Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Circumcision

Thought my comment at DovBear's would generate some interesting conversation here as well:
I'm going to face a tough decision some day, assuming I have any boys. Circumcision strikes me as not only absurd but kind of barbaric. It doesn't rise to true barbarism like female genital mutilation because there's no serious harm caused and it actually has some minor health benefits, but you're still cutting off part of a baby's penis for no good reason.

Why a tough decision? I'm not sure. Mostly because I suspect my parents would be devastated to a degree not matched by my leaving of Orthodoxy. It would be more along the lines of me converting to Christianity or marrying a non-Jew. But I can't see myself having my son's penis cut just to please my parents. Anyway, we'll see. I have to get married first. :-)


Circumcision is one of those things that really brings home the fact that Judaism was originated by a bunch of primitives thousands of years ago.

42 comments:

Tobe38 said...

My father is a Jewish agnostic, and had me and my brothers circumcised more through tradition than anything else. It doesn't particularly bother me, and I was a week old so it's not like I remember the pain!

I've already decided that if I have boys, I won't have them circumcised. Whether there are benefits or disadvantages are really a moot point. It should be his decision when he's old enough to make it. Much like his religious beliefs.

Anonymous said...

"Circumcision is one of those things that really brings home the fact that Judaism was originated by a bunch of primitives thousands of years ago."

Don't make the mistake of assuming that people who lived long ago were primitive. Circumcision may seem weird, but is it really that different from things we take for granted today? A girl getting her ears pierced (to have stones hang from!) is considered a right of passage in America, and countless people assert their cultural affiliation by piercing any and every body part they can stick something into. Circumcision is no different except for being culturally out of date--and only in your eyes. It's still quite popular among a far wider swath of culture than just Jews.

You won't catch me defending FGM, but circumcision is like animal sacrifice: misunderstood by the ahistorical. Sure, it seems weird now but ties are weird too when you think about it.

asher said...

I had a terrible experience with my circumcision...I couldn't walk for 2 years afterward.

It's barbaric, horrible, and just think of how much more pleasure a man can receive from that part of the foreskin normally cut off. Moreover, it has been the tradition in America for many years to circumcise it's male infants. And it's been the tradition in Europe for centuries not to circumcise their male infants. They've had almost constant war since the Middle Ages and we have created America. Of course there can't be any correlation.

Tobe38 said...

Re: Anon.

Ear peircing is a cultural phenomenon, but it is not forced upon children who don't want it because some book says it has to be done. You cannot compare circumcision to fashion accessories!

As for animal sacrifice being 'misunderstood by the ahistorical', what is to misunderstand? We know why they did it, but we can also say it was completely irrational and cruel.

Anonymous said...

> but it is not forced upon children who don't want it because some book says it has to be done

Really? Do I need to haul out parenting books with guides to getting your infant girl's ears pierced? Or do you think the baby girls give their consent?

> We know why they did it, but we can also say it was completely irrational and cruel.

The only way I'll let you get away with that anachronistic statement is if you're a strict vegetarian.

Beanie's Appa said...

Your parents are your parents, and you are the parents of your kids. So go ahead and save your sons from the cut. If your gut feeling is that it's wrong, then don't do it. By the time you have kids, hopefully you can call yourself an adult and make your own decisions.

So ask yourself, what's the worst thing your parents can do? stop talking to you? hopefully they'll love you enough to get over it, and be excited to have grandsons. Then ask yourself what would you say if you cut your sons and they confront you as an adult "dad, why did you do that barbaric thing to me?"

Personally, I did both, confront my parents about circumcising me against what I would have chosen as an adult, and didn't circumcise my son against their wishes. In the end, we just had some heated arguments, and then everyone just got over it and everything went back to normal.

Foilwoman said...

JA: You don't just have to get married first, you have to get married (or live in sin) and convince the young woman in question (hereinafter "TYWIQ") that you are not going to absolutely lose it when she has your baby, and that thereafter you will be a decent parent and make her life at least somewhat easier. And you have to change some diapers, of course. Start babysitting now. It's a mitzvah.

beepbeepitsme said...

I am happy that someone else has also brought up the concept of circumcision and its religious origins.

I have writen a little on this topic myself and am happy for any imput.

Circumcision appears to have its origin in religious ritual and is first evidenced in egypt where it is considered to have been part of a fertility rite.

The religions and cultures which have also included circumcision as religious ritual have been predominately the abrahamic ones. (Judaism, Islam and to an extent, Christianity)

My opinion on this issue is that unless circumcision represents some deeply held religious belief, I would not circumcise my children.

Frankly, I also consider the ritual of circumcision according to religious beliefs to be also quite strange, but where do my rights to stop parents from doing it, and their rights to bring up their children according to their faith, end or begin?

From the perspective of supposed health benefits associated with circumcision, I am not a great fan of "en mass pre-emptive surgery" just in case a child has trouble with his foreskin in later life.

My idea would be to let it be, and see if something needs to be done at a later time. In the same way that I wouldn't have a child's tonsils removed just in case they got infected later on in life.

I can't help but think that from a natural biological point of view, that the very fact that male babies are born with them, that it must confer some biological advantage or benefit.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

I'm proud of my circumcised penis. I don't remember my foreskin anyway. So if it made my parents happy, I don't have a problem that they "mutilated" me. I'm just glad they didn't abort me. Everything else is a bonus.

Orthoprax said...

The medical costs vs benefits of having a circumcision tends to balance out, more or less, when viewed statistically - and the costs are made even less when its performed by an expert mohel in a private setting as opposed to a more general surgeon in an operating room.

That being the case there really isn't any conclusive medical reason to do or not do the procedure. However, it really depends what you mean by 'no good reason.' It is a Jewish ritual that has been practiced for thousands of years and is amongst the most foundational and fundamental connections a Jew has to his heritage.

I know that religious reasonings does little to impress you, but do you really not care about this connection to your people and history?

In the Torah it says that not performing circumcision leads to being cut off from one's people - you don't think that's true?

beepbeepitsme said...

Orthoprax

RE: " In the Torah it says that not performing circumcision leads to being cut off from one's people - you don't think that's true?"

Why would you believe that a god collects foreskins in the first place?

I know that sounds like a highly impertinent comment, but perhaps you will forgive me for my plain speaking. Perhaps not.

Why not nose hair? Or fingernail clippings? Or smegma?

These may sound like completely ridiculous suggestions, and I agree that they are. But, to me they are no more silly than the idea that a god demands a bit of penis skin.

Unless the penis represented something that ancient man held dear. And that just might have been the concept of fertility.

In other words, the penis represented the power of fertility. And perhaps that is why ancient peoples developed the ritual of circumcision.

beepbeepitsme said...

Come to think of it, the pope's hat looks like a stylized penis as well. (That does it, I gotta give up coffee...)

Anonymous said...

Circumcision isn't a good thing, especially for the baby involved. I can't get into a huge religious debate now but I do know of Jewish people who are opting not to circumcise.

http://jewsagainstcircumcision.org/

http://jewishcircumcision.org/

And if anyone thinks it's not painful for that poor child, they should watch this video of one -
http://intact.ca/vidintro.htm

Anonymous said...

I recently read that male circumcision can prevent the spread of HIV (from google news, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/healthnews.php?newsid=63744). Isn't that worth something? Also, remember that by leaving the decision to a grown son, you've raised all the costs involved (hospital, surgeon, pain, embarrassment). Taking these costs to an extreme, you haven't really left the decision to him, but made it once and for all, all alone.

swurgle said...

When I was pregnant, I was opposed to circumcision, to my parents dismay. Ironicly, my goyishe husband who, like many men of his age in the Northeast, is circumssized, was in favor.

I'm just glad that we had two girls.

beepbeepitsme said...

RE anonymous

There does seem to be a cultural/religious link with the practice of circumcision. Countries which are not highly religious (abrahamic religions)have lower instances of circumcision.

Yhe countries with the highest rates for circumcision by far are the US, Sth Korea, Israel and the Islamic countries. The rest of the world seems to have quite low rates of circumcision.

If you are promoting the idea of early circumcision on a costs analysis basis, we might as well shave our children's heads and treat them with some sort of hair growth retardant, as this will save them hairdressing costs that will only get more expensive the older they get and the longer they live.

jewish philosopher said...

I think uncircumcised men have a harder time keeping clean down there. You may be doing your son a favor just to have it cut off once and for all.

I wonder how uncircumcised men feel about this?

Orthoprax said...

Beepbeep,

"These may sound like completely ridiculous suggestions, and I agree that they are. But, to me they are no more silly than the idea that a god demands a bit of penis skin."

And? Who are you arguing with? Religious acts in order to be meaningful religiously cannot be based on pragmatic reasoning.

Objectively the act may indeed seem rather silly but it has a long and meaningful standing in Jewish tradition. It's a tradition I think even the most secular Jew can appreciate.

Orthoprax said...

BB,

"If you are promoting the idea of early circumcision on a costs analysis basis, we might as well shave our children's heads and treat them with some sort of hair growth retardant, as this will save them hairdressing costs that will only get more expensive the older they get and the longer they live."

