UNLIKE the group that created the 2011 San Francisco ballot initiative that would have made circumcising a male under age 18 a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $1,000 or up to one year in jail, with no religious exemptions permitted, those gathered at CU Boulder July 23-26 for the 13th convocation of the International Symposium on Genital Autonomy and Children’s Rights indicated an interest in education over legislation.
“Whole Bodies, Whole Selves: Activating Social Change” brought together organizations and individuals from around the world for “interdisciplinary dialogue about genital cutting . . . and strategies for protecting children from medically unnecessary genital alteration,” and included experts in the areas of anthropology, bioethics, children’s rights, foreskin restoration, healthcare law, medicine, midwifery, pediatrics, psychology, psychotherapy and sociology, many of whom identified as Jewish.
There was much discussion of an increase in the number of Jewish families around the world who are opting not to circumcise their sons — but no specific numbers were provided.
LISA Braver Moss, who identified herself as a journalist, a novelist, an intactivist and a Jewish mother, described “an emerging Jewish ritual” called b’rit b’li milah (covenant without circumcision”) or b’rit shalom (covenant of peace), she discussed her conversations with unidentified progressive Jewish clergy who indicated “they either had or would officiate at alternative b’rit ceremonies if asked.”
Haver, Boulder’s Rabbinic Fellowship, which represents the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Renewal movements, released a statement affirming their “continued endorsement of this central Jewish rite,” stating that despite their varying approaches to Judaism they speak with a unified voice on this issue:
“Our beloved Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (May his Memory be a Blessing) was radical in so many ways in the innovations he brought to Jewish life, yet he remained clear until the end about his unwavering commitment to this practice.
“In one of his very last public appearances, Reb Zalman insisted that we maintain the integrity of brit milah as a sacred Jewish rite of passage, preserving Jewish continuity throughout the generations.”
Braver Moss and Rebecca Wald, an attorney and founder of the website Beyond the B’ris, wrote “Celebrating B’rit Shalom,” a book of liturgies for alternative brit celebrations.
Some involve no sharp objects at all, while others incorporate the cutting of a pomegranate. Traditionally symbolic of fertility and knowledge, due to its color and physical construction, the pomegranate “bleeds” when cut, allowing parents to offer the blood of the fruit of the tree rather than the blood of the fruit of the womb as proof of their continuation of their covenant with G-d.
IN Colorado, the list of “celebrants of alternative covenant celebrations” includes Michelle Davis and Sheila Malcolm of Beth Ami: Colorado Congregation for Humanistic Judaism; Miriam Pollack, anti-circumcision activist; Rabbi Adam Morris of Temple Micah; Danya Uriel Rivlin, vocalist, and Eyal Rivlin, guitarist, who, together, create devotional music based on sacred chanting; and Rabbi Brian Field of Judaism Your Way.
Attendee Laurie Evans, MA, an educator in the field of baby massage and gentle birthing and founder, in 1987, of the Hudson Valley, New York, chapter of NOCIRC, doesn’t believe in trying to pass laws banning circumcision.
“When someone tries to impose their views, there is usually a strong reaction against it,” she said, echoing the sentiments of others at the conference.
“I am much more interested in educating people and allowing parents to come to their own conclusions.”
This remains in stark contrast to Matthew Hess’s San Diego-based group, MGMbill.org, the source of the 2011 ballot initiative.
Although he cites pain and mutilation as his reasons, a comic book he published indicates that anti-Semitism might be an equally powerful motivation.
At the time of the initiative, The Los Angeles Times published excerpts from “Foreskin Man” in which “the blond superhero takes on ‘Monster Mohel’ — a bearded, black-hatted man with bloody scissors.”
According to the article, images of the “evil Jewish characters” (and all the Jewish characters are evil), “recall the stereotypical images of classic anti-Semitism.”
The ADL issued a statement saying the publication’s “grotesque anti-Semitic imagery and themes, reaches a new low and is disrespectful and deeply offensive.”
Whatever Hess’s reasons for promoting it, a judge found it in violation of the California law allowing the regulation of medical procedures only at the state level and it was struck from the ballot.
No similar ban has since been proposed in the US.
Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News