Let's Talk About Circumcision

The idea that Judaism is inextricably linked to circumcision must be challenged and corrected.

Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav
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Uri Misgav
Uri Misgav

When my beloved son was born I didn’t circumcise him. It was an easy and natural step, which I saw as an expression of my existence as a free man.

I’m opposed to circumcision, and also have reservations about the use of the term “brit milah” (“covenant of circumcision”). It involves cutting the infant’s sexual organ, and I am opposed to the cutting of the sexual organs of boys and girls. Until now, I have naturally focused my efforts at persuasion on the population of secular parents. After all, it’s quite strange that people without any religious faith anxiously keep track of every heartbeat of their infant in the womb, run with him to the monitor, sonogram and every possible pregnancy test, guard him carefully from the moment of his birth – and then hasten to cut his sexual organ.

It is relatively easy to reject the two reasons for continuing to practice circumcision that are common among the secular community. First, the health-related hygienic reason is relevant for other times or other continents, and in any case it should be confronted by a medical reason which is usually not reported: The percentage of accidents and mishaps in circumcisions is significant. Quite a large percentage of newborns who are hospitalized arrive with injuries and infections resulting from circumcision. Also, as opposed to refraining from making the cut, circumcision is an irreversible process, liable to cause irreversible damage.

Second, the “social” reason is gradually declining on its own with the welcome spread of refraining from circumcision – and in any case is quite hard to understand. (Recently I encountered two separate cases of lesbian couples who brought a baby into the world together and decided to cut his sexual organ in order to “prevent him from being different.”)

Recently, though, I realized that maybe the secular community should be left in peace. After all, at least the “secular circumcision” is frequently performed by a surgeon, with anesthesia.

The “Jewish circumcision,” however, is performed by a mohel who is not necessarily a doctor, and always without anesthesia. This is an invasive and brutal act – abuse of a helpless infant, which I am certain will be outlawed in the future. In effect, there are two acts: Cutting the foreskin, and retracting it from the membrane that separates it from the glans, sometimes with a knife and sometimes with a fingernail. These are tissues that are full of nerves; it’s no wonder the victims scream. Sometimes, traditional circumcision also includes a third act by the mohel – sucking the injured organ until blood is drawn.

Regarding this primitive ritual, Avi Shilon wrote in Haaretz ("Circumcision: A good trick for preserving Jewish identity," Dec. 25) that “a society cannot exist without symbols.” Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein wrote on Ynet that “parents who refrained from this small operation forced their children to be uprooted from the most basic symbol of their identity.” And Naftali Bennett, the economy and religious services minister, rejected the very existence of the discussion, declaring: “Friends, since the circumcision of our forefather Abraham, this is the strongest tie connecting the Jewish people to its Creator and itself … Make no mistake, this campaign is not motivated by compassion or enlightenment … only the desire to see a state of all its citizens, neutered of Judaism.”

Strange. According to Jewish law, a Jew is someone born to a Jewish mother and, according to a more progressive approach, anyone who sees himself as belonging to the Jewish people. There were periods and communities in Jewish history in which circumcision was not practiced – from the days of ancient Egypt up to the Communist bloc. Moses was opposed to circumcision and didn’t circumcise his son, and the Children of Israel crossed the Jordan into Canaan uncircumcised.

Circumcision does not determine that a person is Jewish, and non-circumcision does not determine that a person is not Jewish. So to come and claim that the preservation of Jewish identity rises and falls with the cutting of the sexual organs of infants? That this is the most basic symbol that guarantees the survival of Jewish society? That this is the strongest tie connecting the Jewish people to itself and its God? More than faith? More than the Torah and the Ten Commandments? More than the State of Israel and the Land of Israel?

In light of such groundless claims, both religious and nonreligious Jews should start asking themselves questions.

A mohel is surround by other rabbis and relatives as he holds a boy at his circumcision.Credit: AP

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