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Oct 3, 2007

It is my son's penis

There has always been a movement against circumcision. Most Jews tended to ignore it and would continue circumcising their male children. Bris mila is something that Jews throughout history were steadfast in continuing despite being under great threat and danger.

It seems like that is no longer true. Circumcision is on a decline and it seems that among the Reform community many are opting to not circumcise their children.

I never understood the argument that is often mentioned when attempting to ban circumcision, or at least to explain why someone chose not to perform it on their child. The argument is: (quoting the end of the linked to article) "Hey, it's my son's penis, it's not mine to discuss in the same way it's not mine to cut."

This is an argument that is commonly stated. What right do I have to cut my child, to cause him pain, to choose a path for him, etc.

As parents, everything we do is choosing a path. We cause pain all the time.

We send our child to the dentist to pull a tooth - what right do you have to do that? Did you ask the child first what he thinks about it?
You sent a child to the school you thought would be best for him - you have chosen a path for him. You did not let him choose his life quest. You decided he should get this type of education rather than that type of education. What right do you have to do that?
You give the child medicine, or vitamins. Did you hold a meeting with the child first to discuss the pros and cons and then let the child make the final decision?
You gave birth to the child - what right did you have to bring him into the world? Did you ask him? Maybe he would have preferred you use birth control?
Do you let your child set his own bedtime? Can he choose how much television he wants to watch and whether he can stay home from school or not?
Did you pierce your daughter's ears?

As parents it is our job to make decisions that affect our children and their paths and directions in life. We cannot abstain from making a decision with the argument that I have no right to decide for him.


  1. "This is an argument that is commonly stated. What right do I have to cut my child, to cause him pain, to choose a path for him, etc."

    You have the right, actually the duty, to cut your child when there is a clear medical need.

    Your duty is to protect your child's health and wellbeing. In certain cases, that can include surgery, hence cutting of flesh.

    Routine or religious circumcision is not such a case.

    Yes, it is his penis, and only he should decide if he doesn't want to keep all of it.

    While parental choices of environment (education, location, entertainment) are profound, they are fundamentally distinct from what one physically does to a child's body.

    Jewish intactivists are right to stop circumcising, because every human has the right to keep their genitals as they developed naturally.

    Yes, it's your son's penis, not yours. Just leave it alone. Other ancient traditions have been abandoned because they became incompatible with modern understandings of the world and of how other people must be respected. Involuntary penis cutting is ethically wrong, and I'm sure practicing communities will recognize this and let it go.

    In part, it's due to evidence we never had before.

    For example, it's now known that circumcision removes more than two thirds of the sensory perception "hardware" from the male genitals. This is incompatible with a child's right to freedom of sexuality.



  2. Simply put: it is a choice between cutting up a perfectly healthy organ based on ideology or leaving it alone. The other choices were between what is the right choice for my child based on what is best for the child. Here the choice is really, regardless of whether or not this is good for my child, we should cut this healthy organ because my god said so. I think there is a fundamental difference between what is deciding what is best for your child or imposing your choices regardless of the child.

  3. as this is an argument that neither side will win nor abandon, i will not offer my own arguments to the mix.

    there is an interesting article from a frum MD though on the subject of circumcision at http://bunkonhealth.blogspot.com/

  4. Oh man, not again. Each time this subject is broached it starts a hullabaloo. But at the end of the day circumcision is the winner.

    Check this out (an old one):



  5. The same argument is taking place on my blog. These people have issues.

  6. oh brother.

    since when should we care what the world thinks?

  7. Jack: why bother if you're response is dismissive?

    Miriam: this isn't about what the world thinks about "us" it is about examining ourselves, who we are, why we are, how we got here and where we are going.

    But it shows the weight of the argument when the only response for circumcision are the non-debatable.
    Just have the honesty to say, I do it because my god said so regardless of whether or not it is healthy for my child. At least that argument has a semblance of logic and politness.

  8. i do it because god said so, and there are still many respected doctors who both are positive of the health benefits, and at minimum say that it is not harmful and the "loss" of sensation is basically bunk.

  9. see jack and miriam, was that so hard? Shaya just preformed his own version of Akedat Yitzchak, he stood up and said that he did it without consideration of his child's welfare because his god told him so.

    I applaud your honesty and your god should be pleased.

  10. I'm not a rabbi but I also chimed in here in a discussion about identity.

    Jewish Identity, It's Going to Hurt with interesting comments.

    Although Bunk's medical arguments are fabulous, doesn't this one fall under chokeness?

    Meaning we don't make the rules we just enforce them, and we don't really need any reason at all?

    This being a matter of faith, anyone who hasn't got it isn't going to get it.

    So if we really care,we have work to do. This discussion, for example, should go farther than the 50 or so readers who have chimed in. How to do that and still, let's not forget, stay off the Internet, right.

  11. If they really love their children, they'd cut it while it's a simple operation and relatively painless.

    Many babies cry when their diaper is opened rather than at the cut; it's the cold air, not the cold steel.

    BTW, when I was at Ben Gurion University, a Russian aquaintance was absent for nearly a week. When I asked him where he'd been, he told me that he had a brit milah (his father too)--and had general anesthesia and a week of painful recovery.

  12. regarding this whole discussion, most of it does not interest me. I am generally not interested in the bris debate. It is kind of like eating eggs for me. Every couple of years some scientists come out with a new study. One year they find that eggs are not healthy. The next study says eggs are healthy. etc. So I ignore them all and eat my eggs (in some sort of moderation).

    Same thing. We do bris mila because we are commanded to by God. As religious Jews that is what we do. The thing with bris is, throughout history even the non-religious Jews pretty much always kept bris mila.

    It does not interest me if a doctor declares it is less healthy or more healthy or less sexually satisfying or more. I do not even pay attention to those issues.

    The one thing that does interest me is statements such as "I do not want to choose a path for my child" and the like, and that is what this post was about.

  13. There is medical evidence that circumsion is healthy because it decreases the risk of infections and other things since they don't have to clean it all the time.

  14. Sharona,

    if you don't brush your teeth you will also get infections, should we replace a baby's gums with dentures to prevent gum & tooth disease?

    Somehow or another uncircumcised men aren't all walking around with infected penii. Nowadays, in the world of indoor plumbing and loofahs the cleanliness argument is a joke. On the other hand, you may just be hanging out with alot of slobs.


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