You may have heard that San Francisco is considering a ban on male circumcision. My colleague, Rabbi Adam Chalom, has posted an excellent column about this in his regular contribution to the Chicago Tribune’s “The Seeker” section. He lays out the pros and cons:
On one side, circumcision is non-consensual, irreversible, and painful.
On the other, “our commitment to Jewish history, culture and civilization pulls us toward continuing an ancient and deeply-rooted Jewish tradition. Individuals may have any number of reasons for choosing to circumcise or not to circumcise their male infants: family tradition, cultural identity, community acceptance, father-son identity, ethical or medical concerns, and so on.”
His quote is from a statement by the Leadership Conference of Secular and Humanistic Jews (LCSHJ) which has a thorough discussion of the issue.
This is all crucial background information. I also agree with Rabbi Chalom’s conclusion:
Every parent makes choices for their children – in what language and culture to rear them, how to educate them, what is best for their health and well-being. Male circumcision, for me, does not rise to the level to demand intervention or prohibition. In this case, let parents make the choice for themselves.
I believe that the San Franciscans who proposed banning male circumcision are well-intentioned. But this law is an over-reach and it will cause nothing but strife and accusations of antisemitism. It’s probably also unconstitutional, at least based on centuries of precedent.
But do not mistake my opposition to this law as support for male circumcision.
I feel “deeply pulled” to many things in Jewish tradition, including many that I know are simply wrong-headed. My inner moral voice forces me to confront these matters and to determine whether they are really in keeping with an ethical life-stance.
I have struggled with this over many Jewish traditions and it is this struggle that led me to reject traditional versions of Judaism, to abandon my commitment to Reform Judaism and to identify with the humanists.
I can come to no other determination for myself – and I readily share this with those who seek my opinion – that when we consider it rationally, there is no reasonable, non-superstitious justification for circumcision. To my mind it is a barbaric remnant of ancient time. It is always painful and sometimes dangerous. Stripped of its legendary roots in a covenant made between two fictional characters, it is completely meaningless.
So while I oppose San Francisco’s proposed statute and agree with the overall conclusions of the LCSHJ, I will never conduct a “bris” service or be present for a male ritual circumcision.
There has to be a line that we humanists do not cross and for me that line is clearly drawn at unnecessary, non-consensual, potentially dangerous and certainly painful surgery on an infant.