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.
It’s our ethical responsibility as Jews to embrace new information. Indeed, to ignore pertinent new data is to suggest that Judaism can’t withstand thoughtful inquiry. I am delighted to learn that Abby Porth of the Jewish Community Relations Council feels it’s fine for Jewish families to choose brit shalom — a beautiful ceremony that welcomes baby boys into the covenant without circumcision.
I can understand how some might interpret the San Francisco anti-circumcision ballot measure as an attack on Jewish religious freedom. But that’s not the only possible perspective, nor the most illuminating one.
More and more parents — including Jewish couples — are deciding to leave their baby boys intact. That’s because the harmfulness of circumcision is now coming to light. How are we to regard this new information? Denying the news, and using the ballot measure to bolster our denial, is not a Jewishly ethical answer.
From the point of view of halachah, any alleged medical benefits of circumcision are wholly irrelevant; circumcision is strictly a sign of the covenant. And yet, newly revealed risks, drawbacks and ethical concerns are of great halachic pertinence. Judaism embraces new insights; indeed, there’s ample halachic precedent for reevaluation of practices based on new knowledge.
Fighting a potential San Francisco law doesn’t substitute for honest intellectual and spiritual engagement in Jewish law.
Lisa Braver Moss is the author of The Measure of His Grief, a new novel which explores a Berkeley doctor’s unlikely campaign against circumcision. Her essays have appeared in Tikkun, Parents, and the San Francisco Chronicle. For more information about Lisa, her books, and her other writings please visit lisabravermoss.com.