Rabbi Lerner’s defense of infant circumcision (“No to the Proposed Legal Ban on Circumcision”) is filled with holes. One of the holes is in my heart and inscribed on my body.
Like countless men who have been circumcised, I’m angry about what was taken from me. If I could go back in time to the moment before this was done to me, I would use any means necessary to stop it. I wish there’d been a law against it. I’ve spent many nights ruminating in grief. I know other men like me who have sunk into deep depression while wrestling with the pain of this violation.
“Circumcision is a matter of individual choice,” Lerner told the Jewish Week newspaper.
What about my choice? Shouldn’t my right to an intact body matter? Lerner doesn’t address the possibility that a man should have the right to make the choice for himself. Advocates of circumcision evidently believe the feelings of the human who is being cut are irrelevant. Anyone with an open heart who listens to the screams of a baby being circumcised cannot honestly believe that babies want to be circumcised.
While parents have to make tough decisions about many things concerning the health of their children, this is the only routinely made choice that involves an irreversible amputation that is not medically necessary. Why is this one body part of newborns of this one gender OK to forcibly amputate?
Not only is circumcision’s harm permanent, the traumatizing event takes place in early infancy, when the baby is most vulnerable and sensitive to pain. With enough therapy and personal growth work, most forms of verbal, physical, and even sexual abuse can be overcome. But circumcision leaves a man disfigured for life.
Lerner claims, “there is little evidence that circumcised men have less sexual pleasure than uncircumcised men.” In fact, circumcision throughout history has been motivated by a drive to reduce men’s sexual pleasure. In the twelfth century of the Common Era, revered scholar and sage Rabbi Moses Maimonides wrote, “One of the reasons for circumcision is to bring about a decrease in sexual intercourse and a weakening of the organ in question, so that this activity be diminished and the organ be in as quiet a state as possible.”
Christian puritans such as Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (co-inventor of the corn flake) promoted circumcision in the nineteenth century as a means to curb masturbation and reduce male sex drive, which led to its widespread adoption among non-Jews in the United States. Female circumcision was widely practiced in institutional settings in this country until the mid-twentieth century for the same reasons, and is still performed on a limited basis today, despite being illegal.
While circumcision may not reduce a man’s desire to make love to himself, it irrevocably reduces his capacity to experience sexual pleasure. The foreskin is a natural and integral part of a man’s penis, containing tens of thousands of nerve receptors found nowhere else in a man’s genitalia. The foreskin glides up and down on the penis, providing pleasure to both a man and his partner, and keeps the head of the penis moist and sensitive. Many men who have been circumcised as adults report a significant decrease in sexual pleasure.
A recent British Journal of Urology study offered this report:
The glans of the circumcised penis is less sensitive to fine touch than the glans of the uncircumcised penis. The transitional region from the external to the internal prepuce (foreskin) is the most sensitive region of the uncircumcised penis and more sensitive than the most sensitive region of the circumcised penis. Circumcision ablates the most sensitive parts of the penis.
But we don’t need studies and medical research to know how much sexual pleasure a foreskin provides. Ask European men. Most of the intact men I’ve spoken to say they enjoy having a foreskin, and they feel lucky to have escaped the circumcision lottery with penis intact.
Imagine there was a surgery performed on babies that removed their capacity to see in color. An entire life spent viewing the world in black-and-white would still be beautiful, but shouldn’t human beings have the right to see in color? Why should anyone have the right to take that away?
Most men who experience sex in shades of gray don’t know what they’re missing. And when the topic is brought up, a lot of men get defensive because it’s difficult in this culture to admit that one’s penis—the center of many men’s definition of manhood—is somehow less than it should be. It’s also hard for men to admit that their loving parents made a poor decision that caused irreparable harm.
Rabbi Lerner repeats many of the myths about circumcision, such as the claim that there’s “some evidence that [men who are circumcised] are less likely to carry some diseases than the uncircumcised.”
In fact, reputable members of the medical community have argued that the studies that show any such benefit are flawed and suffer from selection bias. According to Doctors Opposing Circumcision, all claims that circumcision provides any protective benefit against sexually transmitted diseases, male and female cancers, and urinary tract infection have been disproved. They add that history shows that medical professionals have for decades invented theorized benefits as a rationale to justify the procedure––a solution in search of a problem.
George Denniston, M.D.—a graduate of the Harvard School of Public Health associated with the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Washington—writes:
The United States has high rates of HIV and the highest rate of circumcision in the West. The “experiment” of using circumcision to stem HIV infection has been running here for decades. It has failed miserably. Why do countries such as New Zealand, where they abandoned infant circumcision 50 years ago, or European countries, where circumcision is rare, have such low rates of HIV?
Even if circumcision really did lower the rates of STD transmission, shouldn’t educated adults make their own decisions about their sex lives? Condoms and responsible sexual relationships prevent STDs, not circumcision.
