For several decades, opposition to circumcision has been building in the United States and within the American Jewish community. This year, the people of San Francisco will see on their ballots a proposed ordinance banning circumcision entirely, with no exception for religious Jews or Muslims. As others have written in these pages already, this measure is offensive and overbroad, and at least some of its proponents are clearly guilty of anti-Semitism. (It is also, in my view, unconstitutional.) Civil liberties groups and Jewish organizations have roundly condemned it, and defeat seems likely.
But San Francisco is a harbinger of things to come, and critiques of circumcision are not limited to the lunatic fringe. Opponents say that circumcision is a brutal, nonconsensual mutilation of a child that results in a permanent loss of sensitivity. Our society doesn’t allow parents to abuse their children, this argument runs, so why should we allow this particular form of violence, which is irrevocable and damaging? Proponents counter that circumcision reduces the risk of HIV transmission and of some STDs, that the “mutilation” in question is relatively minor, and that, in the case of religious communities, it is time honored and religiously mandated.