I’ve also been very much aware of my own circumcision from a young age. The unsightly scar around the shaft of my penis, halfway along its length. The discolored flesh above the scar which used to be the inside of my foreskin. The scar tissue where my frenulum used to attach to my glans.
When I reached puberty, my erections were tight and painful. When I started masturbating, I didn’t understand that I needed to use lubrication, and as a consequence I seriously damaged my penis. The skin was bleeding, chaffed and flaking off. I was in pain. At this point I realized that the skin should be gliding back and forth over the shaft, but this was very difficult to do because my circumcision was so tight. I could only move the skin up towards my glans, pulling more hair-baring skin from my groin up onto my shaft. I couldn’t move my shaft skin downward at all. When I became sexually active, I realized I had virtually no touch-sensitivity. I felt devastated. Not much has changed since.
The fact that circumcision has become a defining symbol of male Jewishness, as well as a medicalized procedure in the USA regardless of one’s religion, puts me in solidarity with millions of men who are suffering from this trauma. Although it requires real scrutiny to weed out the bogus medical literature on the subject, the evidence that circumcision is harmful is overwhelming. Talking with non-Jewish laypersons, it takes me mere minutes to deconstruct the myths surrounding circumcision. However, when it comes to discussing the matter with my Jewish friends and family, no discussion is tolerated.
Regardless of how and why one thinks brit milah came into existence, it’s performed with the intention of causing bodily harm and minimizing sexual pleasure while still allowing for reproduction. The 12th Century Jewish physician and scholar MosesMaimonides states this explicitly in his book Guide for the Perplexed. One need only look at the timeline of the history of non-religious, “medical” circumcision in the United States to realize that it came into favor for the same reason as brit milah: as a tool for sexual repression. The fact that circumcision started in America among non-Jews, and continues to be practiced by non-Jews, astounds me. The claims of protection against sexually transmitted disease, penile cancer, and urinary tract infection are dubious at best and do not outweigh the harms. Now millions of African men are being put under the knife to perpetuate the practice around the globe.
What most of the public doesn’t realize is that scientists usually have biases that affect the outcome of their studies. These biases are often financial in nature. Studies that don’t produce the sought-after outcome are discontinued prematurely and never published. It has become an almost daily occurrence that a new study makes the news with great fanfare only to be refuted weeks or even years later by another study that “proves” the complete opposite. Despite this, the public continues to accept, without question, the integrity and authority of researchers.
I believe this is what has happened to all Jewish males, as well as the majority of non-Jewish males in the USA: we’ve been hijacked by abusive authority figures of the past. Whether it’s the Victorian-era doctors, bent on perpetuating their own sexual repression, or during the Maccabean Period where the Jewish priestly ruling class instituted the more severe form of brit milah that is practiced today, which includes brit peri’ah (complete foreskin ablation), we are made to suffer and cause our children to suffer in an endless cycle of trauma. It’s high time we stop. (1)
(1) The Maccabean Period is also known as the era of Greco-Roman rule. Before this time, it is believed that only the tip of the foreskin was removed. However, Jewish religious authorities changed the ritual to the more severe form of cutting that is employed today. The given reason for this change was to prevent Jewish men from stretching their foreskins to conceal their circumcisions, which was not an uncommon practice. However, my personal view is that the Jewish religious authorities, who were themselves being oppressed by the Greeks and Romans, perpetuated their abuse onto their fellow Jews.
Jonathan Friedman attended yeshiva through high school. He went on to attend The Cooper Union, graduating with honors in engineering in 2009. Thereafter he spent a year studying mathematics before pursing a career in activism. Jonathan is currently a Projects Coordinator at Foregen, a nonprofit founded to provide therapies for foreskin regeneration using regenerative medicine. He is also founder of IntactNews, a news organization for the intactivist movement.