San Francisco is at it again. The City by the Bay has a habit of legislating social change by way of banning things that are generally accepted just about everywhere else. Earlier this month, the city’s voters approved a ban on sitting or lying on sidewalks, as a means of combating homelessness, or maybe just moving homeless people across the bay to Berkeley. Also in November, the city’s Board of Supervisors passed a ban on Happy Meals in order to reduce childhood obesity (the mayor vetoed the legislation).
Now – and I’m not making this up, folks – there is a movement in San Francisco to ban the circumcision of males under the age of 18. Anti-circumcision activist Lloyd Schofield is collecting signatures to place a circumcision ban on the November, 2011 ballot. Schofield considers circumcision to be genital mutilation, and states that there should be no religious exemption from his proposed law.
CBS San Francisco reported:
“Tattooing a child is banned as a felony and circumcision is more harmful than a tattoo,” said Schofield, who believes religious traditions should change
“People can practice whatever religion they want, but your religious practice ends with someone else’s body,” said Schofield. “It’s a man’s body and…his body doesn’t belong to his culture, his government, his religion or even his parents. It’s his decision.”
Brit milah is one of Judaism’s most ancient rituals. Rabbis across the denominational spectrum agree that being circumcised is synonymous with being a Jewish male. And our Muslim brothers also keep G-d’s commandment to Abraham. Now to be fair, circumcision is not a topic that anyone I know gets too enthusiastic about. Men who have been circumcised will make uncomfortable jokes about it. There are even Jews who advocate the abandonment of brit milah.
From what I am reading, no one expects this proposal to make it to San Francisco voters next year. But the publicity it is generating is raising for public debate the legitimacy of a foundational element of Jewish religious practice. Did Mr. Schofield ask any of us what we think? Has anyone else?
Now it’s your turn:
Does society have a legitimate interest in limiting circumcision to adults?
Is anti-Semitism entering into this debate?
Is it time for Jews to re-think circumcision?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and remember that you can always post anonymously.
Photo: Bris: ladyhawk
The happy meal ban makes sense because the “food” is harmful. Their ban on plastic bags makes sense because plastic bags are harmful. You would think the folks in san francisco have better issues to tackle but apparently not.
If Lloyd Schofield doesn’t like circumcision, then he shouldn’t have one. If he has one that he didn’t want, he should get over it and look for a REAL problem to deal with.
It is time for Jews to re-think circumcision. I’m Jewish and not anti-semitic, and it seems to me that it is time for a change.
Medical evidence now shows us what we all really know anyway – circumcision is massively painful and traumatic for the individual undergoing the procedure.
Isn’t it time for Judaism to be the ‘bigger man’ and acknowledge that the bris is an ancient ritual that has no place in our modern world?
Come on, let’s adapt.
People need a better thing to spend their time and energy on. It is personal and a families decision. It is not extremely harmful. Muslims and Jews practice it.
In some countries with high HIV rates (obviously not the US) the UN World Health Organizations actual recommends that health organizations “emphasize that male circumcision should be considered.” My point is that it just isn’t a horrible. I can make the right decision for my family on this issue and I trust that others can as well.
Nick, you can’t actually be serious!
Firstly on a medical practical level, the reasons are clear:
Circumcision has been known to offer virtually complete protection from penile cancer. According to a recent review article in the New England Journal of Medicine, none of the over 1,600 persons studied with this cancer had been circumcised in infancy. In the words of researchers Cochen and McCurdy, the incidence of penile cancer in the U.S. is “essentially zero” among circumcised men.
Also, research at Johns Hopkins University Medical School in Baltimore have shown that circumcised men are six to eight times less likely to become infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Researchers believe that protection is due to the removal of the foreskin, which contains cells that have HIV receptors which scientists suspect are the primary entry point for the HIV virus. (Reuters, March 25, 2004)
Several studies reported that circumcised boys were between 10-to-39 times less likely to develop urinary tract infections during infancy than uncircumcised boys. In addition, circumcision protects against bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections and a variety of other conditions related to hygiene. The extremely low rate of cervical cancer in Jewish women (nine-to-22 times less than among non-Jewish women) is thought to be related to the practice of circumcision.
On a more spiritual level,it is a foundation of Judaism that we are to control our animal desires and direct them into spiritual pursuits. Nowhere does a person have more potential for expressing “barbaric” behavior than in the sex drive. That’s why the Bris is done on this specific organ. If we bring holiness into our life there, then all other areas will follow.
“Barbaric” is a term used by those ignorant of the depth behind the commandment to circumcise.
A commandment from God doesn’t become old, no matter how long ago it was given.
The relevancy of the Torah is true today, as it was when it was first given.
Nick – you need to learn more about your heritage.
Try aish.com, or chabad.org – you’ll be surprised at the profundity of your own religion.
I am Jewish, and I know there is tradition and possibly medical benefit to circumcision. On the other hand, lopping off part of a person’s genitalia is mutilation. It seems a very poor way to welcome a boy into the world, and I chose not to subject my infant son to that procedure. There are all sorts of medical procedures we could do that would prevent some medical problems, yet we choose to leave our children’s tonsils and appendixes intact (for example). I am also against clitoridectomy/infibulation, which is a religious tradition and also genital mutilation perpetrated on young girls. How could I be against one and in favor of the other?
Nick has a point. The bris is not universal among Jews. Many secular and Reform Jews don’t. There are small communities of Jews in Israel who have abandoned the practice. And, I’m told, most of the Jews in South America are intact. More to the point, Jewish leadership has twice seriously considered abandoning the practice of male infant circumcision. Once in the 2nd century, and later during the Jewish Reform in the middle 19th century. So, perhaps it is not as sacrosanct one thinks.
An excellent read on the subject is “Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America” by Len Glick, Oxford. Glick is a Jewish physician and anthropologist.
David, you’re wrong. Please reeducate yourself on penile cancer and alike.
From the American Cancer Society –
“In the past, circumcision has been suggested as a way to prevent penile cancer. This was based on studies that reported much lower penile cancer rates among circumcised men than among uncircumcised men. But in many of those studies, the protective effect of circumcision was no longer seen after factors like smegma and phimosis were taken into account.
Most public health researchers believe that the risk of penile cancer is low among uncircumcised men without known risk factors living in the United States. Men who wish to lower their risk of penile cancer can do so by avoiding HPV infection and not smoking. Those who aren’t circumcised can also lower their risk of penile cancer by practicing good hygiene. Most experts agree that circumcision should not be recommended solely as a way to prevent penile cancer.”
Since this piece was published, San Francisco anti-circumcision advocates have been successful in having legislation banning the practice placed on the November 201. This law, if approved by voters, would apply only to San Francisco.
The rhetoric is heating up ad the debate continues. Haaretz reports that a comic book promoting a circumcision ban has been circulated. The hero, “Foreskin Man,” battles evil circumcisors, including a character called “Monster Mohel.” The Anti-Defamation League has denounced this comic as anti-semitic.
See the story at: