Friday, March 11, 2011

Ban Circumcision and the Orthodox Will Finally Realize That It was Wrong All Along

I have a friend who is a Yiddishist, an atheist and a hardcore opponent of circumcision. I sent him an article about the attempt in San Francisco to ban the practice and he responded:

Its a good start that hopefully will lead to other bans until it is just illegal everywhere. Really, a consenting adult shouldn't be allowed to get himself circumcised for the same reason we don't just let consenting adults get their legs or ears or any other part cut off. Every part is equally important even though American culture doesn't respect the male genitals. Mentally healthy, un-brainwashed adults don't desire to get pieces of their bodies cut off or mutilated.


When circumcision is about to become illegal, there will be a period of angry, hostile opposition from the orthodox Jewish community. Then they will finally calm down and acquiesce to the fact that it is wrong and it will disappear.

I bring this up not to attack my friend. He may be delusional in his hubris that not only is he right in opposing circumcision, but that it is so obvious he is right that if only Orthdodox Jews were to get past their biases and seriously consider his position (say if offered the mental clarity that having a gun pointed at you provides) that they will come to accept this obvious truth, but it is the same hubristic delusion that infects everyone who seeks to use coercive force, such as the government, to advance their own personal values. Some people wish to force people to study creationism; others want to force evolution on the public. Some people want to make sure all speech is "politically correct" and that no one is insulted or demeaned. These arguments are only strengthened in the public mind when mind to "protect children."  

What they all have in common with each other and my friend's desire to ban circumcision is the rather odd belief that you can threaten people with violence (and note that all government action involves the threat of violence) and expect people to simply comply. They are not afraid that those coerced will turn around and murder them in their beds. The reason for this is that people like my friend so believe that they are the good guys who want to help others that they cannot conceive that anyone might actually see them as the villians in this story, who are using violence, and respond with violence in turn. 

Perhaps I could take such people more seriously if they followed Augustine in his position that, while open coercion in matters of religion was bad for society, it could be useful to see heretics ever so slightly humiliated and denied certain public privileges. This serves to open the minds of the heretic to seriously consider the orthodox position. This view formed the bases of medieval Church "tolerance," particularly as it related to Jews.  

I oppose coercion as a matter of self interest. I am not so delusional as to believe that I can point a gun and force my values on people and not expect them to slit my throat when my back is turned. The only people I am willing to use coercion against are those people who are already threatening me with physical harm. By definition, in such cases there is no reason to "fear" violence; the violence is already very present and real. I therefore leave it to others to live their lives and raise their children as they see fit. If they wish to baptize them or induct them into any covanants of Abraham let them. Let them cut off the foreskins of their children. Just as long as they do not point any knives at my privates; I had my circumcision when I was eight days old and I have no desire for a repeat thank you very much.        


Anonymous said...

You also have to question the depth of your friends passion for banning circumcision. It's weird.

a) of all the things to care about, why this?
b) if he thinks this is something the orthodox world will come around to, he's never had an actual conversation with an orthodox person.He may have talked AT them, but not with them.
c) is he against tattooing as well? piercing your ears? Penis piercing is legal..(as is clitoral for that matter)
d) On what grounds does he get to determine what is or is not sane, rational or legal?
e) what the hell does "American culture doesn't respect male genitals" even mean?


Baruch Pelta said...

Your friend doesn't understand Orthodoxy. That being said, he's not saying anything that should logically be against your libertarian lifestance. After all, Benzion, you told me the government should be involved in protecting people against direct physical harm; I think it is quite arguable that this is direct physical harm inflicted on a minor.

Your hard libertarianism continues to be disconcerting to me. The only issue you really have a chance of bringing into public schools is creationism, the one issue where there's a real danger of bringing narishkeit into the classroom. If you want to bring narishkeit in, you do it all at once -- with holocaust denial, etc. -- or not at all (although I feel the former is not really a viable option, as I've argued with you on my blog). But to bring in creationism while leaving out holocaust denial, it's giving kids the impression that creationism's acceptable and holocaust denial's not. I know you're for bringing holocaust denial into certain public schools too, but since it's not going to happen any time soon, you're simply allowing the fundamentalists to bring creationism into the schools, thus making creationism a "legit option" while holocaust denial's still considered narishkeit. That puts you on the side of benighted fundamentalism. You can have an interesting (if in my world, wrong) ideology Benzion, but as Ross Douthat said, you libertarians have to learn to live in the real world too. Otherwise you'll just be used to bring certain pieces of narishkeit into the classroom as "legit" while others are continued to rightly be considered crazy.

