Home » Ellyse Borghi, Recent Posts, Religion and Jewish Thought

Existentialist Circumcision Crisis

June 20, 2011 – 7:19 pm141 Comments
Mohel

The "one in a million moy'el", from the Seinfeld epsiode, The Bris

By Ellyse Borghi

I came to the realisation a couple of years ago, when I was first being exposed to existentialism at the same time as human rights, that I’m very very uncomfortable with circumcision.

Let me explain.

Firstly, from a human rights perspective.

Every person has a right to bodily autonomy. Whether they are old or young or disabled, male or female. Nobody has the right to touch me on public transport and if you are a doctor you need my informed consent before treating me.

And just because you are somebody’s parent doesn’t let you override this right. And just because the person is a minor doesn’t mean they don’t have this right. Rather we have to defend this even more so because you know what? That’s what human rights are here for. To defend those who can’t stand up for themselves (figuratively and literally). Indeed your role as a parent is to protect your child, to provide for them and to enable them to grow into well balanced and productive members of society. Cutting your baby does not fit into that role.

Some people argue that this procedure has medical benefits. Firstly, it’s very unclear that this is the case. It’s claimed that it prevents HIV infection. But do you know what works even better? Condoms. And guess what? You don’t have to cut yourself to use those. But even if it has medical benefits, that still doesn’t give you the right to circumcise your baby because you wouldn’t pre-emptively remove your baby’s appendix, or their tonsils. Because it’s not necessary surgery, and as a parent you should be protecting your child from being cut as much as is possible. The same goes for suggesting that it prevents other infections in the region. Teach your kid to wash and you should be fine. You don’t pull out their teeth just because they might have tooth decay. Instead you buy your kid a bloody toothbrush. Duh.

Others claim that whether or not it has medical benefits, it’s such a minor procedure that it could be likened to ear piercing and therefore we should allow it. At what point is it ok for you to pierce your baby’s ears? Or to give them tattoos? Or create decorative scarring? Sorry, that’s even less ok because then it’s completely purposeless mutilation of your baby. The same goes for arguing that a circumcised penis looks better than an intact one. Firstly, the human body is beautiful just the way it is. Secondly, aesthetics do not override the right to bodily autonomy.

Existentialism.

But more from an existentialist perspective circumcision bothers me. Obviously, every decision you make for your child is going to imprint an identity upon them. But maybe as a parent your role is perhaps to be the enabler of identity not the creator. Therefore as much as possible you should endeavour to enable your child to make decisions for themselves and deal with the consequences themselves. Clearly this has to be done with common sense and there’s a spectrum of involvement and guidance that every parent has to find for themselves (like I would know, with my 17 children and all…). But I think that circumcision is a pretty big decision, the type that a person should choose for themselves. Yes, it’s going to be more difficult when they are older. But at least then it’s something they chose and not something that was forced upon them. At least this way they are the creators of their own identity.

However.

I’m an Orthodox Jewess. Which means my sons (should I have children) will be circumcised.

Up until now I’ve simply lived with this contradiction as I do with much of my Jewish identity. Call it ontological dualism, call it cognitive dissonance, call it what you will but I was dealing with it.

Mainly I dealt with it via the theology of Yeshayahu Leibowitz and Protestant thinkers influencing orthodoxy (ahem Soloveichik). That is to say that I submit my will to God and just like Abraham was willing to kill his only son if that was the will of God, I suppose I could cope with merely cutting off their foreskin to do the same.

But it wasn’t a comfortable situation to live with.

I frequently think back to Rabbi Akiva in Mishna Tanchuma (tazria 5) where he explains to a Roman that just like we remove the chaff from the wheat so too Jews circumcise their sons. It reminds us that God did not create a complete world. But rather that we are partners in creation and that circumcision is a way for us to remind ourselves of our responsibility to tikkun olam (though maybe now stopping this practice could be our contribution to Tikkun olam…)

More recently however, over Shavuot, we were discussing this issue over cheesecake and a young man said that it’s only such a touchy issue because it’s on the penis and the western world is totally phallocentric. Ok – so he didn’t say phallocentric, coz he’s not a pretentious twat like me but that was the gist of it. This reminded me of a lecture I heard by Daniel Boyarin recently (the writer of Carnal Israel).  In his book he argues that the Jewish understanding of masculinity is totally different to that of the Greek/Roman/Western version. Jewish masculinity isn’t all about physical strength and dominance, rather it’s more passive, more sensitive. To be honest, I’m not entirely convinced of this, and it’s not really possible to say that Hazal have one view on gender, but he certainly makes a very good argument for it.

In light of this I would like to suggest that circumcision serves this role as well. Reminding men that their penis’ are not the centre of the world. Indeed that they are also very vulnerable and sensitive organs. Furthermore, that your physical strength isn’t a free pass to conquer and dominate. Moreover boys who’ve entered the Israeli army know (allegedly) that being circumcised limits your ability to be the perfect soldier and that you can only achieve a maximum score of 97 out of 100. This way God reminds you that you are under his will and that you are actually required to protect the weak, the orphans and the widows. From this perspective circumcision can serve a really beautiful role for our community and ourselves. Coz you know what – it’s not all about your dick.

Now, I still don’t really have an opinion on whether or not I support circumcision. What I do know is that we need to be talking about this more. That I think if it’s an informed decision made by parents or individuals for themselves that then I’m more comfortable with it.

Ellyse Borghi is a Melbournian currently studying Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a Hineni Bogeret. In her spare time she enjoys handicrafts and mormon blogs, her blog can be found here.

For a related article, see Why Brit Milah is Good for you by Galus Australis’ “medical editor”, Dr Liz Paratz.

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141 Comments »

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Hi Ellyse,
    I enjoyed your article and while I see where you’re coming from, I don’t identify with either of your objections.

    1. The rights-based objection: Your premise is that circumcision is not in the baby’s best interests; it therefore follows that parents agreeing to something which is not in their child’s best interests is infringing upon their rights.
    I would argue that as religious Jews we believe that circumcision IS in the baby’s best interests, because it makes them part of the covenantal community; without it there are definite limitations to the relationship they can have with God, and we want our children to be able to be close to God. That doesn’t sound very politically correct in this day and age, but there’s not really any way around it. We might question why God chose this particular sign (couldn’t He have chosen something less invasive?) but at the end of the day, submitting to the will of God entails accepting every mitzvah with an element of “chok”, always putting the “naaseh” first because we may never fully get, and don’t fundamentally need, the “nishma”.

    That doesn’t mean we can’t be human too. I remember once attending the bris of a friend’s son, and someone asked my friend if she was nervous. She responded that on the contrary, she was excited, as this was the first mitzvah she was enabling her baby to fulfil. I remember thinking at the time that hers was a level of spirituality I couldn’t fully relate to. As a mother, no matter how strongly you believe that you’re doing a good thing for your son, it takes an awful lot of faith to feel nothing but joy at what can be a painful procedure with a (tiny) risk of medical complications. It’s only human to feel a degree of apprehension and doubt.

    But you know what? Parents routinely and voluntarily subject their babies to painful procedures with a tiny risk of medical complications – in this country, 3 times within the first 6 months of life. I’m referring, of course, to immunisation. Very few parents are conscientious objectors when it comes to immunisation, because the benefits are so clear. The vast majority of us who immunise our kids don’t rejoice as the needle punctures the skin, but we’re comfortable in the knowledge that we’re doing something in our childrens’ best interests. As religious Jews, we are charged with believing that divinely mandated benefits are no less clear than scientifically proven ones.

    2. The existentialist objection: Your premise is that a parent’s role vis a vis their children is “to be the enabler of identity not the creator”. If “creating identity” denotes coercion, then it comes down to what you mean by “enabling”.

    If you mean by that that parents should not influence their children down one ideological path or another, and should just make them aware of all the options, I strongly disagree. As religious parents, we believe our way of life is the best one for Jews, and so we’re not only allowed but duty-bound to teach our children to follow the same way of life. That doesn’t mean that we should forbid questions, pretend that other ideologies don’t exist, and disown our kids if they choose differently; but the mandate of “veshinantam levanecha” and the huge emphasis on chinuch in the Jewish tradition don’t allow us to merely present our kids with a smorgasbord of options without expressing a preference.

    If by “enabling” you mean giving our kids the education, values and opportunities that will hopefully make it natural for them to choose our way of life when they become self-aware enough to create their own identities – then I agree with you, and circumcising your son is one of these opportunities, because of the benefits I outlined in my answer to objection #1.

  • frosh says:

    Hi Ellyse,

    While there was never any risk my parents wouldn’t have circumcised me in the normative Jewish fashion, if for some reason they hadn’t, it think this would almost certainly have had a damaging psychological impact on me, and I would undoubtedly resent my parents.

    And this would probably be true for most Jewish boys and men with reasonable sense of Jewish identity and even a moderate enmeshment in Jewish life.

    The importance of Shira’s point about it making Jewish men feel part of the covenantal community should not be underestimated. I think this is true even for very secular Jews, although they wouldn’t express it in these terms.

    I would argue that if a Jewish parent decides not to circumcise their boy, they’re making an active decision against Jewish identity, and this decision is no less active (and arguably more so) than the parent who keeps to the normative practice.

  • Ellyse says:

    Hi Shira,

    Ultimately I’d say that I think that my right’s based and identity/existentialist objections do not ‘trump’ the halachic/cultural obligation to circumcise your sons. Having said that, I think there is definitely some tensions between competing ideals between tradition and modern sensibilities. What I would like is for this decision to be talked about and discussed more so that those who do circumcise their children are doing it from a position of informed and active volition.

  • Ellyse says:

    Hi Frosh,

    I’m not sure if this feeling of belonging to a community is enough to warrant trumping your kids right to bodily autonomy. Particularly because it’s socially constructed – so let’s just construct another way to belong to the community?

    As for actively/passively choosing your child’s identity I’d say that the child can chose then whether or not they would like to be circumcised whereas once it’s gone it’s not coming back. (except for this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zwwfhc54U6Q ). Furthermore – the presence or absence of that piece if skin really shouldn’t be that important in whether or not you can fry latkes and grow a Jew-fro (particularly since there’s no reason for everybody to know about it).

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Hi Ellyse,
    Sure, this issue can be discussed more, to enable people who have instinctive doubts about circumcision to feel comfortable with their decision to go ahead with it.
    But I don’t agree with you that mitzvot MUST be embarked upon from a position of “informed and active volition”. You probably know that I value learning, and think that being halachically informed should not only be the province of great rabbis. I’m also a doctor, I value informed consent as much as the next person. But with regard to mitzvot, it flew out the window when we said “naaseh v’nishma”.

  • frosh says:

    Ellyse,

    Being circumcised as an adult, in comparison to being an 8 day old infant, is a whole other ball-game, from what medical people have told me. The fact also is that no boy can remember his circumcision if he had it at 8 days old. Now if he had the same procedure and ceremony at 18 years old, well then I could see how that, or even the lead up to such an event, could cause emotional trauma.

    Furthermore, you’re contention that no one will know is a little short-sighted.
    The individual will know for one thing. That alone ought to be enough. But just in case that isn’t enough for you, in no particular order: There’s the shower-rooms after playing sports, sexual partner(s), medical examinations, oh and possibly at a mikveh.

  • Morry says:

    If circumcision didn’t go beyond that physical cut, and indeed had no more importance than ear-piercing, or tattooing, I might be inclined to agree with you. But it goes to part of the intrinsic identity we want for our children, as much as we provide education, and try to instill it as a primary value, or the idea of goodness.

