In Israel, Social Media Gives Opponents of Circumcision a Platform

If they don't keep kosher or observe the Sabbath, some parents wonder, why go through with a ceremony they might see as primitive and cruel?

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish circumcision in Jerusalem, February 22, 2015
Gil Cohen-Magen

Similar to the situation in the United States, the public debate in Israel over the circumcision ceremony has developed mostly on the internet, in forums and on social media. The internet has enabled many to access medical information and other claims against circumcision. It has also provided an opportunity for parents who share similar opinions against the ceremony to come together and discuss the issue.

This virtual ideological gathering has given support to the opponents of brit milah in Israel and has created a sort of unofficial movement that allows parents to consider not holding such a ceremony. Many Israelis wonder on the internet, whether openly of anonymously, why they as nonreligious parents who don't follow Jewish religious practices, not keeping Kosher or the Sabbath, continue to stick to this custom – which some of them view as primitive and cruel. And over the past 15 years, more and more Jewish parents in Israel have decided to reject religious conformity and not circumcise their sons.

Yet, this is still a very marginal phenomenon in Israel. The vast majority of Jewish (and Muslim) parents circumcise their sons, and about 70,000 brit ceremonies are held in Israel every year. It is hard to know the exact percentage of Jewish children whose parents decide not to circumcise them is because no organization collects such data. Unofficial surveys conducted in the past estimate it at 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent, but it is possible this is too high an estimate.

In general, despite the growing debate over non-circumcision in various Jewish denominations, it is rare for parents to stop and think for long about not holding such a ceremony. Most parents who object to circumcision, whether for ideological, medical or other reasons, usually give in to the social fears that not circumcising their son will cause him to feel different or “flawed,” amongst his friends.

Alongside the ideological considerations are medical reasons. The brit is a religious ceremony and not considered a medical procedure. This is the reason that the Health Ministry is wary of overly intervening in the matter, but the debate over circumcision is an academic medical discussion too. Statistically, the number of medical complications resulting from circumcisions is quite low, and today parents also have the option of having a surgeon conduct the procedure using local anesthesia.

In the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics concerning circumcising infants published in 2012, the policy statement says: “Evaluation of current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks and that the procedure’s benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it.”

In February 2014, a study on the matter was published in the U.S. scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which found that the benefits of circumcision far outweigh the risks, by at least 100 to 1, and for certain diseases, such as penile cancer, the benefits outweigh the risks by 100,000 to 1.