Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Jews Against Circumcision: How a New Jewish Generation Views Genital Autonomy and Human Rights

Jewish Mother Kathryn Mora Testifying in Support of the MGM Bill at the Massachusetts State House
The past century has been marked by the declaration and protection of universal human rights, as well as a marked increase in the quality of life, both in the United States and worldwide. With these improvements, higher expectations regarding a child’s right to bodily autonomy have become socially accepted and legally mandated. Many argue that since female children in the U.S. are protected by a 1996 law banning female circumcision, this law should be expanded to include the protection of male children as well.
There are a growing number of Jews who are becoming increasingly vocal in questioning both the ethics and the legality of circumcision. Jews in the Reform Judaism movement have already been advocating for an end to ritual circumcision during the past 180 years. What follows is a collection of statements from Jews who question the ethics and legality of child circumcision.

Jewish Americans Support Outlawing Child Circumcision

"I am a Jewish mother against circumcision and in support of passing Bill 1777. For years I was a certified childbirth educator and now a journalist and filmmaker. I continue to educate people that childbirth is a natural event rather than one filled with unnecessary drugs and other medical intervention, and circumcision is an unnatural event. These are two clear-cut examples of interfering with nature."
- Katherine Mora, Jewish Mother
Testimony before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

“The human right to body integrity would, in this instance, override their religious right.…non-fundamentalist Jews, who constitute a very large number of Reform, Conservative, and even some Orthodox Jews, believe that human ethics are an essential element in the Jewish tradition. …there is a Jewish tradition practiced by virtually all Jewish parents today that is morally wrong. This should give pause to any non-fundamentalist religious Jew, and it is a black eye for the liberal movements that they have not taken this issue more seriously. Perhaps a law prohibiting circumcision is just what these Jews need to start a serious discussion about the problem of brit milah.”
Eli Ungar-SargonOutlawing Circumcision: Good for the Jews?, Forward, the Jewish Daily, May 20, 2011

In Massachusetts, two Jewish mothers testified in favor of a law making circumcision illegal. Moreover, several Jews and Jewish organizations throughout the country are backing a proposed national law against circumcision. Jewish groups such as Jews Against Circumcision and the Israeli Association Against Genital Mutilation have endorsed the proposed American MGM bill, which would rewrite the U.S. Female Genital Mutilation Act of 1996 so that boys are also protected from genital mutilation.”
- Questioning circumcision, by Shani McManus and Sergio Carmona, Florida Jewish Journal, June 06, 2011.

“Jewish baby boys are human and have rights too, and those rights are violently trampled by his (and my) religion, in the case of brit milah. We must all learn to take the blinders off and somehow stop this heinous practice -- yes, by a law, if necessary.
- Tina Kimmel, PhD, MSW, MPH, Director of NoCirc, East Bay Area
Letter to the Bay Citizen

“I’d heard how my uncle had fainted during my bris and what a horrible event it was. This was the thing everyone would talk about at the Passover seder… The ban on circumcision that’s on the ballot in San Francisco is a triumph for intactivists… I'm totally for it. San Francisco has often lead the country in elevating our consciousness. It has already helped spread awareness of this human rights crime to other states and hopefully will lead people everywhere to be more compassionate, thoughtful and rational not only towards their own fragile newborn children but to other fellow men and women as well.”
- Jason Paige, Jewish Singer
Blood, Sweat & Tears Lead Singer Protests Infant Circumcision, by Rebecca Wald, J.D.,, July 1, 2011

“I happen to agree with you that foreskin removal should be illegal. It is a mutilation… I agree with you that men should not be circumcised. . . I don’t know where this circumcision came from, some people feel it’s a religious thing, it’s about health, it’s about cutting off the foreskin makes your penis less likely to get cancer. There’s been all kinds of myths. I think it’s nonsense. That if you’re born that way, it seems to me it’s a mutilation to cut it off. The same way in Africa they sometimes cut off a woman’s clitoris and they think that’s justified. I think our foreskins were cut off in order to desensitize us, and I think it was a bunch of religiousnudnicks who decided they didn’t want us going around fornicating so they cut off some of our penis skin.”
- Howard Stern, Talk Radio Host
Howard Stern, Jewish Intactivist by Rebecca Wald, J.D.,, March 31, 2011

