Tuesday, June 2, 2020 -
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Circumcision debate heats up

How closely have you been following the circumcision debate? This autumn, the people of San Francisco will vote on what’s being called the MGM – male genital mutilation – bill; passing this bill would criminalize the oldest ritual in Judaism – the bris.

The arguments for and against are pretty straightforward. One side talks about genital mutilation (a highly contested phrase in terms of male circumcision) and a child’s right to make decisions about his own body. For the other side, religious tradition and ritual are paramount, alongside the secondary fact that male circumcision does carry certain health benefits.

But what started off as a localized debate has, unsurprisingly, gone national. Various rabbis and Jewish movements are compelled to vocalize a stance. A host of websites with names like “beyondthebris” and “jewsagainstcircumcision” have popped up. Some liberal leaders are calling for an alternative bris, essentially a baby-naming ceremony. Even some congressmen have taken position (although were derailed by scandals of their own making, hint, Weiner, hint).

Counteracting this growing movement is the basic truth, that circumcision is a religious ritual in both Judaism and Islam. It’s a tradition thousands of years old that in the vast majority of cases has no ill effect on males, and in some cases is medically beneficial. Many are frustrated and upset at the misappropriation of the term “genital mutilation”, which really doesn’t apply to male circumcision. (Read Jeff Jacoby’s piece in the Boston Globe for a concise overview of the term.)

In his View from Denver this week, Rabbi Hillel Goldberg does a good job of outlining the arguments both for and against circumcision. He points out that freedom of religion is not argument enough; bigamy or under-age marriages are not permitted in the US, despite being permissible in certain religious traditions.

Though there is the issue of medical benefit, at its core, whether to circumcise is an issue determined by emotions and belief. It involves religion, God, babies – and a knife. And in an age where we have become increasingly concerned about the rights of children as individuals and the quality of childcare, it’s natural that circumcision has emerged as an issue.

We’d be curious to hear what you have to think: Should circumcision be allowed? How important is freedom of religion? Does male circumcision have an averse affect on adult males? Post a comment here, or on Goldberg’s column.

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Rabbi Hillel Goldberg
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