No medical organization in the world recommends routine circumcision, and in fact, most Western medical associations recommend against the procedure. For example, the Royal Dutch Medical Association released the world’s most up-to-date national policy statement on circumcision in 2010. Their well-footnoted policy recommended that doctors aggressively counsel families against circumcising due to the “absence of medical benefits and danger of complications.”
Lerner extols the virtues of the Jewish community’s traditional abhorrence of violence against women. But why is violence against men OK? Mainstream Judaism practices a form of patriarchy that holds women and girls as sensitive and vulnerable, while men and boys are emotionless warriors against whom violence is not only permissible, but also necessary.
Lerner refers to allegedly feminist arguments in favor of circumcision, lines of thought that strike me as misandry masquerading as feminism. For example, feminist-identified Rabbi Elyse Goldstein argues that men’s “phallic-centered power” must be decreased in order to teach men to respect and become more like women. “In ‘sacrificing’ a piece of the penis, in uncovering and revealing themselves in their most vulnerable part, in making themselves more like women, men can be made more whole,” Goldstein claims.
From where I sit, arguments like Goldstein’s sound like hate speech. If a man said he needed to cut off part of a woman’s genitals in order to make her “more like a man,” he’d rightly be ostracized. Why do we, as a progressive community, let this kind of dehumanization of men go unchallenged? Yes, male violence against women is a huge social problem and must be addressed. Inflicting irreversible harm onto our innocent sons’ genitals is not the answer.
Which part of your daughter’s body would you cut off to prevent a disease? Which part of her genitals would you cut off because you believe that God commanded you to do so? Well if you wouldn’t cut your daughter, why is it OK to cut your son?
Abolishing infant circumcision would benefit the Jewish people. Rabbi Lerner rightly mentions that we’ve left behind numerous Torah commandments in the dustbin of history, such as stoning people to death and taking slaves from neighboring nations. Did giving up those divine dictates harm the Jews or make us more righteous and compassionate?
We can look to the foundational myths of Judaism for guidance toward the abolition of infant circumcision. Abraham’s smashing of the idols represents the Jewish commitment to iconoclasm, which, according to media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, is one of the three pillars of the Jewish experience, along with social justice and abstract monotheism. Circumcision is a false idol, and must be discarded.
Similarly, in the story of the binding of Isaac, the angels tell Abraham that even though he is willing to sacrifice his son, doing so is not a path to the divine. In the story, Abraham’s alternative sacrifice of a lamb is his idea, not requested by the angels. Eventually, Jews left behind animal sacrifice as well, as we recognized that killing defenseless creatures does not bring us closer to the Creator. Someday, we will see the same truth about circumcision that we came to see about human and animal sacrifice. After all, circumcision is nothing more than a different flavor of those ancient practices. It’s sacrificial violence passed from generation to generation, with holy intentions and unholy consequences.
When we finally liberate ourselves from the mental and spiritual prison of this tradition, we will clear space to engage in more loving, compassionate practices, such as Brit Shalom (covenant of peace), a contemporary Jewish baby-welcoming ceremony that preserves the positive intentions of a standard Bris but without the cutting.
Such a change would be a blessing not only for the babies condemned to lose part of their bodies, but also for those who lose their lives. Over one hundred babies die every year in the United States due to circumcisions in medical and religious settings, and many others end up with other complications, including severe disfigurement. As many may recall, a young man named David Reimer committed suicide in 2004 because he couldn’t live with the debilitating consequences to his love life of having his penis amputated during a circumcision.
When I was in Jerusalem at the Wailing Wall during a human rights research fellowship a few years ago, an Orthodox woman told me: “Baby boys are born without a soul. When we cut off the foreskin, a hole is created in the body for God’s soul to enter into them. This is why circumcision is a divine mandate.”
This woman is as mistaken as Abraham was when he believed that God required the sacrifice of Isaac. Someday, we will see that our baby boys are born perfectly whole and complete, with their souls as intact as their genitals.
Lerner argues that banning circumcision against nonconsenting minors undermines “the First Amendment rights of Jews” and creates “a slippery slope toward the abolition of all religious practices.” Such claims are unfounded. The First Amendment’s protections of speech and expression do not apply to harming other people. The First Amendment does not give you the right to sacrifice a virgin, punch someone in the face, or even cut off a tip of someone else’s finger because it’s part of a religion. Simply put, the First Amendment ends where someone else’s body begins.
As for the supposed slippery slope, if circumcision is banned, will that lead to the outlawing of Passover Seders? Not in a million years. Not in this country. Let’s give the United States the credit it deserves for being a relatively free, open society.
As a corollary to his slippery slope argument, Lerner claims, “It’s not hard to imagine some who were sexually abused by Catholic priests as children attempting to ban Catholic educational institutions or even the Church itself, attacking the entire institution as sexually perverted or violently patriarchic.” This is as misguided as saying those of us who wish to abolish the U.S. imperial war machine seek to abolish the entire country, and yet another tactic to silence the voices of the abused. And what an eyebrow-raising Freudian slip! Doesn’t Lerner’s comparison point out that when we strip away the emotional tug of religious tradition, infant circumcision lands in the same ethical boat as institutionally shielded sexual molestation?
