Circumcision and the Barbarous Bris

22 10 2007

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend a bris.  According to,

It is written in the Torah: “This is My covenant that you shall observe between Me and you and your children after you, to circumcise your every male. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall become the sign of a covenant between Me and you”

I’ll forgo the ‘why is god so interested in your penis’ jokes.  The bris gave me a good opportunity to consider something that I honestly hadn’t spent much time considering.  To cut, or not to cut?  I was born in a generation where it was standard to circumcise due partly to bad science and partly to cultural pressures.  Today however, the medical benefits of circumcision are seen as non existent – and many even find that there are medical benefits to leaving the penis intact.

The Platform of the Fetus and Newborn Committee of the Canadian Paediatric Society (the PFNCCPS) calls into question the belief that intact males are more likely to develop penis cancer, and notes that the financial and emotional costs of complications arising from circumcision make it advisable to not circumcise.

Ultimately I think that performing non-necessary surgery on new-borns demonstrates not our devoutness but rather our barbarousness.  Cosmetic surgery should be the decision of the boy and should not therefore be made until he is old enough to make the decision for himself.

This issue is not one of life and death (in most cases).  Therefore I attended the bris and was respectful.  The boy will grow up and be fine.  But watching a grown man in white robes suck the foreskin off of an eight day old baby didn’t do much to make me change my mind about religion in general. 

 That being said if circumcision were to stop we would be deprived the websites of such organizations such as the National Organization to Halt the Abuse and Routine Mutilation of Males (NO HARM). 

I would also point the reader to these websites:

The Lost List – part of the “intactivism” movement

Natural Family Online– which has two useful charts on the pros and cons of circumcision.

The Circumcision Reference Library – which has fun “Genital Integrity” graphs

Jewish Circumcision Resource Center– for a Jewish perspective, duh.


I’ll have to correct myself – there is some evidence that removal of the foreskin cuts the risk of infection of HIV.  I should know, I blogged about it <a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>here</a>.


There’s a follow-up post to this one, which you can read here.




9 responses

23 10 2007

Thank you for linking to the Intactivism Pages. On the Jewish side, note that celebrants of non-surgical baby-naming ceremonies (Brit Shalom) are available. Sucking (metzitzah) is comparatively rare, and probably of negligible significance to the baby compared to what’s just been done to him.

The vast majority (~97%) of circumcisions in the US are surgical, and done for conformity’s sake. Now that the rate is falling below 50%, we may hope that a tipping point will soon be reached and conformity will work in the other direction.

And AIDS? My guess is that a reduction of 50% – in non-blinded, scientifically controlled tests conducted by circumcision enthusiasts – won’t make a blind bit of difference in real life – but once they’ve started doing it, it’ll be devillishly hard to stop.

23 10 2007
Warren Johnson

Self mutilation and infantilation are an integral part of our society. It is an unspoken imperative to the hip and modern parent to somehow alter their spawn in some physical way: Ear piercing in newborn girls, circumcision in newborn boys, tonsil extraction in the child, irradiation of the newborn thymus (popular in the 1940’s). Later comes the self directed tongue and clitoris fenestration, the nose job, the breast augmentation, the torso tattoo, the bunion surgery, and the hysterectomy. So many of us pay really big bucks for the privelege of being so mutilated.

Circumcision, by contrast is a cheap, simple, and discreet way to welcome the young tyke into jewish society. Consider the breast job that welcomes a starlet into the bimbo community: expensive, complicated and, lord knows, not discreet. But do we cringe and grab our crotches when watching Danciung with The Stars? Not likely. So go ahead and whack that weenie to the tune of a toast and a prayer.

24 10 2007

Thank you for your comments. I guess my point is that the difference between circumcision and other body modifications is that it is done without the consent of the person it is being performed upon. That is not to say that there aren’t more (clitorectamies) and less (ear piercing) awful things that are done to infants – the degree of it doesn’t really matter – it all boils down to an issue of consent. The baby is not a ‘jewish’ baby, it is the baby of, in this case, one jewish parent. Religion, like circumcisions, should not be forced on to someone who can’t make up their own mind about it.

I think a gift card to Einstein’s Bagels would be a better way of welcoming someone into the Jewish community. Tastier and less bloody.

25 10 2007


See update at bottom of post.

30 10 2007

Woe is us! The decisions of parenthood begin. But there are no absolutes, and plenty of second-guessers. At your birth Mitch, you are right, circumcision was a non-issue…you were a boy, and you left the hospital already mutilated. I did not think to question it, and of course I did not imagine you as mutilated; it was just our custom. And later you were baptized, marked with the sign of the cross: a gentle, emotional ceremony not unlike the Bris in many ways. (But certainly no choice of your own. ) A welcoming by the community who supported us in raising you. Other decisions, however, were questioned: Was I really giving you enough to eat bybreast-feeding? Should you really be sleeping on that lambskin? Why didn’t I just let you “cry it out”; surely I was spoiling you by picking you up every time you cried. Wasn’t strapping you into that infant car seat rather mean? Much better to be held in someone’s arms in the car. And, what about the traditional and very exact feeding schedule? I should have made you wait the prescribed number of hours between feedings, no matter what you wanted, I was told. Why was I using cloth (not disposable) diapers? Wasn’t it bad that I let the dogs lick you? For me to let you feed yourself (oh, so messy!)? And why was I so late in offering you baby food? Later, why was I going to all the trouble of grinding adult food into baby food? Isn’t that why we have Gerber? The list goes on. Preschool too much or too little? Kindergarten at 4 or 5? And why, oh why, didn’t I insist on a different first grade teacher? What was up with the “reading chair”? Was that really necessary? I think, at any given time, parents make the best decisions for our children based on the information…tradition…advice..whatever, that we have available. Please “presume positive intentions” on our parental part. Parents are often wrong, but not-so-often lacking in positive intention. My best wishes go out to Kate and Eric, who are on the cutting edge, making these decisions right now in real time. My love goes out to both Mitch and Eric, who bore the consequences of my (sometimes) poorly informed, but always best-intentioned decisions. I love you so much that it really does hurt sometimes. I am so grateful that you became the men you are today. I am exilerated by the fact that you think for yourselves and question and live and love. Life is good. Pass it on.

31 10 2007

I think my intentions have been misunderstood. It is not that I don’t presume positive intentions. Of course I do. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have the conversation as a society about this issue. I’m not attacking anyone – only a practice.

1 11 2007

I understand that. I like to participate in the discourse! MInd, like parachute, operates only when open. Thanks for providing the forum.

2 11 2007
Hitchens on Circumcision « Fear of Ignorance

[…] This post is a follow up of a previous post:  Circumcision and the Barborous Bris […]

18 12 2007

Good list of links/resources.

There’s a link to a really interesting video on my blog in the upper right corner that follows two Jewish couples through the circumcision decision. It’s called, “Cutting With Tradition”. If you google “Bris Shalom” you’ll find information on a cut free bris ceremony that more Jewish families are considering.

I also love this article:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: