Thursday, July 16, 2015

Delving into Genesis Code: An Interview With Jamie Metzl



Imagine a world in the near future where sex is just for recreation. A world where hopeful parents-to-be (even those of relatively modest means) go to IVF clinics to pre-select embryos based on their genetic desirability—and where genetic enhancement through various techniques is possible. This is the world of Jamie Metzl’s newest book, Genesis Code: A Thriller of the Near Future (Arcade Publishing, 2014). The book imagines a “space race” of sorts between the United States and China, where the superpowers are racing to create a generation of Ubermensch, individuals who possess exceptionally high intelligence.

While the plot of Genesis Code may seem far-fetched, Metzl says the basic technology is already in place, and that as a society we should prepare for the genetic revolution at hand, one where human beings will control our evolution by rewriting our genetic code.

Jamie Metzl isn’t just a futurist on a flight of fancy—he has impressive credentials that indicate he just may know what he’s talking about. Metzl is a graduate of both Harvard Law School and Oxford (at the latter he earned a PhD in Asian history). He is presently a Nonresident Senior Fellow for Technology and National Security of the Atlantic Council. He's held positions in the Asia Society, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the U.S. State Department and the National Security Council. He has also testified before Congress about national security as it relates to biotechnology and genomics, and he frequently appears in the national and international the media as an expert on Asian affairs and technology.  

Beyond the Bris is pleased to feature the following exclusive interview with American author and futurist Jamie Metzl.

Rebecca Wald: If you can distill it down to the essence, what is it about Asia that has drawn you to it, time and again, throughout your career?

Jamie Metzl: When I was a freshman at Brown, I met a classmate of mine who was a survivor of the Cambodian genocide. Hearing him tell his story, I felt ashamed that this genocide had happened during my lifetime and neither I nor anyone in my world knew anything about it. I quit my job as a camp counselor that summer and headed to Thailand, where I worked in a refugee camp with Cambodian and Hmong refugees. It was a life-changing event and the beginning of a lifetime engagement with Asia. Now I am deeply involved across the region on many levels and in many ways, and I find Asia one of the most dynamic and interesting parts of the world. Over recent decades it has also become clear that America’s destiny is more intertwined with Asia than ever before.

Rebecca Wald: You made that point well during your book discussion at The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). During the talk you said the Chinese believe they can raise IQ 20-30 points per generation using genetic engineering—and they’re working to do just that. In light of this, do you foresee the kind of genetic enhancement space race that is imagined in Genesis Code

Jamie Metzl: I am absolutely convinced that we will be able to use genetic selection and, at a later date, active engineering to enhance human intelligence. Some individual and societies may choose to do this and others may not, but either choice will have profound implications. Let’s say that at some point in the future the US bans genetic manipulation of early stage embryos and China or some other country does not. Would we try to stop them, would we make it illegal for our citizens to procreate with genetically altered partners? What would be the ramifications of our choice for national competitiveness? The societal and national security implications of this would be huge, and we will face them in the future. That is the premise upon which Genesis Code is based.

Rebecca Wald: You've also spoken about a future where massive data banks will be used to compare human experiences with digitized genetic code, enabling us to find all sorts of correlations. Traits such as height, and even IQ, are relatively easy to quantify, but many desirable human traits cannot be easily measured. I am thinking of traits such as sound judgment, kindness, and the capacity to raise sensible and warmhearted children. Do you wonder if the best human traits—our very humanity—might be overlooked as being desirable because this can’t be easily quantified?

Jamie Metzl: Some single gene mutations, like that for Huntington’s disease, are relatively straightforward, but others, like those for the genetic components of polygenic traits like intelligence, empathy, etc. are far more complicated. Humans are not entirely our genes. Nurture has a lot to do with who and what we become. But we are very much our genes and I believe we will find that more and more of our traits have a significant genetic component. Philosophers have always known that humans have various capacities, both positive and negative, and that we need to cultivate our best selves. The same will be true in the genetic age. It would be terrible if we overlooked our humanity and came to see ourselves as genetically predetermined, but it would be equally false to lie to ourselves and suggest that there is not an important genetic component of who we are. We will need to bring the best of our traditional values to this process to help us make the wisest personal and societal decisions in a radically new environment.

Rebecca Wald: Do you think we’ll run the risk of “improving” ourselves out of existence? After all, it was high IQ individuals that brought us nuclear weapons.

Jamie Metzl: Yes. But the homo sapien 1.0 model is pretty dangerous, too.

Rebecca Wald: No kidding! And along those lines, if a society is going to preselect for certain traits, I can think of at least one that authoritarian regimes might wish to cull: a willingness to question authority. Do you foresee—say in a communist society—the potential for using genetic engineering to create a docile population, one with a herd mentality? 

Jamie Metzl: Could be. Once we have this capacity, different societies may well begin thinking about what traits they wish to select for. Diversity is the greatest protection of our species, and it would be a terrible mistake, in my view, if we, over time, reduced significantly the genetic diversity of our species. 

Rebecca Wald: One theme in your book is that the core of humanity is to love and connect with each other—yet human intellect is often a barrier to such emotions. Do you see the human capacity for love being compromised as our collective intellect grows through genomics or simply natural progress?

Jamie Metzl: An unfair question to a person who has been accused of thinking too much! As humans, we always need to balance our various capacities. Even if we understand the chemical underpinning of the feeling of love, it doesn’t make our experience of that dopamine rush any less profound for us. As you see, one of the core themes of my book is that even in a genetic age, love stands at the core of what it means to be a human being.

Rebecca Wald: In your book the protagonist says: “Everyone has a right to choose their own religion, but when one group tries to force itself on others is when I start to have problems.” I think most Americans share this view, but when it comes to freedom of religion it’s easy for different groups to end up in a competition for rights. Are you skeptical of how organized religion does or might impede scientific progress?