Speaking of the slippery slope, what if—God forbid—the Supreme Court one day were to rule that the First Amendment permits nonconsensual circumcision as a form of protected religious expression? Wouldn’t that create a slippery slope in which even more extreme forms of religious violence against defenseless children become legalized? Federal law prohibits all forms of genital cutting performed on nonconsenting minor girls. This includes female circumcision variants that are far less harmful than the typical male circumcision, for example, a small ceremonial nick of the clitoral hood (the female analogue of a foreskin). The U.S. Constitution provides for equal protection, and it’s hard to imagine a law that protects only girls from genital cutting withstanding a legal challenge that sought to extend such protection to boys.
To be clear, I have no objection to circumcision or any other form of body modification when it’s freely chosen by a consenting adult. Sensibly, the proposed San Francisco ban only applies to circumcision of nonconsenting minors.
Many Jews today oppose circumcision. For more perspectives, see jewishcircumcision.org, jewsagainstcircumcision.org, and beyondthebris.com. Circumcision is not a requirement to be Jewish; this is determined solely by parental heritage or conversion. Circumcision is on the decline among world Jewry, for example, less than half of newborn boys in Swedish Jewish families are cut.
Routine circumcision of nonconsenting minors is a human rights violation, whether it’s practiced on boys or girls, and it must be outlawed. Anyone who stands in the way of this reform—including Rabbi Lerner—stands in the way of human rights and genital-integrity equality. I hope my words, as painful as they may be to read, will contribute to an Abraham-like transformation of his perspective.
During the weeks since Rabbi Lerner wrote his original critique of the proposed legal ban, a judge struck the ballot measure from the San Francisco election, and the California legislature passed a law that prohibits local municipalities from restricting circumcision. I believe both actions were wrongheaded and inconsistent with existing federal law that protects female minors from nonconsensual genital cutting. One day, I believe justice will prevail and that the law will be expanded to accommodate equal protection for male minors.
(To read Rabbi Tzvi Marx's rebuttal to this article and other opposing views on circumcision, click here.)
Bravo! I cannot understand why anyone could ever argue that a man does not have a right to choose what happens to *HIS OWN* body parts!
Matthew Taylor has brilliantly written how men deserve equal protection under the law from this type of physical trauma and abuse perpetrated by medical myths and religious dogma!
As a post partum nurse, having witnessed 100’s of babies in pain during and after this surgery, I believe only heartless and desensitized people who have witnessed this surgery can continue this practice.
Men deserve their full sexual functioning (as do women)! The foreskin is a remarkable piece of anatomy serving pleasure for both genders!
Thank you Matthew Taylor for writing such a sensitive, factual, and emotional piece!
While I worked for Planned Parenthood and “A Woman’s Right to Choose” was my usual slogan, in recent years it has switched to “A Man’s Right to Choose!” Stop the violence! Let men choose if the research is good enough to take a knife to their own penis at a consenting age! Why can’t people understand this very simple concept????????
Honestly, if none of us can agree if it’s “right” or “wrong”, then why don’t we let the owner of the body part decide for themselves? How can you argue against that??????
What a brilliant, thorough analysis. It spells out clearly that, in our modern world — unlike in the world of Abraham — boys are human beings, with human rights, including the right to be protected from physical abuse. I hope Judaism can adapt itself to that.
It takes great courage to speak out when you have been injured and unsupported. No one owns another person’s body, that time is long ago past.
In fact, there are laws in most countries, including the USA, which forbid the deliberate injuring of other people. But the genitals of children seem to be an exception, possibly because children are not seen as “people”. and/or that genital modification is not seen as injury. Therefore you, I, and billions of other people young and old, were fair game for the sexual predators known variously as mohelim, muslim and christian mutilators, ‘doctors’, and any Tom, Dick, or Harriet with a penchant for the genital blood of babies.
I think religion is a personal choice and since babies are too young to make religious decisions they should be exempted from being altered for others beliefs until they’re old enough to legally have intercourse and then do whatever they want with their bodies, piercings, tattoo’s all good and then no problem if they choose to irreversibly amputate their foreskin. I find it extremely distressing to think I could have been a victim of this grotesque robbery. Everyday I thank my lucky stars I survived and was spared when I was too young to say no or put up a proper fight. Babies should be protected, this is a horrible loss as the foreskin is my favorite body part because it gives me immense pleasure. I cannot comprehend the loss of pleasure in losing it.
Excellent article. Thanks for speaking up. I think one of the hardest things for circumcised males is too look in the mirror and realize that something was taken from them by no fault of their own. That they aren’t less because this was done too them, that they are a victim, and that ultimately they should want something better for their sons.
