Baltimore Jewish Times — May 23, 1997

Dr. Ronald Goldman, on circumcision: “Think about what a violation of trust this represents for the baby, who looks to his parents to love and protect him.”

Although Jews are commanded by the Torah to circumcise newborn males, some Jews and non-Jews today are beginning to question the ancient ritual. The Boston-based Circumcision Resource Center has an affiliate called Jewish Associates, which supports Jewish parents who choose to forgo the practice. The BALTIMORE JEWISH TIMES spoke with the CRC’s executive director, Dr. Ronald Goldman, author of the forthcoming book “Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective,” about circumcision.


J T. — What are your main objections to circumcision?

Dr Goldman — Circumcision is overwhelmingly painful and traumatic. No anesthetic has been proven safe and effective in preventing this pain. Sometimes, the infant does not cry because of withdrawal into traumatic shock. Circumcision often results in behavioral changes and disrupted mother-child bonding, and there are risks as with any surgery.

Also, some men are resentful that they are circumcised. They realize that the foreskin has important functions, including enhancing sexual pleasure.

Why are some Jews now starting to re-examine the issue of circumcision?

There is more information on circumcision available now. Once it is clear that circumcision has no proven benefit and is actually harmful, the choice not to circumcise is a natural one.

Don’t those Jews who oppose circumcision tend to be pretty liberal?

Certainly, secular Jews are more likely to question circumcision than Orthodox Jews. In actual practice, many Jews circumcise because of cultural conformity, not for religious reasons. The myth is that all Jews circumcise. But in Europe, South America and Israel, as well as here, there are Jews who do not circumcise their sons.

Are there differences in the way men and women view circumcision?

Generally, women are more sensitive to the issue. As mothers, they feel a stronger bond to the child and a stronger impulse to protect the child. Now that women are more active in Jewish practices, they’re speaking up more. I’ve talked to Jewish women who said they would run away with their son before they’d allow him to be circumcised.

Do you think the media attention given to the Third World female genital mutilation has influenced Westerners to revisit circumcision?

Both men and women are noticing an inconsistency if we denounce female genital mutilation and ignore what we do to baby boys. This is not to say that the two are identical, but there are similarities. In both cases, the child’s genitals are cut by force.

How did you become interested in this issue?

I attended a bris where there was a lot of discomfort and anxiety among the people there. The infant cried strenuously for an extended period of time. Think about what a violation of trust this represents for the baby, who looks to his parents to love and protect him. How can he feel safe if this is one of his earliest experiences?

There’s a new movement in Israel to change public thinking about this issue. What do you think brought that about?

I think Israelis are also recognizing that this is at odds with their own instincts. What’s kept this quiet for so long is the fear of expressing a point of view that conflicts with the cultural norm. As some Jews learn that others are questioning circumcision, they feel more able to do it themselves.

—Christine Stutz