Saturday, January 10, 2015

Unlikely Advocate for Boy Facing Circumcision

Jonathan Friedman is the last person some might expect to be lead activist in a high-profile circumcision case. After all, the Brooklyn-born yeshiva graduate was raised to believe in the centrality of circumcision.

But Friedman defies many conventions as he travels the U.S. organizing protests and otherwise rallying the Intactivist troops. Despite graduating from The Cooper Union with a degree in engineering, he doesn’t have a steady job in the “real world”—it wouldn’t give him any time to “Intactivate”—and he enjoys a lifestyle on the road, staying with other circumcision critics who eagerly open their homes to him.

Friedman now applies his engineering skills to building and managing websites, like SavingChase.Org. He says his drafting skills are particularly useful for designing eye-catching graphics for banners and signs, which he builds himself using PVC pipe.

For the past several weeks Friedman has been in South Florida, focusing his attention on the case of little boy Chase, a four-year-old caught in the center of a parenting dispute. The boy’s father wants him circumcised but his mother doesn’t. She’s afraid he’ll be traumatized by the procedure. A family court judge sided with the father, although there is no medical need for the circumcision and the mother has shared custodial rights.

Friedman and others have been staging peaceful street protests near the office of a doctor who had been called upon to perform the circumcision. The protests continue today and tomorrow at Bethesda Health City, by the intersection of W. Palm Beach Blvd. and Hagen Ranch Rd. in Boynton Beach, Florida, from 11AM to 6PM each day, rain or shine.

“Any surgery is traumatic for children, has risks, and should only be done to address a medical problem,” says Friedman. “We’re calling upon this doctor and others in the area to refuse the father’s demand for this unnecessary surgery which will be painful and emotionally traumatic for the boy,” he says.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Navigating Gender Stereotypes and the Circumcision Imperative

It’s a well-known phenomenon that a pregnant body is seen as a public one, and can become a war zone of sorts. People feel able to comment on any aspect of the woman’s body and behavior, and to ask questions or give advice about how to raise the forthcoming child. It’s frustrating, intrusive, and often upsetting. Sometimes, however, it can also lead to useful opportunities for challenging other people’s beliefs.

When I was pregnant, we knew that we were expecting a girl, but we chose not to tell anyone. For one thing, the baby’s sex simply didn’t matter to us, and we don’t have stereotyped views of the sexes, so we didn’t want to get into conversations where people told us all about how to raise girls versus boys, or why one was better than the other, or what the baby was going to be like. Also, we didn’t want to receive gendered clothing or toys as gifts, and it felt good to be able to respond to comments such as, “But how can I buy your baby an outfit if I don’t know what sex it will be?” I always pointed out that babies don’t actually care what clothes they are wearing or what toys they are playing with; baby girls, for example, do not in fact object to wearing blue.

What I hadn’t expected was how many people would assume that we were having a boy (perhaps because boys are still preferred, even in this supposedly modern time) and would then instruct us about how essential it was to get this hypothetical child circumcised. We heard all the usual arguments: circumcision is necessary due to the laws of Judaism; it is cleaner; it is healthier; it is wrong and even harmful not to circumcise; a Jewish boy will feel “left out” if not circumcised; it’s against our forefathers and everything they went through to not do it; and so on. I was, frankly, stunned by all this. Such comments felt like an attack, and a very personal one too.

My wife and I kept firmly saying that we felt that male infant circumcision was genital mutilation (although not as extreme as what happens to girls in some cultures). We said that boys can be taught how to keep their penises and foreskins clean and that being circumcised doesn’t automatically protect a boy from sexually transmitted diseases or other infections. We offered statistics about how many boys are circumcised here in England (the number is much lower in Europe than it is in the US, where I’m originally from and where my relatives still live), explaining how any son of ours wouldn’t actually feel different from other boys in the UK. We even reminded some relatives about how I’m not that religious and don’t feel compelled to raise our children in complete accordance with Jewish law, even if they will certainly be taught about Jewish history, culture, and beliefs.

These responses were not accepted. We were just told that we were looking at the issue the wrong way.

Eventually, exhausted by these conversations, I asked that we stop talking about it. I said my wife and I understood their point of view, but we’d made the decision not to circumcise, and we hoped everyone else could accept and respect it. There was a brief time when relatives stopped bringing it up.

But then the offensive mounted new attacks by emailing us anecdotes from men, including non-Jews, who said they were “glad” and “grateful” that their parents circumcised them. We were also sent scanned pages from books and articles about the importance of circumcision. My irritation increased, so in retaliation, I began photocopying pages from books too and sending links to medical research. I said I was happy for those men who were grateful to be circumcised but that not everyone was appreciative of such a major decision being made on their behalf when they were infants; we reminded people about various medical and legal cases where men had physical, mental, emotional, or sexual damage from their circumcisions.

We were at an impasse. I asked once again for respect for our choices regarding our child. One of the worst offenders in my natal family said yes, of course, it was our child and we needed to make the decisions.

But she, and others, still didn’t seem to understand what the issue was. To them, circumcision is minor – you have a lovely party and the baby boy doesn’t even remember getting the snip. As a Jew, you just do it. It’s tradition.