The non-therapeutic amputation of healthy genital tissue from non-consenting children is medically unethical, it is a violation of human rights, it is irrational and unscientific and, as physicians, we have a moral obligation to oppose this cruel practice and properly educate the public. The foreskin is richly innervated erogenous tissue and should not be amputated without medical urgency or unless the benefit significantly outweighs the potential for harm. Virtually all medical associations in the world agree there is no reasonable benefit to non-therapeutic circumcision, yet some physicians continue to encourage this practice by inciting absurd concerns over cleanliness and soliciting spurious medical benefits, ALL of which have been either debunked or shown to be disproportionate to the risk associated with the actual procedure. Circumcision was only medicalized during the Victorian era as a misguided attempt to curb masturbation, which was thought to be harmful. It was used as a means of decreasing sexual pleasure and disrupting the normal gliding mechanism of the penis. Circumcision is a disgrace to our profession. It is steeped in superstition and ignorance and cultural transference. Physicians should refuse to participate in this unnecessary and immoral practice. Bronze age religious blood rituals should never trump rational scientific judgment, contemporary medical ethics and the universal right to bodily integrity. Our ethical obligation is to the boy, not to conspire with the cultural or religious traditions of the parents – the boy is the patient, not the parents. Put down the scalpels. His body, his decision.
As another man who was physically, sexually and psychologically harmed by non-therapeutic, infant circumcision, I applaud Matthew for having the courage and conviction to speak out against this grotesque form of child abuse. While I do not deny the right of any consenting individual to elect modifications to his or her own body, I cannot fathom how strapping down a healthy child and slicing away at normal body parts is anything short of assault. Jews such as Matthew should be commended for their efforts to rid our culture of the wretched tradition of infant circumcision. Those who argue in favor of the genital cutting of children are on the wrong side of human rights and should be ashamed for advocating such cruelty.
Bravo to Matthew for this clear and courageous de-mythologizing of this terribly mistaken Jewish act of piety. The real “slippery slope” is committing violence against the tender, innocent bodies of our baby boys and raising this to the level of mitzvah. The consistent principles of Jewish justice and compassion are in complete conflict with the reality of the absolute cruelty of brit milah. How utterly outrageous to rationalize such an assault with such a primitive contention that baby boys have “no souls” until they are genitally altered (and tortured). We now know from neuroscience that infant trauma does not make for a more open, trusting, and, therefore, spiritually receptive human being. Quite the opposite: neonatal trauma changes the neural anatomy, affects one’s ability to trust, to form intimate relations, and to feel good in one’s own body. Circumcision is violence, violence against the most helpless. This cannot be a mitzvah–not in Jewish terms.
In regard to “Like countless men who have been circumcised, I’m angry about what was taken from me,” I don’t know a single man who feels this way, and I know one heck of a lot of circumcised men. Taylor can speak for himself, but he can’t speak for anyone else. Maybe what he needs is to have some of his ego taken away from him. Or at least have a little trimmed around the edges…
As a goy who was medically circumcised at birth by a medical doctor, who advised my parents in 1948 that this was a “good, safe and sound” medical practice; I have to agree 100% with Matthew Taylor’s arguments. I intend no disrespect to Jews or Muslims, who continue this as a religious practice, but it IS and always has been as “barbaric” as African tribal, ritual practices of female genital mutilation. Male circumcision is just as cruel, unnecessary and unenlightened.
I completely agree. None of my four sons were circumcised. People reacted as if our decision not to have it done was a form of child abuse. It just seems like common sense. At first it seems like an infant is only aware of his mouth. Slowly he begins to move his arms and kick his legs. Later he shows an awareness of his far extremnities, fingers go in the mouth and grasp things. Taking a sharp blade to his junk seems to me to be a rather nasty, rude way to be shocked into an acutely unpleasant sensation in the most sensitive of extremnities.
Matthew Taylor speaks for me when he says, “Like countless men who have been circumcised, I’m angry about what was taken from me. If I could go back in time to the moment before this was done to me, I would use any means necessary to stop it.”
While I know I cannot go back in time to undo the savage act that was done to me I can work to help stop it happening to others. Thank you Matthew for your work to bring this issue into the open. Much respect for those parents now questioning this barbaric act of violence and protecting the bodily integrity of their precious children.
Wonderful article – very well reasoned, progressive, and compassionate. I am very much surprised at Rabbi Lerner’s stance. I hope that he will re-read this piece and compare it to his own because the relative strength of each is obvious to those of us not clinging tightly to tradition. Thank-you for standing up for what individual rights really means.
I am Jewish yet I couldn’t rationalize circumcising my son. There are many Jewish traditions, injunctions and practices that are no longer fulfilled literally but rather are done symbolically. I think it’s time for the practice of genital mutilation of infant boys (which might have served some purpose when we were living in nomadic tribes) to become another of those rituals which carry the meaning of the original injunction in a symbolic rather than literal form.
I was moved by a conversation with Matthew Taylor and by the intensity of his personal pain over the loss of his foreskin. Knowing many men who are circumcised and don’t feel intense pain and anger from their loss, it is easy to neglect it or pretend it doesn’t exist. I have always been personally opposed to circumcision and did not circumcise my own son (not easy in my family), but I was initially not a supporter of the San Francisco initiative.
