Friday, December 9, 2011

Anti-Circumcision Book Signed by Howard Stern Being Auctioned

No-circ book signed by Stern.
By REBECCA WALD

An anti-circumcision satire book, autographed on its cover by Jewish circumcision critic Howard Stern, is being auctioned off on eBay in time for holiday gift giving. The book, I Want My Foreskin For Giftmas, was brought to Stern’s studio by guest Ron Low back in March. Low, who has twice appeared on the show, is the president of TLC Tugger, a company that invents, manufactures and sells stretching devices that help men partially restore or “regrow” the skin removed during circumcision.   
At the end of the segment featuring Low, which took place during Genital Integrity Awareness Week 2011, Low asked Stern if he would be willing to sign the book he brought to the studio, explaining he would sell it and donate the proceeds to Intact America, a charitable organization that is working to educate the public about the harms of infant circumcision. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

San Francisco "Cut" Screening

Left to right: Jonathon Conte, Eli Ungar-Sargon, Lisa Braver
Moss, Mark Reiss and Rebecca Wald.  Photo / David Wilton

By REBECCA WALD

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending a screening of Eli Ungar-Sargon’s documentary Cut: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision in San Francisco. The event was hosted by the Bay Area Intactivists and event organizer Jonathon Conte did a wonderful job putting it all together.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Refusing to Close the Book: An Interview With Lisa Braver Moss

Lisa Moss: Proud to be Jewish
and against circumcision.
San Francisco Bay Area author Lisa Braver Moss sensed that circumcision was wrong when she first learned of the ritual as a child. Yet when Lisa’s sons were born in the 1980s she agreed to have them circumcised, adhering to Jewish tradition and widely embraced American convention. Most mothers who circumcise, despite knowing better in their hearts, would close the book on the matter forever. Courageously, Lisa has refused to do this. In 1991, Lisa spoke against the practice at the Second International Symposium on Circumcision hosted by National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC). Over the years, she’s written articles on the subject and has recently published The Measure of His Grief, a novel about a quirky Jewish doctor who becomes an unlikely circumcision opponent.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Declaring Circumcision 'Health Positive' A Terrible Mistake

The below testimony was given on Tuesday in Sacramento opposing proposed California law, AB-768, seeking to declare the benefits of male circumcision and to prevent local governments from restricting its practice in any way.  
By BRIAN LEVITT


Levitt to legislators: I was
harmed by circumcision.
Good afternoon. My name is Brian Levitt and I live in San Francisco. I’ve come today to Sacramento to urge this committee to shelve this badly thought-out measure. This is an emergency bill, but there is no emergency on the part of its sponsors. There is no pending ballot measure that they object to, there is no imminent harm to children or families, and laws exist already that deal with this. Please do not rush into endorsing legislation that duplicates existing law yet creates favored status for religions and practitioners over the rights of those of us who have to bear the surgery.
I am Jewish, the eldest of 3 children and the son of a doctor. What troubles me most about AB-768 is that it aims to establish, as a matter of California law, that circumcision is "health-positive" and "affiliation-positive." This would be a terrible mistake, as such claims are not supported by any medical or psychological association in the world. This language is a “hail Mary pass” by circumcision supporters and has no business becoming part of the Code of California. It is biased, misleading and inaccurate.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Howard Stern's Producer Won't Be Circumcising His Newborn

Will Murray won't cut his boy.
By REBECCA WALD

It looks like Howard Stern's denouncement of infant circumcision on his radio show over the years has left a big impression on the show's researcher and segment producer, Will Murray. 

Yesterday, Murray spoke on Howard 100 News about the birth of his son, Owen. Murray was proud to say his boy is "au natural" and will not be circumcised. Howard 100 News broadcasts an hourly summary of stories related to Howard Stern on Sirius Satellite Radio. 

Part of Murray's responsibilities as segment producer are to preinterview all of the guests and compile research notes for Stern to use during interviews. No doubt pre-interviewing Ron Low, who is an advocate of foreskin restoration and has appeared more than once on Stern's show, gave Murray something to think about. It's been widely reported that Murray won the Howard Stern staff I.Q. test with a score of 130. Yesterday's announcement is further proof that he's one smart cookie. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Defying Convention: An Interview With Miriam Pollack


Miriam Pollack is widely recognized within the anti-circumcision community as both a proud Jew and a dedicated opponent of genital cutting. She boldly, yet gently, speaks her mind, which has at times put her at odds with the two communities she holds most dear: the Jewish community and the community of intactivists. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Eli Ungar-Sargon Debates “Kosher Sex” Author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on the Ethics of Jewish Circumcision

Introductory remarks from a July 18 debate at The Manhattan Jewish Experience a debate between documentary filmmaker Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of the book "Kosher Sex." 

By ELI UNGAR-SARGON

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Eli Ungar-Sargon and I’m an independent filmmaker. My first feature-length documentary, “Cut” is an exploration of male circumcision and Jewish identity. I made the film, because I think that circumcision is a really interesting example of a problem that we don’t often discuss openly. Namely, what we as people who care about living both moral and Jewish lives are supposed to do when our own ethics conflict with Jewish law.The film will be coming back to New York at the end of September, so if what I say here tonight intrigues you, come up to me afterwards and I’ll send you an email with more details about the screening. 
Infant male circumcision is physically harmful, medically irresponsible, and morally wrong. It is also true that infant circumcision has been a central Jewish practice for at least 2500 years. I’ll come back to the religious side of this issue a little later, but for now, let’s focus on the practice divorced from its religious significance.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Brit Shalom: An Alternative Naming Ceremony

By MARK REISS, M.D.