Jamie Metzl: I’m a huge believer in scientific progress within a values framework. May progressive religions and religious communities support such an approach, and have important perspectives to add to the debate. Others are more hostile to this type of change. Religious organizations should be part of the global conversation on genetic and other issues, but they should be no means have veto powers.

Rebecca Wald: You’re Jewish and someone who thinks deeply about things—about where we’re going as a society—so I thought I’d ask. What’s your take on circumcision? Are you surprised that even some Israeli and Jewish American parents are now deciding not to have their boys undergo the procedure?

Jamie Metzl: Funny you should ask, Rebecca! For many years I have expressed my strong reservations about religious circumcision, male or female. I’ve read a lot of the science and am not at all convinced there is a medical rationale for any of it. I think it’s great that many parents, Jewish and otherwise, are making their own decisions, and that people like you are demonstrating how meaningful alternative approaches can be.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Celebrating Brit Shalom: The Debrief


Marilyn Milos, RN, references "Celebrating Brit Shalom" at
the 2015 Birth Keeper Summit in Berkeley, CA.

By REBECCA WALD

Well, it's official. Drumroll please! As of today the Oakland-based indie publishing company, Notim Press, has officially released Celebrating Brit Shalom, a book I've co-authored with my wonderful colleague and friend Lisa Braver Moss.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Weirdest Sculpture Ever—And Then I Saw What It Could Do. Incredible.




By REBECCA WALD

Italian artist Vincenzo Aiello has made what he says is the first-ever recreation of the male foreskin. Calling it an art piece, he's offering these ultra-realistic sculptures of "HuFo" to backers of his Kickstarter crowd-funding effort.

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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Navigating Gender Stereotypes and the Circumcision Imperative

By B.J. EPSTEIN
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.

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.

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.

Friday, July 11, 2014

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.

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

By EMILY KAPIT
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

By REBECCA WALD

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?

By LISA BRAVER MOSS

"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.

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

By REBECCA WALD


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 Mothering.com 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 Book on 'Brit Shalom,' Alternative to Jewish Circumcision



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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.

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.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Is Superman Circumcised? Howard Stern Weighs In


By REBECCA WALD

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, 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 www.facebook.com/Misadventures.of.a.Yogi. 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


By REBECCA WALD

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

By REBECCA WALD


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




By YECHIEL WEISS


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

By MARK MORRIS


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.
By SHAWN STARK

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

By REBECCA WALD

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. 
By JENNIFER MARGULIS

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

By FRANCELLE WAX
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

By RICHARD SCHWARTZMAN, D.O.

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

By MOLLY MCFLY

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

By REBECCA WALD

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

By MOLLY MCFLY

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


By REBECCA WALD

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

By ELIYAHU UNGAR-SARGON


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

By REBECCA WALD

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

By AMY SOULE
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. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Eight Reasons Why an Intact Penis Is Better Than a Cut Penis

By ERAN SADEH

Shalom. I’m Israeli, I’m Jewish and I’m an Intactivist, which means I strive to end male circumcision performed on infants and children in Israel and around the world. My journey to Intactivism began seven years ago when my son was born.

My wife and I had no doubts about circumcision. Although I hated it, and knew I was only doing it because it was a social dictate, I felt that putting my son through a surgical procedure to make his penis look “normal” was a must. The thought of not circumcising didn’t even cross my mind.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The German Circumcision Dilemma: Expanding the Debate and Proposing a Way Forward

By RONALD GOLDMAN

A German court in Cologne recently ruled that circumcising young boys represents grievous bodily harm. The court found the child’s "fundamental right to bodily integrity" was more important than the parents’ rights. According to the court, the religious freedom "would not be unduly impaired" because the child could later decide whether to have the circumcision.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Attachment Parenting, Avoiding Circumcision: My Jewish Family Traditions

By KAREN RANZI

I was born in Newark NJ at Beth Israel Hospital in the 1950s and was raised in Livingston NJ. My parents were Jewish. My father always taught me to question, and so throughout my life I have questioned all that has come before me to make sure I am following what I believe to be the truth. I published my first book in 2010, Creating Healthy Children: Through Attachment Parenting and Raw Foods.

The book focuses on parents following the needs of the child. Home birth, long-term breastfeeding, weaning when baby is ready to wean, skin-to-skin contact, holding baby, the family bed, and modeling emotional poise are all aspects of attachment parenting, which lead to superior physical, mental, emotional and spiritual development of the child. I devote a chapter of my book to circumcision facts and the harms of circumcision surgery.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Novelist Lisa Braver Moss Writes on Circumcision Jewish Practices for Huffington Post

By REBECCA WALD

Novelist and Beyond the Bris contributor Lisa Braver Moss has written a powerful essay for the Huffington Post on metzitzah b’peh, which is practiced by some Orthodox mohels during the bris. As a direct result of the ritual, several New York infants contracted the herpes virus. Two died and two suffered permanent brain damage.  

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Healthy Eats and Natural Parenting Unite in “Creating Healthy Children” Book


By REBECCA WALD

Author and lecturer Karen Ranzi
at Nuage Cafe in Parkland Florida.
In her new book Creating Healthy Children: Through Attachment Parenting and Raw Foods (2012) Jewish author, lecturer and mom Karen Ranzi combines two subjects that are close to her heart in an informative compendium of sound parenting advice and great raw food recipes that even picky toddlers will devour. 

“I began writing my book emphasizing only raw food nutrition. However, I realized that one cannot raise a healthy child through good food alone,” Ranzi says. “Attachment parenting is crucial. The mothers of today’s civilized world must return to their roots and learn to listen to their maternal instincts in order to be present to raise their children,” she says.