Questioning circumcision is common among young Jews in America
Young Jewish parents in the USA are bucking historical trends on this questionable surgery. Articles about or mentioning Jewish opposition to circumcision have appeared recently in a variety of Jewish papers, websites, and blogs including the Jewish Daily Forward, JewSchool, Jweekly, TheJC.com, Jewish Journal, Jewish Business News (Israel) and Ynet Jewish World.Young Jewish parents are working with supportive Jewish clergy to create ritual alternatives.Mark Reiss, MD., a Jewish doctor and influential intactivist manages a list of more than 130 Rabbis (plus many cantors and other Jewish leaders) all over the world (including the US, UK, and Israel), who officiate at Jewish covenant ceremonies without circumcision.Rebecca Wald runs the blog BeyondTheBris, one of the premiere sites for the Jewish Intactivist movement. Wald along with Lisa Braver Moss wrote Celebrating Brit Shalom, the first Jewish guidebook for Jewish families keeping their sons intact.These are some of the thoughts that today’s Jews are having on the subject of intactivism in their own words.
“I am a deeply committed Jew, and active in the Jewish community as a prayer leader, teacher, celebrant, and composer and performer of sacred music. I oppose ritual circumcision as an act not freely and consciously chosen by the individual undergoing the circumcision. Even by the most stringent halachah (Jewish law), Jewish status does not require circumcision – for either a newborn child or a convert. I oppose, therefore, any emotional, psychological, or social pressures – or specious medical or religious arguments – urging brit milah or hatafat dam brit, that are brought to bear on parents of a newborn boy, or an adult male candidate for conversion. I recognise that for many Jews, cutting a male’s genitals is an integral part of expressing Jewishness. But to insist on circumcision for all male Jews, or those males who wish to become Jewish, is oppressive, unjust, and a misreading of Torah, and therefore against what I believe to be the true spirit of Judaism. I profoundly support the practice of brit shalom – naming and welcoming infants into their Jewish life and people through a ceremony that does not include cutting anything or drawing any blood.”
Alexander Massey, Celebrant, Oxford, UK. Brit Shalom ceremonies – resources.
“In November, I attended the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) 2015 Biennial conference in Orlando, Florida, where my co-author Rebecca Wald and I had a display booth in the exhibition hall. We were there to showcase Celebrating Brit Shalom, the first book written specifically for Jewish families opting out of circumcision. With the thousands of Reform rabbis, cantors, and lay leaders in attendance, we were eager, excited—and, frankly, a little anxious about how our book would be received…. Quite a few rabbis had already performed brit shalom (covenant ceremonies for non-circumcising families). Several clergy members came back multiple times to talk with us because they were so enthusiastic about what we’re doing…. A couple of clergy members told us they were privately against circumcision. One clergy person said she and her husband, also clergy, were both strongly opposed to circumcision—and had gone through with it in their family only for fear of professional repercussions if they didn’t.
But perhaps the biggest shocker was that we talked with two separate rabbis who had decided not to circumcise their own sons!”Lisa Braver Moss, Book for Non-Circumcising Families Hits Reform Judaism Conference, JewSchool, 1/2016.
“In 2010, Wald launched Beyond the Bris, a go-to website for Jewish families opting out of circumcision. At first, she says, the number of Jewish parents opting out of the traditional bris ceremony was extremely small. A few years ago she put a call out on social media that she wanted to collect photos of Jewish families at the naming ceremonies. She only received a couple. Recently, however, Wald made a similar request and says that her inbox was flooded with photos of Jewish families from all over the country. “We’re still a minority,” Wald says, “but the movement is quickly growing.”
In May, Wald co-authored Celebrating Brit Shalom, the first-ever book written specifically for Jewish families that have decided not to circumcise. Her co-author, Lisa Braver Moss, is equally as passionate as Wald and has been involved in Judaism Reform for years. The book includes three complete alternative bris ceremonies and even sheet music to original songs. It’s meant to act as a guide for the rabbi (or other “leader”) who is officiating.
“I’m a bit surprised but the book is actually selling. Parents and rabbis are using just as we intended. I think this alone is evidence that we’ve got some momentum here.”
Jess Swanson, Jewish Mom Opposes Circumcision, Suggests Bris Be Replaced with Naming Ceremony. Broward Palm Beach New Times, October 12, 2015.
“What would you advise parents who have decided not to circumcise their child, but their family is giving them a really hard time?“This is a very difficult situation, and I’m not sure that in order not to circumcise one should sever ties with the family. On the other hand, in many cases, the family gets scared at first, and then accepts it. One can announce it gently and gradually: at first say you are waiting a bit, and after a month or two, the pressure drops and it’s a lot easier. A lot of people in our generation perform circumcision because of family pressure, but this won’t be the case for the next generation. I think it should be the last consideration.”Adi Reshef, ‘No circumcision for my son – it’s not moral’, Ynet Jewish World, 10.21.15.