Izgad said...

I could accept a ban on circumcision on libertarian grounds if the government was willing to similarly ban all suffering inflicted on children up to that level. Considering that children do not remember being circumcised their level of pain would have to count for very little. They suffer no long term damage. And their complete lack of rational thought and physical capacity makes them even less of a government interest than older children.
My relativism is only government deep. Now the fact that my libertarian policies are likely to simply end up with creationism is of no concern to me. It is you liberal who insist on having public education for the express purpose of forcing your own ideology on others. Why do you liberals come crying to me when religious fundamentalists use your system in turn to force their beliefs on you? Duh, punch people and you will get punched back. Try to coerce people and you will be coerced in turn.

Michael K said...

I can give strong, undeniable evidence that circumcision does, in fact, cause unrecognized lifelong sexual damage. If you log onto, you will see that Ronald Goldman, P.hD., agrees with me. But I knew circumcision was wrong before I discovered that he exists. When you have to have an orgasm, us mutilated men have to rub our shafts vigorously, creating friction and heat that damages what little nerve endings left after circumcision. Intact men have loose skin on their shafts, so they just have to lightly wiggle their foreskins and/or the loose shaftskin back and forth with one or two fingers. They have no friction or heat. And in the 12th century, Maimonidies admitted that the purpose of the bris ceremony is to sexually damage Jewish males so they would focus on the torah and Jewish holy texts and not on women and sex. Shame on Judaism!

E-Man said...

It is funny because there are many instances that circumcision is used in the medical community as a cure. Such as phimosis, paraphimosis, penile cancer and other such things.

However, that is a small percentage of people. Either way, this is classic for hardcore democrats and hardcore republicans. Let me SHOVE my beliefs down your throat because I AM RIGHT!!! Forget democracy.

What he fails to tell you is that circumcision is no more cutting off a limb than cutting off any other piece of skin. According to him, a person should not be allowed to remove a mole. Apparently, the foreskin can be grown back (I talked to several plastic surgeons about this). If it was truly like a limb, then it would be impossible to grow it back.

Anyway, the people against circumcision are usually just anti-semites or have been told by anti-semites that circumcision is mutilation. All completely false.

I think female circumcision is different because it offers no beneficial effects, from what I understand, and it can never be grown back. Plus, women with female circumcisions can never experience an orgasm, while men with male circumcisions can. That whole thing about the nerve endings is ridiculous.

Izgad said...


Whether or not circumcision really does make someone slightly less sexually able as Maimonides believed I will leave as an open question. I am sorry that you feel traumatized by your circumcision. I do not have similar feelings. While I am in no position to force my lack of hostile feelings upon you, the reverse is also true and I ask you to accept that I, as a sane and rational individual, do not object to circumcision.
A basic foundation of any meaningful discussion about rights is the assumption that the individual in question is fundamentally rational. In this sense I strongly support Maimonides’ sentiment. The only people who can have rights in the first place are the people who place reason at the center of their lives as opposed to sex. The willingness to cause some minor damage to one’s sexual organ is a befitting symbol of this.
In contrast to this I would point to the gay community, which has defined themselves by their sexuality (a desire I am perfectly willing to allow them to pursue) and at the same time demanded rights based on this sexuality, making a complete mockery of the very concept of rights. You, unfortunately, with your obsession of sexual harm, fall into the same category and are therefore in no position to even enter the discussion of having rights.

Garnel Ironheart said...

