The Day I Cut Off My Sons' Foreskins

BY: Rabbi Daniel Silberman Brenner


It has been almost two years since I cut off the foreskins of my two sons. Noam and Jonah, my identical twins, are now singing "rubber duckie," feeding themselves oatmeal, and re-arranging the porch furniture--a long way from the preemie infants whom we welcomed into the world.

Why did I cut them? I knew that the procedure had been declared medically unnecessary. I knew that I was causing them pain. I had heard that the lack of a foreskin might diminish their sense of sexual pleasure. I say all this, and yet when I stood above my boys, scalpel in hand, I experienced an unparalleled sense of connection to and responsibility for life. The birth was pure wonder. The circumcision was primal and mysterious, connecting me to flesh and blood in a violent and careful moment of father-love.

Since the cut, I've read or heard that my actions were "barbaric," "savage," and "criminal." One host of a New York radio talk show called circumcision "child sexual abuse," a sentiment confirmed by my wife's favorite magazine, Mothering. In an interview I gave to Icon magazine, my positive opinion on the subject was placed in the context of an article that promoted the idea that circumcision kills babies. The worst was when a woman I met at a benefit dinner called what I did "torture."

I'm not a doctor. I got the idea of doing the "final cut" from a friend of mine in Philadelphia who did his sons. Here's how it was done--the moyel (ritual surgeon) sets up the procedure by using a scissors-like device that slips between the penis shaft and the foreskin. Then the moyel places the foreskin into a stainless steel clamp. The clamp allows the father to remove it with a single cut of the scalpel. The whole procedure takes less than two minutes.

Cutting my firstborn son was harder than I thought it would be--not the emotional challenge, but the physical part, the actual slicing involved. It took more elbow grease than I had imagined. It was easier five minutes later with my second son. I think that explains why he urinates straighter than his brother.

So, am I a child abuser? Should I be locked up?

As a Jew, I am a member of a small tribe that has survived generations of physical abuse from the outside world--so I find it ironic that my people are seen as the abusers. Hitler, who engaged in the same anti-circumcision rhetoric that I hear today, later enacted a government project to systematically murder hundreds of thousands of infants and toddlers.

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