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. Some forward-thinking Rabbis have created symbolic ceremonies to replace circumcision surgery. The Humanistic Jewish movement only does peaceful welcoming covenants. Already, more than 100 Rabbis from a wide range of Jewish denominations perform symbolic covenant rituals. More and more Jewish and Israeli parents, Rabbis, scholars, and thinkers have come to oppose circumcision.
What follows is a collection of statements from Jews who question the ethics and legality of forced under-age 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
“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., BeyondTheBris.com, July 1, 2011
“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-Sargon, Outlawing Circumcision: Good for the Jews?, Forward, the Jewish Daily, May 20, 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 religious nudnicks 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., BeyondTheBris.com, 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
From Israel to the U.K., some Jews feel that circumcision surgery is an outdated tradition, and recognize that it violates many international laws.
“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 Steinfeld, Time 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.
"In Europe today, human rights groups have mounted a grass roots campaign opposing circumcision, comparing it to the brutal mutilation of African women. The Netherlands Institute of Human Rights wants to outlaw Bris Milah. And an article published in the prestigious British Medical Journal (April 2000), written by obstetricians, gynecologists, and midwives from hospitals in France, claimed:
“The [African] women we interviewed considered their daughters’ mutilation and their sons’ circumcision to be similar. Male circumcision is also a form of genital mutilation because it involves removing a healthy part of an organ. How can we convince mothers that they should not mutilate their daughters while they continue to have their sons circumcised?”
A group of Israelis petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to outlaw circumcision on the grounds that it is criminal assault. Shockingly, this campaign even has adherents in Israel. In February 1998, a group of Israelis petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to outlaw circumcision on the grounds that it is criminal assault. A joke? No. Case number 5780/98 is a real case, and the court has already held hearings.
Avshalom Zoossmann-Diskin, Executive Director of the Israeli Association Against Genital Mutilation in Tel Aviv, says that a campaign is urgently needed to end Bris Milah. “Why are they discriminating against me as victim of Jewish male genital mutilation?” he decries. “Are my human rights, bodily integrity and suffering less important than those of African girls?!”
- Circumcision: Beautiful or Barbaric? by Rabbi Shraga Simmons.
"As a liberal Jewish woman, I agree 100 per cent with the German court’s decision [to ban circumcision].
Maimonides knew, centuries ago, that circumcision impacted men’s sex drive, making sex and masturbation more difficult and less pleasurable, in addition to leaving penises weaker. According to him, circumcision’s job is to cause pain to boys’ members in order to accomplish the objectives stated above; it’s not about any covenantal accord referred to in scripture at all.
It’s also interesting to note that the first people to be circumcised in the Torah are teens and adults capable of making the decision on their own terms, something that makes sense given a comment in the Talmud that somebody ready for circumcision is akin to a groom.
On first glance, they’re not similar at all, since eight-day-old infants are vulnerable and deserve to be protected from anything unnecessary that can hurt them and grooms are older, capable of independent decision-making.
However, if we return to the Scripture and think about everything in a marriage context, perhaps the similarity is this: if someone ready for circumcision is akin to a groom, he has to be capable of rational decision-making and ready to live with the consequences of his actions. Circumcision will always be a hotly debated topic but in the long run, it, like any genital surgery, deserves to be chosen by the people who have to live with its effect."
- Amy Soule, Hamilton, Circumcision of boys amounts to bodily harm, German court rules (June 27) The Spec.
Amy Soule is a volunteer cantor and a Bris Shalom celebrant in the Reform Judaism movement. She also wrote the essay Parshat Lech L'cha: Why Infant Circumcision in Judaism Isn't Kosher on the website Beyondthebris.com.
“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 Media.
* Jewish Intactivist Articles & Opinions.
Cut: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision
* A Movie by Orthodox Intactivist, Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon
Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective by Ronald Goldman, Ph.D. *
Rabbis and other leaders who lead covenant without cutting ceremonies. *
Jewish Intactivist Groups.