I was getting quite angry. This ire grew when a male Jewish colleague approached me at a work event. We are collegial but not friends, so I was surprised when he asked me about the sex of the baby and then said, “Well, of course you’ll have a bris, right?” I sighed and said no. I explained why we were against it and he looked shocked. “But it’s gross not to circumcise a baby!” he exclaimed. I started to explain again and then wondered why I was even bothering. After all, it wasn’t any of his business. But I realized that even though I didn’t appreciate people’s nosiness and bossiness, or the way they made my pregnant body a space for their own prejudices and opinions, I could continue to use these discussions as a way of making them reflect on their own long-held views. So I stopped myself from rolling my eyes and tried to clarify why I thought circumcision was wrong.

And that’s how I approached it with people after that. I listened to their opinion and then attempted to say, as calmly as possible, why my wife and I had decided not to circumcise any baby boys we had.

When our little girl was born, one of my relatives said to me, “You knew all along she was a girl and yet you had all those arguments about circumcision. Why? Wasn’t that annoying?” I said it was annoying and we could have saved ourselves a lot of stress and bother, but it was beneficial for a couple of reasons. On a personal level, I learned to stand up for the decisions we were making about rearing our children. But on a larger, societal level, I felt that potentially my wife and I were giving some stubborn people new ways of considering the issue of circumcision. Maybe somehow a few of the facts or ideas we offered would sink in, and perhaps could help prevent other babies from being unnecessarily circumcised in the future.

Pregnant women and their babies can often seem like pawns in cultural and religious wars, and that shouldn’t be the case, but perhaps sometimes we can occasionally use them to win a battle or two, in the hope that eventually the war will end.

B.J. Epstein is a senior lecturer in literature and public engagement at the University of East Anglia in England. She’s also a writer, editor, and Swedish-to-English translator. She lives with her wife and daughter and can be reached through

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Though Mom Under Gag Order, Protesters Hope to Voice Her Message: Don't Circumcise My Healthy Son

In May, a peaceful protest on behalf of the boy and his mom in front
of the Court that upheld the circumcision order earlier this November. 


A group of concerned Floridians will be taking to the streets in protest on Sunday, Nov. 23, to raise awareness about the distressing case of a healthy four-year-old boy that a family court judge has ordered circumcised against his mother’s wishes.

The child’s parents—who never married—are in conflict about the procedure. Beyond the Bris has been covering the case, which is detailed here. Following that report, the Broward/Palm Beach New Times posted an article of their own on developments in the case.

The protest will take place at a central location at City Place in West Palm Beach from 10:00am - 4:00pm. City Place is near the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court, from which the mother, Heather Hironimus, is awaiting a full written decision that she can use for appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

“This is a story of stunning cruelty, human rights’ abuse, and indifference to the dignity and physical integrity of children by the Florida court system, says John Geisheker who is executive director and general counsel to the international group Doctors Opposing Circumcision.

Geisheker says the family court judge who issued the order, Hon. Jeffrey Dana Gillen, relied on amateurish, 1930s folklore to support the father’s demand to circumcise his child, and fully ignored the only expert witness, a physician who advised against the circumcision, saying he would not do so to his own child.

In his unconventional ruling, Judge Gillen placed a gag order on the mother, preventing her from speaking out publicly on the matter and also from telling her son that she is opposed to the procedure.

This is hardly the first protest by anti-circumcision activists, who have been appearing in cities across the U.S. in recent years to bring attention to the cruelty of circumcising healthy infants and young boys. One very visible protester on the national circuit is Brother K, who came up with the idea of grabbing people’s attention by wearing a distinctive “blood stained man” suit. Brother K is planning to attend Sunday’s protest.

Another protest is taking place in Tampa tomorrow, Nov. 20, from 10:00am - 4:00pm at the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse, 800 Twiggs Street, Tampa FL, 33062.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Upheld: Healthy Florida Boy to be Circumcised Against Mom's Wishes

The above photo is from the Facebook community "Chase's
Guardians," which has more than 3000 "Likes" and is trying
to raise funds for a possible appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.


The fight to save her four-year-old son from non-medically necessary circumcision recently got a lot tougher for a South Florida mom. On November 6 an appellate court upheld a ruling allowing the boy’s father to have him circumcised—despite his mother’s deeply held belief that the procedure will be painful, damaging and emotionally harmful to him.

Friday, October 31, 2014

New Documentary Film on Wilhelm Reich In the Works

Jewish psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) wrote passionately against the practice of infant circumcision calling it "one of the worst treatments of children." Now there is a new documentary film in the works about Reich's life—and an active Kickstarter campaign to help fund what promises to be a very important project.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Less than 2 Days to Fund "Celebrating Brit Shalom"

Non-circumcising Jewish families will now be able to have a beautiful prayer book of alternative bris ceremonies, thanks our successful Kickstarter campaign. The campaign wraps up at 6:00 A.M. Friday—so it's not too late to help us reach our stretch goal of getting our book to U.S. rabbis.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Kickstarter Campaign for Brit Shalom Book Funded!


