose circumcision are equally adamant about separation of “church and state”. Well folks here is your chance to stand tall, YHWH commanded circumcision of Abraham and every male of his house and his descendants beginning in Genesis 17; to Israel thru Isaac and Islam thru Ishmael.
    Circumcision has been the religious ordinance of Abraham’s descendants for some 4000 years. Forgetting for the moment, freedom of religion; Is not this just as much an issue of “choice” of the parents to have their eight day old son circumcised as it is for the parents of the unborn son (or daughter) to have and abortion? If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one done! If you don’t believe in circumcision, don’t have one done!

  3. August 4, 2011 10:49 pm

    🙂 +
    There is a movement of Jews who are questioning circumcision, and working to end this abuse of children. The movement ranges from the Orthodox to the secular, and includes mothers, fathers, scholars, historians, medical professionals, activists, and intellectuals.

    * Jews Against Circumcision http://www.jewsagainstcircumcision.org/
    * The Current Judaic Movement to End Circumcision: Part 1
    http://intactnews.org/node/105/1311886372/jewish-voices-current-judaic-movement-end-circumcision-part-1

    The Kindest Un-Cut Feminism, Judaism, and My Son’s Foreskin by Professor Michael S. Kimmel
    http://www.cirp.org/pages/cultural/kimmel1/

    Jewish Intactivist Miriam Pollack has some great commentary on Foreskin Man in this recent interview.
    http://www.beyondthebris.com/2011/07/defying-convention-interview-with_27.html

    Jews Speak Out in Favor of Banning Circumcision on Minors
    http://intactnews.org/node/103/1311885181/jews-speak-out-favor-banning-circumcision-minors

    + 🙂

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