The bris (Yiddish) or brit (Hebrew) is nothing more than a covenantal naming ceremony for baby Jewish boys. Traditionally done on the eighth day of life, the baby is given his Jewish or Hebrew name, he is ushered into the community of Judaism, and his foreskin is removed. Until relatively recently, this patrilineal ceremony was reserved for males. 

Nowadays, we have similar naming ceremonies for baby girls, minus the genital cutting. In Hebrew, the term brit milah refers to ritual circumcision. Why not eliminate the cutting, and peacefully give baby boys a name which welcomes them into Judaism? The term brit shalom, “Covenant of Peace” is used to denote an alternative non-cutting naming ceremony. Other terms include brit b’li milah (covenant without cutting), brit chayim (covenant of life) and brit ben (covenant for a boy). Brit bat being the term for a girl’s naming ceremony.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Blood, Sweat & Tears Lead Singer Protests Infant Circumcision


Talking genital integrity: performer Jason Paige sits 
down for an interview with Beyond the Bris.

By REBECCA WALD

Los Angeles performer Jason Paige wants the audience of his one-man comedy show to realize his song about his botched bris isn’t a joke. So he calls a few audience members to the stage and has them face him. The rest can’t see Jason as he pulls down his pants to reveal what he calls his “piercing,” a small hole in his penis through which he can—and does, for performances—dangle an earring. Proof to the crowd of his circumcision gone wrong comes as the audience participants return to their seats, stunned looks on their faces.

Jason has a circumcision complication known as a skin bridge. A remanent of his foreskin became fused to the head of his penis as an infant during the healing process. Sometimes skin bridges can result in painful erections and severe disfigurement. In Jason’s case, it's a relatively minor complication that prompted him to learn more about "what goes down" during a circumcision procedure, and ultimately to oppose the practice.

It also inspired him to record a music video titled “Circumcision” and sung to the tune of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious.” In the parody, Jason wears a black tee-shirt with white letters that ask: “Guess Where I’m Pierced?”

Jason says the lyrics are a culmination of his coming to understand what happened to him through stories he’d heard growing up. “I’d heard how my uncle had fainted during my bris and what a horrible event it was. This was the thing everyone would talk about at the Passover seder,” he says.

While many You Tube performers are amateurs, Jason happens to be one of the most talented vocalists of our time. He jokingly describes himself as the most famous person you’ve never heard of. The designation fits. Although many won’t recognize the name Jason Paige, almost everyone in America has heard his incredible voice—one way or another. Jason has shared stage and studio with the biggest names in music. He was the rap soloist for the song “Black or White” during Michael Jackson’s 30th Anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden. He has sung with music legends of every stripe, including Foreigner, Meatloaf, The Scorpions, Frankie Valli, Aerosmith, Enrique Iglesias, Liza Minelli, Ashanti, Ray Charles, Luther Vandros, Mark Anthony, Ricky Martin, Usher, Chaka Khan and Patti LaBelle (just to name a few). He is currently touring with the rock group Blood, Sweat and Tears as their “front man” or lead singer. 

Jason is also a voiceover artist and sound-alike, which means he can make his amazing voice sound like just about anyone. He sings over 100 commercial jingles each year. Highlights include Pepto Bizmol’s “Nausea Heartburn Indigestion,” Mountain Dew’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Taco Bell’s “Think Outside The Bun,” Subway’s “Eat Fresh,” Bounty’s “Quilted Quicker Picker-Upper,” and the U.S. Army’s “Be All that You Can Be.” Jason also has the quirky distinction of being the voice most heard and imitated on You Tube. He sang the original “Pokemon” theme song, a Billboard #1 single played by millions on Guitar Hero. It ranks as the all time, number one most viewed You Tube video.

Jason wishes his “Circumcision” parody would go viral on You Tube like his Pokemon theme song. “I wanted to tell the story of my botched circumcision as I had understood it at the time. I want to enlighten through comedy, though entertainment, and through music. I want to get people to wake up to the human rights violation that is circumcision. I decided put on it on video—instead of just singing it in cabaret environments, clubs and for friends—so that it can gain wide exposure,” he says.

Jason wasn’t much aware of the Jewish movement against circumcision until he was contacted by Beyond the Bris. Today he can see himself becoming more involved in this issue. He’s already recorded a new a cappella version of his “Circumcision” song, which has an added third verse. It can be heard on Jason's ReverbNation site. He also hopes to one day shoot a music video in L.A. “I’ve actually expanded the song a little further through more research and managed to include a couple of more lines from Stevie [Wonder],” he says.

Jason pulls no punches when it comes to the prospect of outlawing circumcision. “The ban on circumcision that’s on the ballot in San Francisco is a triumph for intactivists,” he says. “I'm totally for it. San Francisco has often lead the country in elevating our consciousness. It has already helped spread awareness of this human rights crime to other states and hopefully will lead people everywhere to be more compassionate, thoughtful and rational not only towards their own fragile newborn children but to other fellow men and women as well.”