We have wonderful news to report! Celebrating Brit Shalom is fully funded and will be available this fall. We look forward to finalizing the book and music, getting rewards to backers, and making the book and songs widely available to meet the ceremonial needs of Jewish families opting out of circumcision.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Kickstarter Update: "Tablet" Article, Two New Glick Books Added


Hello! We are so thrilled by the excitement and support that our forthcoming book, Celebrating Brit Shalom, is generating. A few days ago, Tablet Magazine published a long feature article about alternatives to Jewish circumcision—and our Kickstarter campaign was prominently mentioned.

Bris Without Cutting Officiant List Tops 200

The movement to name newborn Jewish boys without the surgery of circumcision has reached a milestone—200 celebrants (officiants) are available to perform the ceremony. More than 120 of these are rabbis.

Called brit shalom (Hebrew for covenant of peace), this alternative naming ceremony may correspond in most ways with traditional brit milah, except that there is no cutting of the baby.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Genital Autonomy Symposium 2014

The 13th International Symposium on Genital Autonomy and Children’s Rights, “Whole Bodies, Whole Selves: Activating Social Change,” will be hosted at the University of Colorado—Boulder on July 24-26, 2014.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Beautiful Brit Shalom in America

Courtesy of Amira Gaynor

"When we planned this Brit Shalom for our son, we struggled to find appropriate Jewish content for the ceremony. It was difficult to figure out which content honored the Jewish tradition of welcoming a Jewish boy to the community without honoring/performing the circumcision. Having a Jewish resource to guide the ceremony would have been a valuable resource. I wish "Celebrating Brit Shalom" had been available four years ago!" 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Thank G-d, It's a Girl

I was not scared of labor and delivery; in fact, I was looking forward to it. I had a great team of supporters (husband, doctor, a doula), was prepared to labor using hypnobirthing, and really excited to meet our little one. I was, however, utterly terrified of a piece of paper, tucked inside an envelope with three simple words on an index card: It's a ____.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Circumcision Not Matter for Rabbinical Courts, Israel's High Court Rules

Israeli Mother Opposes Circumcision for Young Son

Today Israel’s High Court of Justice issued an unprecedented ruling—rabbinical courts in that country no longer have the authority to determine whether boys will be circumcised should divorcing parents disagree on the matter.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Brit Shalom Families—Where's the Controversy?


"You know I love you, Lisa, but about circumcision — well, can't we just agree to disagree?" 

As a Jewish woman who opposes circumcision, I often get this kind of conversational preempt from friends and family. It's an occupational hazard of writing about such a highly-charged topic: people seem to think I'm looking for a fight.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Circumcision Is Best, But Families Opting Out Should Be Embraced—An Interview With Conservative Rabbi Joshua Ratner

"Jewish families who want to be part of congregational Judaism—whether or not their sons have been circumcised—should be not only included in Jewish life but embraced!"

Rabbi Joshua Ratner
Beyond the Bris: Can you talk a little about your background? What branch of Judaism are you associated with? 

Rabbi Ratner: I grew up in a warm, loving Jewish home in San Diego. I attended Conservative and later Orthodox Day School but never thought I would become a rabbi. I was a huge fan of the TV shows "LA Law" and "Perry Mason" and assumed I would someday become a lawyer. I left home for Columbia University and there found myself fascinated by the study of different cultures and religions. I wound up graduating with a degree in comparative religion and spent some time after college studying in Israel. Nevertheless, I continued with my plan to become a lawyer and wound up practicing law—first in New York, and later in Connecticut—for about five years.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bris Without Circumcision—With Your Help, Coming Soon to a Rabbi Near You!

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if every rabbi and Jewish congregation in the U.S. had a guidebook about Brit Shalom—the emerging ritual to welcome newborn boys into the Jewish faith without circumcision? It's certainly a worthwhile goal, and now you can help to make this a reality. 

We’ve just added two VERY SPECIAL new rewards to our Kickstarter campaign. For a $20 pledge, we’ll send a copy of our forthcoming book, “Celebrating Brit Shalom,” to a rabbi or congregation library. For a $75 pledge, we’ll be able to send the book to FOUR rabbis and/or congregations!

If you have a particular officiant or Temple that you’d like to share our book with, let us know and we’ll make it happen. Otherwise, we’ll select a lucky rabbi from our thoughtfully compiled master list.

Our Kickstarter campaign got off to a roaring start. Just 48-hours into our launch and we were nearly 40% funded. However our good beginning only took us so far. We are currently one week into our campaign and things have slowed considerably. We still need to raise more than 50% of our goal. That means we are a LONG way off. Some might say at this point: “Give it up!” “Admit defeat!” “Pack up your book and song project and go home!”

Well, here at Beyond the Bris, overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges is nothing new. If we can be a catalyst for evolving a 5000 year-old Jewish tradition, I think we can do anything. But we can’t do it alone.

Now with the addition of two new and important rewards—and at a crucial point in our time-limited campaign—there is no better time to visit our Kickstarter campaign and become a backer!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Improving Conversation on Jewish Circumcision

Infant circumcision is a highly charged topic—add in the element of religion and it's a potential powder keg. Yet the movement to end the non-therapeutic sexual cutting of children depends on thoughtful and respectful conversation. Saving Our Sons is wonderful grassroots organization that educates the public about the harms of infant circumcision. Beyond the Bris is so thankful to them for publishing a guest post by Rebecca Wald, Talking Jewish Circumcision (Especially When You Aren't Jewish).