    As a child I didn’t want to go to school … hated it. Today I am eternally grateful for the education I received. It allows me to, not just function in society, but to be respected for knowledge and an ability to formulate clear ideas that I could never have achieved without being forced to “have an identity imprinted upon me”.

    The issues you raise are particularly poignant for me. My father was a committed communist for much of his early life, and contemptuous of much of what we consider Jewish, despite being raised in a devout family. But he made a very consicous decision that my brother and I would receive all the options that he had, then, as we grew up, be able to make our own decisions. I love my Jewish identity, and my father for his wisdom. In the Jewish world, the failure to circumcise, to be “normal” is the gateway to being ostracised. I fail to understand why any parent would slam these doors in a child’s face … any more than I would understand why any non-Jewish parent would fail to teach their child what is right or what is wrong, in the vain hope that someday they will achieve this wisdom on their own. The probabilities of what such a child would go through, as the hated bully or lunch-thief, because a parent has failed to indicate that this behaviour is unacceptable, is mindboggling.

    When we say “parenting skills” it is largely about imprinting society’s values on your child so that it will be a fully functioning, respected, happy member of its community. To do any less is to fail in that role. In Judaism, this includes a circumcision.

  • geoff bloch says:

    Hi Ellyse,

    Just a short word as to how you couched your plea that there should be a discussion on the subject. You wrote: “there is (sic) definitely some tensions between competing ideals between tradition and modern sensibilities… this decision (should) be… discussed… so that those who do circumcise their children are doing it from a position of informed and active volition”.

    By equating “modern sensibilities” with “a position of informed and active volition”, you imply, perhaps inadvertently, that satisfying modern sensibilities is of paramount importance and that traditional practices (in this case circumcision) should otherwise be questioned.

    The vice in your plea is that in today’s decaying secular world, many of us oldies do not view “modern sensibilities” as the ideal against which fundamentally important things in life need or ought to be measured.

    Regards,

    Geoff

  • Ellyse says:

    Shira,

    I’d say that ‘naaseh venishma’ is all well and good for the observant Jew but it rings hollow for those who don’t subscribe to the orthodox narrative. Furthermore, in light of the proposed ban in San Francisco perhaps it’s time that we upped our game in justifying our practice both to ourselves and to others? I am not the first the raise these issues but my commitment to the practice isn’t really under question. What about those in our community who see these issues but don’t feel the same level of obligation? Addressing the problematic nature of cutting our babies would probably do some good for the observant and non-observant alike.

  • Ellyse says:

    Frosh,

    you’re right about nobody else knowing. But I’d say that my first point still stands. For those who have the fear of G-d instilled in them I understand the imperative to circumcise. But to do it for community reasons? To cut your kid for culture? Let’s change our community then. Just like previously it was impossible to belong to a Jewish community and not be shomer shabbat, the same can be done with circumcision. Membership to the community shouldn’t have such a high price tag.

  • Ellyse says:

    Hi Geoff,

    I would that say yes, we do need to question all of traditional practice but that this isn’t a modern exercise at all. The questions we raise today may be different to those that the tanaaim raised but the need to question and maybe even reject is deeply embedded in our national psyche. For Jews nothing is sacred. If Avraham can argue with G-d about the destruction of Sodom and Moses can even bring an ultimatum to G-d(forgive the nation or wipe me our of your book) then surely we can ask why we are doing this otherwise seemingly primitive act?

  • Ellyse says:

    Hi Morry,

    I really appreciate your sentiments. I think that you raise important points about the fine line in parenting (one again: as if I have any experience in this at all) between providing an education and opportunities and trying to create a carbon copy of yourself. The question is – what educational value does circumcision provide? Perhaps Judaism should be an opt-in system instead? Or perhaps your admittance to our club shouldn’t be predicated on the presence or absence of that piece of skin?

  • Larry Stillman says:

    OK, a secular perspective.

    There are demonstrable heath benefits to a bit of snipping.

    As for the ancient symbolic sacrifice stuff, yes, it’s definitely in there. I can’t stop you believing it. Humans are well, weird creatures with ‘stuff’ deep down in the brain.

    If you are concerned about pain and trauma, anesthetize.

  • Alex Fein says:

    Ellyse, I’m not sure which I enjoyed more; your post or your comments.

    If I have boys, they’ll be circumcised for reasons that are religious, cultural, and secular/medical; however, the discussion you’ve initiated is valuable and fascinating.

    I particularly like your perspective on the need for this discussion, considering that at least 75% of Australian Jews are not religious, and within the context of the historical centrality of argument within Judaism.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Larry, it’s not medically advisable to give an anaesthetic to an 8 day old baby.

    Analgesia is another matter. In fact, the College of Physicians (which includes paediatricians), which was previously against this practice, has recently revised its statement on circumcision to say that it is up to the parents, with the proviso that it’s done with adequate analgesia.

    I have no idea what a mohel believes about this issue. However I can tell you that for babies in special care nursery we generally use a sucrose solution (which is just sugar) for analgesia for procedures like IV insertion and lumbar puncture. My son came out of his bris sucking like mad on a piece of string soaked in grape juice, so maybe that’s our version of sucrose!

    Ellyse, I am speaking purely from an Orthodox perspective, which is the perspective you admit you are coming from, so I directed my responses to your objections as an Orthodox Jew. I am just as puzzled as you as to what justification an avowedly secular person might give for circumcising their sons, and I would be interested to hear such a person’s perspective on this. I can only assume that they do believe it is in their baby’s best interests, possibly more for Jewish identity reasons than for the mitzvah value of the act.

  • frosh says:

    Shira,

    No need to be puzzled as to why secular Jews still circumcise their sons in the Jewish way.

    To quote a rabbi at the bris of of a boy born to very secular parents, the bris is a “fundamental Jewish rite that lies at the very foundation of Jewish identity.”

  • Malki Rose says:

    Ellyse,
    I was so thrilled to see you post on this topic, as it’s been in my thoughts frequently of late.
    I’ve had some similar internal monologues/dialogues. I know that I would unquestionably circumcise my son, as per all the Jewish identity discussion points raised in this thread thus far.
    But I struggle with it. I don’t find it to be any more barbaric than any other medical procedure, so have no moral or cruelty issue with it.
    But being familiar with ancient Egyptian practices, I can’t help feeling that the act of circumcision is a totally non-unique, ancient and primitive practice amongst many semitic and african peoples, which does not separate us from others, nor does it identify us as different, nor did it ever, as so many others in the Levant practiced it, and which we now continue to practice… just… because.

  • Rachel SD says:

    Hi Ellyse,

    There’s a chapter in Emmanuel Levinas’ Nine Talmudic Readings on why it’s ok to bring one’s children up religious that might interest you. It is a counterargument to what you have presented from the point of view of contemporary French philosophy.

    In short, Levinas argues that in child-rearing there is no escape from the type of force that you are speaking about so whereas some of his peers may have rejected religious education and parenting as limiting a child’s creativity/personal identity/etc, he argues that all childrearing is limiting in the same way. Bringing a child up with choices about religion is as specific and forceful as bringing up a child into a particular religion. I think this argument has quite a lot of merit, and, without actually having any experience of parenting, I am very skeptical that your paragraph about parenting as enabling identity rather than creating identity could have much relevance to parenting very young children. Circumcision might be somewhat unique in that it straddles religious practice and medicine but there are many other decisions that parents have to make about medical, cultural, ethical and other issues for their young children, regardless of what the background is of the parent and what informs their decision – e.g., whether they are informed by secular or scientific considerations, religious, or other things.

  • Ellyse says:

    Hi Larry,

    From my understanding (the result of a bit of an obsession with medical journals) the health benefits of circumcision are still unclear. More than that, as I discussed in the article, most of the health benefits of circumcision (protection from HIV or other general infections) can be easily combated in other less invasive ways (condoms or simple washing). It seems clear to me that a child’s right to bodily autonomy should take precedence over the claims of health benefits.

  • Ellyse says:

    Hi Rachel,

    Yes! Thank-you very much for that recommendation. I’ve actually been meaning to get on to Levinas (other than the small taste I had in university). And I agree that the general conception of parenting sits at odds with French existentialism and this must be considered. As such, I argued for striking a balance between enabling and actively creating. However, it’s clearly a line each family has to find for themselves. It seems reasonable to me, however, that circumcision perhaps is too invasive and irrevocable.

  • Ellyse says:

    Hi Malki,

    It seems to me that circumcision is not a normal medical procedure. I mean – for what purpose is it performed? What benefits does it really have? And since when can you perform such invasive medical procedures without people’s consent?

    As for the non-unique Semitic origins of the practice on the one hand I suppose that it demonstrates that such practices were typical of barbaric primitive civilizations and belong in the past. On the other hand, today it is special and sanctified within our tradition. But is that enough to justify it?

  • Ellyse says:

    meanwhile – does anybody out there have an opinion on my gender/sexuality based argument for circumcision?

  • frosh says:

    Ellyse,

    You write that “…the non-unique Semitic origins of the practice on the one hand I suppose that it demonstrates that such practices were typical of barbaric primitive civilizations and belong in the past.”

    No, it doesn’t demonstrate this at all. Purely from an anthropological point of view, circumcision provided an epidemiological advantage that was even greater than the not insignificant epidemiological advantage it offers today.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Ellyse – I liked your gender/sexuality based argument! I only disagreed with the rest :)

    Rachel – wish there was a “like” button on Galus. Well put.

  • I’m surprised no one has yet mentioned the delightful practice of female genital mutilation and drawn some comparisons with male genital mutilation, or circumcision, if you’d rather make it sound more clinical.

    My parents had me circumcised in the traditional Jewish fashion and that’s a decision of theirs I have to live with for the rest of my life. I suspect the mohel who ‘did’ me didn’t ‘do’ me as comprehensively as most others, as I’ve had many guys comment on my ‘uncircumcised’ penis. Well, best of both worlds I say! :)

    My take on the Jewish practice of circumcision is that it’s akin to tattoing the psyche of the boy, so that he’ll know for the rest of his life he’s been branded a Jew. There’s no escaping it, ever.

    I like to think of it as the Jewish people claiming ‘another one’ as theirs. Much like the Muslim people do. Build up the numbers of the tribe, etc.

    I also see circumcision as method of enforcing confirmity on the parents. Should they decide to not have their son circumcised, they’re effecting chosing the path of being ostracised. There’s no choice. Either you’re with us or you’re against us. There’s no middle ground unless your son is a haemophiliac or has some other medical condition preventing the procedure.

    Personally, I find the notion that a boy’s foreskin must be removed an obscene and offensive notion. You wouldn’t remove a girl’s clitoris now, would you? And why not?

    It also goes to the argument that in traditional Judaism, it’s really only about the men – a boys club. Girls clearly aren’t as important, as there’s no fuss made over them when they’re born.

    As a man who has sex with men, it’s interesting to note that some men prefer other men who are ‘cut’, whilst others prefer men who are ‘uncut’. Others yet are less discerning. In this vein, the absence or presence of a foreskin can be a selling point, depending on who you’re after or what you’re looking for in a partner. Looking at a prospective partner’s religion on a match-maker profile can be a revealing task for the most part too.

    If the circumstances arose where I was having a child, I’d have a conversation about circumcision before conception occured. It’s one of those topics that it would be fraught to engage in afterwards if one of the two biological parents was against it.

    Hopefully I’ve been able to offer a different perspective or two to the conversation.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    The ritual of circumcision is barbaric. It is redolent of all that is wrong with religion. Who looks at a newborn child and says “wow, that’s marvelous. okay, now give me a sharp implement that I may cut off some of the skin from its penis”

    It’s disgraceful. It is a pock mark on this community that no self-respecting, moral person should entertain.