Jason's mom, Charlie, has also come to
oppose the procedure when performed
on non-consenting children.
Beyond the Bris had the pleasure of sitting down with Jason Paige for a video interview. He even brought along his super cool mom, Charlie, who also wanted to go on camera about Jason’s botched circumcision and how her feelings have changed dramatically since she was a young woman deciding to circumcise her newborn. Clips of Jason and Charlie speaking for the Beyond the Bris project can be seen on our You Tube channel, which also plays here on our site. To find out more about Jason's work, stop by his You Tube channel and website.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Jewish Circumcision Opponents Grow More Vocal

By REBECCA WALD


As the legal maneuvering begins in San Francisco over a ballot initiative that seeks to prohibit the non-medically necessary circumcision of minors there, a number of Jewish people opposed to the practice are stepping forward to weigh in on the circumcision question. Earlier this week, the Jewish Circumcision Resource Center of Boston, Massachusetts, or JCRC, (not to be confused with the Jewish Community Relations Counsel) released a Message to Jewish Americans that addressed questioning circumcision from a Jewish point of view. 
“Our essential message is that all Jews do have a choice; we can be fully identified and affiliated as Jews, and fully engaged spiritually in a Jewish context, without circumcising our infants,” the statement says. “Our core principles are simple and unambiguous: infants are people; their bodies belong to them alone. Every person should have the right to make an informed decision about the removal or alteration of any normal, healthy, functioning body part when he or she is older.” 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Anti-Circumcision Group Addresses Jewish Issues

The Jewish Circumcision Resource Center of Boston, Mass. has issued a joint statement which in part addresses issues of ethnic insensitivity within the larger genital integrity movement. The Center was founded in the 1990s by Ronald Goldman, Ph.D. with the message that Jewish Americans have a choice about circumcision. Goldman is the author of two books, "Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective" and "Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma." The statement was signed by several individuals who have been longtime opponents of circumcision and are also Jewish. For more on the statement, click here

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On Circumcision, Authority and the Perpetuation of Abuse

By JONATHAN FRIEDMAN

The practice of circumcision is something I've been aware of from a very young age. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and my family is Orthodox. I've witnessed many brisim. The blood-curdling screams. The actual blood. The pacifier dipped in wine to calm the baby. I never picked up on metzizah b'peh because I never got close enough to watch. A crowd of men always blocked the view of the circumcision from the rest of the congregants. I remember a few times when uncles, who were upfront watching, bolted for the door.

I've also been very much aware of my own circumcision from a young age. The unsightly scar around the shaft of my penis, halfway along its length. The discolored flesh above the scar which used to be the inside of my foreskin. The scar tissue where my frenulum used to attach to my glans.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Evolving Jewish Practices

By LISA BRAVER MOSS
I’m Jewish, affiliated and opposed to circumcision. I can understand the thinking behind the proposed ban in San Francisco even though I believe such legislation would be a bad idea. 
We now have clinical evidence that infants feel pain and are affected by it, and that the foreskin has a significant physiological function. These crucial facts — along with frequently ignored issues such as the surgical risks of circumcision and its effect on the parent-newborn bond — have yet to be incorporated into either medical or Jewish practice.
Halachah (Jewish law) evolves over time as new insights develop. In the talmudic era, for example, deaf people were classified with the mentally incompetent and weren’t even counted toward a minyan. We learned more, and Jewish practices changed accordingly.

Circumcision and Change

Francis Kissling
Francis Kissling has written an excellent piece, “Circumcision and Change,” in her blog “On Faith,” that is part The Washington Post online. She states in part: “It may be time for Jews to look more closely at circumcision in the context of their own modern view of sexuality, gender and reproduction. Just as we now have Bat Mitzvahs as well as Bar Mitzvahs could not the entire ritual of circumcision be transformed to honor both boys and girls, to eliminate pain and move from the pelvic zone into a more spiritual and holistic understanding of our sexuality?” I do disagree with Kissling's assessment of the medical benefits of circumcision. Kissling is a catholic feminist and visiting scholar at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. To read the full text of her post click here.  

Saturday, June 4, 2011

To the Mohel Who Cut Me

By SHEA LEVY
This is an email I sent to the mohel who performed my circumcision 21 years ago. My goal in sending this was to show him the perspective of someone who wished he hadn’t been circumcised, so that he would understand what his profession could do and maybe so he would question his continued participation in the field. I’ve chosen to publish this openly for two reasons: So that my friends and family can understand how I feel personally about my circumcision (rather than just my intellectual position on circumcision in the abstract), and so that anyone out there who is considering performing a circumcision or having one performed might change their minds.
Before I get to the email, a few notes:
The account includes personal descriptions involving my genitalia. While there is nothing graphically sexual and no pictures or anything, this may make some uncomfortable.
I’m well aware that my parents had a significant role to play in my circumcision as well. I do not mean this letter to be construed as faulting only Rabbi Henesch. I am still not sure how to discuss this topic with my parents, or even if I should considering that they will not be in the position to circumcise another boy in the future.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How "Cut" Saved My Son's Foreskin: A Movie Review

By DIANE TARGOVNIK


I have to admit I am biased about the film "Cut: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision." It is this film that saved my little boy’s foreskin from myself and my Jewish religion and culture. Because on one level, this film is so basic that it was the education as a Jew that I needed. It was the education I felt others in my tribe needed, so much so that I put the film’s website in the invitation to my son’s brit shalom, an alternative ceremony that does not involve cutting. And now that I have this basic education, I do wish there was a bit more depth to the film, but more on that later.

I grew up a Conservative Jew and with two parents who were doctors. The question of circumcision was never in doubt in my growing up years, whether for religious or health reasons. It was talked about as one would talk about cutting the hole out of the donut—it was no big deal. A donut still functions well without its center and, in my formative years, I was taught so does a penis. I was so convinced of this that had my first child been a boy, I would have circumcised.