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Wonderful "Misadventure"—Brian Leaf's Newest Yogi Book


I recently discovered author Brian Leaf and I’m so glad I did. He is the voice of my generation of naturally-minded parents. He is caring, sensible, smart and funny. I’d like to think that if our paths had crossed, we would be friends.

Leaf is an accomplished writer with 12 books already to his credit, including two humorous biographies. He’s also a frequent blogger. I’ve just read his second biography, Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi (2014). It’s really, really good. That means a lot to me on a personal level. Now that I have three kids, I rarely get to sit down with a book. When I do, I have high hopes since this may be the only book I get to read for the next year—or decade—given that my youngest is still an infant. Thanks, Brian, for not letting me down!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Kickstarter campaign launches for first-ever book on “brit shalom,” an alternative to Jewish circumcision


Oakland, California — Lisa Braver Moss and Rebecca Wald, both known for their writings questioning Jewish circumcision, have launched a 45-day Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the completion of a book to serve Jewish families who decide not to circumcise. They are hoping to raise $8,200 to complete the project with their campaign, which begins June 17th.

The book will offer a choice of several original “brit shalom” ceremonies, along with tips and advice on holding the service and navigating family dynamics. Brit shalom (Hebrew for “covenant of peace”) is gaining traction as an alternative to brit milah, the traditional circumcision service held on a Jewish boy’s eighth day of life.

“Young Jewish parents are really engaged in the circumcision debate,” says Wald. “Some are opting out of the rite, but they still want to bring their newborn sons into the Abrahamic covenant.” Wald is the publisher of Beyond the Bris, a website that brings together Jewish voices that question brit milah. “Typically, a ceremony is put together on the fly. We wanted to provide well-researched and Jewishly respectful materials for this emerging ritual.”

“Currently there’s no book about brit shalom,” says Moss, a novelist and nonfiction writer who has been interviewing congregational rabbis while writing the book. She’s found that non-circumcising families are welcome in many synagogues, and rabbis are often willing to officiate at a brit shalom. “The Jewish community gains vitality by including these families,” she says.

One distinctive feature of the project is that an album of songs is being composed and professionally recorded. The songs are being produced by renowned performer Jason Paige, who recently wrapped up a tour as lead singer of the touring band Blood, Sweat and Tears. The songs will accompany the ceremonies, and will be available for parents and rabbis to download.

Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing crowdfunding platform for creative projects.

For more information on the book project please visit and the Celebrating Brit Shalom Kickstarter campaign.
Eve Ceremony-94.jpgIMG_2456 - Version 2.jpg
Rebecca Wald         Lisa Braver Moss

# # # # #


Lisa Braver Moss is a writer specializing in family issues, health, Judaism and humor. Her essays have appeared in such places as The Huffington PostTikkunParents and The San Francisco Chronicle. She is the author of The Measure of His Grief (Notim Press, 2010), the first novel ever written about the circumcision controversy. Lisa's nonfiction book credits include Celebrating Family: Our Lifelong Bonds with Parents and Siblings (Wildcat Canyon Press, 1999).

Rebecca Wald is the publisher of Beyond the Bris, a news and opinion website about the Jewish movement to question infant circumcision. Beyond the Bris has received widespread attention, and has been written about in The New York TimesThe Huffington PostVillage Voice, TikkunThe Jewish Daily ForwardHaaretz, and The Times of Israel, among others. Rebecca is a graduate of The George Washington University and of Brooklyn Law School.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Countdown to Kickstarter for First-Ever Book on Celebrating Brit Shalom


Today I have some big news that I am excited to share. I’ve recently been working on a project with my dear friend Lisa Braver Moss. We’ve been putting together a book for families who want to hold a brit shalom ceremony for their newborn sons.

If you aren’t familiar—brit shalom is an alternative to brit milah. The baby is given a Hebrew name and welcomed into the Jewish community without circumcision. By all indicators, brit shalom is becoming evermore popular. For example, Dr. Mark Reiss’s Brit Shalom Providers List now boasts nearly 200 officiants—more than 100 of whom are bona fide rabbis.

Lisa and I decided it was time for a book about brit shalom, one that families and officiants could turn to for advice and inspiration. The book will include a choice of ceremonies, original songs, information about brit shalom and tips for hosting a service.

On June 17—that’s one week from today—we’ll be launching a 45-day Kickstarter campaign to officially announce our book, Celebrating Brit Shalom, and to raise needed funding so we can bring this book to the public.

If you haven't heard of it, Kickstarter is a crowd-funding platform for creative projects, where "backers" receive great rewards at different funding levels.

Why do we need funding? We decided to “go-indie” (instead of seeking out a traditional publisher). This means we’re doing everything ourselves, from cover design, typesetting and graphic art to promotion and distribution. Since we’ll be including music that will be recorded and available for download, we also have expenses like professional mastering of the songs.

This Fall, we hope to get our book into the hands of prospective parents, congregational rabbis, synagogue libraries, Jewish and interfaith officiants—wherever and to whomever it takes to get our message out that a beautiful ritual exists to welcome intact Jewish boys. If we meet our Kickstarter goal, we can produce the book. If we are fortunate enough to go above and beyond our fundraising goal, we’ll be able to accomplish even more: like sending out library/donation copies, doing increased promotion, and translating the book into other languages, such as Hebrew.

