The Unkindest Cut? Maybe Not
By Shyrla Pakula
On June 26 this year the District Court of the Federal State of Cologne, Germany, ruled that the circumcision of boys for religious reasons at the request of parents constituted the infliction of bodily harm and was therefore a punishable offence. The decision was made after a case of a 4 -year-old Muslim boy who suffered complications of bleeding 2 days after his circumcision by a Muslim doctor. The doctor was acquitted, but, in future, any doctor performing a circumcision in this sort of situation would be liable for prosecution, as would the parents who allowed it.
Of course, this criminalization of male circumcision affects Jews as well. In fact, the outcry against this legal decision is one great big uniter of Jews and Muslims in Germany, for what that’s worth.
It turns out that there are 220,000 Jews living in Germany, and vastly more Muslims.
Therefore I personally think that this ruling will not hold up because the Muslims will protest, so ironically, it will probably be the Muslims who will save the day so the Jews will be able to continue a 3,000-year-old practice which is so dangerous, that Jews are still around. So traumatizing to the helpless infant that Jews still win more Nobel Prizes than anyone else.
Yes, it is so dangerous that, in Africa, adult males are clamoring to be circumcised as it has been shown to be effective against the transmission of HIV.
Yes, yes, I know what the issues are here; it’s about harming a child who has no ability to consent to a non-medically necessary procedure. Even if his parents request the procedure, even if the operator is a doctor. The issue is also about the transcendence of the body over the soul. Now, where have I heard that before? Oh yes, the Ancient Greeks. And the Romans. And the Soviets. And where are they today?
I know that this topic tends to generate more heat than light when it is argued. There are comparisons made to female genital mutilation, which is already illegal in Germany and other countries, as if the two procedures could be remotely compared in outcomes and effects on the child’s future. As if there is a skerrick of evidence that female genital mutilation (FGM) had any positive outcomes either! Not a one, only damage to girls for no reason except ‘to protect their honour’, whatever that is construed to mean. Whereas male circumcision sometimes needs to be done for medical reasons –which is allowed under this German ruling – and can protect against HIV, for example, female genital mutilation has only negative effects on girls and women, no matter how small the cut or what is or isn’t excised or stitched up. So making both male circumcision and FGM illegal serves to lump them together in a most unfair and disingenuous way.
The brit milah is an eternal covenant between G-d and the Jews. Now, G-d could have thought of other ways to make a covenant, I guess. If it has to be seared into the flesh, why not a piercing or a tattoo? I’m no talmid chochom or mystic, and I sure don’t know the mind of G-d, but it seems to me that the foreskin is accessible and expendable, but more, the penis represents the propagation of the Jewish people as well as the source of pleasure for man. With great privilege comes great responsibility! How amazing is that, that the source of these two vital – literally, ‘vital’ pertaining to ‘vitum’, life force – functions has this little removable turtleneck! I know this won’t change the minds of the ‘intactivists’, but I think it’s no coincidence that it’s the removal of the foreskin, rather than, say, the tonsils or appendix, that binds the Jews to G-d the Creator as an eternal reminder of the chosenness of the Jews. Also, once it’s removed, it’s gone, and no comebacks (unless the job was done badly, which can happen, unfortunately, or unless you are deluded enough to want to grow back the foreskin by surgical means), not like piercings or tattoos. No frivolity here.
So what about doing this procedure on a child who is unable to give legal consent? Whose parents, despite the fact that they take the baby for immunizations without consent, and force the child to go to school, and make a child eat broccoli, certainly without consent, and are thus in charge of the child’s welfare, both spiritual and physical- suddenly have no legal or moral authority to have their son circumcised. Suddenly, despite a 3,000 year tradition, which has such enormous power and meaning, and no doubt has contributed to the continued existence of the Jews, is illegal. Suddenly, the rights of the child to have an intact and perfect body and not have anything done with which he cannot consent, is sacrosanct. And all as a result of a ruling in a German court. I find this a little ironic on several levels.
It was the Jews, after all, who, under G-d’s command, abhorred Avodah Zara (idol worship), including the worship of Moloch, which involved mothers sacrificing their children by throwing them into the idol’s fiery maw and burning them alive. It was the Jews who came up with the whole idea of ‘Choosing Life’, and ‘He who saves a single life, it is as if he has saved the whole world’ and that ‘Man is a microcosm’ and ‘Man is created in the image of G-d.’ It sure wasn’t the Enlightened Germans who ran with that ball. But I digress.
Brit milah may seem like a minor procedure performed on a minor, but it’s of major importance. And the Jews will find a way to continue the eternal covenant. We always have.