But life is a journey. First it started with deciding to home-birth my children. Then, pregnant with my second child and not sure of the sex of the baby, I had an existential angst to face. Could I circumcise this baby if he were a boy? I remember when my daughter was eight days old and thinking, “Thank G-d she is a girl.” I started doing research and feeling like the world was anti-Semitic. How dare others outside my religion consider brit milah barbaric! How dare they question this ancient ritual! Then someone on the mothering.com “Case Against Circumcision” forum told me about "Cut." I felt at home in this movie. I loved that it’s creator Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon was a Jew exploring this subject so I could relieve myself of my anti-Semitic arguments and truly look at circumcision, in a Jewish light and in a humanitarian light. Mr. Ungar-Sargon grew up as an Orthodox Jew whose family made aliyah and moved to Israel when he was a youngster. 

Much of the movie can be seen free online. The DVD, which is available for purchase, has added footage that will be of interest to viewers. I remember I watched it at night, on my laptop in my family bed. My then two-year-old daughter was fast asleep as I hit the play button.

I admire "Cut" because it shows actual circumcisions and I think if we choose to cut off our sons’ foreskins, we should be made to view how it is done. During the circumcisions the babies were crying. An intense cry that made me start crying. My daughter in her sleep started screaming “Owww!!! Owww!!!” I started to realize that if my two-year-old, in her slumber, could recognize a baby in such pain, that maybe I had been told lies about the severity of brit milah. What I had been told was that the foreskin was “just” an extra piece of skin. There was no true purpose to it; kind of like an external appendix. The movie continued and, with it, my well needed education.

In fact, the foreskin is connected to the penis like the fingernail is attached to a finger. That means the foreskin is physically torn off the penis and cut--usually without anesthesia. “Babies don’t like to me mucked with,” states a mohelet (female mohel) in the movie. "You can use anesthesia, but to me that is just more mucking with,” she says.

The movie showed me an intact penis and compared it to a circumcised penis. It was then I realized that what I had always thought was a normal penis was in fact a very scarred penis, complete with amputation neuromas. I learned the tip of the foreskin has about 20,000 Meissner's corpuscles, specialized nerve endings that are acutely sensitive to light touch. Tickle the palm of your hand and see how sensitive it is compared to the skin on the back of your hand. It’s because the palm, like the foreskin, is loaded with these nerve endings. And they are not found on the shaft of the penis. Once I did this “feel” test I knew I could not circumcise my son. The foreskin is more than just a piece of skin. As one man explains who got circumcised later in life: “I lost so much sensitivity. It's like being outside on a sunny day and not being able to feel the heat or the grass under your feet.”

As the movie demonstrates, the medical reasons for circumcision come and go, as the science behind each reason shows its flaws. First it was to prevent masturbation, then cancer of the penis, then prostate cancer and cervical cancer. And now HIV. Circumcision is a procedure in search of a justification. As one mother who circumcised her three sons points out: “What mother wants to hear it was done for no reason? And what man wants to hear it was done for no reason?”

"Cut" explores the rainbow of Jewish affiliations, from Orthodox to Reform, all of which still support brit milah even though a boy is still Jewish without one. As Orthodox Rabbi Lopatin explains in the film: "The boy is certainly Jewish even if he is not circumcised and he has all the obligations of a Jew.” In the Orthodox community an uncircumcised male is forbidden from participating in certain activities.

But the most telling of the interviews was from Rabbi Worch, and it made me wonder where we stopped being “people of the book” and started to be sheep. “It's painful. It’s abusive. It’s traumatic. And if anybody who’s not in a Covenant does it, I think they should be put in prison. I don’t think anyone has an excuse for mutilating a child. We don't have rights to other people’s bodies. And a baby needs to have its rights protected. I think anybody who circumcises a baby is an abuser, unless it is absolutely medically advised...otherwise, what for? ....I am an abuser. I do abusive things because I am in Covenant with G-d…I agreed to ignore the pain, and the rights, and the trauma of my child to be in this Covenant."

The film did not place the Jewish opposition to circumcision in much historical context, however. In my own research after watching this movie, I discovered that I was not the only Jew who felt circumcision was wrong. Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Israel, refused to circumcise his son. Also, the history behind Jewish circumcision did not always include the priah, which is the complete removal of the foreskin. Some hypothesize that Jewish circumcision used to be much more of a small, almost innocuous tribal nick. Such a small nick that when the penis was flaccid, one couldn’t tell the boy had been circumcised. Thus one explanation of why the famous statute of David looks uncircumcised.

If you watch the full length version of "Cut," there is a segment that goes further into the Jewish view of circumcision. Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon’s father explains that there have been revolutions in Judaism that have changed things. I thought it would have been a more intellectual and philosophical film if the history of circumcision had been delved into and this angle of a “Jewish revolution” had been further explored. Because that is what we need now. We need to stop the biblical archetype of fathers and mothers inflicting pain on their sons.

In the end, "Cut" showed me “before a man knows he has a penis to protect, a woman knows she has a baby to protect. It's very simple. It’s very simple. It’s a mother’s job to protect her baby...when a mother does that we are going to have a different world.” And so even though my husband (who is also Jewish) still disagrees with my choice not to circumcise our child, I am the mama. The Jewish mama who now has a fully Jewish, intact boy. Because the Jewish revolution has to start with someone. And as the filmmaker explains at the end of the film about his decision not to cut a future son: “What does being Jewish mean to me? It means knowing when to be disobedient."