    Only religion could make good people do such an evil thing as to genitally mutilate their children as soon as they are born. It is utterly absurd that religion has made people unflinchingly support shaving off a part of a baby’s body without so much as an afterthought.

    It is then hilariously hypocritical how these same people who would say “OH BUT IT’S RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL!!11″ turn around and condemn female genital mutilation. How is the concept any different? It’s the same barbaric act, yet it is unpalatable to you now because it is not your practice. But it is nonetheless just as barbaric and harkens back to the same dark ages from whence male circumcision came.

  • Zoe Brain says:

    If I may inject a strictly secular view here – I’m conflicted. Rather than give an opinion (though I do have one, which I’ll give at the end) perhaps I could give you the facts as I see them.

    Decreased Sensitivity – evidence is mixed. There is insufficient convincing evidence that sensitivity is significantly compromised for this to be an issue. It’s controversial, but if there is an effect, it’s relatively minor.

    Health Benefits – again, there is insufficient good evidence to show convincingly any health benefits, other than a decrease in penile cancer rates, where there is a significant effect. 8 fewer cancers per 100 thousand births. Other health benefits have been claimed, but the evidence really isn’t there to justify them. Simple hygiene has the same beneficial result.

    Complications – here the effect is huge, outweighing any benefits by several orders of magnitude. We’re looking at on the order of 300 complete losses of penis, and 250 deaths per 100,000 births. Complications requiring medical treatment, on the order of 20,000 per 100,000 births. If performed under sterile conditions, that is. When not, the figure is much higher.

    I should provide URLs for these figures, but please bear with me for now.

    The trouble is that there are non-medical, ethical issues. For one, I cannot see how circumcision can not be performed and still be in accordance with G_d’s Covenant. Moreover, there is a history here, where one of the first signs of rabid anti-semitism is to forbid the practice. I could not blame any practicing Jew for seeing any such legislation banning circumcision as being specifically targeted against Judaism, no matter what the claimed motives. Death rates may actually increase, as instead of being performed in a clinical setting, the practice would merely “go underground”.

    Conversely, in a pluralistic society, if we are to allow un-necessary surgery on neo-nates for religious or cultural reasons, where do we draw the line? Some religious/cultural practices involve splitting the penis. Others require the complete removal of all external female genitalia, removing all sensate tissue. Worse, in some societies, surgical conversion of normal girls into approximate males is practiced. In all modern societies, surgical conversion of undervirilised boys into an approximate female form is practiced too, with devastating results for at least 1/3 of the boys who are so castrated – and this with no religious justification, just to make them “appear normal” and not upset society, parents, or the medical profession.

    I’m Intersex, by the way. As an adult, I underwent extensive genital reconstruction, with full knowledge of the risks, and being able to give informed consent. My son is also Intersex, and his condition led to increasing agony, so he underwent genital reconstruction too, we had to make that decision for him. Fortunately, he had a good result, but that could not be guaranteed.

    Forbidding the most barbaric practices, riding roughshod over longstanding cultural and religious beliefs to avoid genuine mutilation (I do not consider male circumcision to be so) by Gentile cultures, yet also allowing circumcision is very difficult without being genuinely racist. There is an ethical issue of the extent to which parents have control over the child’s body.

    What I would hope is that some way could be found of only making a symbolic nick in the foreskin for newborn boys, which would seem to satisfy the requirements in the Torah, though of course against Talmudaic practice. Full circumcision should remain a decision for an adult – and perhaps should be a part of the Bar Mitzvah, recognition that the boy is now a man. There is more post-operative discomfort, but far less risk of damage or death.

    This violates the concept of a child’s right to body integrity; but from a purely harm-avoidance viewpoint, may result in fewer dead children.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Daniel Levy

    You can of course undergo epispasm if it concerns you as much as it appears to.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    TheSadducee, I don’t think such a serious topic merits such a flippant response. Again, this is simply how religion causes otherwise good people to do wicked, wicked things. We’re discussing genital mutilation and the best you can come up with is, “Jeez if it bothers you so much just get it restored later!”

    Why should I have to get it restored in the first place? I didn’t make the choice to cut my dick, and neither did the millions of other Jewish babies in history who had the decision made for them by their religiously mindfucked parents.

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Ellyse,

    I feel it’s somewhat disingenuous of you to maintain a relatively uncommitted stance while opening up such a divisive topic for discussion:

    “I think that you raise important points about the fine line in parenting (one again: as if I have any experience in this at all) between providing an education and opportunities and trying to create a carbon copy of yourself.”

    To distance yourself from the issue by declaiming your lack of personal engagement with the issue (thankfully) undermines the credibility of your essentially meandering equivocation about whether or not a brit milah should be essential to membership of the Orthodox Jewish ‘club’ — this is apart from the fact that it’s a facile argument.

    Yet again it’s a discussion that actually concerns religious freedom in an assimilationist, hyperconscious, secular-fundamentalist majority society. It’s odd for me that you feel it’s rational for you as ‘an Orthodox Jewess’ to apply logical argument to religious practice — surely you would have a problem with taharat hamishpacha, as it could be seen by such renegades as yourself as stigmatising women and their natural monthly cycle? Maybe you have a problem with schechita too?

    You can pick and choose your practice as you wish, it’s your life, and it’s your choice; it’s just not your choice to make for others.

    To open up such a contentious discussion when you haven’t considered that you’re actually sabotaging your own right to practice Orthodox Judaism in an increasingly hostile Christian-secular Australia, as well as that of many others, is deeply irresponsible.

    Just as Failed Messiah (http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/) has become an unwitting crutch for online Neo-Nazi websites, so you may become the ‘Orthodox Jewess’ postergirl for Foreskin Man (http://www.foreskinman.com/) and his blond-haired, blue-eyed crusade against all that is swarthy, Semitic, and barbaric in the world.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Andrew, I think those remarks are over the top. I’m not going to speak for Ellyse, but you are vastly over-simplifying many issues here, particularly with your last parag. The barbarians, as far as I can see, are not at the gates, nor will they be for the foreseeable future.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Andrew Harris. How disgusting and paranoid that you actually recognise that it is a gross violation of human rights, yet still actively wish to further the practice (at the expense of a child’s innate right to safety) in order to propagate your worthless religion – merely a crude guess at how we came to be.

    Why won’t you be compassionate and understand how this practice abuses the human rights of every child who undergoes it, and ought to be a decision left up to the child for when they can appropriately make such a bold decision as to hack off a part of their penis?

  • TheSadducee says:

    I’m just waiting for someone to suggest that their circumcision was such a traumatic event in their life as to have caused (and is an excuse for) their social dislocation and criminal career…

  • frosh says:

    Daniel Levy,

    I sense much anger in you.

    Did your parents give you a bris?

    If so, are you traumatised by it? Do you feel your parents violated your human rights?

  • TheSadducee says:

    frosh

    He was ok with it until his parents distributed the snap shots from the big day. That was a true violation of his human rights.

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Oh Daniel,

    If I had seen your initial comment before I replied to Ellyse, I would have addressed it. Or maybe not — maybe if you stripped back the venom you’d realise that you’re not actually contributing anything to the discussion.

    Vitriol aside, I assume you extend this right for infant ‘choice’ to extend beyond whether or not to “hack off a part of their penis”, as you so elegantly put it. Perhaps you’d like babies to give informed consent as to whether or not their parents should touch them in their special places, or if they’d really like to be breastfed?

    But back to the point, or head, of the argument — your not having been able to have made the choice not to have a bris has made you, according to its members, equally a part of what you term my own “useless religion”.

    Welcome to, as Ellyse puts it, the “club”, where, with the help of a cabal evil, bloodthirsty mohels, we crave the ritualistic mutilation of all Jewish first-borns. Kind of like God at the end of the Pesach narrative, but more gratuitous — you can see it all in the aforementioned Foreskin Man (http://www.foreskinman.com/foreskinmanno2.pdf)

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Larry,

    The ‘barbarians’ to which I refer are the perceived perpetrators at the heart of the Intactivist narrative that plays out in the delightful we’re-not-anti-Semitic-we-vilify-all-non-Aryans-equally Foreskin Man cartoons.

    Perhaps you think my remarks are over the top because you can’t see the wood for the trees, or the circumcision ban for the threat to schechita, or the tacit acceptance of religious discrimination for the deluded equivocations of myopic Diaspora Jews.

  • Shaun says:

    The question of autonomy seems to be me to be missing the point as children are not in a position to consent to anything at a young age. The question is rather one of what is in the best interests of the child, which is obviously to be decided by the parents.

    I don’t think we should be narrowly defining the best interest of the child in terms of medical pros and cons. I think cultural and religious interests are also important. So long as circumcision does not have any significant medical consequences, I don’t see any problem. As I understand it, paedeatricians are divided as to the pros and cons of circumcision, but there is no suggestion when done properly that its going to lead to significant impairment.

  • Just how much impairment is acceptable?

  • TheSadducee says:

    Michael

    Less than 1 inch.

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Sorry, Michael, while Wikipedia can be useful in matters of straight fact, it doesn’t constitute ‘reading’ when it comes to matters of perspective and opinion.

  • frosh says:

    Michael,

    Just how much impairment do you have?

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Pardon the use of the word ‘straight’! Nothing intended.

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Frosh, I second that information request — but I think impairment in this sense may be in the eye of the beholder, or the hands of the holder, or something like that.

  • I don’t know frosh, perhaps we can compare our impairments and decide together. :)

  • Daniel Levy says:

    I’m thoroughly enjoying how all of frosh, TheSadducee and Andrew are all so wonderfully inept at constructing an argument in favour of circumcision that they must all resort to saying that this somehow stems from my own experiences.

    Let’s step aside from such pettiness and address the fundamental point:

    A baby has part of their body part shaved off.

    Many of you have made the argument that it’s necessary so they don’t get excluded by their religious communities. Do you understand how ridiculous that is? That a religious community should require such an act of barbarism to join its ranks. None of you would be circumcising your child if it weren’t for the stupid religion, you wouldn’t even THINK about doing this.

    Imagine for a second that a religion requires the breaking of a newborn child’s finger as a ‘sacrifice’ to pay for the gift of their life. The newborn doesn’t remember the finger breakage and it heals quickly and there is no lasting damage.

    You’d all be shocked and sickened to think that people would do this. It is the EXACT same principle, except circumcision does do lasting damage.

    It’s all part of religion’s required monopoly on sex. Religion is fucking obsessed with sex to the point where some denominations (like Judaism) require you to scar each boy’s sexual organs as some sort of disgusting, perverted tribute to the almighty.

    None of you have addressed my point that you all think female genital mutilation is disgusting, yet you have this ridiculous double standard with male genital mutilation. Well which is it? Use your brains, people. Stop clinging to dark age myths.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    I was wondering how long it would take for someone to bring up female genital mutilation…

    As an Orthodox Jew, I am not offended by a comparison between FGM and circumcision, if the comparison is made by a well-meaning person concerned about babies’ rights (not if it is a mischievous tactic used by anti-semites or those on a crusade against all forms of organised religion).
    I can understand why someone might think of these two acts as being on the same spectrum – a spectrum of “essentially irreversible procedures performed on unsuspecting babies, seemingly not done for any benefit”.

    I have 3 comments to make about this comparison:

    1. Regarding the chaaracterisation of this spectrum:

    The “seemingly not done for any benefit” bit should be taken out of the characterisation, as Jews believe that there is a huge benefit to the baby in circumcision, both spiritually and culturally. Even though non-Jewish and some secular Jewish people may not believe that this benefit exists, they should recognise that the parents believe that they are acting in their child’s best interests. This is totally different from wanton violence and barbarism.

