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.


I haven’t followed Mayim’s career for some years, or her life path, but from what I’ve learned about her in recent days, she strikes me as a highly intelligent woman and also a decent human being. She is a strong advocate of attachment parenting. Among other things, she believes in carrying babies close in a sling or wrap, the importance of breastfeeding, and she states that she, her husband, and their children sleep together in one big “family” bed. The fact that Mayim is using her celebrity to educate people about how they can parent more naturally is something I applaud.
Mayim is also a religiously observant Jew who describes herself as “conservadox,” which means her observance falls on the continuum between Conservative and Orthodox Judaism. She is shomer shabbos (sabbath observant) and dresses modestly. Unless she is in costume for a role, she doesn’t wear above-the-knee skirts or sleeveless shirts.
Given the role of religion in Mayim’s life, I’m not at all surprised she circumcised her sons. While a growing number of Jewish people are choosing to forego circumcision, I venture to say there are very few who are as religiously observant as Mayim making this choice. Nevertheless, her decision to circumcise does present a real incompatibility, as was noted by those who posted to her Facebook page. The whole idea of attachment parenting is that you parent as nature intended. Cutting off a large portion of flesh from an infant’s perfectly healthy sex organ is anything but natural. 
Mayim herself recognizes the conflict between her views about natural parenting and her decision to circumcise. She states in a 2010 interview with the blog “Jew Mama” that: “Circumcision is the hotspot of my universe as a holistic green parent. On the West Coast, circumcision is really not done for the most part in a lot of holistic and green circles.  It is aggressively and angrily debated and it’s something very difficult. Both of my boys received traditional circumcisions, however, as men in our tribe have for many of years. I think that is the number one thing that is in theoretical conflict with what most people in our community our doing. That is not to say that it is a philosophical conflict. And that is the thing about both my choice to live holistically as part of my global community and also my decision to appreciate the traditions of Judaism that say that when you think you are right, you are wrong.”
What I like about Mayim’s statement to “Jew Mama” is that she doesn’t defend circumcision on any ground. She simply states she chose to do so because of her religious beliefs. She could have taken a much different approach, such as insisting that it’s a Jewish requirement. Or, she could have touted circumcision’s alleged health and hygiene benefits to further justify a practice she undertook solely for religious reasons. A popular Jewish midwife in my area does this and, as a consequence, thousands of babies born to naturally inclined parents (Jewish and Gentile) have been circumcised on her advice.
Don’t get me wrong, Mayim and I have a real disagreement about circumcision in the Jewish context. In my view, it is a mitzvah to leave a baby intact because cutting a child’s sexual organs violates basic principles of Judaism as I understand them. Choosing to leave children intact, with the bodies they are born with, can, should be, and is a valid Jewish choice, even among those who are religiously observant.
I respectfully disagree with Mayim’s statement that Jewish tradition demands we cast aside what we think is right. Jewish values have always placed ethics above doctrine. This is why so many laws set forth in the Torah have been completely abandoned (or have never been followed in a literal sense). According to the Torah, cheating on one’s husband, fornicating if you are female, homosexuality, blasphemy, insulting one’s parents and disobeying one’s parents are all punishable by death. We certainly don’t kill people today for such infractions.
There are a great many examples of how infant circumcision violates traditional Jewish law, values, and ethics and I can’t possibly address all of these here. However I do want to point out a few:
  • It is an essential characteristic of Jewish law to explain, interpret, and reinterpret the Torah in ways that are fair, righteous and ethical from a human standpoint.
  • Hillel the elder (a famous Jewish religious leader and one of the most important figures is Jewish history) formulated the golden rule of Jewish ethics which is: “What is hateful to you, do not do unto others. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”
  • According to Jewish law, the human body must not be altered or marked.
  • The Torah prohibits causing pain to any living creature.
  • According to historians, it was not always traditional Jewish practice to circumcise. The earliest versions of the Torah mention the covenant between God, Abraham and the Jewish people but don’t mention circumcision, indicating that it was not always a requirement. Even after circumcision became the rule, for about 2000 years only the tip of the foreskin was removed. It was during the Hellenic period that rabbis changed the requirements of the procedure to remove the entire foreskin.
Mayim Bialik and I have more than a few things in common. We are both smart, strong Jewish women who are doing what we feel is best for not only our own kids, but we are also advocates for children in general. Moreover, in the late 1980s, as virtually unknown child actresses, we were up for the same role. I was the New York choice to play Bette Midler’s daughter in a film that would be called “Beaches,” having met with the film’s casting agents during a series of call backs. I did an on-screen test which Bette reviewed and promptly rejected. I had the right “look” but not the acting chops, in her opinion. Casting would recommence in Los Angeles. Shortly thereafter I learned an unknown, like myself, named Mayim Bialik had landed the role. Mayim catapulted to fame. Shortly thereafter, I quit trying to break into showbiz. Sour grapes? Not at all. I’m very happy being regular mom in South Florida. We each have our own role to play and our own destiny to fulfill. For my part, I want to get out the message that no child is destined to have part of their genitals removed as an infant, no matter their race, religion or gender.
There is more that connects me to Mayim beyond our role as mother advocates, or our history as one-time acting rivals. As she stated so well during her recent appearance at Tribefest 2011: “Being part of a club--a Jew club--that allows membership no matter what you believe or do, but exists simply because of who you are is very comforting and pleasant.” I agree wholeheartedly. In no small part, this sentiment affords me the fortitude, as a Jewish person, to speak against infant circumcision, something many Jewish people continue to support. I realize change takes time, but I do hold out hope that one day Mayim and I will share membership in another club--a club of Jewish people opposed to circumcision--because I firmly believe in the power of education and, also, in the capacity of humans to evolve, to change and to repair our world.


© 2011 Rebecca Wald

9 comments:

  1. Congrats. Disappointed to hear she circumcised, and good to hear you are against it. I get very happy whenever I hear about Jewish people questioning circumcision.

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  2. "hope that one day Mayim and I will share membership in another club--a club of Jewish people opposed to circumcision" - this is not going to happened, because she will have to admit she hurt and mutilated her most precious people in her life - her kids... and I think is too painful for her.

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  3. circumcision can be questionable for many rasons , but one thing is certain : circumcision is a healthy procedure in terms of HIV infection and other viral diseases . the "world health organiziation " is peforming circumcision in africa as the main preventage stage for HIV . so we all should think again when talking "againts circumcision " .

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    1. Sure..circumcision prevents AIDS, just like it prevents schizophrenia, masturbation, and tuberculosis (all actual medical claims from the past).

      Which explains why the HIV rate is so much lower in the United States than in Europe and Japan. Except for the small problem that it's actually the other way around,

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    2. false. rates of std infection are exactly the same if not slightly lower in intact men. the only thing guaranteed to prevent std transfer is abstinence. after that, condoms.

      so have part of your dick chopped off as an infant with no anesthetic and no understanding (which more or less amounts to rape and sexual torture), and still wear a condom.. or keep your dick, never experience the trauma, and.. wear a condom.

      pretty easy choice for anyone with a conscience and a modicum of compassion.

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  4. The WHO's stance on circumcision is based on research that was inherently faulty and has since been debunked. Further, even in WHO's protocols they do NOT advocate the circumcision of infants, as it violates the principle of bodily integrity. They recommend ADULTS choose it for themselves. And even then, it's not an especially effective tool for the control of HIV.

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  5. Time will prove the WHO is wrong and has wasted lives and resources. Circumcision did not protect all the men who already died of HIV in America.

    Selling circumcision is a fools errand.

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