Diane Targovnik is the mama to two children born at home. In addition to being a full-time mother, she is also a lawyer. A native of Phoenix, Arizona, Ms. Targovnik looks forward to being part of the movement to help educate other Jews regarding brit shalom. Click here for more information about Cut, or to purchase the film.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Short Take on San Fran's Proposed Circumcision Ban

By REBECCA WALD

It has just been announced that Joan Arntz, Director of Elections for the City and County of San Francisco, has certified that the San Francisco MGMbill (male genital mutilation bill) has successfully gathered more than enough signatures to be placed on the ballot in November. 
Should the initiative become law it will become a misdemeanor crime, punishable by an up to $1000 fine and one year in prison, to "circumcise, excise, cut, or mutilate the whole or any part of the foreskin, testicles or penis of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years." There is no religious exemption.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Going Bare: An Exclusive Interview with Intactivism's Favorite Runner


At age 28, Kevin (AKA the Barefoot Intactivist) is one of the most compelling emerging figures in the current anti-circumcision movement. He is a thoughtful and well spoken University of Florida graduate with a great idea. He trains and runs races barefoot to raise awareness about why it’s so important to leave baby boys whole. Kevin takes to the streets in Manhattan, and around the world, to stay healthy and educate others about the harms of circumcision, of which he has firsthand experience. In the following interview, Kevin shares his thoughts on issues that matter to him most.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lucking Into Bris Shalom

By SARAH ROCKWELL
As a Jew I grew up thinking circumcision was normal. All of my younger cousins and the sons of family friends were circumcised. All the children I babysat for were circumcised. The sound of a wailing baby at a Bris was something familiar—as was the apparently peacefully sleeping baby afterward. The first time I saw an intact baby boy, I thought he looked strange.

When I was a teenager, my father started complaining about circumcision. He would say things like, “I don’t understand why, in a world full of pain, we choose to put our baby boys through even more pain.” It was only when I was pregnant with my son, and had a serious conversation with my father about circumcision, that I discovered he would not have wanted to cut a son of his own. He said to me, "There is enough pain in this world, why would anyone want to inflict pain on a newborn baby so that pain is all he knows of life?"

Although I grew up as a Conservative Jew, learned to read Hebrew, had a Bat Mitzvah, and even kept kosher for a while, I gradually became more secular. I discovered a Reconstructionist synagogue in Miami and loved the Rabbi’s philosophy: “Judaism is like you grandmother’s attic--you take things down and try them for a while. You keep what works in your life and put the rest back.”

Then, I moved to Gainesville, Florida and met my husband. A non-Jew, a heathen, an atheist. Yet, he has more integrity and a stronger moral base than many of the very religious people I know. He also has his foreskin. When our relationship became serious we talked about how we would raise our children. Although he was totally on board with raising our children in Reconstructionist or Reformed Judaism, he was adamant they be left intact. I was fine with that, but I also wanted to be able to honor deceased relatives through the Jewish tradition of giving a Hebrew name. I just hoped we wouldn’t have a son.
We got pregnant after five years of marriage. I prayed for a daughter so I wouldn’t have to face criticism from my extended family or search for a Rabbi who would do a baby naming without a Bris Milah. We had a baby boy. I called the Rabbi at the Reconstructionist synagogue I had attended in Miami and discussed our decision not to circumcise and have a baby naming ceremony. He agreed to do a naming ceremony for our son. We went to Miami when Devin was 3 months old and had a beautiful baby naming ceremony with most of my extended family and many family friends in attendance. To my surprise, nobody criticized our decision to keep Devin intact.

It was only months after we had made our decision that I began researching circumcision. The videos of circumcisions looked like torture and made me sick. I think I was impacted even more by my research because I had never considered not circumcising my son until I met my husband. I made the decision to keep Devin intact so he would look like his father (as if a child’s penis could ever look like an adult’s) and to eliminate what I thought was a slim chance of circumcision complications or penile injury. How little I knew! Complications and death from circumcision are common and the procedure alone is penile injury. I wonder, what would have happened to my son had my in-laws not made the decision to keep my husband intact? Would I have unknowingly mutilated my son so he could look like his mutilated father? It frightens me to admit I probably would have. My awareness of the luck of our decision to keep our son whole makes me even more dedicated to spreading my story and promoting Bris Shalom so other children will be spared.

Sarah Rockwell is a doctoral candidate in special education at the University of Florida specializing in academic instruction for students with autism. She is also a full-time, attachment parenting mother to a spunky 15-month-old little boy. She is passionate about breastfeeding, intactivism, and babywearing. In her spare time she is co-admin of the Human Milk 4 Human Babies Florida Facebook page, runs meetings of the Gainesville Babywearers, and is on the membership and planning committee for the Gainesville Attachment Parenting group.
© 2011 Sarah Rockwell / Beyond the Bris

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Circumcision Timing Sparks Debate

By REBECCA WALD

Noni MacDonald, M.D.
Is circumcising an infant less traumatic than circumcising an older child or an adult? According Brooklyn mohel Rabbi Yakov Werde, circumcising at an older age is “much more traumatic.” The mohel’s comment appears in an April 7 post on the blog “The Schmooze,” which is part of The Jewish Daily Forward. At issue is a recent Canadian Medical Association Journal article “Male circumcision: getting the timing right,” which puts forth the idea that it may be better to offer circumcision to young male adolescents rather than imposing it on newborns. 
The article’s author, Noni MacDonald, M.D., is a professor of pediatrics at Dalehousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada.  Her point is a fairly simple one, which is that any potential benefit circumcision has for preventing sexually transmitted disease only kicks in when males become sexually active. If the medical specialty associations in Canada and America are going to consider changing their position statements about the benefits of circumcision, shouldn't they also consider when best to circumcise? 

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Howard Stern: Jewish Intactivist

Satellite radio talk show host Howard Stern told millions of listeners this Tuesday that he felt male infant circumcision should be illegal in the United States, declaring it a “mutilation.” Stern’s statements coincide with Genital Integrity Awareness Week, during which opponents of circumcision will be rallying at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. and across several U.S. cities.    
In a half-hour segment, Stern interviewed Ron Low, an anti-circumcision activist and industrial engineer who developed and actively promotes several devices that enable circumcised men to restore their foreskins.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Mayim Bialik, Circumcision & Destiny

Mayim Bialik "wearing" her son.
More than twenty years ago, actress Mayim Bialik changed the direction of my life forever (and I hers) in a big way. So, when I learned of a recent brouhaha raised by some in the anti-circumcision camp because she calls herself “holistic” and promotes natural parenting, but nevertheless chose to circumcise her sons, it certainly caught my attention.
Apparently, a number of people opposed to infant circumcision posted messages to Mayim’s Facebook official fan page, and elsewhere on the Internet, essentially calling her out for being a hypocrite. The tone of at least some of the messages wasn’t friendly. I would have been interested in this flap regardless, because I’m Jewish, opposed to circumcision, and I blog about it. The fact that Mayim and I had a collision of destinies, forever changing the course and direction of our lives, adds another dimension to this whole affair.


Friday, February 25, 2011

A Comment on "The Measure of His Grief"

By REBECCA WALD
I have just read “The Measure of His Grief” by Jewish author Lisa Braver Moss. It is a character and issue driven novel, with an air of mystery, that is engaging and well paced.
"Grief" Author, Lisa Braver Moss
As the book opens, we enter the life of Berkeley physician Sandy Waldman, who has just learned his father, a Holocaust survivor, has died. What occurs in the days that follow is confusing and remarkable: he begins to experience gripping physical and psychological pain that appears to have no medical origin.
Ultimately, Sandy comes to believe he’s been reliving the long repressed trauma of his own circumcision. Thus begins Sandy’s journey of self discovery that will change, and challenge, everything about his life. Like any good work of fiction, “The Measure of His Grief” has an underlying symbolism that will not be apparent to many readers, but will work its way, like water, into the deepest reaches of their psyches.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Am I a Jew? Do I Want to Be?

By KAREN ISSKENDEROV

The issue of circumcision, which I'll call genital mutilation or just GM, illustrates the problems of mankind. When custom and tradition become embedded in religion (or vice versa), a human rights violation can become overlooked, even accepted into society.

I find it amazing we have accepted the wrongs of slavery, sexism and incest so prevalent in religious writings, yet GM continues. Why? It is as if males need to justify their mutilation by continuing to mutilate their own sons. Modern countries have even outlawed female GM while not only allowing, but promoting male GM. I see no difference. Just because male GM is less destructive than female GM (or is it?) doesn't make it acceptable, it is still a mutilation. If God told Abraham to cut off his thumb, would that still be accepted today? No, it would be ridiculous. Maybe because a penis is hidden from view by clothing this has continued.

GM is an obvious human rights violation. Performing unnecessary, painful and mutilating surgery on a child unable to consent is unforgivable. Imagine the build up of negativity in a person that performs the act. All done with a smile and a “mazel tov!”

Unfortunately, Jews and Muslims continue to quote the scriptures to justify continuing this practice. What is the excuse of the rest of society? They certainly are not trying to be Jews or Muslims. In American society, people, especially of my generation, don't know what a normal, intact penis should look like.

Only in the last 200 plus years have we done away with most slavery. Hopefully, GM is next. We need to stop turning to scripture for answers to all our questions. It is open to interpretation, and there is a definite wrong going on here. I hope mankind has learned something in the last 2000 years. Religious writing should at least be updated to our times, things have definitely changed. Such as dietary laws. Maybe they made sense back then, but today there isn't much basis to it.

Organizations like NOCIRC do a great job teaching the benefits of an intact male, but it is a very sensitive subject and they approach it very intellectually and carefully. Dr. Dean Edell has done a great job teaching the subject. But unless you raise hell with the religious aspect of this, we will never get to the top and end this suffering forever. So stop reciting the story of Abraham, I don't buy it. Whether you are a Jew does not, and should not, be dependent on the status of your penis. And if it does, then I am not a Jew. Human rights are for everyone. All persons are created equal. If MGM is to continue then FGM must be allowed. And we know that is wrong. So end it all!