    2. Regarding the comparison between circumcision and FGM:

    These are totally separate things.

    FGM creates far higher risks, both surgical and when it comes to childbirth (I’ve worked as an obstetric resident at a hospital in Melbourne which services immigrant and refugee communities so I have seen this first hand). It is also designed to make sex difficult and unpleasurable for women – clearly a way of demeaning women in society and showing the utmost disdain for them as human beings.

    Circumcision is an extremely low risk procedure and has very minor, if any, long term physical effect in the vast majority of cases. The value Judaism places on sexual pleasure shows that it is certainly not intended to diminish this. In fact, according to Ellyse’s nice reading of the mitzvah in her article, it might do exactly the opposite of FGM in creating a more humane society.

    It’s kind of like comparing an appendicectomy with a total colectomy.

    3. Regarding drawing conclusions about circumcision because of FGM:

    It is disingenuous to take the most extreme end of a spectrum, draw conclusions from it and then apply those to the entire spectrum. Life is not black and white and in most areas we need to deal with shades of grey, determining how much grey we are comfortable with. I would suggest that the differences I outlined in (2) should provide a basis for distinguishing between these practices, rather than simplistically banning all religious/cultural procedures.

    This is also my view on the moral relativism issue behind this comparison.
    I think there is room to differentiate between which cultures we will accept and which we won’t, ON THIS ISSUE, on the basis of the stark difference in risks and long term effects of circumcision and FGM, and on the basis that on the view of the culture involved, circumcision is done for the person’s benefit, while FGM is done for the person’s subjugation.

    ****
    Let me also attempt a theological perspective on FGM from an Orthodox Jewish world view.

    The difference between circumcision and FGM is not just a matter of degree. It’s not a matter of saying “Phew, it’s lucky we were only commanded to cut off the foreskin! How on earth would we explain it if God had told us to cut off the clitoris too??”
    I don’t believe it is just “lucky” that God didn’t happen to command us to perform severe genital mutilation. I think that the God we believe in would in principle never command us to do such a barbaric act.

    Two principles come to mind:
    1. “V’chai bahem” (“and you should live by them”) – that mitzvot should be a conduit for life, not death; as a general principle, it is impossible for the fulfilment of a mitzvah to require death – probably the most famous manifestation of this is the requirement to violate Shabbat in order to save a life. (The 3 cardinal sins and possibly some others are exceptions, but that’s for another discussion.)
    2. “V’nishmartem me’od lenafshoteichem” (“and you should carefully look after yourselves”) – this is a positive commandment to only do what is healthy and good for our physical bodies.

    A theology encompassing these principles could never mandate a practice which is physically, not to mention psychologically, destructive.

    ****
    If anyone is interested in checking out the official attitude of the Australian medical community:
    College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists statement on FGM: http://www.ranzcog.edu.au/publications/statements/C-gyn1.pdf
    College of Physicians statement on male circumcision:
    http://www.racp.edu.au/index.cfm?objectid=65118B16-F145-8B74-236C86100E4E3E8E

  • Naava says:

    Early parenting almost by definition involves making a huge number of decisions on behalf of children who are not yet equipped to make them themselves. Included in the vast list of such choices we make on behalf of infants are immunisation and education, where education broadly includes exposure to values and identification with various tribes – jews, hipsters and melbourne football club supporters. This all happens from day one out of the womb.

    That is the challenge and point of parenting. We don’t just spit out babies and stick them on society’s front doorstep in a basket, ring the doorbell, run away and leave a note that says “you decide what’s best for my child whatever that may be”. We spend alot of time and energy teaching children to navigate the world with a moral compass and an understanding of who they are. Brit Milah is a harmless and important part of that education process.

    To tangle this up into a big confused mess with what is obviously just self-doubt and the eternal jewish desire to be liked by everyone (that just doesn’t seem to work historically does it?) undermines the rights of the family and the right of the child to a parent who actually cares about the transmittion of values between the generations.

    Let’s not invite upon ourselves the misfortune of Jews in far less tolerant times and places.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Shira you are a true bigot.

    You wrote: “Jews believe that there is a huge benefit to the baby in circumcision, both spiritually and culturally.”

    NO. You DO NOT have the right to FORCE that on your unsuspecting child. If, at the age where he receives medical autonomy he wants that for himself, then fine. But you are absolutely NOT allowed to make that decision for him.

    It IS in the same spectrum.

    What your argument boils down to is that male circumcision is the LESSER of two evils between female circumcision.

    They’re still both evil. I’ll hand it to you that FGM is uglier and more detrimental. That is NOT a saving argument for male circumcision.

    Male circumcision is still in the same category. You’re still making an irreversible decision for your child that mutilates their body.

    You can dress it up in whatever happy terms you like – it is still mutilation:

    “gen·i·tal mu·ti·la·tion
    The terms genital modification and genital mutilation can refer to permanent or temporary changes to human sex organs.”

  • Daniel Levy says:

    The whole misconception here is that the child is born with a Jewish belief. Your child is born an atheist. It doesn’t know about god. You will undoubtedly force that belief down the poor thing’s throat. But you are not allowed to foist your absurd religious beliefs down your child’s throat. Enough of this. It’s truly sick.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Daniel

    I’m not particularly interested in arguing over whether it should be done or shouldn’t be done – that is why I’ve been flippant in the face of your vehemence.

    I just don’t think its that big a deal that it requires you to be hurling invectives like bigot etc on Galus against people who disagree with you – and disagree calmly and rationally btw.

    Ironically, I hold the position that children should be entitled to make their own religious choices, from an informed perspective, when they are ready to and no form of ritualism should be mandatory before they are able to make those decisions.

  • Two points I’d like to challenge.

    Even though non-Jewish and some secular Jewish people may not believe that this benefit exists, they should recognise that the parents believe that they are acting in their child’s best interests. This is totally different from wanton violence and barbarism.

    Can you prove this belief isn’t misguided?

    The value Judaism places on sexual pleasure shows that it is certainly not intended to diminish this.

    Let me request you clarify that statement by saying acceptable sexual pleasures because I know there are some sexual pleasures that the Judaism you refer to will never find acceptable.

    At this point of the conversation I’d like to ask any woman on this conversation who finds circumcision acceptable and who says “it’s not that bad” to ask on what grounds they’re qualified to make such a statement? I’m assuming it’s not from personal experience?

    I don’t believe a circumcised man can possibly understand how badly he’s been affected by this barbaric ritual that serves no practical purpose (when performed for non-medical reasons) given that he’s had one of the most sensitive parts of his body removed.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    TheSadducee, the harsh language is absolutely necessary. Religious people must be told in no uncertain terms that they are not to cram that down their children’s throats, that their children have rights and they are to refrain from abusing them.

    I’m not going to hold the hands of these barbarians while they commit crimes against the innocent. Who would? It’s high time they learnt that it is unacceptable to brainwash their children with their religion. I have been perfectly rational in my arguments. The fact that I have been heavy handed was deliberate and for the intended effect of communicating my disgust for the practices of these religious brutes.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Don’t forget that Maimonides himself says that circumcision is designed to inhibit a man’s sexual pleasure.

    Yet another frank admission that religion wants authority of sex as a means of controlling the masses. It is appalling how this bronze age fairy book has such an agonising grip over society.

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Michael, if you don’t know what you’re missing out on, then you don’t know what you’re missing out on. There’s no way for you to empirically prove that you’re missing out on anything anyway, and applying a pro-pleasure argument to a religious conviction is nonsensical anyhow.

    And Daniel, I’m pleased to hear that you’ve had enough. You can take your foreskin envy somewhere it’s appreciated.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Andrew, I’m pleased that you have been utterly unable to rebut a single one of my points.

    It just shows how morally bankrupt the ritual of male circumcision is, when no good argument can be made to justify it.

  • Andrew, that’s about one of the most illogical arguments I think I’ve ever heard. On a human rights level that just pathetic. You could apply the same argument to any form of vandalism of the human body. Let’s remove the little toe of every baby boy, or one of the back teeth, because they might not be that important, and they’ll never miss it because they’ve never known what it’s like to have one. Think about what you’ve said for a moment please.

    Perhaps I can’t tell if I’m having a less pleasurable sexual experience than an uncircumcised man, but I can tell you I’m not having a better experience than him just because I’m circumcised, and I would be surprised if he was having a worse time than me, because he had an intact foreskin (assuming he wasn’t experiencing any discomfort because of it).

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Daniel, I’m pleased that you’re pleased. Now, I suggest that you put aside your severe foreskin envy, and put what remains to good use. You might feel better afterwards.

  • Ok, teeth was a poor example because young babies don’t have teeth and they lose them anyway once they grow, but I’m sure you’ll get my point.

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Michael, I don’t think that everything has to be taken in such a global, dislocated context. I am talking specifically about a foreskin here. Nothing else. I can’t handle that the environment in which this discourse takes place seems to demand one-size-fits-all argument.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    “I can’t handle that the environment in which this discourse takes place seems to demand one-size-fits-all argument.”

    What a frank admission of guilt. You can’t handle it because you know that as soon as you admit that it is analogous to harming a child in any other way, that you would then admit that it is morally bankrupt. So you cling to this as if it’s the only ACCEPTABLE way of harming a child.

    But there is no acceptable way. You’re almost there Andrew. Just one realisation further until you understand what your religion has required you to do. The existential realisation will be painful, but eventually you’ll be a better person for it. You can do it :)

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Daniel, thanks so much for the smiley-faced encouragement.

    I’m almost there, and I’m about to make another “frank admission” — what is this “your religion” business?

    What are you, with a name like ‘Daniel Levy’? Or do you seek to escape that most inescapable of circumstances, that you were born Jewish? Or is that not your name, but merely a cloak from under which you can attack people of “your religion”?

    Even the most ardent of secular Jews still label themselves culturally “Jewish”. Granted that doesn’t label their religion, as they aren’t religious, but on the other hand, Nazis, Islamists, and others hungry for your own mutilation, genital or otherwise, never have, and tend not to make any such distinctions — a Jew is a Jew is a Jew.

    Apologies.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Daniel – I am not trying to convince you that circumcision is OK. You clearly fall into the category of “those on a crusade against all forms of organised religion” which I stated at the outset is different from those who question circumcision purely on a rights basis.

    And, by the way, many of your statements are truly bigoted, far more than mine. Here is a small selection:
    “if it weren’t for the stupid religion, you wouldn’t even THINK about doing this”
    “Use your brains, people. Stop clinging to dark age myths.”
    “But you are not allowed to foist your absurd religious beliefs down your child’s throat. Enough of this. It’s truly sick.”
    I would be far more disturbed if I were called a “true bigot” by someone who expresses their views rationally and sympathetically.

    Michael:
    1. I can’t PROVE the belief isn’t misguided; it’s a belief.
    My point was that, misguided or not, others should recognise that the parents are acting in what they perceive to be the child’s best interests, rather than acting towards the child’s subjugation; much as opponents of immunisation should recognise that those who do immunise believe that they are acting in their child’s best interests.

    2. I’m happy to change what I said to “acceptable sexual pleasures”.
    I assume you are referring to things like homosexual sex. If you believe that heterosexual sex is not affected by the absence of the foreskin, but homosexual sex is so affected, then that change is relevant. If not, and your clarification was purely intended to show that Judaism does not allow all types of sexual pleasure, then I’m still happy to agree with your clarification but it is not really relevant in this context.

    3. Of course there is a limit to how I can identify with this topic, being female. My comments are based on my reading of the medical literature from reliable sources and the experience of my own son’s circumcision.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    How could anyone be ‘born Jewish’? Have you ever seen a baby emerge from a womb and immediately bow its head in prayer? Religion is something a child is brainwashed into later in life.

