Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Several jurisdictions in the US have introduced--or talked of introducing--legislation to ban male circumcision. It is suggested that this is in line with changing attitudes, so that this is seen as preventing the mutilation of a human body before the child involved can decide for himself. Such a proposal is reported to be on the November ballot in San Francisco. There is also talk of a proposed State law that would prevent such a proposal as the one proposed for San Francisco.

I can't imagine that such an ordinance would pass without an exception on religious grounds, which would permit the mohel to continue to practice his trade. We are assured that this isn't an idea that's really "anti-semitic", that misleading phrase which is the euphemistic version of anti-Jewish.

I was not circumcised as an infant--or later, even!--but my sons were, soon after birth, as was generally routine fifty years ago in local hospitals. I don't think the doctor waited until the eighth day, since the procedure was being undertaken for "hygienic reasons" I sometimes wondered whether this practice was influenced by Jewish doctors, but we were told that there are health reasons for this procedure, largely for a reduced chance of certain cancerous conditions. It occurs to me that Jewish boys were not circumcised by an obstetrician, but were "done" in accordance with religious tradition.

Personally, I find this ritual to be unfortunate, and a relic from a more primitive age. But I am not Jewish, and this is not my business. It is interesting to me that not only Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed Jews continue this practice, but many secular Jews, who may never darken the door of a synagogue, continue the practice. Any move to change what is clearly significant to virtually all Jews, would need to start somewhere, and it seems to me extremely unlikely that this would happen in the foreseeable future.

For the rest of us, I don't think that an absolute prohibition is desirable. Nowadays, I tend to prefer adult baptism, rather than the more traditional infant baptism, but both my sons were baptized soon after birth, and I am not convinced that there is permanent damage to children who are baptized before they can make a decision for themselves. One cannot be "unbaptized", but my guess is that a high proportion of those baptized as infants simply "drop out" of Christianity. I believe that the parents of male Jewish babies should have the right to have them circumcised.

The word of my subject here (bris) actually comes from an Ashkenazi (or Yiddish) pronunciation. "Brit milah" is the full formal name of the procedure.

The males I really feel sorry for are those who convert to Judaism after infancy. It's a painful procedure--but I have never heard of any concession: if a male Gentile wants to become a Jew, he must sacrifice his foreskin.

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