|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.
I believe that G-d instituted circumcision as a way of setting His people apart, but given how many other cultures and religions have adopted this practice, it is no longer a means of setting apart. Like many other commandments once practiced by Jews (that have now been set aside) there is now no more compelling religious or cultural reason to do so. I have a now-adult son for whom we had a “brit shalom” (no cutting) when he was eight days old…. This doesn’t make him any less Jewish or any less observant. He is a respected young man at shul, involved in many different areas and loved by all. I do not regret my decision at all to let him make his own choice, and it is my hope that other Jewish parents will also consider a brit shalom as a viable alternative to brit milah.
The importance that people attach to this act [circumcision] is almost laughable. Of all the behaviors we aspire to (charity, grace, forgiveness, kindness, industriousness) the amount of time spent thinking about foreskin just baffles me. We need to be good people and observant Jews. If this involves circumcision, fine. But what is peoples’ hang up with this mitzvah? Out of the 613, there are about 612 I’d rate higher in importance.
I feel so blessed to have been able to find a rabbi that was willing to do a bris for our son without a circumcision as well. I wish I had found this wonderful organization when my son was first born—it was a long road and I didn’t know of any other Jews who were anti-circumcision.
Circumcision is an exception to accepted principles like the Golden Rule; adults would not tolerate circumcisions forced on them. If circumcision were introduced today, we would be horrified, as some are horrified when they first learn about the procedure. If any other body parts of children were cut off, we would adamantly object. The harm starts the moment an instrument penetrates or clamps a healthy, natural, functioning body part — any body part. Though circumcision defenders routinely deny harm, common sense and dozens of studies confirm significant physical, sexual, and psychological harm. We owe it to the children to be open to examining this harm. Medical opinions in support of circumcision are explained by psychosocial factors, serious omissions, and medical and cultural bias. Mothers, speak up and act on your instincts!
As a Jewish mother I watch my son tortured at 8 days old, to have a procedure done on a part of his body that hardly anyone will see. His penis does not identify him as a Jew. It is his belief and upbringing. He is Jewish because I am. He suffered for months with his protective skin removed causing exposure to the most sensitive part of his genitals. As a cried with regret after each nappy change for months and months, I swore I would never put another son of mine through this needless pain. I was blessed with another son and at 7 months old he remains intact. I feel proud of my decision. I live by what feels right and makes sense to me. Protecting my children from pain and suffering is my priority. No mother should ever need to feel pressured, coerced or oppressed to conform in the name of religion.
It’s time even we Jews faced up to the fact that the foreskin is a normal, healthy, functional and valuable part of the male anatomy. Its removal is a loss and a harm, both surgically and functionally. We can pretend otherwise, but that is beneath us as inquisitive and honest people. Most of all, such an invasive and permanent change to another’s body is a gross violation of their dignity and rights. Children are not property.
Anti-Semitism is a very real and growing threat. It is important to expose, name and combat whenever it appears. Questioning the ritualized reduction of a newborn’s penis is not ipso facto anti-Semitism. Circumcision has short and long term consequences which have been either ignored or trivialized by both traditional Judaism, as well as the shameful disingenuous position of official U.S. medical authorities, which stands in sharp contradiction to the medical societies of numerous other developed nations. Questioning circumcision is a sacred act because it comes from the deepest instinct to protect life, particularly the most vulnerable among us.
I was born Jewish so no baptism, instead, they had a brit milah for me at 8 days old and painfully cut part of my penis off (a part that I should mention I wanted to keep). I would definitely have preferred them pouring water over my head.
Proud Jewish mama with Jewish, intact son.
Moses himself was not circumcised, and up until the destruction of the second temple brit milah may have been performed, but it is now brit priah, far more mutilating, and no longer done with a flint knife. Many of the things listed in the Torah and the Tanakh are illegal now. Mutilating our own children’s bodies (out of fear?) should be one of them. And by the way—I am jewish, and I have a foreskin, and if you think it should be removed only because of my own or my mother’s ethnicity than I think you are anti-Semitic. Worth thinking about no?
I believe that Judaism is a humane religion, and that by not circumcising my sons, I am not compromising my Jewish identity. In particular I call upon non-Orthodox Jews to stop this practice. If you have already decided, as non-Orthodox Jews, to follow only a small portion of the Jewish laws that fit with a secular lifestyle, why be so insistent on following the one that asks you to mutilate and traumatize your perfect newborn son?
This isn’t a simple issue; there is more to it than blind obedience. Every year we learn new information about what the original Hebrew circumcision entailed and how poorly its origins have come to be understood in modern times. Such issues as when it actually was implemented, what role the discredited Hebrew priests may have played in originating or promoting circumcision, and how dramatically the operation was changed by the rabbinical council as the Talmud was being written. After all, it is the Talmud—not the Torah—that specifies the extensive and intrusive circumcision that is performed to this day. The original circumcision mentioned in Bereshit was clearly a vastly different, less radical affair, done in unsanitary conditions by the child’s father himself, using crude implements. As such, it removed only the overhanging tip of the foreskin and left the major part of it still fused to the glans, to separate naturally on its own in childhood. This is the procedure Yeshua would have had done to him, by his father, since the “new” circumcision wasn’t mandated until at least 100 years later.
Both our daughter and our son were allowed to keep their genital integrity. It is time for Jews to realize that cutting the genitals of our children is wrong, not a cause for a party. I urge everyone to look into what our baby boys are going through. Don’t blindly force your son to participate in a brit milah “because everyone else does it.” Look into your options, and give your son a choice.
I am a Jewish man and I wish I had my foreskin. My body, my choice. Circumcision is genital mutilation, torture, and a violation of MY human rights!
Circumcision, no matter a child’s sex, is genital mutilation. As a religious Jewish woman, I would refuse to circumcise any son I had due to a firm belief in safeguarding life and making sure my child was protected against anything that could cause unnecessary harm.
First of all, as a man who was born to Jewish parents, and as a victim of Jewish forced male genital mutilation, I would never want to be a part of any community that would force genital mutilation onto my body, and I will fight to stop such communities from victimizing others.
We need to protect all baby boys from this horrible unnecessary torture. If I have to choose between Judaism and hurting my son, my first duty, any mother’s duty, should be to first protect her child. He can make his own choices about his own body.
I severed all connection with my jewish roots BECAUSE they violate the religious rights of children. Mutilating me for life did not endear me to my religious heritage, it turned me against it.
My son is now one, intact, and while I’ve had a few comments from my mother and father (who both remarried non Jews) so far I have not heard anything from my extended family. I choose to ignore it anyway and I know better. He is the first Jewish boy in my family born to stay intact. I have no idea if this will create repercussions later in life in our religion, but if our religion will ostracize him based on his penis, then what kind of religion is it? I personally don’t care what they say, I made the right decision. I’ve never heard of a rabbi to check though, so unless I’m asked, I don’t talk about it. I have however had a few conversations with Jewish friends and shared my knowledge. Maybe me being strong enough to follow what I believe will be inspiration for others who feel the same way to keep their boys intact.
Early man believed that nothing good in life was free, a god or goddess had always to be paid for beneficence, present and future. A man's sexual prowess was viewed as a gift from the god of fertility, and to maintain virility he felt compelled to sacrifice a small part of the instrument of propagation, the smallest part possible. The excess skin at the tip of the penis seemed a fair payment.
Hence, ritual circumcision originated as a symbolic offering of the entire male member. Among all ancient societies that practiced the surgery, the excised foreskin was dedicated to the fertility deity and sacrificially burned. Egyptian writings and drawings from 5000 BC attest to this custom, as do primitive tribal practices in which boys were circumcised not at birth when they were sexually immature, but at the onset of puberty, or just prior to first intercourse. In Hebrew and Arabic the term for bridegroom, chatan, derived from the ancient expression "one who is circumcised". For centuries the practice belonged to the sacred initiation rites of manhood and marriage. Circumcision was the fee man paid up front (so to speak) for life long reproductive license.
A wash cloth before and after sex or a clean mouth are equally effective and leave the pleasure zones intact! Or castration! That would eliminate any kind of danger from that source!
Making it a taboo to compare male with female sexual mutilation is the biggest scandal of the controversy. In both instances the most sensitive and most erogenous zone of the human body is amputated and severely damaged. In both instances, what counts primarily is the cutting of human sexuality. The imposition of control by the patriarchy. A good look at a book on embryology will show the development of the nerves and tissue and how they are the same.
What is lacking in all the talk about circumcision is discussion of its archeological dimension – that it is the left over of human sacrifice. What kind of god is it that demands that of an infant? If the Bris constitutes the identity of the male, what about the identity of a Jewish girl? Or is this an entirely homosexual ceremony?
Also, unfortunately it is / has been circumcision that has MADE for no end of anti-semitic sentiments. Freud found that it was the chief reason for unconscious anti-Semitism. And the myths surrounding it are at the core of the “blood libel.” Thus, it's time to eliminate the Brit Milah because if that is the chief reason for being anti-Semitic or anti-Abrahamic [Islam too practices the rite] then why hang on to this left-over of human sacrifice? that traumatizes the child, cutting off 5,000 nerves, that is the equivalent of female circumcision in the sense that it eliminates everything but the clitoris,and only serves the Ultra Orthodox to maintain their power? After all, reform Judaism sought to eliminate the rite in the 19th century, and Jewish identity depends on being born by a Jewish mother, or converting. Here a link to an archive of the entire German and then some debate, note especially Michael Wolffsohn's two pieces . Circumcision has been controversial also within Jewry forever.
I proffer any female who advocates male genital mutilation to have part of their vagina removed. No anesthesia, lovingly strapped to the surgeons table. You may go into shock but its a tradition, a sign of love and belonging. It lets you know you are special! The pain only lasts a short while. Oh think of the benefits.