    I am very obviously of Jewish descent, and I have never denied that. Nor would I.

    You keep trying to get away from the point at hand, though, that you cannot escape the fact that you are in favour of harming innocent babies for no good reason. What a true sadist you are!

    As for your rambling point about Nazis. Godwin’s law strikes again!

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Shira, you cannot dismiss me simply because I am against religion. That is extreme academic laziness. I am agaisnt organised religion PRECISELY because of things like circumcision.

    You have not rebutted any of my points that I outlined to you while calling you a bigot. I suppose you are admitting that you are incapable of arguing against the fact that it is a contravention of a baby’s human rights to cut off part of its body?

    Tell me how that is in any way justified.

  • Shira,

    1. I can’t PROVE the belief isn’t misguided; it’s a belief.
    My point was that, misguided or not, others should recognise that the parents are acting in what they perceive to be the child’s best interests, rather than acting towards the child’s subjugation; much as opponents of immunisation should recognise that those who do immunise believe that they are acting in their child’s best interests.

    Then would you concede that whilst you believe you might be acting in the child’s best interests, it’s possible you might not be?

    Take for example, as a random topic, the belief of many Jewish that homosexuality (and the practice thereof) is inherently disordered or sinful and that their children must be raised in a heteronormative environment. Who are you (collectively) to know? I can tell you it’s not disordered, and there are many unhappy people because of it. It’s not as physically scarring as a circumcision, but psychologically, it’s one of the greatest ways to destroy a person. And it’s just because parents think they’re doing the right thing, but are particularly uninformed or willfully ignorant about the consequences.

    2. I’m happy to change what I said to “acceptable sexual pleasures”.
    I assume you are referring to things like homosexual sex. If you believe that heterosexual sex is not affected by the absence of the foreskin, but homosexual sex is so affected, then that change is relevant. If not, and your clarification was purely intended to show that Judaism does not allow all types of sexual pleasure, then I’m still happy to agree with your clarification but it is not really relevant in this context.

    That’s one example, but that’s not really relevant to my argument. You just made a generalisation and I picked you up on it.

    3. Of course there is a limit to how I can identify with this topic, being female. My comments are based on my reading of the medical literature from reliable sources and the experience of my own son’s circumcision.

    Have you asked your son what he would have preferred? What exactly did you experience from your son’s circumcision. I note that it was his circumcision, not yours or anyone else’s by proxy.

  • Wolf says:

    There are two streams of thought here:
    a) secular
    b) religious

    If one is religious, then this whole thing is a non-issue, it is a mitzvah, simple as that.

    If one is secular then there are issues. However, I suspect that for whatever reason, the overwhelming majority of Jewish men, regardless of how religious they may be, are happy that they have been circumcised.

  • Wolf, your latter comment is simply an attestation to the conformist nature of most societies. No one who is a conformist, who has no way to disprove their circumstances, is going to say they’re not happy and would like to be different to those in their community.

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Daniel, yes, finally you have me. I am a rambling sadist with a foreskin fetish. Mainly because I don’t have one. I blame my parents, Judaism and God. I think we should fess up, and take our “bronze-age” fallacies out with the next municipal garbage collection.

    You’re right. Despite your “Jewish descent”, there’s nothing Jewish about you. Me neither. It’s all a giant conspiracy rustled up by a bunch of bearded men, hungry for the blood of baby boys, sitting around a table in Jerusalem.

    Oh wait, I invoked Godwin’s Law, sort of, inadvertently, again. How relevant of you to point that out earlier.

    Thank you for your continued clarification of the issue. Your rationality and power of reason are beyond compare.

    Now, as I refuse to play the last-word game with you, I will bid you adieu.

  • “Fallacies”. LOL.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    “If one is religious, then this whole thing is a non-issue, it is a mitzvah, simple as that.”

    Being religious doesn’t give you the right to infringe on the human rights of others.

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Indeed. I should have spelled it “phallacies”. Pleased you can see the lighter side, Michael.

  • frosh says:

    As Shira has essentially pointed out, the anti-circumcision crowd here is trying to ‘win’ the argument by practicing the process of Reductio ad absurdum. This can be seen through their playing of the FGM card.

    So allow me to return the favour:

    Let’s not inflict our value judgments on our children on the value of a ‘proper’ education. Let’s leave it up to them as to whether they should go to school, and if they do, whether they should ever have to do their maths homework etc etc. Reductio ad absurdum indeed.

  • frosh says:

    Daniel,
    I asked about your own experience, as having grown up as a Jew, with countless Jewish male friends over the years, all off them who can be assumed to have had a bris, I’ve never met any who expressed reget athaving a bris, I’ve never met any that expressed feeling traumatised, and I’ve never met any who expressed that they felt their bris was a violation of their human rights.

    Hence, from my own personal and vicarious experience, I can’t really understand where you are coming from. So I ask you again, in all seriousness:

    Did your parents give you a bris?
    If so, are you traumatised by it? Do you feel your parents violated your human rights?

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Frosh, there is a difference between educating a child in Mathematical facts and cutting off part of his penis.

    That is -not- reductio ad absurdum applied correctly. Mathematics is a fact of everyday life. It is part of a child’s necessary toolkit to operate in life.

    Religion is not a fact. It is crude guesswork. You don’t NEED a circumcision. It’s imposed upon children.

    Frosh: I did have a circumcision. I don’t feel traumatised by it, but I do feel that my human rights were violated. I don’t harbour ill will towards my parents as they were simply fools deluded by religion. As all people who sign on to this barbaric act are.

    Religion will make good people do bad things. This is one of those bad things.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    I wish to clarify:

    “It’s imposed upon children.” should read “It’s imposed upon children, unnecessarily, for no good reason.”

  • Frosh, you could apply that logic to myriad other things if you wanted to, like person hygiene, manners, grammar etc.

    I don’t see how you can logically compare issues like circumcision, with this like education.

    There are proven benefits of education. You would probably agree with me on that. There’s no proven religious benefit from circumcision other than the perceived benefit of simply being having a ‘sign’ that shows you’re the ‘same’ as the rest of the men in the tribe. You would probably find it hard to logically and rationally disagree with me on that.

  • Daniel Levy says:

    Frosh, ponder this:

    “THYMOS: Journal of Boyhood Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 2010, 78-90

    LOST BOYS: AN ESTIMATE OF U.S. CIRCUMCISION-RELATED INFANT DEATHS

    – Dan Bollinger

    Abstract: Baby boys can and do succumb as a result of having their foreskin removed. Circumcision-related mortality rates are not known with certainty; this study estimates the scale of this problem. This study finds that approximately 117 neonatal circumcision-related deaths (9.01/100,000) occur annually in the United States, about 1.3% of male neonatal deaths from all causes. Because infant circumcision is elective, all of these deaths are avoidable. This study also identifies reasons why accurate data on these deaths are not available, some of the obstacles to preventing these deaths, and some solutions to overcome them.”

    117 babies die, per year, in the most developed county in the world as a result of this barbaric practice. How disgusting.

  • Daniel,

    Firstly, the link to the paper:

    http://www.faqs.org/periodicals/201004/2026622071.html

    and a link to a criticism of it:

    http://circumcisionnews.blogspot.com/2010/05/fatally-flawed-bollingers-circumcision.html

    I’m mentioning this in fairness.

    There may be other commentaries on the paper, either for or against. I haven’t looking for them, but this one stood out when I was searching for the source of the paper.

    Michael.

  • Zoe Brain says:

    Michael Barnett wrote:

    At this point of the conversation I’d like to ask any woman on this conversation who finds circumcision acceptable and who says “it’s not that bad” to ask on what grounds they’re qualified to make such a statement? I’m assuming it’s not from personal experience?

    As a member of some Intersex support groups, I know a few women who have been through the procedure. All had CAH – congenital adrenal hyperplasia – and as a result had ambiguous genitalia. I’ll see if I can get them to comment.

    Shira Wenig wrote:

    Circumcision is an extremely low risk procedure and has very minor, if any, long term physical effect in the vast majority of cases.

    As a medical professional, perhaps you could quantify “extremely low risk”, “very minor” and “vast majority”.

    I’ve seen one set of stats from one US paediatric hospital that had 60% of total admissions of male infants due to complications arising from circumcision. Remember, 60% of male American boys are circumcised, so this figure is not as outrageous as it seems.

    In my practice, as a pediatric urologist, I manage the complications of neonatal circumcision. For example, in a two year period, I was referred 275 newborns and toddlers with complications of neonatal circumcision. None of these were ‘revisions’ because of appearance, which I do not do. 45% required corrective surgery (minor as well as major, especially for amputative injury), whereupon some could be treated locally without surgery. — M.David Gibbons, MD
    Associate Professor, Pediatric Urology, Georgetown University School of Medicine and George Washington School of Medicine. Attending Pediatric Urologist, Childrens National Medical Center, Washington, DC. Director, Pediatric Urology, Georgetown University Hospital, Washington, DC. Head, Pediatric Urology, Inova Fairfax Hospital For Children, Falls Church, Virginia.

  • [Apologies for the inadvertent typographical errors in some of my posts.]

  • Zoe,

    I’d love to hear their experiences, if they’re happy to share.

    For the record though, I did direct my comment to the attention of the women who had already participated in the conversation, who were supportive of circumcision, who felt it wasn’t “too bad”.

    Michael.

  • frosh says:

    Michael,
    Of course it’s absurd, that’s why the term Reductio ad absurdum contains the word absurdum.

    But that’s the point. The arguments against outlawing Jewish circumcision as it is normatively practiced are equally absurd.

    Even Daniel Lewis admits that he isn’t traumatised by his bris (although for some reason he still maintains it was a violation of his human rights).

  • frosh says:

    To those selctively quoting statistics (some with sources, and most without) about complications from the circumcision procedure, this is a debate about circumcision as it is currently and normatively practiced and performed in the Jewish tradition.

    Most of these statistics are based on other forms of circumcision, where the procedure and circumstances are typically quite different, and thus these statistics have dubious ecological validity.

  • Frosh,

    If your claim is correct that these botched circumcisions discussed in these statistics are happening outside a Jewish context, then I assume, and correct me if I am wrong, you are inferring they are happening in an accredited medical context.

    If that is the case, then therefore by definition, and again, please correct me if I am wrong, the Jewish circumcisions you refer to are being performed outside an accredited medical context.

    Can you provide any facts or research on the success/failure rate of these non-medically accredited Jewish circumcisions?

    Michael.

  • Frosh,

    Perchance a response (I’ll refrain from bolding) to this comment I directed to you earlier?

    “There’s no proven religious benefit from circumcision other than the perceived benefit of simply being having a ‘sign’ that shows you’re the ‘same’ as the rest of the men in the tribe.”

    Michael.

  • frosh says:

    Michael, apparently you’d like everyone to prove everything. A lot of people, perhaps not you, have fulltime jobs, as well as do considerable volunteer work and/or care for children and thus don’t have the kind of time to engage in writing pointless theses for “nuff nuffs” on the internet.

    Let me give you an example. I am strongly in favour of establishing gay civil marriage in Australia. Opponents of this will absurdly put it to me: “Prove that if we legalise gay marriage, it won’t result in moral decay in Australia.”

    A ridiculous proposition you’d agree. The burden of proof ought to be on them, since they want something (in this case, gay civil marriage) to be outlawed.

    Likewise, those that would like the state to outlaw Jewish circumcision ought to provide the proof of purpose. The onus is not on me to prove anything – I’m not denying anyone the right not to circumcise their kids.

