Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors

Is Circumcision Really So Awful?

First San Francisco, now Santa Monica — the attempt to make circumcision illegal, including those performed for religious reasons, is spreading.  Both cities, one last week and the other just today, have movements to get measures on their respective city’s November ballots which would make circumcision illegal.  While these are the two most aggressive attempts to curtail the practice of circumcision, they represent an increasing trend away from the practice, or at least away from the presumption of its necessity. 


Like most things associated with circumcision, it’s a very sensitive issue. In fact, as I write this, I know that whatever I commit to words here will be seen as brutal and/or betraying by at least many of those who read it.

Were I to begin with the fact that with the birth of each of our three daughters, I experienced not only profound joy, but a certain inchoate sense of relief at being spared the obligation to circumcise them eight days later, many readers would accuse me of betraying Jewish tradition for simply admitting my ambivalence. Were I to begin by saying that had we had sons, they would have been circumcised in full accordance with Jewish tradition, including the genuine celebration which accompanies the performance of this sometimes disturbing and deeply beautiful 3,500 year old tradition, I would be branded a barbarian by yet other readers.


Both propositions accurately reflect my feelings, and it is precisely that level of complexity which is rarely present in the ongoing debate about infant circumcision in America. Instead of admitting that the sensitivity of this issue is what makes it absurd to legislate and litigate, each side wraps itself in competing claims about the health, legality and morality of the issue in order to get others to see it their way.

In fairness, those opposed to circumcision are far more aggressive in the use of this approach, though I genuinely feel for people, especially Jews, who admit their ambivalence about circumcising their infant sons. Too often they are immediately lectured about the fact that if they do not do so, their kids will not be Jewish (not true), or that circumcision is clearly healthier and that failing to circumcise their kids endangers them (a matter of debate, though most evidence still suggests that it is).


Meeting genuine questions with questionable assertions is hardly the way to go. There are many good reasons to circumcise our sons, but they are not strengthened by failing to seriously address the questions which people have.

In fact, the intensity of the debate around circumcision, like so many issues in religion, is about much more than we let on. Anxiety about not circumcising, among Jews at least, is often about fear of assimilation as much as it is about the importance of one particular commandment. The same anxiety among non-Jews, for whom there is no such commandment, is often about the rights of parents to shape their children’s future. Those are big important questions – ones which deserve to be discussed openly, not fought over by proxy.


On the other hand, there is something truly wrong with people attempting to strip parents of their rights as guardians and undermining the free exercise of religion. The legal experts will battle over that one I am sure, but the fact that those seeking to ban circumcision don’t also pursue banning other medical procedures which parents elect to have performed because they believe it to be the right thing for their kids, indicates that the whole fight about circumcision is really just an expression of the opponents’ hostility to religion in general, or to the notion that parents have a legitimate right to make decisions which may shape their kids’ future identities because that too is a part of parenting.

It’s as if people fight about what to do with our kids, or worse, what other people should do with their kids, because of what was done to us by our parents. That strikes me as a poor way to make decisions about parenting, public policy, or the various spiritual paths we follow.  


Instead, I suggest that people focus on the hopes and aspirations they have for their own children and pursue, as best as their consciences dictate, those practices which they believe will aid in their attainment. Sometimes parents will get it right, sometimes not, but maximizing the freedom to give it their best shot – short of endangering the health or life of the kids involved, should remain, as it has for hundreds of years in this country, a sacred trust.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ajones

    “those seeking to ban circumcision don’t also pursue banning other medical procedures which parents elect to have performed because they believe it to be the right thing for their kids”

    And what other medical procedures were you thinking about ? By medical procedure I mean “preventive” surgery (like circ) not something like vaccination. I don’t know any of them. It seems, circumcision, is the only surgery where no diagnosis is required.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment kenneth

    Actually Ajones, almost all of what plastic surgeons do outside of reconstruction work requires no diagnosis and is not a treatment of any disease state other than vanity. I rejected most of the Judeo-Christian worldview and traditions heaped upon me in youth, but I don’t mind the circumcision. I happen to like it just fine in fact. I don’t get the movement to ban it, except that liberals like to live other people’s lives for them just as much as right-wingers do…

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment romanscapegoat

    when i was born the nurses all gathered around…mine is to big and perfect to be desecrated by a foolish act

  • Dan Bollinger

    The real issue here isn’t religion (that’s just the smokescreen) it is sexism. Cutting boys is a human rights violation. These men are not permitted to have a say in how their body looks, works, and feels. This is doubly important because it effects their sexuality, too. We protect girls from harm, and rightly so. The Federal female genital cutting law, which has no religious exemption by the way, prohibits even a pinprick to extract one drop of blood. Male genital cutting–aka circumcision–is certainly worse than that. We’ve come a long way with gender rights; let’s not perpetuate this harmful double standard.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment kenneth

    I’m not sure it quite rises to the level of a human rights violation. Who is permitted to say how their body looks, works and feels? Nobody gets a say whether they are born to people with genes that will tend to make them fit and attractive or fat, dumpy and prone to heart disease. There are no guarantees with any of that and never will be unless we get into some scary forced eugenics programs. I’m not sure how it affect sexuality either. I’m circumcised and I have no complaints. I’ve lived like a porn star in the scheme of things…. I agree that circumcision need not be the presumptive default it long has been, but it’s hardly a matter for human rights courts or U.S. ones for that matter.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Dennsi

    I elected not to have my sons cut. When they are able to give informed consent as adults, then they can choose to have this unnecessary procedure. There is clear evidence that uncut males receive greater stimulation than cut males, because the skin over the glans is much thinner. Many males who have been cut as adults will attest to this. This is yet again another instance of blind obedience to so-called authority and tradition. What is so difficult about thinking for yourself?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ruth

    It is a private decision. Parents have to decide what is right for them and their children. It is a shame that everything today has to be legislated. Stay out of people’s bedrooms and lives. As long it does not effect you.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment g

    Ruth said : It is a private decision.

    I think she meant to say :” It is a “privates” decision. ”

    So how much does a rabbi get for a circumcision? I heard a couple of hundred dollars…plus ‘Tips”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment romanscapegoat

    Ruth…Obama was never coming after the ignorant backwards hillbilly christian teabaggers-just wealthy Jews…Jew banks and CEO control whitehouse…

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Sally

    Circumcision for religious purposes is fine. If one feels that to have their son circumcised in order to fulfill the commandment, then do so without having to worry about what others deem to be unnecessary. After all who do we desire to please? Our neighbors or the Holy One?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment romanscapegoat

    sally…do you mean he who is behind the corn…

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment tigergirl1414

    In a way I would have to agree that making a law against this may actually be a good idea. I mean, why is the world in a war right now? Why do most wars start? Money, and “religious purposes”. And they start because one side tries to force the other to believe what they believe. So what if the parents are religious!? My Husbands parents are jehovah’s witness, and hes chosen to be a Spiritualist. Majority of other forms of body modification’s are allowed at the age of 18. It isn’t anybodies right to take those options away from you, never mind the fact your their parents or not. Thats like saying tattooing babies, or branding them because its for something religious or any other reasons okay… They have to live with it, NOT YOU, so let them decide when they are ready. Also, 85% of the world’s male population still has their foreskin. The remaining small percentage of males with circumcisions, 7% wish it wouldn’t have been done to them. 2000000 males within the past 12 years have actually tried to have their foreskin reconstructed. OH, AND if you go far enough back into history, the first people to be circumsized were egyptian slaves. They had been forced into doing so to prevent the slaves from masturbating (this goes for males and females).

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