Karen Isskenderov is a practicing pharmacist, living in St. Petersberg, Florida. She has a daughter and two sons. Karen's mother, age 94, still recalls the horror of her two brothers circumcisions, and says if she knew there was a choice she would have never allowed it. She is very happy her grandsons are intact and that Karen will not have to live with the memories she harbors.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What Circumcision and Bunnies Have in Common

By REBECCA WALD
Please don’t tell my daughter, but my husband and I have been exploring the possibility of bringing home a pet bunny for her fourth birthday. Unfortunately, we’re an allergic family. So as cute and lovable as a bunny would be, we will probably not end up adopting one. We have learned they tend to be as allergic as cats. There is an interesting side note, however, which inspired me to write this post. 
If we were to adopt a bunny, we would probably do so from a shelter. That said, in our search to learn more about these adorable animals we did meet with a local woman who raises rabbits for the pet and show trade. During our visit to her rabbitry, she informed us that while pet stores will sell you an infant rabbit (because the littlest ones are so darned cute), they are negligent in doing so because rabbits should remain with their mothers for eight weeks if going to a family, longer if one plans to show them. Rabbits, she said, weaned too early don’t turn out to be great pets. They’re not that social and are predisposed to unpleasant behavioral traits.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Why I'm Not Convinced

By Rebecca Wald
Kahlil Gibran Drawing / The Prophet
Every mother is different and has her own style when it comes to raising kids. I didn’t circumcise my son and I feel it was 100% the right choice, for him and me. At the same time, I don’t condemn moms who do to circumcise. I recognize there are different ways of living and different life circumstances. I’m open to the possibility that mine is not the only “right” answer.
Choosing to leave my son with the penis he was born with was a decision very much tied to the way I view the world. I am sort of an iconoclast, somebody who looks at the society around me with a critical, analytical eye. As I look at the craziness of the world, I often ask myself, is this how things should be? Is this the best we humans can arrive at? I can’t help but wonder why the people of the world are in such a sorry state and what, if anything, can I do in my lifetime to improve things. I think if we treated children better, with more tenderness, kindness and respect, this would be an amazing place to start. 
My Parenting Perspective
Some see parenting as a dictatorship (albeit benevolent) where the parent knows best and imposes their way of living on the child. Children are viewed as blank slates who must be “civilized,” conform to the ways of the world, and taught right from wrong. I hold a different view, which is that children come to the world perfect. That it is they who can teach us about how things could or should be, if we will listen. For me, the parents’ job is to intrude and impose as little as possible (keeping the child safe and making sure he or she is respectful to others) and let the child’s true nature unfold. I agree with poet Kahlil Gibran (1883-1930): 
“Your children are not your children. /  They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. /  They come through you but not from you, / And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. / You may give them your love but not your thoughts. / For they have their own thoughts. / You may house their bodies but not their souls, / For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. /You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.” 
It's in the context of this approach to childrearing that I entertained the question of whether to circumcise my child. Being Jewish and American, I grew up in a “double whammy” culture of male genital cutting. I think this is why that even as a committed intactivist, on some level, I still accept the circumcised penis as the “authentic” version. But the more I learned about circumcision, the more I came to see it as well rationalized craziness, a completely human and entirely unnecessary thing to do. 
Do we really need to slice off part of a newborn baby’s penis? Come on. Some say it doesn’t hurt that much, or that even if it does, the pain is quickly forgotten. But when the first experience a human being feels from his sex organ is pain--when one of the first experiences he has in this world is pain--how can we be so sure there aren’t lasting negative consequences? My single friends complain there are few good guys out there. I have to say, before I met my terrific husband, I met plenty of men who were smart and funny, but somehow lacked tenderness and sensitivity. It was as if these men had up a big emotional barricade. Is this just the way many American men are, or did the experience of circumcision somehow play a role? I don’t know, I’m just putting it out there as something to think about.  
Many “Reasons” to Circumcise
Recently my friend Stan, a staunch believer in male infant circumcision, handed me a three-inch thick stack of papers, the sum of his internet research into the health benefits of the practice. It was a rebuttal to my current effort, with this site, to give a fuller voice and presence to the Jewish movement against circumcision. 
Stan, who is in his seventies, is a man of science to the core, a Jewish atheist, and a liberal in the truest sense of the word. He has one of the biggest hearts I’ve encountered. He genuinely cares about people. Stan’s point is simple: it’s been demonstrated in the medical literature that circumcision can or might prevent a range of medical problems, both in circumcised men and their sexual partners. Given Stan’s understanding that circumcision is a prophylaxis against illness, tantamount to vaccination, he sees every reason to circumcise infants at birth. 
I’m well aware of the medical justifications for circumcision that Stan cites, as well as several he does not. Most of have been around for decades (prevention of masturbation and penile cancer, reduction of urinary tract infections, elimination of phimosis--a foreskin which too tight). The touted ability of circumcision to reduce STD acquisition and transmission is currently making headlines. Although some of these medical justifications are not without some merit, in the end I didn’t find them persuading enough to circumcise my son. Here’s why. Stan, like most who favor circumcision, views the foreskin as a functionless body part, akin to the tonsils or the appendix. For them, the foreskin has no merit of its own so they see nothing wrong with removing it, especially if it’s been shown to have the potential to cause trouble. 
The Not So Worthless Foreskin