Imagine a book like this in the hands of every rabbi in the U.S., Canada and beyond—What a difference it could make. What a message it would send! You can help us achieve this goal.

How can you help? First of all, get excited with us about this groundbreaking book. When the campaign goes live on June 17, share the news far and wide. Have media contacts? Let them know. A rich uncle? Well, you get the idea! Also, if you have something special you’d be willing to donate as a reward to our backers, please contact us.

An easy way to get in touch with us for any reason is via the “Inquiries” field on our new website. There's also a place on the site where you can enter your email address to receive updates about our project. And, if you feel so inclined, "Like" our brand new Facebook page.

While we’re eager to meet our fundraising goal, what we’re really hoping for is a big show of support for our project, especially early on in the campaign. When the time comes, you can go on to Kickstarter and become a project backer for as little as one dollar. That’s really all it takes to support us—and to show the world that nothing, not even religion, stands in the way of a child’s right to the body he was born with. 

And save the date: On June 17, 2014, at 8PM EST we’re having a Kickstarter Kick-Off Virtual Party, where we'll be giving away vouchers for some free copies of our book (and the downloadable songs) that can be redeemed when publication becomes a reality. To enter to win a voucher, all you need to do is say you'll attend our cyber event.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Jewish Voices Against Circumcision — In Their Own Words

Brian Levitt holds his newborn photo
in protest of infant circumcision. 
Jewish feelings about circumcision—for and against—are complex. The following quotes, all of them by Jewish people and all of them real, demonstrate the diversity of thought when it comes to questioning the ancient ritual. If you are Jewish and would like to add your quote, send Beyond the Bris a note and we'll include your statement in a future posting.

Lisa says:

I believe that G-d instituted circumcision as a way of setting His people apart, but given how many other cultures and religions have adopted this practice, it is no longer a means of setting apart. Like many other commandments once practiced by Jews (that have now been set aside) there is now no more compelling religious or cultural reason to do so. I have a now-adult son for whom we had a “brit shalom” (no cutting) when he was eight days old.... This doesn’t make him any less Jewish or any less observant. He is a respected young man at shul, involved in many different areas and loved by all. I do not regret my decision at all to let him make his own choice, and it is my hope that other Jewish parents will also consider a brit shalom as a viable alternative to brit milah.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Is Superman Circumcised? Howard Stern Weighs In


Superman has captured the imagination of every generation of American kids since 1938 when he first appeared in Action Comics #1, but leave it to satellite radio celebrity Howard Stern to tackle the really hard questions concerning this American superhero.

Monday’s The Howard Stern Show kicked off with a call-in question from Stern show correspondent Wolfie asking: Is Superman circumcised? “Of course the first question would likely be, how on Krypton would they come up with that barbaric ritual of cutting off a piece of a baby’s skin?” Stern asked. “Now Krypton was a very advanced society, as you know. They were very advanced in science and you would assume that on Krypton they would not practice circumcision,” he continued.

Robin Quivers pondered whether Superman might be able to circumcise himself using his heat vision. To which Stern replied: “Why would any guy want to circumcise himself?”

Monday, May 19, 2014

Why I Didn't Choose Circumcision

BY Brian Leaf
I'm a bit depressed. Our midwife gave me a book about circumcision. I've started the book and can't put it down. I'm not sure that I'll ever fully recover.

The book tells me that the foreskin is like an eyelid protecting the sensitive mucous membrane underneath. Circumcision removes this protective skin, so the skin underneath keratinizes, meaning it hardens and desensitizes, like a callus. Therefore, the book posits, circumcision removes length and girth from the penis and decreases enjoyment of sex.

You do not say these things to a man. I'm trying to climb out of the hole. I tell myself that most men in the United States are circumcised, so it's a level playing field. It just means that uncircumcised men are heroes and that we are at a disadvantage when we leave the country.

Now, keep in mind that whether or not sex is less pleasurable without a foreskin is, of course, very difficult to test. Nobody is lining up for a double-blind controlled study: Have sex. Rate it on a scale from 1 to 10. Then lose the foreskin, heal, have sex again with the same partner, and rate it again from 1 to 10. Any takers?

So it's difficult to test the reduced-pleasure hypothesis. And people don't talk about it much, so we don't gather much anecdotal evidence, either. Unless you are a professional sex worker or my friend Adeline, you probably rarely talk about sex, especially the specifics. I don't even know which of my friends have a foreskin and which don't. Maybe I'll ask the question on Facebook: "Share or Like if you have a foreskin."

We all know about circumcision's Jewish roots in the covenant between God and Abraham, but whom do we have to thank for the mass popularization of circumcision? When did it cross the gentile line? In Victorian England, of course. Yes, the same folks who made sex and farting socially unacceptable. Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow owe Queen Victoria big-time. What if nudity, masturbation, and farting weren't funny?

In the 1800s, germ theory was gaining attention and people believed circumcision could fight the ultimate germ demon, smegma. Sounds like a Batman villain. They incorrectly believed smegma to be a breeding ground of bacteria. This is hogwash. Smegma is actually found in most animal genitalia and, in fact, serves to clean and lubricate the genitals, moistening the sensitive mucous membrane between the foreskin and the penis. The word smegma itself is Greek for soap.