    Now, I’m off to do a few more worthwhile things than argue indefinitely with a bunch of …

  • Frosh,

    I’d simply like you to justify their claims, if you’re going to take people to task on theirs. That’s only fair. Don’t weasel your way out of this by claiming you have more important matters to take care of. It sounds like you can’t justify your claim so easily, otherwise you wouldn’t have made a lame excuse.

    I don’t believe I’ve argued to have anything outlawed in this conversation. I do believe I’ve pointed out that circumcision for religious reasons is unjustifiable.

    Michael.

  • Yitzi says:

    “Reminding men that their’ penis are not the centre of the world.” 

    Physically mutilating people to teach them Aesopian lessons is the mandate of the eponymous killer in the “Saw” films; and the ostensibly-embedded moral lessons serve only to multiply the horror.

    A man is entirely entitled to esteem his penis as the centre of his world (Rabbi Yose says: obligated!), and if this is our method of advocating against such phallohubris, there is something quite wrong with our dialectic.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Daniel:

    I did not dismiss you because you are against religion. I dismissed the relevance of my post (where I drew a distinction between FGM and circumcision, whereby one can allow circumcision but forbid FGM without a double standard) to you because you are against organised religion.

    That distinction was directed towards people arguing from a human rights basis.

    All medical procedures are in essence a contravention of the right to bodily integrity unless the benefits outweigh the risks. My argument was that circumcision satisfies this criterion, it’s just that the benefit is of a religious/cultural nature rather than a medical nature. Someone who is against all forms of organised religion will never acknowledge that a religious benefit can exist.

    Medical procedures are also a contravention of the right to autonomy, unless informed consent is given. It is widely accepted in our society that parents have the right to make decisions on behalf of their children (other than older teenagers which is a grey area). Your assertion that parents do not have the right to make the circumcision decision for their children is another example of why my post was not relevant to you. By the same token, I would expect you to find it offensive that a parent might enrol their child as an AFL club member, as this imprints an identity on them that they weren’t consulted about.

    I did not argue that male circumcision is the lesser of two evils when compared to FGM. I argued that it is an entirely different concept with an entirely different purpose. Inasmuch as I wrote about the illegitimacy of taking the most extreme example and applying it to the whole spectrum, I was talking about the technique being argued by some people on this thread, not accepting it as a premise.

    By the way, bringing a dictionary definition doesn’t advance your argument. All it shows is that the dictionary has a wider definition of the word “mutilation” than is presupposed in many of these posts.
    That dictionary might also define immunisation as “immunological mutilation = permanent or temporary changes to the human immune system”. OK, so the Australian government subsidises a program of immunological mutilation. I’m fine with that.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Michael:

    1. I won’t concede that it’s possible I might not be acting in my child’s best interests; that would make me an agnostic, not a believer. But I recognise that other people think it’s possible (or probable) that I might not be acting in my child’s best interests, and that’s why I appreciate living in a tolerant society where I am allowed to hold my beliefs even though they are not universally held.

    2. Granted, I was making an assumption about what you were referring to. I apologise if I assumed incorrectly that your comment that “sexual pleasures” should be changed to “acceptable sexual pleasures” had relevance to the presence or absence of the foreskin.

    3. I certainly did not mean that having my son circumcised is the same as being circumcised myself. There are still valuable observations I can make based on the experience though – for example, his behaviour after the procedure, and the post-op appearance and care of the penis.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Zoe:

    Frosh is entirely right that you can’t extrapolate from general statistics to Jewish circumcision. It’s like commenting on termination of pregnancy by curettage in hospital based on worldwide statistics which include backyard abortion.

    I have taken the following information from the Medical Halachic Encyclopaedia by Prof Abraham Steinberg, a highly regarded paediatric neurologist at Shaare Zedek Medical Centre in Jerusalem.

    • Possible complications of circumcision include haemorrhage (either traumatic or due to undiagnosed bleeding disorders), local and systemic infections, trauma and scarring to the penis, incomplete removal of the foreskin, fistula formation, tourniquet effect from too-tight bandages. The risk of these complications is greatly reduced when it is done by a qualified person in sterile conditions.

    • Morbidity rate (non-fatal complications): A review of several large studies, including over 24,000 cases of neonatal circumcision overall, reveals a total complication rate of 0.06-0.25%.

    • Mortality rate: A review of the literature reveals 2 reported deaths between the years 1953-1980; another study of 500,000 circumcisions done in New York revealed no deaths.

    • Long term effects: Post-op pain is least when circumcision is performed before 3 weeks of age – the pain lasts minutes, as opposed to days when performed later. It is not associated with long term negative psychological effects.

    And from the College of Physician’s statement (which refers to all circumcisions, not just Jewish ones):

    • Depending on the situation in which it is performed, the complication rate is generally believed to be about 1-4%; a recent systematic review reports a median complication rate of 1.5% with a range of 0-16%.

    • Long term effects: Unclear whether it affects sexual sensation; two recent African studies as well as an Australian study on homosexual men show no effect on sexual experience.

  • Shira,

    I don’t understand your logic.

    I won’t concede that it’s possible I might not be acting in my child’s best interests; that would make me an agnostic, not a believer.

    Firstly, any parent who believes they are infallible is a concern to me.

    Secondly, this statement makes you come across as being more concerned about a label than the possibility you might not be acting in the best interests of your children. Some might see that as being just a little self-centred.

    Separately you say:

    • Long term effects: Unclear whether it affects sexual sensation; two recent African studies as well as an Australian study on homosexual men show no effect on sexual experience.

    How accepting are you of gay men having sexual relationships? I get the impression it’s not something you unconditionally approve of. Forgive me if I am wrong here. However, if I am correct, could you please tell me how you can morally accept research that has used the sexual experience of homosexual men.

    I’d also like to know which Australian research you are sourcing here.

  • frosh says:

    Michael, you might want to adjust your language. You’re coming across as a bit of a homophobe.

  • Call me a versatile gay man, sweetie. :)

    You’re still too busy to answer my question?

  • Shira,

    In response to your 3rd point:

    I certainly did not mean that having my son circumcised is the same as being circumcised myself. There are still valuable observations I can make based on the experience though – for example, his behaviour after the procedure, and the post-op appearance and care of the penis.

    Of course, as a parent, it’s your duty to ensure the best medical attention you can offer your child, and what you talk about here is the same that any caring parent would offer their child after a surgical procedure or when they’re in distress.

    But as your son’s mother and, inescapably in your situation, as a woman, you’ll never actually know what you’ve done to your son, the impact of it over his life, the possible reduction of pleasure to his sexual experience, and any psychological dissonance he may experience from it.

    He’ll probably tell you, when he’s old enough to understand what has actually been done to him, all in the name of the religious indoctrination that you’re subjecting him to, that he accepts what you’ve done to him. But will he genuinely be able to thank you for removing a functional, sensitive, aesthetic and wondrous part of his sex organ? And simply because you believe in a mostly outdated, irrelevant, ignored and re-interpreted text (and tradition) that you blindly follow, without a rational reason for doing so?

    I watched my best friend from school, of Greek background, subject his baby daughter to a Greek Orthodox christening. The girl was being tortured, literally, whilst in the hands of the priest. She was being dunked in a tub of water, rubbed with oil and had her hair cut, and she was in extreme duress. She was suffering, crying, simply put, she was not happy and she was being forced against her will to participate in an ancient barbaric, brutal religious ritual that was deeply offensive.

    Her mother, not Greek, was beside herself during this process, watching helplessly while her darling baby daughter was being tortured in this brutal fashion by a clumsy and brutish man.

    My partner was so disturbed by this cruel treatment of a baby girl that he walked out of the church, distressed and in disgust. I was torn and ultimately walked out too, some time later. It was gut wrenching.

    Not a circumcision, but it was a religious ritual that was deemed necessary for the acceptance of the baby into the religion. But it’s as offensive and unnecessary as religious circumcision is, and it is as cruel and barbaric.

    I am glad I’ve not been brainwashed to believe these rituals are good things. They are brutal, barbaric, offensive and they need to be challenged.

  • Sam says:

    Michael

    It seems that the whole question of religious circumcision in your case comes down to one issue in your case. The degree of physical satisfaction you are getting while engaging in gay sex. How utterly pathetic of you, it is always about you. The topic is about an entirely different matter. Btw a mohel uses a very different technique than a surgeon and there is less trauma, the procedure being satisfactorily performed without anesthesia, and with quicker healing.
    Most of you that have objected to religious circumcision, have greatly underrated the importance of belonging to the tribe.

  • Sam,

    Whoever you are, hiding behind your cowardly anonymity, have clearly not read and understood my contributions to this discussion.

    Perhaps that is how you go through life, generally?

    Please re-read my comments with an open mind.

    Michael.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Michael – your description of the christening is hilarious. It sounds like a good description of the average first time father giving his baby a bath. None of what you describe involves trauma or pain as most people understand it.

  • Mandi,

    Trivialising and dismissing my observations so casually show a deep lack of empathy.

    My partner has single-handedly raised two children. I think he knows a little about the topic.

    Michael.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    No Michael – making everything into a drama, even things that are really not that traumatic, shows a lack of judgment and perspective.

  • When was the last time you went to a Greek Orthodox christening? Your blase attitude to this torment genuinely disturbs me.

  • I should add, Mandi, that my friend’s brother apologised to us afterward for the distressing nature of the event.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Michael,

    1. Let me explain myself again.
    I am not infallible and I am not more concerned about labels than about my own child’s wellbeing.
    I am talking about definitions. A believer believes that their belief is true. An agnostic believes that their belief might be true. The belief here is that it’s in a child’s best interests to be circumcised. So an agnostic would circumcise their child but say that it’s possible they’re not acting in the child’s best interests; a believer would circumcise their child and say that it is definitely in their best interests.

    2. Firstly, as I said, the Australian research I mentioned was used in the Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ statement on male circumcision. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.

    Whether or not I approve of gay men having sexual relationships is completely irrelevant to whether I can learn something from a study of their experiences. If you have a problem with this, then you should also have a problem learning anything from studies of the experiences of males who have been circumcised, as this is a practice you obviously don’t approve of.

    And I have absolutely no moral problem with accepting such a study of homosexual experiences, as I assume all the men involved were consenting adults. If not, the research would be seriously flawed.

    By the way, please don’t assume anything about my views on homosexuality. I would elaborate but don’t want to hijack this thread as it is really not relevant.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    By the way Michael, if you would like the exact citation of the study on gay men, it’s:
    Mao L, Templeton DJ, Crawford J, Imrie J, Prestage GP, Grulich AE, et al. Does
    Circumcision Make a Difference to the Sexual Experience of Gay Men? Findings
    from the Health in Men (HIM) Cohort. Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2008;5(11):2557-
    61.

  • Shira,

    On the one hand you state: I am not infallible and on the other hand you state: A believer believes that their belief is true… a believer would circumcise their child and say that it is definitely in their best interests.

    To me these two concepts seem mutually exclusive. Can you please explain how you can be both fallible (capable of making an error), and categorically certain that what you’re doing cannot possibly be harmful? I am struggling to understand your rationalisation of your beliefs and claims.

    The reason why I challenged you on your beliefs about homosexuality, which is not in itself a concern for this conversation, is that if you are of the belief that the Torah is the inerrant word of your god, and via this you are required to perform a brit milah on your son, and cannot, or more likely, will not challenge this belief, yet you claim your views on homosexuality may not be what I claimed they were, then I would like to understand how you can have an uncompromising position on brit milah, yet have an evolved position on homosexuality.

  • PS. Thank you for the reference to the paper.

  • Shira,

    You referenced the paper:

    Does Circumcision Make a Difference to the Sexual Experience of Gay Men? Findings from the Health in Men (HIM) Cohort

    and claimed:

    • Long term effects: Unclear whether it affects sexual sensation; two recent African studies as well as an Australian study on homosexual men show no effect on sexual experience.

