Letters to the Editor: MOMENT — August, 1997
Many Jewish Men Regret the Cut
Over the last year I have formed a group called HOW (Healing Our Wounds), which is a forum for circumcised men to talk about how they feel about being circumcised. It is amazing how many men (including Jewish men) are extremely angry about having had this decision made for them, despite their religious background, and how they would have preferred to have been left with all their body parts and been able to make this kind of an important decision later in life.
While the Torah commands Jews to circumcise their infant boys, there are many other commandments that we do not follow today.
How many of your Jewish friends eat pork, cheeseburgers, or shellfish? How many work on Friday night or Saturday? How many wear clothing made from more than one type of material? How many masturbate or have extramarital affairs?
Why is it that the one command that does the most harm to future generations is the one continually carried out today, despite the growing amount of medical evidence showing circumcision has potentially harmful side effects (let alone the severe diminution of sexual pleasure).
I cannot understand how Ms. Klagsbrun can make such statements as “[it] causes only brief pain and has not been found to have any adverse lifelong effects.” Since Ms. Klagsbrun has not been circumcised herself (I would assume), I find it almost ludicrous that she would make such a statement. I’m sure she would find it distasteful if I tried to state that having a mastectomy is no big deal if a woman has breast cancer. And besides, the foreskin is a healthy, normal functioning part of the body that is removed for no sound reason at all.
San Francisco, California
For another view, see the forthcoming article in MOMENT by Edgar Schoen, M.D.—Ed.
Just Won’t Cut It
Wine on a washcloth may quiet the grandfather, but as pain control it just—forgive the expression—won’t cut it.
Remembers His Circumcision 50 Years Later
As a Jewish male, for most of my life I felt good about circumcision and the connection I felt to my Jewish heritage. When I began writing a book on men five years ago, I would break into tears when I tried to write about shame and the way in which early childhood experiences impacted on later feelings. I began to get body memories of having been circumcised and realized that I carried a great deal of pain, even 50 years later. I now believe strongly that circumcision is harmful and recommend that all people, Jews and non-Jews, consider alternatives before deciding to have their boys circumcised.
Author of The Warrior’s Journey Home: Healing Men, Healing the Planet (New Harbringer, 1994).
Circumcision Is Forced Amputation
I do not understand how a religion that abhors pain inflicted upon animals could allow this to be subjected on a helpless infant. Also, doesn’t Judaism forbid marking the body with tattoos and other methods, such as piercing, branding, and scarification? While these may seem repugnant to many of your readers, they pale in comparison to the forced amputation of healthy erogenous tissue.
The Rambam Would Be Proud
I was delighted to read that other Jewish parents are questioning and opting against ritual circumcision, echoing the great scholar Maimonides, who said, “Let no man be circumcised against his will.”
Heidi R. Goldstein
New York, New York
Circumcision Is Like Female Genital Mutilation
Despite columnist Francine Klagsbrun’s convenient dismissal of female genital mutilation (FGM) as unrelated to brit milah, these two ancient cultural traditions are far too similar.
Without her Western holier-than-thou nearsightedness, she would understand FGM provides women with a sense of identity and connectedness in their own communities. Both rituals have always been a sacred rite of covenant in one’s community and, in this context, performed in the “best interests” of the child. For those who would still dismiss this comparison by contrasting the degree of mutilation inflicted, U.S. law does not permit such distinctions. The slightest cutting of a girl’s genitals by a well-intentioned community wishing to grant her “uniqueness” is a felony.
It is time for the modern Jewish community to understand the ethics behind the FGM law and, as we have done for so many other Jewish traditions, adjust brit milah for the modern age.
Norman L. Cohen
Female Genital Mutilation Creates Community
I have lived in Africa for five years, working with women’s health and rights programs, including the effort to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM).
In many communities in Africa, FGM is done to ensure that a girl or woman passes safely and appropriately into adulthood (similar to a bat mitzvah), that she is a respected and upstanding member of the community, that she is physically clean, that her child is healthy, and that she is bound to her family, community, ethnic group, and society through a lifelong covenant. Some women describe the procedure—no matter how much we ourselves may abhor it—as the embodiment of love and dignity.
To suggest that African rituals do not create “peoplehood” as our rituals do denies Africans the same right to express ethnic unity that we Jews demand. While I, and many African and non-African women, hope to see FGM eradicated, we must work toward that day with full knowledge of and respect for why communities continue this practice. Jews, of all people, should respect covenants created between people and their community and support others in developing rituals that celebrate people wile not harming them.