I previously felt that the benefits of a free society – and especially freedom of religion – outweighed the need to protect infant boys’ penises. Speaking with Matthew and recognizing the suffering he has experienced as a result of his circumcision caused me to waver in this belief.
However, just because something is wrong – even terribly wrong – doesn’t mean it should be illegal. For example, I think it is much worse, much more damaging than circumcision, when a parent punishes a young child for acting or seeming gay. It is truly appalling. But should it be illegal? Is it appropriate for the government to intervene? Of that I’m not so sure.
If I had been faced with voting on this initiative, I do not know which way I would have voted.
I can certainly appreciate Matthew’s argument. Many of the customs, beliefs and values of the ancient Israelites are not to my liking. But, as a circumcised jewish male, I have no problem with my own circumcision. it is the cost of admission into the symbolic order of the tribe.
OK, I’m convinced. I did not have my sons circumcised, and now that I have visited some of the websites linked to here with information about the practice and its effects (and seen photographs of the procedures – yikes, it really is mutilation – disgusting) I now feel greatly comforted about my decision. I am SO GLAD I did not do this to my sons. SO GLAD. Until reading about it, I thought the people protesting circumcision were being kind of hysterical, but I can see now that it is a significant procedure with lasting consequences.
The main issue is one of consent. No one can say that people don’t do all sorts of ridiculous and/or horrible things to their bodies, but at least let it be a decision made by adults who understand what they are doing to their own bodies, what they risk and have to lose. An infant can’t experience circumcision in a spiritual way, and a spiritual experience for any adult shouldn’t be cultivated at the expense of a child (or any other person – how is that spiritual?)
Thanks so much for reassuring me that I’m not a bad mother because I didn’t have my sons circumcised, or that I’ve deprived my sons of future access to Judaism. This has bothered me for years, but really – thank God I didn’t do it. I think of how beautiful and perfect my sons were when they were born, small and vulnerable, amazing, magical. And they still are. I’m so glad I didn’t let anyone pressure me into it. I’m crying as I write this.
It shouldn’t be the “cost of admission to the tribe,” and I am relieved that some Jews are now coming to the same conclusion.
No matter what anyone says, I KNOW I did the right thing.
Nice article. I’m guilty of letting my son be circumcised, which I don’t think was the right decision. But the doctor said it would help keep him cleaner and healthier somehow so I agreed. It should be his choice.
Thank you Dr. Guest. I would also like to add from personal experience with one of my sons that had not my pediatrician been so astute as to check out his penis for any anomalies, and had he had the circumcision performed at 8 days old, that he would have had to endure several reconstructive surgeries since he was born with a condition known as a hypospadias in which the urethral opening does not exit at the tip of the glans but somewhere along the underside of the shaft. There are 1st, 2nd and 3rd degrees of this condition depending on how far near the base the opening is. His foreskin was left intact and was later used to reconstruct the opening at the proper location on the glans. Not only am I thankful that our Dr. was thorough and astute, but I later on had to warn both of my sons and daughter in laws to be aware of this condition as apparently one of my uncles had suffered from it. It turns out that two of the grandchildren did need this operation.
But I also have to question the origin of this practice, and I question the bibical explanation – simply because God commanded it, which in itself was a rather arbitrary command from this irrational (as depicted) thunder diety. I believe the true answer lies in a tribal imperative to recognize ones kinsmen during battle conditions since in ancient times warriors fought naked. It also may have been a token blood sacrifice as well. In either case the procedure is barbaric, esp. if done to an infant or young child.
Usually when nature and evolution place something on the body, it has a purpose. The purpose of the foreskin has been proven as a sexual enhancer, and a protector of the delicate glans (Nature did not anticipate clothing).
While not personally feeling traumatized by the lack of it, as the writer hear does, I would have preferred had it not been done.
If the essence of any religion is to be a just and good human towards others, then these ancient practices are nothing more than non-essentials which ought to be discarded in this day and age.
Thanks to everyone for their contributions to this conversation. It’s heartening to read that the majority of comments support the right of men to make this decision for themselves as adults, and oppose the idea of parents taking that choice away from their defenseless sons.
To Marc Brenman, who questioned the idea that there are “countless men” who are angry about circumcision, you might want to read this:
Also, you might read the report, watch the videos, and look at the photos here at the circumcision harm survey:
To GC, who would not circumcise his own sons, but questions whether infant male circumcision should be illegal or not: As stated in my article, all forms of infant female genital cutting/circumcision are currently illegal under federal law, including forms of female circumcision that are not permanently damaging (such as removing a single drop of blood from the hood of the clitoris). Furthermore, a wide range of parental behaviors that abuse children are illegal – parents can’t beat their children up without facing potential legal consequences. In light of these facts, are you in favor of making other forms of child abuse legal? Or are you in favor of baby boys receiving equal protection and the same legal right to an intact body that baby girls already enjoy under federal law?
I find the various arguments used against circumcision disingenuous to say the least and hypocritical as they are trying to impose on others their own narrow view point using crass hyperbole to inflate a minor surgical procedure carried out with no real detriment to millions of individuals into something akin to child abuse.
I was circumcised 30 days after my birth. The reason my circumcision was delayed was for medical reasons. I was born with jaundice of pregnancy and it is common practice that Jewish parents delay circumcision ceremonies to allow the new-born to recover to ensure no unnecessary complications. The ‘mohel’ who carried out my circumcision was an MD who specialised in these procedures and within a few days I had completely recovered. Why did my parents go to such lengths of postponing the brit and hiring a surgeon to conduct this simple procedure? To ensure that their darling little baby boy was under no risk whatsoever. These are the same parents who provided me with all the tools necessary to succeed in my adult life including the greatest gift which they could have ever given me monetarily – paying for a first class education at Cambridge in the UK and Columbia in NYC and who even now when I’m 36 show me unconditional love and care and are always there for me.
Do I remember anything at all of my supposedly ‘traumatic mutilation’? Not a thing. What I can say is that myself, my son, my father, my grandfathers, my brothers, my nephews, my uncles, my male cousins and many of my male friends (both Jewish and non-Jewish) have all been circumcised and that my ancestors have conducted this ritual for thousands of years. Do I know one person out of the hundreds of circumcised people I know who has complained about being circumcised – no, not at all! If anything, we feel sorry for the uncircumcised bunch out there with the unappealing piece of skin dangling at the end of their penis (which undoubtedly those same uncircumcised bunch feel towards me) and enjoy a happy and fulfilling sex life.
Moreover, when my eldest son was born it never even crossed my mind that he would not be circumcised. This is an integral part of our culture (and this I say as a secular i.e. non-religious Jewish person in his mid-thirties) and we all embrace it gladly. I thank my parents for circumcising me and certainly feel sorry for those whose parents give them the ‘opportunity’ to wait until they are adults – if you are Jewish I see postponing the circumcision as child abuse, not the other way round.
I also fail to understand the argument that only consenting adults should be circumcised. At what age exactly are you a consenting adult in order to be able to decide to undergo circumcision? Why 18 and not 45? Doesn’t a 45 year old individual have a more mature outlook on life than an 18 year old. Many of my friends in their 30s regret the tattoos they placed on themselves in their late teens. Maybe we should prohibit tattooing and circumcision until a person has reached middle age – both are irreversible medical procedures and can cause life-threatening complications. Maybe we should prevent any sort of unnecessary medical procedures – why would any sane person of any age see the need to create a fake dimple.
Any intelligent individual can also see that the same arguments used against circumcision can on the whole be used to advocate polygamy. It is scientifically proven that having sex with multiple partners is more pleasurable than having sex with one single partner. In laboratory tests rats recover from sexual activities much quicker if they have a new sexual partner in their cage rather than an old one. Might as well make marriage illegal whilst you are at it – why impose backwards cultural norms on innocent boys whom only want to have sex with as many partners as possible. Or perhaps we should abolish the age of consent and teach children to have sex from the moment they are sexually capable – clearly god never intended for us to wait until we were 16 to have sex for the first time.
In modern society we accept that on the whole parents are best placed to take decisions on behalf of their children. Just as my parents decided to send me to an orthodontist to correct my sticking out teeth (another painful and unnecessary medical procedure) so they decided to circumcise me on birth. Would my life have been any different had I not been circumcised or had my teeth straightened – I don’t know and I don’t care and I think it is irrelevant. You can frame the argument in many ways but ultimately it comes down to a simple question – who is better placed to determine what is right for my son – myself, as my son’s father, a person who cares very deeply for his child and only wants the best for him or some deeply traumatised stranger with a bizarre agenda who has nothing better to do than try to impose his own beliefs on those around him. I and my friends will continue to circumcise our sons and bring them up according to our personal traditions and beliefs and I have no doubt that my child will be a far more balanced individual than the poor children of the ‘anti male genital mutilation society’ members.
Resentment at being circumcised is not something many men would disclose without the promise of a sympathetic audience. Thanks to the Internet, more and more can do so without fear of ridicule. You will find 123 (to date) ordinary men and some celebrities who resent being circumcised here: http://www.circumstitions.com/Resent.html.
Yonni Hartov “Would my life have been any different had I not been circumcised or had my teeth straightened – I don’t know and I don’t care”
A typical response from a hide-bound person not willing to consider that times have changed. In times gone by, his ancestors would have accepted slavery as normal/desirable. But if it was still practised, he wouldn’t care? Thinking people do care, and that is why we are fighting to get boys protected from non-therapeutic, ritual, cutting. Thankfully, some Jews do think and do care, and leave their sons intact. The time to commit to a religion/belief system is when you are old enough to understand what you are doing; and that doesn’t occur at 8 days old, or even 8 years old.
Very well written article…I wish it had been available to my parents during my birth. Thank you for helping to save others from this human rights violation.