“For many years I have expressed my strong reservations about religious circumcision, male or female. I’ve read a lot of the science and am not at all convinced there is a medical rationale for any of it. I think it’s great that many parents, Jewish and otherwise, are making their own decisions, and that people like you are demonstrating how meaningful alternative approaches can be.““A 2011 responsum by Conservative-trained Rabbi Chaim Weiner asserts that halachically, boys who have not been circumcised are still entitled to have bar mitzvahs and Jewish weddings. As someone who champions the inclusion of non-circumcising families in Jewish life, I applaud the rabbi’s stand… Meanwhile, progressive Jewish institutions are going to great lengths, and admirably so, to welcome members of our community who may not look traditionally Jewish. I would urge any rabbi wishing to respond to the diverse needs of today’s families to openly embrace “conscientious objectors” to circumcision, reassuring them that they’re still included and wanted. This is a halachically sound concept as well as one appropriate to the principles of various progressive movements of Judaism.”
Lisa Braver Moss, Spiritual authenticity and the circumcision decision, Jewish Journal, Jul. 8, 2015.
“Perhaps this is comparable to the devotion Jews feel to the circumcision ceremony even as they become more secular. After all, among all the possible covenants between a people and a tradition, this, the cruelest of them all, is still going strong. This act, neither spiritual nor symbolic, marking and wounding the bodies of helpless infants, survives as an unquestioned meta-religious ceremony; not even as a response to God’s “demand,” but only as a masochistic covenant, a self-marking ritual between the Jew and himself.“
Carolina Landsmann, Israeli Parents Fight for the Right to Sacrifice Their Own Kids, Haaretz (Israel), Sep 04, 2015.
“Jonathan Friedman, a 27-year-old anti-circumcision activist who grew up in an Orthodox home in Brooklyn, predicted that the Florida case could have a trickle-down effect. “A shift is happening within the Jewish community in the United States,” he said.
Mr Friedman – who encountered medical problems that he attributed to his own brit – has raised money to help Chase’s mother fight her case.
Rebecca Wald, a Florida-based author and anti-brit activist, who has also been involved in the Nebus-Hironumus case, said: “People are starting to question circumcision. People are concerned about the pain.” Ms Wald predicts that the percentage of circumcisions in the US will decline further for both Jews and non-Jews.”Claire Moses, Anti-circumcision push worries American rabbis, TheJC.com, June 11, 2015.“Rebecca: What about the movement that’s questioning circumcision? Where do you stand?
Sean: I’m pro-choice, squarely on the side of penile rights: I believe in every pecker’s God-given right to choose its own fate. Seriously, though, as much as I respect certain Jewish traditions, I’m grateful that the intactivist movement has made young parents of all religions aware of the leave-well-enough-alone option…
A few of my intermarried friends have opted out of circumcision for their boys, and I respect and applaud their decisions. I suspect that over the next hundred years the practice of circumcision may fade away along with other questionable Jewish traditions like answering a question with a question and gefilte fish.”
From an interview with Jewish Parenting writer Jennifer Margulis in the Jewish Daily Forward:
- “Are you pro or con circumcision?
There’s a huge movement now called Beyond the Bris. It’s Jewish people choosing not to circumcise. What we used to think was a small, benign thing to do is really removing a lot of skin. Rebecca Wald, a Jewish lawyer in Florida, has written a book with a colleague about a ceremony called Brit Shalom. Instead of having a bris, you have a naming ceremony but leave the baby’s penis intact. Many Jews in America and Israel are choosing not to circumcise because they’re convinced that the harms outweigh the benefits.
- The harm being the pain?
Babies feel pain, yet some hospitals give them no anesthesia. When the baby’s penis skin is cut, he loses erogenous tissue, taking away nerve endings that heighten sexuality and lessening the width and length of the penis. There are complications. The American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a task force analysis and issued a bogus and unscientific statement in 2012 that the benefits of circumcision outweigh the harms. They recommended that insurance companies pay for it, but the AAP never actually recommended the procedure.
As a journalist and researcher on this topic for over 10 years, it’s clear, based on scientific studies and doctors, the harms grossly outweigh the benefits, but the AAP disagrees with me. Many Jewish men are now saying, “The decision should’ve been ours.” What I told my son is, “You can make the choice to be circumcised once you’re 13.”
- I thought circumcision was done for health reasons. Isn’t it better for men?
No, that’s not true. More than 70% of men worldwide are not circumcised. In countries that have nationalized medicine and made it not-for-profit, circumcisions went to almost zero. Men in Scandinavia and Spain, where fewer than 2% are circumcised, aren’t having more health problems than circumcised men.
Say No to the ‘C’, (Interview with Jennifer Margulis) Dorri Olds, Jewish Daily Forward (Sisterhood), March 20, 2015.
“Carmen Sandiego” Creative Muses About His Long-Lost Foreskin: An Interview With Sean Altman, Rebecca Wald, Beyondthebris, January 30, 2016.