"Laurie Evans, the Jewish director of New York's National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC), told the Committee that under Jewish law, the son of a Jewish mother is Jewish, whether circumcised or not, and that despite great pressure she had kept her son intact. She said that many Jewish mothers confide to having been horrified by their boy's circumcision ceremony. She said that initially the ceremony involved removing only a small amount of foreskin, not all of it, and that several Jewish organizations recommend a peaceful birth ceremony instead. She urged the panel to watch a circumcision and raised the issue of botched circumcisions. The second Jewish mother to speak, Kathryn Mora, testified she had been devastated that her son was taken from her in the hospital and circumcised without her consent."
- Peter W. Adler, A Bird's Eye View of the Hearing On the Massachusetts Bill to Outlaw Genital Mutilation
Attorneys for the Rights of the Child Newsletter, Summer 2010

International Jews Also Favor Outlawing Child Circumcision

Letter to the Editor of the UK Guardian.
Circumcision and human rights, The Guardian, Tuesday 15 October 2013.            
Tanya Gold articulates well the existence of contemporary antisemitism (A ban on male circumcision would be antisemitic. How could it not be?, 12 October). But I think she's wrong in describing the Council of Europe as antisemitic for including ritual male circumcision in its examples of violations of children's rights.
I write as a male Jew circumcised at birth in 1958 as part of ritual. I would rather not have been. Yes, male circumcision isn't as extreme a practice as female genital mutilation. However, I know from personal experience that it results in such problems as desensitised sexual feeling, frequent soreness and occasional bleeding. I believe that this irreversible action is at heart an assault on a child, incapable of giving meaningful consent. I attach no blame to my parents' generation, who would have made the decision in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and who would have experienced a society more overtly hostile to them. But I find it depressing that contemporary Jews wish to continue the practice.
And she is quite wrong to say all Jews agree on circumcision. Many secular Jews take pride in where we come from, but also have the confidence to explore an identity appropriate to the world we inhabit. For me, that's an identity that says yes to traditional Jewish elements such as emotional openness, warmth and respect for older people; and no to, for example, physical mutilation, homophobia and misogyny.
The Council used language that was reasonable and balanced, and I would support a legal prohibition to ritual circumcision. If such a move is expressed in language or images that are antisemitic, then we fight them on those grounds. But that's not the case here.
Mike MortenWorthing, West Sussex

Jewish Intactivist in Canada

“It seems to me that for liberal Jews the choice comes down to this. Do we want to in some way circumscribe the sexual possibilities of our sons by performing a body modification when they are infants so as to bear witness to the covenant? Are there not other ways to bear witness? Are there not other ways to maintain our distinctiveness from the society around us? Despite having circumcised my two sons, the more I think about the issue, the more likely – were I a resident of San Francisco – I would support the referendum.” 
Sandford Borins, Ph.D., The Circumcision Referendum: A Liberal Jewish Perspective
Sandford Borins, Ph.D., is a professor of Management at the University of Toronto.

Jewish Intactivist in the UK
What about religious freedom? Certainly, the ability to freely practise one's religion remains a vital component of any liberal democracy. But should this trump an individual's right to their bodily integrity? And shouldn't such a principle be extended to all those who, by virtue of their age, are too young to decide on which body parts they would or would not like to keep?...
"Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights outlaws the kind of "harm" that circumcision can cause; article 14 forbids the discrimination that prevents baby boys from enjoying the same protection of their genitalia as baby girls. In the 21st century, it is time to remember that men, too, can be victims of unjust hegemonic systems tolerated in the name of tradition, culture or religion. If we oppose female genital mutilation, has the time not come for us also to oppose male genital mutiliation?"
  Neil Howard and Rebecca SteinfeldTime to ban male circumcision?, Guardian UK, June 14, 2011
Rebecca Steinfeld, is a PhD. candidate at Oxford University and has served as an under-35 director and as an associate of the Board of Deputies for New West End Synagogue.

Peaceful Covenant Texts for Jewish Parents
100+ Rabbis who lead covenant without cutting ceremonies worldwide.
HowJudaic is the circumcision? An Israeli Hebrew scholar on Biblical intactivism.
Brit B'lee Milah Ceremony
A Brit Shalom Ceremony
Song for an Intact Jewish Boy’s Welcoming.