I really respect Tikkun as much as the author for publishing such an article. myjewishlearning.org and the huffington post won’t allow such articles to be posted. being upset about it is the only thing that makes sense. “jewish” is not a synonym for “missing erogenous tissue.” even if jews are pushing that idea it is anti semitic.
i grew up on the navajo reservation. most of the people there didn’t even know what jews were, but being uncut and unidentified i never forgot that i was jewish. it is not a passage into the group; i’m sorry but real jews don’t need to be raped, no one does.
Yonni Hartov’s argument is extraordinary. The only reason for circumcising he seems to endorse is that it’s been done before. (Since he says he’s not religious, it’s logically impossible for him to believe in a divine-human covenant.)
Of all illegal social practices, polygamy is probably the one that’s illegal for the weakest of reasons. (When the sexes are truly equal and women can not be coerced into it, we may consider legalising it.) His other analogies are equally strained. It’s striking that the same people who are so ready to compare male genital cutting with tooth straightening, ear-piercing tattooing or French lessons will throw up their hands in horror if anyone dares to compare it with even the most minor form of female genital cutting.
His argument about the age of consent works against him. Most people would agree that a 40-year old or an 18-year old should be free to REFUSE circumcision (or tattooing or cosmetic surgery). So why not 17, or 16 or 15…? Why should parents ever have a right to remove normal, healthy, integral, irreplacable body parts?
“the unappealing piece of skin dangling at the end”? Spoken like someone who doesn’t have one and doesn’t know how much it contributes. This underlines our argument that there is only one person who should have the right to decide how “appealing” it is.
Yonni makes the mistake of thinking that because he, or anyone he knows, is not upset by forced circumcision no one else should be. He does a good, but lengthy job of illustrating how willful ignorance perpetuates this child abuse.
Check out the results of the Global Survey of Circumcision Harm at
Like women who have been circumcised, circumcised men deny they have suffered harm and want the same for their children.
David Reimer did not commit suicide because he couldn’t deal with the loss of his penis. Reimer’s life is the sad story of a man who as a baby who suffers a botched circumcision, and in their despair his parents turned to psychologist John Money, who told them to raise David as a girl, and that he would be fine. Opposition to circumcision is one thing, but there were too many tragic factors at play in Reimer’s life to pinpoint circumcision as the CAUSE of his suicide. A summary of his story can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Reimer, or can be found in the book “As Nature Made Him”.
I think it is also critical to say what hasn’t been said, that Male Genital Mutilation is, clear and bluntly, rape and sexual assault of a boy. Any doctor or person who commits this sexual assault on a boy at this point in history should be charged with child sexual assault.
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Make no mistake, Matthew Taylor’s harm is real and his anger is justified, but he’s not a lone voice. He joins an ever-growing chorus of men circumcised in childhood, including many Jewish men, who’ve taken the time to step out of their ignorance about the functions and benefits of the male foreskin, to critically dissect the medical, social and religious rationalizations for male genital cutting, and to overcome denial about the harm done to them. Their strength of character should be rewarded with compassionate ears and hearts.
Take a moment to review the Global Survey of Circumcision Harm (www.circumcisionharm.org) where, in the Results section, you can see the responses of over 900 circumcised men who’ve completed the online questionnaire. Some have even uploaded photos of their damage to the Gallery section, while others have uploaded videos about their harm to the Testimonies section.
Cirumcision always had the only means to prevent leaving the limits of the community. This is not just about religion (or, not at all) but about taking the adult man’s liberty to chose about his binding to the tribe. (The prophet Mohamed might have had more sanitarian reasons in mind). Cirumcision for both, muslim and jews, in our time, lacks any sense.
Ms Pollack, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for having jointed this conversation. I have been reading you for 20 years, and your writings on this subject are the most moving of all. Why? Because you are frum. Because you have laid bare more than any other woman, how infant circumcision violates mothers and patronises women Jews.
The early Moslems who adopted childhood (not infant) circumcision as a Moslem practice (not ritual), lived in a world without tap water, without soap, and where medical knowledge was more or less nonexistent. We live in a world with daily showers, soap, antibiotic and antifungal ointments, competent urologists, and a far greater understanding of sexual anatomy and acts than our ancestors. Given all that, Moslem circumcision has become unnecessary.
In Islam, there is no place for sexual abstinence. Virginity is not holy at all. All adults must marry and have children. In Islam, people must marry and have sex, a husband has a duty to pleasure his wife. The male bits excised by circumcision enhance the pleasure of married couples. Therefore, they must be preserved.
I am happy to pay admission to events I want to see. That does not mean that I accept attending events by force, with the price of admission taken from me by force. If you doubt one or more of God, the Chosen People, and the Covenant, there is no religious reason for your circumcision. If you want to be circumcised in order for women in the bedroom to see you as a Jew, that is a bridge to be crossed after the 21st birthday.
I’m a circumcised Jewish man and I’ve thought for a long while about this issue. I also work in the children’s rights movement.
