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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!" 

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 ____.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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!

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.

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.

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.

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. 



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.

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. 

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.

“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.




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.