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The Jewish Anti-Circumcision and Intactivist Movement
The body is a delicate biological eco-system, and damaging or removing any part has an effect on the whole.
(TEL AVIV) - Today's Judaism is ready to reject traditional circumcision and to move to compassionate symbolic rituals. The interpretation of Jewish law is constantly in a state of development, flux, and evolution, expanding as the realm of human rights expands. As Jews, we are regularly evolving our lives and practices to adjust to the constantly evolving moral arc of human rights.
As a leading Intactivist, Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon has so invaluably explained, for most of today's Jews, moral and humanitarian behavior towards others is at the forefront of Judaism. These moral principles of Judaism are in direct conflict with the tradition of surgical circumcision. This is not to say that all Jews, including the Orthodox will suddenly abolish circumcision surgery, and move to a symbolic interpretation without a period of reflection and forethought. However, progress is being made.
At this time in history, aren't we ready to let go of traditions that no longer serve a constructive purpose in our lives, communities, and the lives of others? Aren't we ready to adjust and reform our rules to honor our highest ambitions, rights, morals and values instead? In many other areas Judaism has found the correct moral distinction between action and symbolism. How soon until we do so in this area as well?
Intactivism is a new form of human rights activism. Respectful intactivists criticize religious and historical excuses for circumcision without denigrating any group of people. We respect the peaceful elements of different belief systems while criticizing violent traditions and their history. Throughout the religious history of circumcision ethical issues have been widely acknowledged to some degree. Intelligent intactivists are respectful and effective when criticizing the history of circumcision surgery. Writings among Rabbis working to abolish circumcision in favor of a compassionate welcoming have roots that are over 200 years old within the Reform Jewish movement. Dr. Mark Reiss, a Jewish doctor and founder of a medical Intactivist group, maintains a list of almost 150 Rabbis in Israel, the USA, UK, and elsewhere who perform Jewish covenant rituals that respect the baby’s full personal well-being. Lisa Braver Moss, a Jewish novelist and intactivist has even written a book examining the subject of circumcision through fiction.
The body is a delicate biological eco-system, and damaging or removing any part has an effect on the whole. The integrity of the body is of moral value in Judaism. Jewish law already opposes damage to the body such as tattooing, cutting or piercing, and circumcision surgery should be perceived by today's Judaism in the same way. Surgery that is not necessary to avoid health problems is prohibited by Jewish law.<
More and more Jewish voices in Israel and the US are speaking up for the full bodily rights of all males both Jews and non-Jews.
Judaism, the Foreskin & the Genital Wellness Movement
Judaism, the Foreskin, and the Genital Wellness Movement Part 1.
Judaism, the Foreskin, and the Genital Wellness Movement Part 2.
Judaism, the Foreskin, and the Genital Wellness Movement Part 3.
The New Jewish Intactivist & Genital Wellness Movements
The Intactivist Movement & Human Rights Within Judaism.
Religious Rabbis on Interpreting A Symbolic Covenant
Jews Speak Out for the Banning of Circumcision Surgery on Minors
Intactivist Rabbis in Humanistic Judaism
"Shalom. I’m Israeli, I’m Jewish and I’m an Intactivist, which means I strive to end male circumcision performed on infants and children in Israel and around the world. My journey to Intactivism began seven years ago when my son was born.... I learned about the foreskin anatomy and its functions. I read testimonies by intact Israeli boys about their experiences growing up in Israel, who said it was no big deal. I read the statements by medical associations regarding circumcision, saying there was no medical indication for routine infant male circumcision... Thanks to Kahal—a group of Israeli parents who did not circumcise their sons—I had the chance to meet face to face with other parents who have made the same decision I did."
- Eran Sadeh, Israeli Intactivist, and founder of Gonnen Al Ha-Yeled (Protect the Child), one of Israel's largest Intactivist groups, Eight Reasons Why an Intact Penis Is Better Than a Cut Penis, Beyondthebris.com, August 9, 2012.
"As a proud Jew and an opponent of infant male circumcision, I wanted to join this protest in a meaningful way. It is my belief that a deep concern for ethics lies at the core of the Jewish tradition and it is this concern, along with the ability to adapt to new information, that gives meaning and relevance to my heritage in the 21st century... Although we are a marginal voice within the Jewish community, there have always been Jewish opponents to Brit Milah. It makes me proud that some of us are leading the current movement against this cruel and unusual practice both within the Jewish community and in the world at large."
- Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon, Facebook Campaign Protests AAP Circumcision Policy, Beyondthebris.com, September 2, 2012
“Just like so many parts of the scriptures are homophobic, misogynistic, racist, classist. We're letting all those go away, all those really frightening passages about stoning adulteresses to death and so forth. Most people, Jews and Muslims, I suppose, don't take those seriously anymore and it's easy. There's no question. They don't struggle with it. It's just ink on a page. It just becomes a story, an allegory of the past, and they might not even think about whether that did ever happen, but it’s passed from history into mythology. So, I'm hoping and affirming that circumcision will also pass into mythology."
- Tina Kimmel, PhD, MSW, MPH, Maternal Child Health Epidemiologist
Jewish Intactivist and Director of NOCIRC, East Bay Area.
"…As a progressive Reform Jew I was raised to believe that any conflict between human rights and Jewish law and/or tradition, is always resolved in favor of human rights, and that this does not diminish Judaism, but in fact makes it stronger… So when does circumcision become a bad idea? If a single child suffers from it directly, or indirectly from complications, or ... a single child should die (which is not common but does happen) isn't that enough warrant a re-evaluation? ... I believe it is time for the Reform movement to consider how contemporary medical and ethical studies on circumcision put the practice at odds with its cherished values of human rights and social justice -- values which, in my opinion, are truly what defines and are central to Judaism."
- Thomas Wolfe, Why do we need an alternative Brit Milah (Bris) ceremony?
"I’m opposed to circumcision. To me, it echoes one too many abusive procedures, on top of the whole consent problem. An eight-day-old child cannot consent to any kind of procedure."
- Amy Soule, Cantor and Bris Shalom Celebrant, Parshat Lech L'cha: Why Infant Circumcision in Judaism Isn't Kosher, Beyondthebris.com, August 16, 2012.
"I hereby call Jews in Israel and anywhere in the world: learn about the advantages of an intact penis, learn about the disadvantages of a cut penis, and join the unstoppable movement of tens of thousands of Jews all over the world who welcome their sons to the world without violating their bodily integrity, without hurting them, and without putting them at risk. Here ends a year and its maledictions and a new one begins with its blessings. Happy New Year / Rosh Hashana.
- Eran Sadeh, Founder, founder of Gonnen Al Ha-Yeled (Protect the Child), one of Israel's largest Intactivist groups, Press Conference in Germany in support of Germany's potential genital integrity law, September 12, 2012 (English translation from Hebrew.)
"The Sadehs describe themselves as secular people with a deep bond to the country. “We feel that we are part of the community in which we live. Our son speaks Hebrew, is familiar with Hebrew literature and knows all the Jewish festivals. There is no way that children who grow up in Israel and attend the school system miss out on the country’s Jewish and Zionist character and on the ethos of Jewish life here.”
Galit, from the parenting forum, says her decision not to have her children circumcised actually helped her crystallize her Jewish identity. “I did not arrive at that decision from an anti-religious posture: I am against the act itself. After the decision was made I started to think more deeply about what Jewishness means to me. I discovered to my happiness that the ability to stand fully behind my traditional choices, in terms of my relations with Judaism, had deepened.”
Ido recalls that when the rabbi came to teach him the weekly Torah portion ahead of his bar mitzvah, “he explained to me about who a Jew is. One of the things he mentioned was that a Jew is someone who has undergone circumcision. I was 12 and a half at the time, and I remember smiling to myself and thinking that he didn’t have a clue. Already then I understood that being a Jew goes far deeper than what the rabbi thought regarding me − that a slice of the body is not a guarantee that I will feel true identity with Jewish culture.
