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.
By REBECCA WALD
“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.”
The message was signed by several longtime opponents of infant circumcision who are Jewish, including cultural anthropologist Leonard Glick, M.D., Ph.D. and pediatrician Paul Fleiss, M.D., M.P.H.
The JCRC’s message also addressed issues of insensitivity toward Jewish people within the broader movement opposing circumcision. “Unfortunately, there may be statements and tactics by individuals opposed to circumcision that are insensitive and even offensive to many Jews. We regret this and absolutely reject all statements or actions, often based on ignorance, that are disrespectful of any religion or ethnic group,” the statement says.
Jonah Lowenfeld of The Jewish Journal of Greater LA yesterday reported on the JCRC’s statement as part of a longer piece on a newly filed lawsuit that seeks to block a vote on the San Francisco initiative.
The Jewish Circumcision Resource Center was founded by Ronald Goldman, Ph.D. in the mid-1990s and serves to support the questioning of circumcision among Jews. Goldman says his organization decided to issue the statement because of the increased attention to the topic, accompanied by a general lack of awareness about the harm of circumcision. “There may be a misunderstanding of the reasons why many people question circumcision,” Goldman says. “We wanted to clarify that and take the opportunity to raise awareness about the practice.” He says he also wanted to assure Jews that questioning circumcision can be done respectfully and compassionately.
In a separate comment which appears on the JCRC web site, Goldman specifically addresses the Foreskin Man comic–but does not name it–which has angered the Jewish community with it’s images of a monster mohel. According to Goldman’s comment: “A publication on Jewish circumcision is receiving attention because it is insensitive and offensive to many Jews, and I regret that. Please understand that it represents only the writer who speaks for nobody else. The movement to question circumcision is wide and diverse. There is no organization that controls, or could control, what individuals who oppose circumcision may say or do.”
Goldman began to seriously question circumcision in the 1980s after attending his first Jewish ritual circumcision, or bris. “As one who is very sensitive to the pain experienced by children, I was reluctant to go, but I attended in order not to offend the family,” Goldman says. “I remember the sound of his [the infant’s] cry. I can’t imagine an infant crying any louder or with more agony, pain, and sense of urgency in his voice. Using every bit of energy he had, the infant protested vehemently what was being done to him with the best of adult intentions.”
Goldman was also struck by the response of others in the room. A few people were crying quietly, including the parents. Others were silent. There was an atmosphere of discomfort and anxiety. Goldman retreated to the kitchen, which was the farthest place in the house he could get. “I wanted to protest to others what was happening, but I restrained myself because I believed that people would not listen to me. This conflict caused me much distress. I resolved never to attend another bris,” he says.
Goldman also resolved to do something about what he’d witnessed. He eventually published a book on the harms of circumcision titled Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma, and another book that addressed concerns specific to the Jewish community titled Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective. Both books have become primers on their subjects.
Today, Goldman is Executive Director of the Circumcision Resource Center, a nonprofit educational organization with the purpose of informing the public and professionals about male circumcision. He maintains the Jewish Circumcision Resource Center as a separate but affiliated web site. Goldman says he feels questioning Jewish circumcision is best accomplished within the Jewish community and this is happening.