Circumcision was the new snake oil. It was touted to prevent or cure syphilis, epilepsy, hernia, headache, clubfoot, alcoholism, gout, and, god forbid, masturbation! As I read older parenting books, I am absolutely astonished at how often people bring up masturbation. They were obsessed. "We must stop this epidemic!" I suppose things have changed. Just last night I watched Seth Rogen masturbate right on screen at the cinema.

Lots of folks, these days, defer the decision of whether or not to circumcise to the thinking of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Seems sensible. But the AAP is about as reliable on the matter as Steve Martin's Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber. The AAP has flip-flopped its position at least four times. In 1971 the academy officially concluded that it was not a medical necessity. In 1989 they announced that there were good medical reasons for it. In 1999 they were neutral, stating in a report that the health benefits of the procedure were slim. And most recently, in 2012, the AAP changed their official stance, saying that the health benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks.

One of the founders of the American Medical Association, Lewis Sayre, in the late 1800s started recommending circumcision to cure paralysis and gross motor problems. He believed that a tight foreskin threw off the nervous system. "Hmm, this patient is paralyzed. Must be a tight penis."

All this is another perfect example of why we must, in parenting as in life, gather data, but ultimately stay grounded and follow our own hearts and intuition.

In the end, my wife and I chose not to circumcise. People ask me, "What will you tell your son when he asks why his penis is different from yours?" I don't understand this concern. Why must his penis match mine? Our hair color is different. We have different noses and his teeth are better than mine. Should he get braces and a retainer to mimic my overbite?

Brian Leaf is the author of Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi. He has studied, practiced, and taught yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda for twenty-three years. Visit him online on facebook at The above essay is excerpted from the new book Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi ©2014 by Brian Leaf. Published with permission of New World Library. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Belly Casts Give Confidence, Celebrate Beauty of the Natural Form

Kirsten Seinfeld puts finishing touches on a belly cast.

Our bodies are beautiful—and perfect—the way they are. This is the message of the pregnancy belly cast, a commemorative keepsake of motherhood that’s become very popular. Check out belly cast Google images, or Pinterest, and you’ll see dozens of belly cast examples, often created right at home by moms- and dads-to-be. They range from whimsical (adorned with feather boas and butterflies) to humorous (the round belly is painted like a baseball) and irreverent (a monkey’s nose becomes the protruding belly button).

Fort Lauderdale artist Kirsten Seinfeld would like to elevate the pregnancy belly cast to high art. She envisions one day having a show with twenty bellies, or more, on display in a gallery. She’s already well on her way, with dozens of casts hanging in her living room. Seinfeld is known in South Florida as the go-to girl for an incredible belly cast—and she's been known to give moms a price break if she can do two castings, one to keep for her private (future gallery) collection.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Is Brit Shalom an Acceptable Alternative to Jewish Circumcision?

Foot washing replaces circumcision in
the alternative brit pictured above. 

Is there an alternative to circumcision? This question was recently posed to two rabbis in The Jewish Chronicle Online’s “Rabbi I Have a Problem” section. At issue, an outraged uncle whose niece had decided not to circumcise her newborn son and instead held an alternative brit. Despite the growing popularity of Brit Shalom, one has to wonder: was this question really sent in by a reader or dreamed up by an editor on a slow news day? Regardless, I appreciated the response of both rabbis who weighed in. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

In New Book, Jewish Actress Alicia Silverstone Writes on Decision Not to Circumcise

Apparently Alicia Silverstone isn’t so clueless. This Jewish mom stood up to some family pressure and decided not to circumcise her newborn son. She writes about the experience in her new book The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning (2014).

Silverstone was raised in a traditional Jewish household, where candles were lit on Friday nights. She went to Hebrew school and has fond memories of her bat mitzvah. As an adult, her ties to Judaism remain strong.

“Judaism turned me into who I am today, and I definitely feel I live a very spiritual life. I got that from my parents,” she has said.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

“Cut: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision” Goes Digital, Earns Entry Into Pasadena Film Festival

“Cut,” a documentary film that challenges Jewish circumcision, is an official selection at the 2014 Pasadena International Film Festival. The film will be shown on February 13 at 3:30p.m. at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, CA. A special thank you goes out to Danielle Gladding, who made this possible.

For those who would like to own a copy of this incredible film, now is a great time. Previously, the film was only available as a DVD. Eli Ungar-Sargon, the film’s director, has recently teamed up with an online distributor to allow for digital purchase. The film can now be downloaded for $9.99.

“We’re just very excited to be able to make ‘Cut’ available to the world in a convenient way and at a reasonable price,” Ungar-Sargon says.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Jewish Psychologist to Debate Circumcision in Europe

Ronald Goldman, Ph.D.
Ronald Goldman, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Circumcision Resource Center, a nonprofit educational organization in Boston, has been invited by the Council of Europe to participate in an interdisciplinary dialogue about circumcision at a meeting in France on January 28.