Judaism, the Foreskin and Human Rights
Rabbis on a Covenant without Circumcision
What is a Jewish Brit Shalom (Covenant Without Cutting)?  A 'Bloodless Bris' is Becoming Popular Among American Jews
Jewish Understanding, the Foreskin, and Human Rights | Part 1.
Jewish Understanding, the Foreskin, and Human Rights | Part 2.
Jewish Understanding, the Foreskin, and Human Rights | Part 3.

Jewish Intactivist Families: Jewish Parents' Experiences Keeping their Sons Intact
Laura Shanley: A Jewish Woman Denounces Circumcision | A Jewish Childbirth Educator keeps her sons intact.
Moshe Rothenberg: Ending Circumcision in the Jewish Community? | Envisioning an Intactivist Judaism.
Michael Kimmel: The Kindest Un-Cut: Feminism, Judaism, and My Son's Foreskin | Published in Tikkun
Intact & Jewish | Published on the Natural Parents Network
The Naming | Published on Very, Very Fine
Humanistic Judaism is Increasingly Intactivist
Circumcision Questions (letter from an intact Jew). |  Published in the Northern California Jewish Bulletin.
Outlawing Circumcision: Good for the Jews?
 By Eli Ungar-Sargon. Published in the Jewish Daily Forward.
Dear Elijah: A Conservative Jewish Father's Letter to His Intact Son | Published on Peaceful Parenting.
Stacey Greenberg: My Son: The Little Jew with a Foreskin | Published in Mothering Magazine.

Jewish Intactivism


  1. 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.

  2. I conjecture that this post and the following comment thread will have no traction among Jews who are devout or feel insecure about their Jewishness. In the English speaking world and in Israel, brit milah remains very popular even among Jews who are atheists or agnostics or who never join a temple during their adult lives. However, this is not the case in Europe and Latin America. Over the past 2 decades, intact has also established a bridgehead in Israel.

    I do not support making male circumcision illegal. But it remains the case that circumcision is a pointless public health measure. I do support the evolution of our sexual culture in such a way that male circumcision comes to be perceived as anti-sexual, as putting legitimate adult sexual pleasure at risk in an unconscionable way. I believe that the word is getting around among more sophisticated under 30s, that RIC is sexually uncool, that Mother Nature knew what she was doing when she designed the fiddly bits on the end of the penis. The day will come when the vast majority of sex therapists and the like will deplore the circumcision of minors as anti-sexual. This will gradually but inevitably pose a grave dilemma for most nonorthodox Jews.

    Circumcision has immense emotional power because it is fiercely sexual. Freud appreciated this, but his writings are by no means the last word on the subject. Intactivists (other than Tina Kimmel) have not mentioned the late Freud's concerns about brit milah and antisemitism.

    From George Wald's epic 1975 essay, one that remains unprinted to this day, I learned the following. In traditional hunter-gatherer cultures that do not circumcise, the penis with bared glans is seen as aggressively sexual, arguably as obscene. When the foreskin covers the glans, that is merely indecent. Another psychosexual aspect of some traditional cultures is that the foreskin is unconsciously perceived as a male form of the labia minora, and hence as feminine, and hence as degrading. Keep in mind that many cultures that circumcise boys as a rite of passage also perform FGM. Such cultures perceive the clitoris as masculine, and hence as degrading to women and threatening to men. The clitoris undermines male self-satisfaction arising from a false belief that phallic pleasure is uniquely male. Hence those who deplore male circumcision must also condemn FGM and advocated for the intersex.

  3. Genital Autonomy 2015 Myths and Multiple Standards

    Unumstrittener Höhepunkt der Konferenz war jedoch der Vortrag von Mina Ahadi (Zentralrat der Ex-Muslime), die für ihr engagiertes Auftreten für die genitale Unversehrtheit von Mädchen und Jungen im muslimisch geprägten Kulturkreis und ihre mutige Arbeit im Allgemeinen mit stehenden Ovationen gefeiert wurde.

    Schluss mit der Kinderbeschneidung – auch in islamisch geprägten Ländern

    Von Mina Ahadi