Right. Is this not valid reasoning? Of course it is. However, for the case of not having hair it would be at a great social cost which far overwhelms the economic issues.

Circumcision does have medical and economic benefits - but it also has medical and economic costs. There have been several studies done and, as I said before, when looked at statistically they tend to even out.

Maybe in sub-Saharan Africa where AIDS is completely out of control, instituting a pro-active circumcision program would be smart public health policy, but in general there isn't any conclusive strictly pragmatic reason to do it or not do it.

Beanie's Appa said...

How much benefit did you assign to having a foreskin in your cost/benefit analysis? Why even do a cost/benefit analysis? if you tried to do one on any other normal human body part (cost/benefit analysis of cutting it off at birth) no one would take you seriously, since keeping most bodyparts is assigned infinite benefit. The only thing special about the foreskin is there are so many people already cutting it off.

Anonymous said...

Circumsision has very deep symbolic significance. For one thing, it is a reminder of the need for the Human to perfect gimslef to the extent possible. People have to work on improving their characters and behavior. It is a reminder of the need for self control, especially in the area of sexuality. If my experiences are any indication, Orthodox men seem to be doing a better job overall keeping things under control than other people. For, example, I teach ina public high school. we have a day care center on site for the children of the students. this is the result of the modern mindset. To the best of my konwledge, there are no yeshivas that have a day care center on site.

Orthoprax said...

BA,

"How much benefit did you assign to having a foreskin in your cost/benefit analysis?"

It's not _my_ cost benefit analysis, there have been actual sudies done from a public health perspective. You can judge the merits of their valuations by reading the studies yourself on pubmed.

Here's the abstract of one :

http://www.cirp.org/library/procedure/lawler/

There are other studies which found decisively one way or the other. Either way, however, I don't think the costs or benefits are significant enough to base a decision off of alone.

"Why even do a cost/benefit analysis?"

Because it had been public health policy for many years in America that universal circumcision is a justified prophylactic measure based on the medical evidence alone.

"you tried to do one on any other normal human body part (cost/benefit analysis of cutting it off at birth) no one would take you seriously, since keeping most bodyparts is assigned infinite benefit. The only thing special about the foreskin is there are so many people already cutting it off."

Ok - and they were doing it largely for medical reasons. Hence the studies.

beepbeepitsme said...

orthoprax

RE: "These may sound like completely ridiculous suggestions, and I agree that they are. But, to me they are no more silly than the idea that a god demands a bit of penis skin."

My reason for mentioning them was in the hope that people would consider why ancient peoples believed that their god or gods wanted them to donate their foreskin.

And for them to think - "why specifically a foreskin?"

RE: "Because it had been public health policy for many years in America that universal circumcision is a justified prophylactic measure based on the medical evidence alone."

The public health policy concerning circumcision is different in australia.

Many organisations state that there is no medical indication for routine circumcision, including the RACP, the British Medical Association, and the American Academy of Paediatrics. For full details see www.cirp.org/library/statements

RE: "universal circumcision"

By that do you mean "universally within the US" or universally as in all the world?

TLC Tugger said...

^^ they were doing it largely for medical reasons. Hence the studies. ^^

Except that no national medical association on earth recommends infant circumcision.

The published cost/benefit analyses place no value in simply having the foreskin, but it:
- includes over half the sensual nerve endings
- provides a frictionless rolling/gliding action that intact or restored men (and their partners) love
- protects the glans from drying and abrasion
- belongs to him.

80% of the world is intact and has no unusual health or hygiene problems. Six African countries have markedly higher HIV rates among the circ'd population. 450,000 US men who were cut at birth have died of AIDS.

HIS body HIS decision.

Orthoprax said...

BB,

I'm not arguing whether it is or is not a valid prophylatic measure. It is simply a historical fact that it was standardly understood as much in America for a long time in the past century. It currently is not so advised and they basically agree with my assessment, that there is no conclusive medical reason to do or not do neonatal circumcision.

"By that do you mean "universally within the US" or universally as in all the world?"

I do not believe the US medical professionals gave different medical advice between the people of their own country and people who lived elsewhere.


TT,

"Except that no national medical association on earth recommends infant circumcision."

I actually do not believe that is true, but it is also irrelevant.

"The published cost/benefit analyses place no value in simply having the foreskin, but it:..."

And studies have been done to see the sexual and perceptual effects of circumcision.