There is a growing European debate about circumcision. In October the Council of Europe, an organization of 47 member States, overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution that called circumcision, among other procedures, a violation of the physical integrity of children according to established human rights standards. Circumcision is uncommon in Europe except among Jews and Muslims.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Circumcision In Israel Not Taken For Granted Anymore

The drawbacks and potential benefits of infant circumcision are now being publicly debated in Israel, the consequence of a pending High Court case there. I wrote about some of the ethical issues last week.  The unusual case stems from a rabbinical court ruling where a mother was ordered to circumcise her nearly one-year-old son or face fines.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ethical Issues in Israel's Bizarre Circumcision Case


Jewish mother Elinor holds up a sign of protest against the
rabbinical court ruling that she must circumcise her son.

An Israeli mother ordered to circumcise her eleven-month-old son, or face a daily accruing fine, has today taken her case to the High Court of Justice, the court of last resort in that country.

The strange case stems from a divorce proceeding. When it comes to matters of divorce, the Israeli judicial system is very different from the American system, as this case illustrates. In Israel there is no civil marriage and rabbinical courts have jurisdiction over Jewish divorce. So when the father in this case demanded that his son undergo brit milah—religious circumcision—during a divorce-related hearing, the court cited the importance of upholding the biblical covenant.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why This (Jewish) Mom Skipped Circumcision


Every mom is different and brings her own style when it comes to raising her kids. I didn’t circumcise my son and feel it was 100% the right choice. At the same time, I don’t condemn parents who circumcise. I recognize that good people can experience the world in different ways due to their circumstances and their natures and can come to different conclusions.

Choosing to leave my son with the penis he was born with was a decision very much in keeping with how I see myself as a parent. Some see parenting as a dictatorship (albeit benevolent) where the parent always knows best. Children are viewed as blank slates that must be taught not simply how to navigate themselves in the world, but also such things as morals and spirituality.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Judaism, Bris Milah, and Human Rights: A Torah Perspective


There can be no doubt that bris milah is an important mitzvah. While the Torah does call for circumcision at eight days, there are indeed prominent Jews in the Tanakh who were circumcised later in life. Avraham Avinu was circumcised at 99; tradition holds that he kept the entirety of the written and oral Torah well before matan Torah, meaning he performed the majority of mitzvahs in his life while in an uncircumcised state.

Friday, November 15, 2013

When Everything In Me Said to Circumcise: A Jewish Father Wrestles with Tradition


Author, Mark Morris, with his partner Jude and their son Lev.

I always thought that if I had a son I would not circumcise him. I felt the need to challenge this Jewish tradition. It felt like quite a brutal decision to take on behalf of my newborn son, for a covenant that I did not believe in. (I am secular but very culturally identified.) But when I found out that we were going to have a baby boy, the sudden emotional desire to have him circumcised was immediate and very strong.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Following Our Hearts: A Father's Brit Shalom Journey

A beachside brit shalom in Vancouver, Canada.

My wife, Amari, was seven months pregnant and we were at our midwife appointment. At this point we knew we would be having a boy. Near the end of our visit, the midwife asked us what we were planning to do about circumcision.

Amari and I are both Jewish and we had discussed it a couple of times before. My take was: “We're Jewish. My grandparents are Holocaust survivors. Our boy is getting circumcised." However, Amari was against the procedure, although she was willing to do it if it meant that much to me.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Bizarre Circumcision Stories: Where's the Journalism?

By Lisa Braver Moss
Special to Beyond the Bris

If you follow circumcision in the news, you’ve been busy lately. And if you happen to like journalism that’s baffling—well, there’s been plenty to enjoy.

The Atlantic, for example, recently ran a piece about a married couple facing the circumcision decision. Like so many publications, the magazine apparently thought it had to be balanced about the parents’ opposing points of view. The highlighted quote: “We quickly realized that neither of us had any rational reason to feel strongly about the subject.”

Wait, these parents are equally irrational? One thinks baby should be left intact, while the other is advocating for surgery with no medical condition present. Those are both illogical?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Jewish Activist Speaks on Metzitzah B'Peh Circumcision Practice


The video has been published by photographer and videographer James Loewen. Loewen has been capturing emotionally gripping images and videos from inside the anti-circumcision movement. Many of his videos have been uploaded to his YouTube Channel, Bonobo3D. Loewen began uploading the videos four years ago and they comprise some of the most important statements being made and aired to a worldwide audience on the subject of childhood circumcision. Social activist Jonathan Friedman, who is a longtime friend and contributing writer to Beyond the Bris, is featured on a new YouTube video discussing the Orthodox brit milah procedure he endured as an eight day old infant. He also speaks about his work to inform others on the harms caused by circumcision.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Our Covenant Is With Our Son: My Family's Take on Jewish Circumcisions

The author's husband, James, and their son Etani. 

The baby, who had been so quiet, peaceful, and trusting just moments before, opened his mouth in shock, a look of utter bewilderment on his face, and then started to scream. He screamed shrilly, like a wounded animal.

“I hate this part,” his grandmother muttered to me, shaking her head and ducking outside. “I’ll come back later.”

Friday, June 7, 2013

My Jewish Heritage was Key to Unlocking the American Secret

Photo/James Loewen
I was born and raised a Reconstructionist Jew in Scarsdale, NY. I wish I could say that growing up, with every cousin’s bris, I struggled mightily to comprehend such brutality. The truth is that, like virtually all children, I trusted the adults who told me that foreskin removal was in a baby’s best interest.

