Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"Breaking Ranks" on Circumcision? Really?

In the Chicago Tribune this week, there was an interesting article, on the front page, no less, about how Jewish parents are "breaking ranks" and choosing not to circumcise their children.

This follows in the wake of some interesting medical news that circumcision actually prevents HIV, not to mention that it's been one of those on-going traditions for thousands of years.

But I found the article itself strange and confusing. I, as a rabbi, have done many a "bloodless bris," but I've never had a family who didn't choose circumcision -- most choose to do it in the hospital instead of in their home or synagogue ceremony. While I personally find this troubling (both of my boys had a mohel perform their brit milah in the synagogue), I understand the desire to do it in the hospital.

But the article made it seem like a real "movement." I haven't heard a lot of "movement" towards this. I'm always open to new traditions. But I'm not sure about this....what do you think?


Anonymous said...

I'm always open to new traditions. But I'm not sure about this....what do you think?

I think this dialog is an important one to have. Religious traditions do, of course, change. I think the shift discussed in this article, away from circumcision, is both real and important, and fueled, as such changes tend to be, by evolving notions of ethics, and evidence that was not available previously.

In recent decades, the weight of objective evidence have dispelled the age-old myths of benefit, although myths die hard, and hold-outs will cling to the evidence of diminishing quantity and quality which supports such myths.

No national medical association in the world recommends circumcision, and the studies which demonstrate the adverse effects on sexual pleasure and on the capacity of sensation (pdf) are, of late, rapidly accumulating. Claims that it can lessen the HIV scourge are, at best, misguided (pdf).

As the myths of benefit are gradually laid to rest, and adverse effects increasingly documented, the ethics come into sharper focus. There is the weight of tradition, but what of individual rights? What about those who regret being denied their own right to choose? What about when things go wrong? Are the actual rates of the various "complications" fully understood?

I find the article credible because there must be a great many people who recognize when new information, and contemporary notions of individual rights, necessitate changing tradition.

Beanie's Appa said...

The couple cited in the first paragraph live in Berkeley, CA, one of the more liberal communities in USA. So I wouldn't be surprised if more Jews there are passing on circumcision than other parts of the country, but don't discount it as a real movement.

There are plenty of other Jewish commandments that aren't continued in modern times, e.g. animal sacrifice. And is circumcision anything more than sacrificial?

You're sacrificing your son's body parts before he has a say. He might want that body part as an adult. He might choose to leave Judaism as an adult to another faith, or even Atheism, where his circumcision will be useless. All the diseases circumcision is cited as prevented are treatable or avoidable by less invasive means, so as the first commenter noted, no medical assocation recommends it.

Anonymous said...

Thought this petition might be of interest...

Accept Alternative Brit Milah (Bris) Practices