There is no reasoning with the anti-circumcision lobby. Point out the multitude of studies showing a health benefit and they either ignore or shout them down. Point out that there's no real life long traumatic effects other than imagined ones and they shout "No they're quite real".
My favourite was the study published by a pediatrician who claimed to have observed boys in his waiting room and recorded that those who were circumcised were more timid. By any scientific standard the study was worthless but for a long time after anti-circumcision folks insisted it was valid.
Jews have been willing to give their lives for circumcision. Some idiots in San Francisco won't change that. Besides, when the Muslims threaten violence over it, they'll back right down in the name of multi-culturalism.

RVA said...

"The only people I am willing to use coercion against are those people who are already threatening me with physical harm. By definition, in such cases there is no reason to "fear" violence; the violence is already very present and real."

Would it be inappropriate to characterize circumcision as coercion against a defenseless child? Or moreover to my view of the matter, should a newly born child have the "freedom" to reject the imposition of cultural norms into which he happens to be born into? Should the parents social/cultural/religious prejudices infringe on the palette of a newly born child?

Having re-read Sartre recently, and having in mind his contention that Man "finds himself in an organized situation in which he is himself involved: his choice involves mankind in its entirety, and he cannot avoid choosing"; I question whether the physical imposition of circumcision imposes a choice upon a child he may come to reject.

I sympathize with my colleague Izgad's position, but I seriously question what freedom means when one's sexuality is tampered with at the beginning of life; what if the child develops into a Hedonist (which would be his right in a free society) and feels mutilated that he is not able to indulge in the sensation of the foreskin rubbing against his penis? Although outlandish, does a newly born child have a unequivocal right to have not paths forestalled to him; and in many respects, especially if one is familiar with the interestingly fathomable futures of Stanislaw Lem, circumcision may inhibit an individual from prospective lifestyles (see Star Diaries, 14th Voyage). An uncircumcised child would have the freedom to eventually decide whether he chooses to commit himself to his "Jewishness" by deciding to undergo a circumcision or to pursue an alternative course.

In this case, supporting circumcision amounts to bowing to the "powers-that-be"; surrendering to Jewish norms which happen to dominate temporally. Should we surrender to a position merely because we may be threatened by someone "slit[ting] my throat"? If one characterizes circumcision as violence (as Izgad's friend seems to do when he characterizes it as mutilation), then I must admit Izgad's position in defense of circumcision seems unpersuasive. Surrendering a reconsideration of the issue for fear of violence?

"I oppose coercion as a matter of self interest."

I feel as though you've missed your friend's point: namely, the rational contention circumcision is coercion. Thus your characterization of the 'banning of circumcision' as coercion would strike him as ironic.

From what perspective is liberty sought? Whither the will to resistance? Whither the will to power?

P.S. As always, as an outsider to Jewishness, I apologize for any misunderstandings my thoughts reveal; but simultaneously hope I can bring an outside perspective.

Izgad said...


This may sound heartless, but the issue of coercion is not an ethical one in the traditional sense, but purely pragmatic. The child is not in a position to wage Hobbesian war against me in retaliation for me standing back and allowing his parents to “mutilate” him. In contrast his parents are in a very real position to kill me if they feel I am interfering in their personal lives. As to the possibility that the children will grow up and resent what was done to them, I have to weigh the threat of future adults who might try to take revenge against me because of what I allowed to happen to them as children against the uncircumcised children who will be raised by their parents to believe that they are “tainted” by their lack of circumcision and the only way to be redeemed from this sin is to kill the followers of the “satanic” secular government that “robbed” them of the “sacred” rite of circumcision.

I would like to sleep safely and soundly in my bed and die peacefully many years from now from old age. How about you?

E-Man said...

RVA said-

" what if the child develops into a Hedonist (which would be his right in a free society) and feels mutilated that he is not able to indulge in the sensation of the foreskin rubbing against his penis?"

Again, YOU CAN REGROW IT! So the child has the ability to regrow it so your point is WRONG.

S. said...

I can understand why people oppose it, but I just can't imagine how anyone can believe that it can really be effectively banned in a society such as ours. Soviet Russia, yes, but not in the US.

Although most Orthodox Jews are not like R. Yosef Karo and do not dream of being burnt at the stake for God, plenty of Orthodox Jews would gladly suffer any consequences - which could only be tepid in the United States anyway - for circumcision. Izgad's friend can't even begin to imagine what demons such a ban would tap into.