Jews Against Circumcision * Jews For the Rights of the Child * Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective by Ron Goldman, PhD. *Gonnen * Kahal * Af-Mila: An Israeli Jewish Intactivist Journal *
The Israeli Association Against Genital Mutilation *
Judaism, the Foreskin and Human Rights Law.
Jewish Questioning of Traditional Circumcision * Part 1.
Jewish Questioning of Traditional Circumcision * Part 2.
Jewish Questioning of Traditional Circumcision * Part 3.
The Moral Problems of Circumcision & the Search for Jewish Alternatives.
Jewish Rationales for Abolishing Circumcision
* by Jews Against Circumcision.
Eli Ungar-Sargon & Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on the Ethical Problems of Circumcision
* At the Manhattan Jewish Experience.
Eli Ungar-Sargon: Outlawing Circumcision: Good for the Jews?
* Published in the Jewish Daily Forward.
Hebrew Scholar Vadim Cherny: How Judaic is circumcision?
* It’s not at all, he finds.
Circumcision Questions (letter from an intact Jew).
* Published in the Northern California Jewish Bulletin.
Miriam Pollack: Circumcision: Identity, Gender, and Power
* Originally published in Tikkun magazine.
Miriam Pollack: Circumcision : A Jewish Feminist Perspective
* Published in Jewish Women Speak Out.
The Measure of His Grief by Lisa Braver Moss
* A new book exploring Jewish intactivism.
Lisa Braver Moss: The Jewish Roots of Anti-Circumcision Arguments *
Jenny Goodman, MD: An Alternative Perspective
* A Jewish doctor in the UK urges us to keep our sons intact.
A Progressive Case for Bris without Milah. *
Moshe Rothenberg: Being Rational About Circumcision and Jewish Observance *
Brit Milah: Inconsistent with Jewish Ethics?
* Written by a Jewish parent.
Leaders in the Jewish Movement to Abolish Circumcision.
Intact America: Profile of Orthodox Intactivist Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon *
Intact America: Profile of Jewish Intactivist Miriam Pollack *
Intact America: Profile of Jewish Scholar and Intactivist Leonard Glick, MD, PhD.
* A Jewish history of circumcision.
The Intactivist Movement Within Judaism.
* Published on Saving Sons.
Jewish mom: Circumcision spiritually wounds
* From a lecture by Miriam Pollack.
Today’s Jews Reject Circumcision and Choose Peaceful Welcoming Covenants *
An Intactivist Midwife.
Regretting Circumcision: Women’s Perspectives
* Published on Dr. Ron Goldman’s site.
Progressive, Moral Jews speak out in Favor of Banning Circumcision on Minors.
* Intactivism and Human Rights.
The History of Circumcision: Leonard Glick , MD, PhD. explains how he came to write Marked In Your Flesh. *
American Jews Speak Out in Favor of Banning Circumcision on Minors *
International Jews Also Favor Outlawing Circumcision of Minors *
Judaism, Human Rights and the History of Circumcision *
Peaceful Covenant Texts for Jewish Parents.
Worldwide list of Rabbis who lead covenant without cutting ceremonies *
Song for an Intact Jewish Boy’s Welcoming Ceremony *
Brit B'lee Milah Ceremony *
A Brit Shalom Ceremony *
Norm Cohen: A Brit B’lee Milah Ceremony *
Jewish Parents' Experiences Keeping their Sons Intact.
Dear Elijah: A Conservative Jewish Father's Letter to His Intact Son
* Published on Peaceful Parenting.
Moshe Rothenberg: Ending Circumcision in the Jewish Community?
* Envisioning an Intactivist Judaism.
Laura Shanley: A Jewish Woman Denounces Circumcision
* A Childbirth educator chooses intact.
Michael Kimmel: The Kindest Un-Cut: Feminism, Judaism, and My Son's Foreskin
* Published in Tikkun.
* Published on Very, Very Fine.
Stacey Greenberg: My Son: The Little Jew with a Foreskin
* Published in Mothering Magazine.
Intact & Jewish
* Published on the Natural Parents Network