    I have reviewed the abstract (and paper) and note:

    Introduction.  The relevance of circumcision in preventing male-to-male sexual transmission of HIV is poorly understood, in particular because any potential beneficial effect could be diminished by the impact of circumcision on sexual behavior.

    Aim.  We examined the impact of circumcision on sexual experience.

    Conclusions.  Our data suggest that overall circumcision status does not affect the HIV-negative gay men’s anal sexual behaviors, experience of condom use, or likelihood of sexual difficulties. However, there is some suggestion of differences in sexual practices and preferences among circumcised gay men depending on the age at circumcision. In particular, gay men circumcised later are more likely to engage in and prefer receptive anal intercourse.

    Based on this information from the paper, can you please explain how you drew the conclusion that circumcision “show[s] no effect on sexual experience”. In particular, I am referring to sexual pleasure, as I assume you were too. If not, please explain what you were referring to.

    Thanks.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Michael,

    1. I am fallible, but God is infallible.

    2. I doubt you’d say that I have an “evolved” view of homosexuality. Somewhere earlier on this thread you suggested that religion views homosexuality as disordered and sinful. My religious perspective (in a very small nutshell) is that the Torah indeed regards it as sinful, but not disordered. I don’t think it is an aberrant practice, but because the Torah designates it as a sin, I don’t condone it for Jews. As far as this is relevant to the topic, I have 2 comments to make:
    (1) Because it is natural for some people, not aberrant, it is perfectly reasonable to accept studies which look at the experience of those people.
    (2) My religious perspective on any topic is informed not merely by my own ideas, but by opinions of Rabbis and experts whom I hold in high esteem. I’m sure you would agree with me that there is a wide range of rabbinic writing on homosexuality. I have never seen an Orthodox rabbinic opinion which regards circumcision as a contravention of a baby’s rights.

    3. Thanks for looking at that article. I freely admit that I didn’t look at the actual paper, I looked at the assessment of the RACP (a reputable organisation which accredits all the physicians and paediatricians in this country) with regard to that paper. The RACP concludes that “An Australian study of homosexual men reported that circumcision status did not affect their sexual experience”.
    I appreciate that you have drawn a distinction between the paper’s conclusion and the RACP’s assessment of the paper, and I don’t dispute that distinction.

    However, this distinction is probably less significant in the context of Jewish circumcision performed on day 8 of life, given that the paper states that “there is some suggestion of differences in sexual practices and preferences among circumcised gay men DEPENDING ON THE AGE AT CIRCUMCISION. In particular, gay men circumcised LATER are more likely to engage in and prefer receptive anal intercourse.”

  • By stating:

    I am fallible, but God is infallible.

    I assume you are saying that by following your beliefs, you couldn’t possibly be doing anything harmful to your children. But if you’re fallible, then maybe you’re mistaken in following your beliefs? Have you ever considered this?

    Unless of course it’s your god who’s parenting your children via you as a proxy, in which case I would then question your ability to think critically and independently.

    Further, you state:

    My religious perspective on any topic is informed not merely by my own ideas, but by opinions of Rabbis and experts whom I hold in high esteem.

    This could potentially put you at conflict with yourself from time to time, I would guess, if your thought process led you down a path that differed from that of the religious authorities you follow. Ultimately you’d be simply the equivalent of a drone in a bee hive, acting under direction from people who’s teachings you defer to, and not ever acting on your own independent capacity for thought.

    Interestingly, there were Jewish (and Muslim) homosexual participants in the study we were discussing:

    Nor did these two groups differ significantly in
    religious affiliation, although all 17 men of Jewish
    or Muslim background were circumcised [12].

    Perhaps it’s the Catholic Christian faith that considers homosexuality to be disordered, in addition to being sinful. I should have researched that little bit of intolerance better. I’m glad you’re in accordance with the DSM on that matter then. There are plenty of rabbinical ‘authorities’ who consider homosexuality disordered. In particular, from what I understand on authority, there’s a rabbi in Melbourne, in a prominent congregation, who believes homosexuals can be “cured”. I hope you’d take him to task on that notion. But I digress.

    Shira, I still maintain that there’s no way you can know that you’re not physically or psychologically harming your son in any way by having him circumcised, simply because you, as a self-professed fallible being, are blindly dogmatically following the antiquated and oft-outdated teachings and traditions of your religious beliefs.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Michael, I think it’s time to say that we’ll agree to disagree.
    I doubt anyone else reading my comments thinks I am a blind drone.

  • Of course. But then I’ll conclude by saying that’s the sort of response I’d expect from a person who cannot justify their beliefs with anything more than “because it’s so”.

  • Bruce Llama says:

    How can your deity be infallible? The only way that works is if it can clearly demonstrate its ability, I don’t think it holds up to scrutiny.

    Circumcision is not only perpetrated by people of the jewish faith, it’s also very common among catholics and some eastern orthodox types. Of course, they have the sense to do it in well controlled medical environments. History is scattered with barbaric tribes who also conduct the brutal ritual.

    I think society should ban it. Its not necessary. There is no longer a religious need for it, after all plenty of other ‘rules’ in the various sacred texts have been willed away by rabbis and the odd pope or saint. Here’s another one that has long passed it’s use by date.

  • Sam says:

    Michael

    I am sure my analysis of you is quite correct.
    How about some of your statements yesterday in previous posts.

    “Perhaps I can’t tell if I’m having a less pleasurable sexual experience than an uncircumcised man, but I can tell you I’m not having a better experience than him just because I’m circumcised,”

    and also:

    “I assume you are referring to things like homosexual sex. If you believe that heterosexual sex is not affected by the absence of the foreskin, but homosexual sex is so affected, then that change is relevant”.

    There are more also, however I do not have the free time to read all your postings word for word that you obviously do, judging by the multiple pages you have written within the space of one day so far on this topic. Believe me and many others also, (just ask someone), there is no difference in the sexual experience with regard to the absence or presence of a foreskin when differences are compared to having hetero or homosexual relations.
    No, I am not anonymous nor homophobic, however it is clear that you are obsessed with your sexuality and like to shout it from the rooftops. And that is the PATHETIC that I have referred to.

  • Those two comments were relevant in the context they were made. It sounds like you have more issue with me than my arguments, which disappoints me, because really, you add nothing to the conversation except an attempt to derail my arguments and an attempt to discredit me because of your obvious anonymous homophobic bias. A statement of support to the contrary, and an attempt to identify yourself will prove me wrong on both counts.

    As for what I am obsessed with, no, not my sexuality, but perhaps not suffering fools.

    In the context of this conversation I believe my contributions have been relevant. But as you haven’t read everything I’ve written I wouldn’t expect you to know that.

  • Sam says:

    Bruce

    You have not a clue as to what you are talking about with regard to circumcision. Your comments are highly emotive and smack of a superficial knowledge (and that is being generous), of the medical process and the socialogical and religious significance. My advice to you (which I am fairly sure you won’t take) is to go and research the whole topic in a bit of depth before making more postings.

  • Bruce Llama says:

    Thanks Sam, how would the world be without the likes of you to instruct us.

    Which bit did you have trouble with? That jews aren’t the only ones doing it? That apart from jews, everyone else gets circumcised in a hospital? Or my assertion that society should ban this ridiculous practice?

    I doubt you have much to offer.

  • Shira Wenig says:

    Ellyse,
    Getting back to the original point of this article…
    I am disappointed that you have not yet engaged meaningfully with my original comment. I think I provided a considered response to both of your objections, from an Orthodox perspective (which you declare to be your affiliation too).

    I would be interested to hear your reaction to that response – does it resonate with you? Does it in any way alleviate your concerns re circumcision? If not, why not? (I’m not asking belligerently. I am truly interested in your response.)
    Instead you have just hidden behind the “I’m just raising it for discussion” line.

    Sure, there is some value in discussion for discussion’s sake. But it’s far more meaningful when discussion leads you to learn something, to formulate your own views and re-evaluate them in light of others’ perspectives, whether the result is an altered view or a reinforced view which is that much stronger for the challenge.

  • Sam says:

    Michael

    How about we both cease the pointless argument which is off topic and get back to the crux of Ellyse’s article. She has made two main points which are of such broader significance than merely circumcision, that it is a travesty to derail the thread.
    Ellyce states:

    (1)Every person has a right to bodily autonomy. Whether they are old or young or disabled, male or female. Nobody has the right to touch me on public transport and if you are a doctor you need my informed consent before treating me.

    (2) Obviously, every decision you make for your child is going to imprint an identity upon them……
    Therefore as much as possible you should endeavour to enable your child to make decisions for themselves and deal with the consequences themselves.

    Ellyse concludes with this:

    “That I think if it’s an informed decision made by parents or individuals for themselves that then I’m more comfortable with it.”

    My interpretation of Ellyce’s argument is that in an utopian but unrealistic circumstance where babies are born with the knowledge, life experience, and reasoning powers of a mature adult, then parents should not impose their beliefs in a manner that cause a irreversible physical change to their newborn male children.
    As this utopia cannot exist then a compromise is permissible in that the parents of a newborn after due consideration of all factors are allowed to make proxy decisions for that infant. As pointed out by Frosh yesterday, if we allowed 5 year old children to decide if they wanted to go school and abided the child’s decision, life starts to become quite absurd. This is generally accepted and it is very difficult to mount valid arguments against this proxy role that parents must assume. Notice I said must, as the infant is fully dependent on parents for every aspect of his/her survival and welfare. You gain a much better comprehension of this after you have become a parent.

  • Sam, I think we need Ellyse to give us her definition of “informed decision” in order to know how to best respond.

  • Ellyse says:

    sorry for being absent – am currently ill. Will attempt to read and construct sentences once my life ceases to revolve around pain killers and tissue boxes. But don’t let my absence stop you from having fun.

  • Ellyse says:

    Hi Shira,

    I apologise for not responding to your criticisms earlier. I think I didn’t really engage with them so much because to a certain extent you are clearly correct.

    But I’m not fully convinced.

    Regarding the rights based considerations it’s certainly possible that it’s in the child’s best interests to be circumcised. I am clearly not an expert in this field and perhaps in some areas (like Africa) the medical benefits out weigh the risk. I do not, however, think that this is the case in the western world. seriously – condoms and washing should do the trick.

    From a communal perspective, is it in his best interested to be circumcised in order to belong to the community? I’m not sure this is the case either. Sure, there are benefits to belonging to the tribe, but there are also down-sides. Furthermore, just as in the past a Jew couldn’t belong to the community are not be shomer shabbat but today it is possible. Perhaps the same can be done with circumcision, hence the baby can have the best of both worlds – communal involvement and bodily autonomy. Note, that I am not discussing halacha and the benefits of keeping that, because I really don’t think it’s relevant to this discussion.

    As for the existentialist matters. This paragraph is for Sam and Michael as well. I think we all need to take a step back and not take anything to the extreme. Did I say that babies should have no identity? That they should be a blank slate for the creation of their own identity by themselves? Not at all. To the contrary, I say that it’s clearly a spectrum that has to be used with commonsense and that each parent must find the balance for themselves. I am merely asserting that perhaps circumcision is too strong a decision for parents to be making on behalf of their children. I was not commenting on any other decisions that parents make on behalf of their children.