While there may be some loss of sexual stimulation the effect is not significant in terms of time it takes to reach ejaculation.

http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2005.00070.x

The effect overall is very subjective and I know of no comparative study done to see if those with circumcisions are more satisfied with their sex lives as compared to the uncircumcised. (It may be that a less intense sexual perception - presuming it even has that effect - leads to a more satisfying sex life.) Though it is interesting to note that another study found that 71% of women prefer a circumcised penis. So I'm not sure how well that rolling/sliding function works for people.

http://sexuality.about.com/od/malesexualhealth/a/sexcircumcised2.htm

Further, several studies have been done regarding keratinization and sensitivity of the glans between the circumcised and the uncircumcised and there is no significant difference.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=pubmed&dopt=Abstract&list_uids=15833526&query_hl=1

Also, it is very clear that circumcision does have real prophylactic properties that are measurable and have been parsed out in studies. What they've generally found though is simply that those properties are used relatively rarely so that having universal circumcision, with its costs and complications, statistically cancels out those benefits.


You're last point is simply that 'it belongs to him' meaning that individuals have a right to their bodies that others cannot infringe upon. And that's debatable. By leaving it up to the person once he becomes an adult to have the procedure you have effectively made the choice for him since the costs of undergoing it as an adult are much higher than as an infant.

You also run into the issue of what the person would have wanted as an adult. In Jewish tradition circumcision is a foundational and fundamental sign of Jewishness and therefore we could presume that the standard Jewish view would be to have a circumcision.

Remember, by not giving him one when the operation is simple and cheap and has few complications you would effectively be making the decision for him. Few people would want to undergo the procedure as adults, but many Jews would feel disenfranchised if they didn't have it done as infants.

beepbeepitsme said...

I am still a little confused about this comment.

"Because it had been public health policy for many years in America that universal circumcision is a justified prophylactic measure based on the medical evidence alone."

Are you saying with the use of the word, "universal", that because the US recommends it for the males in the US, that it should be recommended everywhere?

I am easily confused because the US has the world championships in a couple of sporting events, and only the US is in them.

beepbeepitsme said...

PEDIATRICS, Volume 103, Number 3, Pages 686-693,
March 1, 1999.
http://www.cirp.org/library/statements/aap1999/

There might be a more recent pediatric opinion. But I can't find it.

"ABSTRACT. Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision. In circumstances in which there are potential benefits and risks, yet the procedure is not essential to the child's current well-being, parents should determine what is in the best interest of the child."

beepbeepitsme said...

It looks like the latest pediatric opinion is from 2005. This appears to reaffirm the earlier one.

A statement of reaffirmation for this policy was published on September 1, 2005.

http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics%3b103/3/686

David said...

Wow. All you've got to do is mention circumcision and the opinions and the vitriol come pouring in. We're so upset by barbarism, but we don't hesitate to verbally slaughter people who choose to have their sons circumcised:

http://dannymiller.typepad.com/blog/2006/04/can_i_be_honest.html

Orthoprax said...

BB,

"Are you saying with the use of the word, "universal", that because the US recommends it for the males in the US, that it should be recommended everywhere?"

No, it simply is a fact that it was the national medical standard opinion in America that circumcisions be given to all newborn males as a prophylactic procedure.

The US does not set medical standards for the whole world, but I suspect that if you asked the doctors from that time period they would not change their view just because the infant was born in another country.

In any case, I personally don't believe that the old opinion is correct and it is no longer the current national medical reccomendation in America.

I agree with the current standard medical view that although there may indeed be real benefits to circumcision there are also real costs and therefore the decision to circumcise or not circumcise is best made by non-medically related factors. Statistically there just isn't much of a medical justification for the procedure to be done routinely, though there may be for special cases - like perhaps in sub-Saharan Africa where AIDS is a very serious problem.

beepbeepitsme said...

I don't think that the solution for HIV in africa is in reality any different from a medical point of view, than it is in any other country.

If you are circumcised or not you increase the chances of contracting HIV if you indulge in unsafe behaviours. American men do not consider that they have protection from contracting the HIV virus because they have been circumcised and neither should they.

Circumcised or not. The best protection against contracting HIV is monogamy where you know your partner's sexual or other ar risk behaviours. For those not in monogamous relationships, their best protection is condom use and abstaining from other at risk behaviours such as intravenous drug use.

Mass circumcision is not going to effect africa's HIV problem. Mass use of condoms is, regardless of circumcision.

Orthoprax said...

BB,

I didn't imply that universal circumcision would be the final or best course of action to solve the AIDS problem in south Africa, but that since AIDS is such a huge problem and circumcision does have solid evidence showing that it helps reduce the spread of AIDS then the risk/benefit equations for circumcision may find itself solidly on the pro-circumcision side as a public health policy.

izzy bee said...