I thank Matthew Taylor for his article, and Tikkun for publishing it. I believe that we Jews must adapt to the light of human learning and progress as we see it. That includes taking on board the rights of children, which are now recognized by humanity for the first time in its existence. They are not recognized in the Commandments, which – knowing I will offend “religious sensibilities” here – are deficient in this as in some other respects: they do not recognize the need to respect the integrity of children and to protect them from all conceivable harm. This is to say nothing of Talmudic injunctions to actually harm and kill children.
To those fellow Jews who are interested in moving towards the resolution of the clash between “primal and deeply important spiritual ritual”, to quote Zalman Kastel, on the one hand, and our evolved and more enlightened (as I fully believe) understanding of the rights of human beings, including the rights of children to bodily integrity, I suggest the following: let us discuss, debate and find agreement on ways to evolve the ritual. Let us find ways to preserve its spiritual value to us as Jews, while respecting the bodies and rights of our infant sons. We have evolved our rituals in many other ways, since Biblical times. We do not practice many of the Talmudic injunctions that we now regard as outdated, not to say barbaric. We – at least many or most of us, including Liberal Jews such as myself – now regard women as equal in rights to men, and try to act accordingly. So let us find alternative, modified practices that reflect and contain our spiritual Judaism, that we can agree would reflect the spirit of Divine intention .. and which do not involve the non-consensual, irreversible cutting of the flesh of our infant sons.
We Jews are surely smart enough to work out enlightened adaptations to this ancient ritual. At a minimum, let us leave the choice as to whether to undergo circumcision for spiritual purposes, to our sons when they are adult and have given this matter the full consideration of their hearts. Let us respect our children that much.
I’m 48 years old. I’m angry about it! I am very unhappy that I was mutilated as a baby! How could my mom and dad do this to me? That is what I have asked myself for many years? Every time i go piss I see what they had done to me! Who gave them the right to do this to me? Who gave them the right to mutilate me!
Many cultures from equatorial climates, experience rampant urinary and sexually transmitted diseases. I had to balance this for my son, because his mother’s culture meant she was circumcised, (by the same degree as some Western women chose to be cosmetically circumcised), and her menfolk are too. This for her, is simply a pragmatic solution for hygiene; and is backed up by my first-hand experience of her cousins with a combined repressed religious fervor and rampant promiscuity. African AIDS charities have concluded likewise and Western Homosexual Charities too, to the health advantages.
That my son will have to walk among both as an adult, even though raised to know how to employ critical and rational thinking, self discipline and wholesome hygienic practices; social laxity and lust would make him vulnerable. Half of America’s Black Women have herpes.
If she was Jewish or an American Baptist I might have wavered, as these are still monogamous communities and have a glimmer of insight to getting away from cultural food-programming and rituals. Their most religious leaders are often merely vocationalists who end up going through the motions after a few years observing the cyclical nature of it all.
My son’s loss therefore is my Natural Selection for his strength, and circumcision is merely a gain to walk among the sexually incontinent and virulently superstitious who venerate G-ds and magic-beings.
Will he cry over his impairment? Not if it presents overcoming a disability and social handicap and his wife likes it.
Is it mutilation? Yes. But more functional than tattooing and body piercing.
Should he have the right to choose. Yes, in a cold climate. But children in hot environments may die from a simple infection.
Can my wife work this out for herself. No. That’s just the way it is. It’s imprinted upon her. It’s not rational but a deep survival instinct as being terrified rigid by spiders. She lives by gut emotions like a Socialist. The outside defines the inside. The vote for her is like giving her a gun and targeting the biggest most disgusting pig of a man, merely because he draws something out from her to make her feel good; as though her support is going to save him. So she saves the world.
And that might be why some men cry out “why me!” because they were marked by this proud ‘Female-Identity’ that has forgotten the cause of the thing that was done before.
I am a neonatally circumcised American Catholic man. I did not consent. I was mutilated while a helpless newborn by an unethical and ignorant American doctor at the NJ hospital where I was born. My parents were provided with no information, and they certainly did not see what was done to me. I endured traumatic corrective surgery at age 5 and other complications. Circumcision was never discussed among my family or my friends. I have relatives who are intact, but growing up I never knew. Only after my son was born in 2013 and I refused the nurses solicitations to mutilate him, did I do the research. I am horrified by what I learned. It is an abomination that American medicine promotes the genital cutting of boys and disseminates pro-circumcision propaganda. Doctors who cut healthy children violate all medical ethics and commit child abuse. I am glad that many men and others are speaking up about this harmful cultural practice. I am also glad that in 2014, people are now taking to the streets to raise awareness. The genital cutting of children is a gross human rights violation. Intuitively, it is barbaric and cruel, regardless of the intention. Boys and girls both deserve protection from forced genital cutting. When they are adults, men and women can make informed decisions about consenting to irreversible surgeries on their bodies.
Mutilated… Good grief, quit your whining. Nobody has ‘lost their manhood’ it’s only been improved. If you’re concerned your sexual satisfaction is lowered then you’re wrong – you will last longer than 30 seconds in bed, unless you’re one of those ungreatful bastards that don’t care about pleasing your partner. I am circumsized and so will my son.