    Shira, regarding your assertion that guiding your children in the ways of torah and mitzvot is in the child’s best interests and doesn’t violate their need to choose a create their own identity – there’s clearly a lot of validity in this for those who subscribe to torah and mitzvot. However, I prefer to not consider it from that perspective because ultimately once you consider yourself obligated in this system these issues become pretty null and void since well, you’re obligated anyways. Ultimately – it’s the trump card that kills the discussion so let’s leave G-d out of this matter. However, if you would like your children to be shomer mitzvot there are probably more effective methods other than cutting off their foreskins. Perhaps leading by example might be more productive? (this is obviously prefaced once again with a warning that I have no personal experience in child raising)

    But to reiterate my conclusion – seemingly to the frustration of the Galus commentators – what I sincerely want is for our community to ask and to question and to re-evaluate ourselves and our practices. Even if we come to the conclusion that we want to maintain the status quo, this is still a worthy exercise because only by questioning can we build a better community.

  • Sam says:

    Ellyce

    You state that you have no personal experience of child raising. Now that explains a lot regarding your attitudes to both circumcision and allowing a child to make autonomous important decisions. Do you think that jewish mothers relish the idea of their 8 day old infant son being subjected to surgery. And without anesthesia and completely optional (in your opinion). Yet they all go through this ordeal with much joy and anticipation. Think about it; are they all stupid or misguided?

  • Ellyse says:

    Hi Sam,

    Firstly I reject that “all” mothers go through this ordeal with much joy and anticipation.

    Secondly, even if they do relish this experience, I’m unsure of what this statement seeks to prove. If everybody is doing it – then it must be just, moral, correct and true?

    Lastly, I made no claims at being an expert in parenting or circumcision. But feel free to disregard my opinions outright based on my lack of experience if you wish to do so.

  • Hi Ellyse,

    I am keen for your response to my question to you, about informed consent.

    Thanks.

    Michael.

  • Ellyse says:

    Hi Michael (and Sam),

    The issues of bodily autonomy and existentialism seem to be a bit mixed up in this discussion.

    The nature of informed consent on behalf of the parents relates more to the matter of bodily autonomy. By this I mean that usually you would require a persons consent before cutting them. However, since babies cannot control their bowel functions let alone make informed decisions on this matter, the choice is left up to the parents. I think it’s not unfair to say, however, that unnecessarily cutting your child without their consent is on the border between desirable and undesirable parental decision-making. My call on this matter is perhaps for parents to reconsider whether or not that want to make this decision on behalf of their children.

    Regarding the existentialist nature of circumcision I hate to sound like a broken record but ultimately I think that circumcision is a very strong and irrevocable marker of identity that perhaps should not be forced upon a child by their parents. Some people subscribe to this notion of parenting (to greater or lesser extents) others do not.

    Let me know if I have misunderstood the questions,

    Cheers, Ellyse

  • Apologies. My previous comment was not consistent with my comment/question prior to that. I asked for your definition of “informed decision”. What do you mean by “informed decision”, mentioned in the last paragraph of your article?

  • leedsiy says:

    B’H
    Oh I have to pick myself up from the floor either from laughing at some of the comments here or the shock of the disclosures.
    @ Shira Wenig at least there is some sanity on this thread and a fairly down to earth approach. I wonder though Shira how you feel in a battle of wits with those unarmed? A waste of good time and talent to be sure, young lady. You won’t convince these people and you need to walk among your intellectual equals which some of these are not. Sadly, pearls before swine to quote a cliche.
    @ Michael Barnett TMI, do we really need to know how you go shopping for cheap sexual thrills with other men and the details of your bris? Absolutely ghastly. You don’t believe in privacy obviously and I guess you must be in some sort of odd relationships with others if all you are looking for is a variety of male organs and you shop for it like others shop for brands of soft drinks or chocolate in a supermarket. Some of us tend to look for more in a relationship or marriage than what you do. Probably accounts for the lack of longevity in your life. You should not waste time on the net but toddle along to some gay bar and let it all hang out so to speak. Why waste time trying to exercise something you don’t have.

    On topic finally. A bris is performed at a time when it causes the child the least amount of pain and he heals well. What is removed in male circumcision has no comparison with the female genital mutilation carried out in some African Muslim countries in order that the female does not enjoy sex and therefore it is less likely that she will be unfaithful to her husband. And the girls are often stitched up as well and there are problems that arise because they are not un-stitched fully until they are about to give birth and there is often scar tissue which rips and mother and child die or there are fistulas which entails incontinence for the girl for the rest of her life unless surgically corrected. I could go on but there is no comparison Michael and you are foolish to even bring it up. So why bother? Just to be sensational and confrontational as usual. Yawn, you are painful.

  • Ellyse says:

    Hi Michael,

    Do you want me to provide a threshold for an ‘informed decision”? I’m pretty sure I can’t do that and I know that this is not what online discussion craves but I honestly think that an ‘informed decision’ is something that must be determined by the individual themselves. But I suppose a rough answer much be the question: Do you as a Jew, a parent, a thinking human being consider yourself to have adequately evaluated the issues in making this decision?

  • Ellyse says:

    Leedsiy,

    I’m not here to tell you what to do, but I’m politely requesting that you maybe comment with greater sensitivity because I suspect that many people (including myself) would be offended by the way you just wrote to Michael.

    Cheers, Ellyse

  • Ilana raises an interesting point. She claims that my mentionining any details of my circumcision are excessive to this conversation. I humbly beg to differ.

    As an unwilling participant in my circumcision, as a then baby, now man, who was circumcised “in my best interests” by my parents and my community, and left with a permanent scar, reminder and shortened foreskin on my penis, I am more than ably qualified to discuss all of this in this forum. Further, I believe I bring to the discussion the reality of the issue beyond the hypothetical or acadamic nature of this conversation.

    If you want any evidence that circumcision is not always good, you can ask me. I would have preferred not to have been circumcised if I didn’t need it at the eighth day of my life, or at any subsequent point in time.

    I really have no desire to be identified as part of any tribe by the presence or absence of my foreskin. I would have rather had an intact foreskin so I could use it to better enhance my sex life or that of my sexual partner(s).

    Thanks for the valuable contribution to the discussion Ilana.

  • Thanks for your considered response Ellyse. I don’t believe a definitive answer can be given, as you have said, purely because it’s so subjective.

    Some will say that being “informed” is basing a decision on evidence and facts. Others are less strict on their definition of what “informed” is and defer to tradition and their “beliefs”, which I would say are harder to justify, as we have seen here.

  • leedsiy says:

    B’H
    Ellyse
    Some things are best left unsaid. What I have said to Michael was not without merit and at least it was not calculated to defame or destroy like some of the things that Michael has chose to publicise about me. I neither forget nor forgive people who cross the line with me. See for yourself and see if it is not I who has the right to feel offended and defamed. At least I do not sink to his level of filth and defamation. See for yourself.

    http://mikeybear.wordpress.com/tag/ilana-leeds/

    http://mikeybear.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/ilana-leeds-the-biggest-bully-in-town/

    http://mikeybear.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/ilana-leeds-a-victim-of-jewish-religious-brainwashing/

    and there is more from this pitiful misogynistic person who started this. Three examples of his trashy talk should be enough.

    I have feelings and a right to be offended too by the vile and incorrect comments about my person life by this pathetic person and I have a right to defend myself. Ellyse so you can take your pitiful little placard post about sticking up for Michael Barnett the poor little misunderstood person and put it where it fits.

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Ellyse,

    While you’re in the groove of responding to commenters, I’ve been waiting patiently…would be good to see what you have to say in response to my initial comment addressed to you.

  • Ellyse says:

    Hi Andrew,

    It seems to me that you have a number of points.

    – that it’s unreasonable for me to question or attempt to rationalise religion. That if i take issue with one area of halacha I must do the same with all other areas.

    – that’s i’m not being genuine when I claim to be ambivalent on the matter.

    – Lastly, that I am aiding and abetting the anti-semites by raising these matters for discussion.

    regarding the first point I will reiterate what I have said before, that nothing is sacred in Jewish thought. We are invited to think and to question and to analyse. It’s this critical culture that I believe to be a great source of strength an integrity for us throughout history. Indeed I made it very clear in my article that in no way was I ‘picking and choosing’ when it came to circumcision. That as an orthodox Jewess I’m committed to these practices. But since when does that preclude me for using my intellect in my evaluation of these acts? As for other areas of halacha of course I take issue with many different aspects. I was not addressing them in the article, it would be impossible for me to write an analysis of every commandment for one Galus post.

    As for the second issue of yours. Ok. So you don’t think I’m being genuine. I can’t convince you that all I really want is to discuss this matter rather than….? Have all the Jews immediately cease to circumcise their babies? Ban the practice? If I said that my aim is for us to create a more self-aware and considered community then that it my aim. Take it or leave it.

    Lastly, I think we would be doing a great disservice to ourselves if we limited self criticism to prevent the anti-semites from hearing about our potential flaws or our communal disagreements. Furthermore, I think it’s more than a bit paranoid to assume that the anti-semites are following Galus Australis – I suspect that they have better things to do than keep up with the Lion FM scandals.

  • Deborah Stone says:

    Ellyse, Thank you for a perceptive and brave piece of writing. I identify strongly with your dilemma. As the mother of a son, I too have an innate resistance to circumcision. As a progressive Jew, who believes some of our traditions should be retained and others amended in response to new awareness, I think this subject should be up for discussion. At the same time the medical evidence is contradictory, the symbolic wisdom is powerful and the depth of this tradition is too great to be discarded lightly. As a Jewish mother, not to circumcise would be (as Frosh says) to separate one’s child from the community in a way that feels unacceptable. I recall my son, then aged 5, in the bath with a friend from a Jewishly complicated family calling out in surprise “Mum, X isn’t circumcised” (he knew the difference from swimming lessons). A few months later X’s parents decided the difference was more painful than the op for a child raised in a Jewish environment. When the two boys bathed together again and my son yelled in delight “X had a bris, Mum!” the boy responded “Yeah, and I got lego”. As a teen I’m sure he is relieved to belong and as a small kid, the trauma was less salient than the lego.

  • Wolf says:

    Deborah Stone,

    This is a free country, if you don’t want to give your child a bris, then you’re most welcome not too!

    In regards to your argument that not having a bris may be a stigma for the child IF he is brought up amongst others Jews, I have several things to say:-
    a) Why would the parents bring him up amongst Jews if they’re so unkeen on Judaism that they won’t even give their child a bris?
    b) I know someone who didn’t have a bris, and I can tell you, the stigma is very minor
    c) If you’re worried about a stigma, then you could go much further and complain (rightly so) that your son isn’t excepted into religious circles for eating trief! or not keeping shabbos! or even not being orthodox!

    The truth is, if you are conservative, and this is your religion, and it dictates that bris is unnessary, then there’s no issue, so long as you socialize with ‘conservatives’. However, if you socialize with the orthodox community, then you must respect that they have a different religion to you, and a bris milah is an integral part of a Jewish boy/man. It is not other people that must accept your views, it is you that must accept other peoples religious views. After all, it is a free country and you can do as you wish, so can others.

  • Andrew Harris says:

    Ellyse,

    Thank you for responding at length to my reply.

    I will again underline that it is intellectually dishonest and morally ambiguous of you to be committed to something that you are also apparently not committed to — i.e. when you are open to discussing in a vague, equivocal, airy fairy way a religious practice that you purport to actually believe in.

    And it’s not paranoia about ‘the anti-Semites'; it’s practicality about the repercussions of your actions online. There is a very real possibility that circumcision could become the next hot front-page Age topic, and unless you are prepared to stand behind the trail of evidence you leave behind on Galus (which the Age journalists definitely read to gauge local Jewish opinion) that circumcision is a debatable obligation for Orthodox Jewry, you should think carefully about what you write next–you do yourself, Galus, and your community, a disservice not to assume that anyone and everyone could and would read your work.

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