1. The religious origin of Jewish circumcision is in the Torah. It says that God told Abraham “every male among you shall be circumcised” (Gen. 17) as part of a covenant between God and the Jewish people. However, most Jews are unaware of this origin, and in a survey of American Jews, the large majority (87%) do not believe that the Torah is the actual word of God.
2. Circumcision of male infants is not universal among American Jews. Some Jews in South America, Europe, and Israel also do not circumcise. For example, the circumcision rate among Swedish Jews is reported to be about 40%.
3. Originally only the tip of the foreskin was cut, called milah. This practice lasted about 2000 years. During the Hellenistic period, many young Jews concealed their circumcision by drawing their foreskins forward. The rabbis of the time decided to change the requirements of the procedure so that a circumcised male could not possibly be altered to appear uncircumcised. This was the start of periah, removing the entire foreskin.
4 Jewish circumcision is a growing topic of debate in the Jewish community and has been questioned in dozens of articles appearing in such publications as Moment, Tikkun, Jewish News, Forward, Jewish Advocate, Jewish Monthly, Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, Jewish Journal, and Jewish Times. Two Israeli organizations publicly oppose circumcision, Kahal Group and Protect the Child.
5. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, “any child born of a Jewish mother is a Jew, whether circumcised or not.” This restrictive definition is based on Orthodox belief. Other Jews recognize that one can be Jewish based on the status of either parent and, of course, conversion.
6. The biggest threat to Jewish survival is assimilation. There is no evidence that circumcision slows it. Despite circumcision, about half of all Jews who married in recent years chose a non-Jewish spouse.
7. In actual practice, many Jews circumcise because of cultural conformity, not religious reasons. Based on a national survey of American Jews, “90 percent define being Jewish as being a member of a cultural or ethnic group.” Most circumcisions of male infants of American Jewish parents are done in hospitals without any religious ritual.
8. Jewish law acknowledges the remote possibility of death resulting from the surgery and allows for exemptions when other children in the family have died from the effects of circumcision.
9. Ritual circumcisers (mohelim) usually use the same clamp devices as doctors. In fact, training programs for Reform and Conservative mohelim require a valid medical license for certification. Consequently, there is little reason to believe that circumcisions performed by mohelim are less painful for the infant.
10. Circumcision is inconsistent with significant Jewish laws and values. For example, the human body must not be altered or marked. The Torah also prohibits the causing of pain to any living creature. Since circumcision causes extreme pain, some Jews believe that circumcision is not ethical. Jewish values place ethical behavior above doctrine.
11. For those who want a ritual, a growing number are turning to alternative equivalent rituals for male and female infants. This is consistent with reforming Judaism to be more egalitarian.
12. Jewish boys who are not circumcised are accepted by others and have had bar mitzvahs.
13. International Policies: No national medical organization in the world recommends routine circumcision of male infants. Many advise against it. See positions of international organizations and Doctors Opposing Circumcision.
14. Pain and Trauma: According to a comprehensive study, newborn responses to pain are “similar to but greater than those observed in adult subjects.” Circumcision is extremely painful and traumatic. Some infants do not cry because they go into traumatic shock from the overwhelming pain of the surgery. No experimental anesthetic has been found to be safe and effective in preventing circumcision pain in infants. There are long-term adverse psychological effects.
15. Behavioral response: Various studies have found that short-term effects of circumcision include changed sleep patterns, activity level, and mother-infant interaction, more irritability, and disruptions in feeding and bonding.
16. Foreskin functions: The foreskin protects the head of the penis, enhances sexual pleasure, and facilitates intercourse. Men circumcised as adults report a significant loss of sensitivity. The foreskin on the average adult male is about 12 sq.in. of highly erogenous tissue. See Functions of the Foreskin.
17. Complications and Risks: The rate of complications has been documented as high as 38%. For a complete list see Circumcision: Over 100 Known Complications and Risks.
18. The primary consideration is the welfare of the child and future adult.