I Hate the Idea of Circumcision. But if They Ban It, God Help Us All

To criminalize so fundamental an act and commandment of Jewish and Muslim faith, is to deprive millions of people not only of their freedom of religion, but of their rights and duties as human parents.

I am circumcised. No one asked me. I was eight days old. My parents went ahead and had it done. It could not have been easy for them. There was much about the procedure, the very idea of it, that they probably hated. As I do. I was defenseless. I was wholly trusting. How could they have done such a thing?

The question came to mind last year, when a ban on circumcision qualified for the ballot in San Francisco, and a similar campaign began to the south, in Santa Monica, California. The San Francisco measure (later struck down in part for violating the religious freedoms of Jews and Muslims) would have made circumcising any male under age 18 a crime punishable by a year in jail or a $1,000 fine.

The question came to mind again in June, when a judge in Cologne, Germany,
ruled that the practice, "even when done properly by a doctor with the permission of the parents, should be considered as bodily harm if it is carried out on a boy unable to give his own consent."

Over the summer, a Swiss hospital briefly banned all circumcisions. Politicians in Denmark, Norway and Finland were reported to have come out in favor of outlawing the practice.

And just last week, a doctor in the German state of Hesse filed charges against a rabbi of the Bavarian town of Hof, for performing ritual circumcisions. The local prosecutor has yet to decide whether a criminal indictment will ensue.

The question that anti-circumcision activists, many of whom call themselves Intactivists, all seem to be asking is, "How can anyone do such a thing to an infant?" I have looked for an answer in reams of arguments pro and con, many centering on endless and fruitless debates over health benefits versus health risks, deprivation or enhancement of pleasure, renaming circumcision as "male genital mutilation," and weighing the rights of children versus the rights of their parents to make decisions over a child's religious future.

In the course of it, I've decided not to factor in the venom of anti-Semitism that the Intactivism movement has inadvertently released, from bizarre Sturmer-meets-surfer comics images portraying a California-Aryan "Foreskin Man" saving babies from a bearded, haredi-clad "Monster Mohel (ritual circumciser), to the
description of the rite a Danish Jewish convert to Christianity recently gave the media ("An untrained rabbi mutilates the baby, who cries and bleeds profusely as the men pray”).

In the end, this is what I've concluded about my parents' decision: They were acting, in the fullest and most responsible sense of the term, as parents.

Choice is why parents exist. Anti-circumcision activists will argue that a newborn cannot make informed choices. They're right. That is what parents are for. That is why democratic societies confer on parents the right and the grave responsibility to make mature decisions on the health and welfare of their children.

As a parent, you are forced from time to time to make choices that you know will cause your child pain. No one should ever have to do such a thing, but no parent can avoid it.

Choice is why no society should force parents to have a son circumcised. Just as choice is why the law and the courts have no business stepping in and banning the practice. Pro-choice should be pro-choice. Down the line.

My parents had me circumcised because they had come to believe that it was an act of faith and an expression of religious devotion, a profound tie to thousands of years of tradition. It was their right to choose, and their responsibility.

I can't put myself in their place. I have only daughters, no sons. And I still hate the idea of circumcision. But I honor it as I honor freedom of religion. As I honor my Judaism as a gift from my parents, and theirs, and theirs, as all children, of all faiths, should be able to honor their spiritual and cultural heritage as a gift.

Intactivists have every right to spread their message through education and social activism. But to criminalize so fundamental an act and commandment of Jewish and Muslim faith, is to deprive millions of people not only of their freedom of religion, but of their rights and duties as human parents. If the intactivists succeed in criminalizing belief, God help us all.