The practice of circumcision has received negative press ever since the American Academy of Pediatrics revised its stand on the procedure last March. While all the evidence presented in the AAP policy statement was uniformly supportive of the health benefits of circumcision, the Academy hedged on recommending it as a routine operation. Various media portrayed the policy statement as a criticism of circumcision, thus creating the misleading impression that this prestigious governing body of pediatricians is saying circumcision isn't good for your son. This impression is wrong.
A bris represents our covenant with God. It can be a wonderful and profound experience. When performed gently, it bonds the adults to each other and to the baby. A small piece of skin is removed, a test is passed, a covenant is made, and a timeless bond is cemented. In that room, our ancestors stand with us once again.
Medically, circumcision is healthful because it substantially reduces the incidence of urinary tract infection in boys, especially those under one year of age. Some studies cited in the pediatric policy statement report 10 to 20 times more urinary tract infection in uncircumcised compared with circumcised boys. Cancer of the penis, although rare, is three times more prevalent in uncircumcised men. Interestingly, circumcision performed later in life doesn't protect men against this devastating disease. Further, the infection rate of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and syphilis is higher among uncircumcised men than among those who are circumcised.
Circumcision is a ritual rich in spirituality, as relevant to the health of the child today as it was when it was mandated 3,000 years ago. Given its very real lifelong medical benefits, its powerful religious significance for us as Jews, and the modern addition of pain-free techniques, we should proudly affirm our commitment to the mitzvah of brit milah.
Dorothy F. Greenbaum , M.D., F.A.A.P, is a practicing pediatrician in Queens, N.Y.; a certified mohelet (UAHC & CCAR); the first vice president of NOAM (National Organization of American Mohelim); and a member of Temple Beth El, Great Neck, N.Y.