My research into male anatomy led me to a different conclusion, one that has been reinforced by my own experience with my son’s intact and trouble-free penis. It is that the foreskin has several important functions. It protects the penis from chaffing and abrasion; keeps the urinary opening free from harmful bacteria, especially during infancy and childhood; and plays an important role in healthy sexual function, including enjoyment. Like the female clitoris, the foreskin is not necessary for procreation, or for sexual climax. (Many circumcised women who have had their clitorises removed insist they climax and have sex that is every bit as pleasurable as women who have not been circumcised.) I encourage any parent struggling with the question of circumcision to do their own research into the function of the foreskin and draw their own conclusions about whether this part of the body is disposable.    
For those like my friend Stan who view the foreskin as useless, there can be no competing interest that trumps its removal. In other words, if there is even one iota of benefit in removing it, why not? Since, for me, the foreskin is a valuable part of the normal male anatomy, I would consider its surgical removal a health measure only to be entertained as a last resort. Penile cancer is extremely rare in developed countries (estimated to be about one in 100,000 men) and is typically associated with other serious health conditions and lifestyle risk factors. Urinary tract infections (my son has never had one) are easily treatable with antibiotics. As far as sexually transmitted diseases, only safe sex can prevent them in a meaningful way. I have lost far too many circumcised male friends to AIDS over the years to even entertain circumcision as being a worthwhile preventive measure against this horrific illness. Besides, infants don’t have sex. Adult men can always choose to get circumcised if they feel it’s worth it to prevent contracting STDs, or for any other reason they find compelling.
There are many body parts we could remove at birth because they can cause trouble. We could remove the tissue destined to become the female breast, virtually eliminating the incidence of breast cancer later in life. (Cosmetic implants could always come later, if one desires.) Breasts are not necessary for procreation since babies can be bottle-fed. Given that the risk of a woman developing breast cancer during her lifetime has been estimated to be about one in eight, and that the consequences of breast cancer can be devastating, this argument is in many ways more convincing than the medical arguments favoring foreskin removal at birth. 
Cultural Rationales for Circumcising
Of course, there are many other justifications for male infant circumcision beyond the medical. Some say, “I want my son to look like his father,” or “I don’t want my son to be laughed at in the locker room/bedroom,” or “my Jewish parents/grandparents will never forgive me if I don’t circumcise,” or “he will be less Jewish,” or “I just think it’s cleaner.” I want to talk a little about each of these attitudes and why I, personally, didn’t find them convincing.   
As far as fathers and sons looking alike, I absolutely agree with the feeling behind this sentiment, which is that fathers and sons should have a loving and close relationship. They should feel deeply connected. Maybe it’s because I’m not a guy, but I don’t see how “matching” penises fosters this bond. I think a father demonstrating genuine love for his child by protecting him from the insanity of the world would foster a far greater bond with his son than making his son look just like him through surgery. By the way, my five year old has never expressed any concern, whatsoever, over the fact that he has a foreskin and his dad doesn’t. I imagine one day when he learns about circumcision, he will be relieved and grateful his dad and I spared him from having part of his penis removed. 
To those worried about the locker room (or the bedroom), I totally get that no parent wants their child to be teased by his peers, or a girlfriend, especially about something as personal as his genitals. At the same time, people come in all shapes, sizes and colors. I don’t think we should judge people based on the way they look on the outside and I don’t think we should live our lives in fear of others judging us this way. If I were to circumcise my child based on my own fear of prejudice, what would that say about me? What would it say about my values, my tolerance, my biases--my gumption? What message would I be sending to my son if I allowed what I felt to be the wrongheaded opinions and actions of others to guide my important life decisions?   
Then there’s the Jewish parent/grandparent argument. Of course we want to please the older generation and should try hard to when it’s in keeping with our values. But what if it’s not? I’m not trying to be sassy, but our parents and grandparents had their chance. It’s our world now. Do we live our lives to placate and please others, even close family, when it means doing something we don’t believe in our hearts to be right? Except for those relatives who are devout practicing Jews, firmly entrenched in a religiously observant community, the vast majority will indeed “forgive,” and many may eventually come around to the idea that circumcision is wrong. Just wait until they get their hands on that newborn baby, perfect just the way nature made him. In the words of my own mom, kvelling over my son’s nakedness: “Why on earth would anyone want to alter that beautiful penis?”   
For those who worry their child will somehow be less Jewish because he’s intact, or will have trouble finding/pleasing a Jewish woman, or that not circumcising somehow hurts the Jewish people, I think we need to take a step back and keep things in perspective. Assimilation and intermarriage are the biggest threats to Judaism, not intact foreskins. My husband and I are both Jewish and have chosen to raise our kids in a very Jewish way. They know and are proud of their heritage, celebrate the holidays, and are learning Hebrew. I’m not worried. Meanwhile, I have more friends than I can count who married non-Jewish spouses, celebrate Christmas, teach their children little or nothing about their Jewish heritage, and yet circumcised their sons supposedly for religious reasons. Being Jewish is about way more than circumcising, and I think those who view circumcision as the be-all and end-all of the Jewish people are being short-sighted in their focus. 
Finally on the subject of cleanliness, girls and women have plenty of folds “down there” and we manage to keep it clean. Men can certainly do the same. As far as young boys go (those whose foreskins have not yet become retractable, which is totally normal all the way up to puberty), care of the natural penis is as simple as it gets. You wash the outside. The inside gets flushed out and cleaned whenever the boy urinates. Urine is completely sterile and the foreskin prevents bacteria and dirt from causing trouble. One of the biggest justifications of female circumcision is that it’s cleaner. I don’t buy the hygiene argument as it applies to men any more than I buy it for women. We have soap, we have water, no problem. 
There are more justifications for circumcision that I've not mentioned here, as well as plenty of other arguments in favor of the natural penis. There will no doubt be more "reasons" to circumcise in the future, those that have not yet been discovered or invented, depending on your mindset. That parents are beginning to see circumcision as a choice, not a given, and weighing the available evidence to arrive at an educated decision is a change we should all be happy about.