As I grew older, it was my Jewish education and upbringing that prompted me to be more considered about rules and authority, and ultimately to be reflective about circumcision.

When you grow up with the reality that your ancestors were persecuted in just about every place in which they tried to settle, and found to be on the the wrong side of the law just a tad too often, you come to appreciate that cultural embrace and legal status are weak litmus tests for determining whether someone or something is good or ethical. In referencing my ancestors, I’m not just talking about abrahamic tent dwellers or European Jewry in the 1930s, but also Russian Jews in the late 1980s. I realized I could not blindly trust the so-called “authorities”--even the Jewish ones--when it came to determining right from wrong. Once you grasp that, you resign yourself to a life of figuring stuff out for yourself.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Emotional Consequences of Circumcision


The American Academy of Pediatrics announced in 2012 a change in its policy regarding infant male circumcision. Whereas previously they held “the procedure is not essential to the childʼs current well-being,” now in their carefully worded statement they say “the benefits outweigh the risks.” This reversal comes at a time when circumcision rates are at their lowest point in years in the USA, and when many people around the world are taking a stand against the procedure.

The benefits cited by the AAP are to prevent the potential for physical illness or disease, the evidence of which is questionable at best. There is no reference by the AAP to even the possibility of emotional harm resulting from such a traumatic experience so early in life.

There are countless animal studies showing that traumatic experiences soon after birth cause crippling long term effects. Such studies on human infants, while fewer, also show the damaging effects of early childhood trauma. Apparently, in the eyes of the AAP, such evidence is not considered important.  

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Call for Sensitivity in Discussing Circumcision


I am a young woman who is proud to be deeply invested in the movement to defeat institutionalized circumcision. However, as I have previously confessed, I once agreed with and actually defended this unnecessary surgery and its imposition on non-consenting infants. 

Since I used to be pro-cutting and am now adamantly opposed to it, I remember which messages I used to scoff at, and which messages actually got me to listen. I couldn't identify with the horror of the procedure until I learned about it in a non-judgmental manner. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Bris Prep: What Happens During a Bris That You Might Not See


I have a friend, an educated man, who insists that circumcision during a bris involves nothing more than pulling the foreskin forward over the glans and snipping off the “excess” skin with a single cut. He is a grandfather who served as a sandak and held his grandsons during their ritual circumcision procedures. How could it possibly involve anything more, since he watched it take place before his own eyes?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Uniting the Next Generation of Parents Against Circumcision


As a nineteen-year-old woman, I only have one friend who is already a parent. She is an incredible mother to her young daughter, whose sex protected her from the circumcision debate. The rest of my peers are college-aged adults who spend an appropriately smaller amount of their free time than I do pondering infant welfare and debating a common practice that was probably performed on themselves or on their brothers. Yet in a few years, these people and I will become the newest generation of parents in America.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Circumcision Decision: Jewish Couples in Crisis


Back in the days when I was dating, before I met my wonderful husband, I would mention my views about circumcision early in a relationship, namely that I was against it and had no plans to circumcise any future sons. I figured I could marry someone with different interests or even political views, but when it came to circumcising a child, that was a deal-breaker. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Facebook Campaign Protests AAP Circumcision Policy


The AAP, who as recently as 2010 embarrassed themselves by recommending that physicians offer their patients a form of female genital cutting, find themselves on the wrong side of history once again. Their task force report is an insult to both reason and science and has destroyed what little credibility they may have had left on the subject.

Although we are a marginal voice within the Jewish community, there have always been Jewish opponents to Brit Milah. It makes me proud that some of us are leading the current movement against this cruel and unusual practice both within the Jewish community and in the world at large.

Even as the world abandons the unethical practice of infant male circumcision, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently revised its policy statement to more strongly recommend it. In response to this step backwards, people of conscience all over the world have been protesting the AAP’s misguided decision by posting on Facebook photographs of themselves with the words “AAP” on one hand and “No Ethics” on the other.

As a proud Jew and an opponent of infant male circumcision, I wanted to join this protest in a meaningful way. It is my belief that a deep concern for ethics lies at the core of the Jewish tradition and it is this concern, along with the ability to adapt to new information, that gives meaning and relevance to my heritage in the 21st century.

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon is a documentary filmmaker. His film "Cut: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision looks critically at the ancient ritual from a Jewish perspective. The "Wash Your Hands Clean of the APP" Facebook the campaign was started by the Whole Network.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Circumcision Resource Center Responds to Revised AAP Statement


The Circumcision Resource Center, headed by Ronald Goldman, Ph.D., has issued a response to the American Academy of Pediatric's revised policy on circumcision. The AAP pronouncement, issued today, strengthens the organization's stance in favor of circumcision, but stops short of recommending the procedure for all male infants.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Parshat Lech L'cha: Why Infant Circumcision in Judaism Isn't Kosher

Then God said to Abraham, “You must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Gen. 17:9-14)
I realize I may be making myself enemies, within and without, writing this essay, but here we go: I’m opposed to circumcision. To me, it echoes one too many abusive procedures, on top of the whole consent problem. An eight-day-old child cannot consent to any kind of procedure.