My sons, born in Britain, are intact and now as young men have no complaints. They know how to keep clean. The only reason for requesting the cut would have been "family resemblance", and it seemed absurd. We had long heard circumcision described as "the cruellest cut of all"...and lots of 70s swinging 60s talk that b"foreskins are more fun."
It is no more barbaric than ear piercing, but does affect nerve endings. Perhaps rabbis should gather and question the efficacy of this op. It seems rather odd to believe that G-D created man in his image, except for that little annoying bit of extra flesh that has to be snipped off a man child.

Beanie's Appa said...

There already are rabbis questioning circumcision:

http://www.jewishcircumcision.org/

Shlomo Greenwald said...

"It seems rather odd to believe that G-D created man in his image, except for that little annoying bit of extra flesh that has to be snipped off a man child."

Actually, that may be exactly the point. God wants man to be a partner in His creation. (Obviously, this is only a small aspect to the command--and certainly doesn't explain why the foreskin, or any of the other details.)

Anonymous said...

It's important to remember that a majority of the circumcisers out there have had no training and many do not understand the functioning of the normal adult penis.

My whole life I knew I was circumcised but it was never discussed with me.

I really found out what I was missing as I started to read books on how to take care of myself. In one of the books about taking care of myself there was a chapter devoted to sexual anatomy.

I discovered that not only did they take the foreskin off my penis, but also the entire shaft skin as well. I always thought it strange that my nut sack extended out to the head of my penis, but I just assumed everyones was that way.

I have really been depressed for now going over a year about my circumcision and honestly this is not me.

Cutting skin off a child is wrong.

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

That sounds really awful and I sympathize greatly, but certified mohels are actually very well trained in their fields.

Anonymous said...

Orthoprax,

You only have a valid point if the majority of the children circ'd were jewish.

Anonymous said...

Opposition to bris has gained a toehold among some secular Israelis. In Europe, a large fraction of those who call themselves Jews are uncut.

Bris should have no value for readers who are any of the following: atheist, agnostic, deny that Jews are a Chosen People, never set foot in a shul, married shaygetz or shicksa and don't regret it in the slightest, really prefer not to live by the Law and do not make the slightest effort to keep kosher.

I think it's high time we Jews gave up this 8th day business. To snip a newborn baby when he cannot understand its religious significance, is meaningless for the baby. It's often done to make the grandparents feel good. It would be much better if Jewish men waited until after their 21st birthday, and then had themselves snipped out of a faith commitment, or as a gesture of loyalty to the Jewish people and their history, or simply as a step towards a marrying a nice Jewish girl, now that would have a lot of meaning.

An adult bris is not so bad. Israeli surgeons are expert at it and have done it many times to men who have emigrated from the USSR.

An Atheist said...

Orthoprax,

You said:

"You're last point is simply that 'it belongs to him' meaning that individuals have a right to their bodies that others cannot infringe upon. And that's debatable. By leaving it up to the person once he becomes an adult to have the procedure you have effectively made the choice for him since the costs of undergoing it as an adult are much higher than as an infant."

This seems very odd to me. You seem to be saying that by leaving my eyelids intact, my fingers intact, and my own prepuce intact that my parents made the choice for me to have these things. Why is this wrong? If a child, who was born with a body part, would not choose to have it removed as an adult then wouldn't this be an argument for NOT cutting off that body part? I'm sure glad I've got my prepuce.

Why do you seem to think that it is debatable that individuals have a right to their body that others cannot infringe upon? I certainly do not think that my parents should have had any right to permanently alter my body and especially not my future sexual functioning. I also do not think I have any right to alter my daughter (or any other future children I may have - male or female) in any permanent way. Parents who subject their non-consenting minor children to tattooing, burning, piercing, etc. can have a multitude of charges brought against them. Bodily integrity should be everyone's right - no matter what their parent's religion. How would you know that that child's cultural background would be important to them as adults?

And yes, adult men do have circumcisions. From what I have read, some love it, but most hate it. So no, it does not seem as though adults would not be able to chose for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Body parts should not be removed from.a child in absence if illness. I think male circumcision is more barbaric than female circumcision and I'm a circumcised woman. No, my parents aren't Muslim nor were they from some obscure bush tribe in Africa. I was born in 1992 in the USA to white Christian Americans and a doctor offered the surgery and performed it in the hospital, years before the practice was outlawed. I can orgasm and have sex. Does that make female circumcision okay? No. The same arguments used to justify my circumcision are used to justify male circumcision. Hygiene, parental choice, it looks better, religion, lowered UTI risk, and you can't get cancer in body parts you don't have.

Anonymous said...

You claim that (male) circumcision isn't really barbaric like FGM. I would like to know how you know this.