“Rabbis can say whatever they want,” he continues. “I know that my Judaism cannot be taken from me, because I am part of a particular cultural history. I am a Jew who believes in precepts such as ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself’; ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’; and ‘Remember the stranger, because you too were a stranger in Egypt.’”
- Even in Israel, more and more parents choose not to circumcise their sons, Haaratz, Jun.14, 2012.
" The only ritual religious consequence of being an intact Jewish male is that you're not allowed to eat from the Paschal Lamb, which was a sacrifice that was brought when the temple was around, and hasn't been brought since the temple was destroyed—and we don't know when the temple is going to be rebuilt. That's it!
So, I think [that] as more people become aware of this information and leave their boys intact, we're going to have a situation where there are lots of intact Jewish [men], some of [whom] are going to be religious and are going to be participating in everything [in which] circumcised Jewish men are participating."
- Eli Ungar-Sargon, A Conversation with Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon, YouTube Video.
"As someone who was raised in the ways of traditional Orthodox Jewish life, I recognize that circumcision cannot be compatible with Judaism, or any belief system, that treasures the sanctity of human life.”
- Jonathan Friedman, Jewish Intactivist.
"I say this as a Jewish parent from a proud rabbinic lineage, with relatives killed in the Holocaust; I say this as the maker of "It's a Boy!" - the 1995 British TV documentary that first broke the taboo on showing the hidden toll of circumcision. It demonstrated how a rite ingrained in Jewish and Muslim culture, and said to be divinely commanded, regularly results in acute suffering, injuries, mutilation and deaths.... Religious Jews manage without animal sacrifices, without polygamy, without a range of practices that enlightened rabbis found reasons to dispense with over the centuries.
Ironically, there was a time in Germany, long before the Nazi era, when some rabbinic leaders advocated abandoning circumcision; they termed it barbarism... I think about this positively: For my daughter's generation and those following, shouldn't Jewish and Muslim identities embrace children's rights? Nonviolent welcoming ceremonies would be equally meaningful for baby girls and boys. A handful of rabbis in America and Germany have been pioneering "brit shalom" ceremonies. These celebrate the perfection present at the birth of all children. That's the true praise for a Creator, after all, rather than "corrective surgery"... Jewish and Muslim children deserve protection from a hurtful, dangerous custom overdue for replacement."
- Victor Schonfeld, An end to the agony, Haaretz (Israel), October 12, 2012.
"In fact, Dr. Avshalom Zoossmann-Diskin, one of the most vociferous objectors in Israel to circumcision and the founder of Ben Shalem – an organization which fights circumcision – says that in his many years of anti-circumcision activism he has encountered only one harsh response...
... Eran and Maya Sadeh, who live in the north of the country. They say that the most shocking piece of information they came across about circumcision, and the one that influenced them most deeply was the view of Maimonides on the subject (see Circumcision in Judaism below). The great 13th century physician and philosopher “accorded emasculating justification to circumcision,” Eran Sadeh says. “He maintained explicitly that it is done in order to affect male sexuality and reduce the pleasure of the sex act. For me, that connected with female circumcision and shocked me. I immediately read up on the physiological aspects and understood that what Maimonides said is correct: Circumcision affects the functioning of the genital organ in sexual relations.
“I connected that with my legal knowledge about human rights and understood that it’s wrong from that point of view as well. You take a person in the most vulnerable and helpless condition and amputate part of his body. Maimonides talks about that, too. Circumcision is performed when the infant is eight days old, because the bond between the parent and the child is not yet very strong and the parent is capable of inflicting this on his son. It is a gross violation of human rights, perpetrated by none other than the child’s parents, those who are responsible for protecting him.”
- Even in Israel, more and more parents choose not to circumcise their sons, Haaratz, June 14, 2012.
"The issue of circumcision, in my view, is whether we want submission and wounding, as a symbolic act, to mark a man's relationship to God and to the community in general. I no longer believe such a wounding is defensible."
"There is more emotion about eliminating circumcision than perhaps any other traditional practice. But it is time to find a different symbol of a boy's entrance into the community. Instead of cutting our sons, we might celebrate their masculinity. A more appropriate symbol would be a nurturing act, one that would affirm a boy's relationship to a loving father, both his own and that of his God. We might, for example, feed our sons, since a meal is also a traditional symbol of covenant. Indeed, in one text, Moses and Aaron and the elders go up to the top of the mountain, and when they see God, they eat and drink. Feeding our sons, rather than wounding them, would be a symbol of our nurturing relationship to them."
- Rabbi and Professor Howard Eilberg-Schwartz, A Masculine Critique of a Father God, Tikkun, September/October 1995.
"The Jewish opposition to circumcision was just beginning 24 years ago when my wife Yehudit and I decided to leave our newborn son intact. We were not the only Jewish parents of our generation to reject circumcision, but we were among the first.
I performed my son’s birth ceremony and it was beautiful. We called it a brit b’lee milah or “covenant without circumcision.” The gift of life came unencumbered by any cutting and joy permeated the room...
Samuel was accepted and welcomed everywhere he went, in and out of the Jewish community, and within all of the relationships we had among the different Jewish denominations, including our Orthodox Jewish friends. To my knowledge, no one ever teased Samuel while he was growing up about his being in a distinct minority as a Jew with an intact penis....
Samuel’s birth ceremony was the first that I conducted, but would not be the last. Over the past several decades, I have officiated at more than a hundred birth ceremonies for intact Jewish boys in New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut. The ceremony I have developed includes blessings associated with it being a joyous event (candle lighting and Shehechiyanu); honoring the parents and grandparents; and creating, along with the parents, a meaningful alternate ritual. Non-cutting ceremonies for Jewish boys are called by different names, including “brit b’lee milah” (covenant without cutting), “brit shalom” or “bris shalom” (covenant of peace), “brit ben” (covenant for a boy)...
Judaism has evolved through centuries. It is inevitable and right that parts of Judaism have changed. We who oppose infant circumcision believe further change is needed. Circumcision, despite its historic centrality, has to go. It is nothing short of child abuse. No parent or religious leader would ever choose to carry out or endorse such a heinous act if they held this point of view."
- Moshe Rothenberg, Bringing a Jewish Circumcision Alternative (Brit Shalom) to New York Metro Families, Beyondthebris.com, March 17, 2012.
Genital Wellness Articles
The Jewish Intactivist & Genital Wellness Movements
Israeli Hebrew Scholar Vadim Cherny: How Judaic is the circumcision? It’s not at all, he finds.
Jewish Mamma: Today’s Jews Reject Circumcision and Choose Peaceful Welcoming Covenants
Miriam Pollack: Circumcision : A Jewish Feminist Perspective Published in Jewish Women Speak Out.
Eli Ungar-Sargon & Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on the Ethical Problems of Circumcision. At the Manhattan Jewish Experience.
Eli Ungar-Sargon Outlawing Circumcision Good for the Jews? Published in the Jewish Daily Forward.
Covenant Without Circumcision Texts and Resources
Almost 150 Rabbis who lead compassionate Jewish covenant rituals
A Brit Shalom Ceremony (Sample Text)
Dear Elijah: A Conservative Jewish Father's Letter to His Intact Son Published on Peaceful Parenting.
Moshe Rothenberg: Ending Circumcision in the Jewish Community?
Michael Kimmel: The Kindest Un-Cut: Feminism, Judaism, and My Son's Foreskin Published in Tikkun.
Articles for April 17, 2013 | Articles for April 18, 2013 | Articles for April 19, 2013
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