Friday, October 21, 2011

The Intactivist Movement Within Judaism

The following resource list is an extension of the original items linked on the Judaism and Circumcision Resource Page. If you have an additional item to add, please contact us at DrMomma.org@gmail.com. We welcome guest authors and scholars with experiences or literature to share.



The past century has been marked by the declaration and protection of universal human rights, as well as a marked increase in the quality of life, both in the United States and worldwide. With these improvements, higher expectations regarding a child’s right to bodily autonomy have become socially accepted and legally mandated. Many argue that because female children in the U.S. are protected by the 1996 law banning all forms of genital cutting, legally male children cannot be excluded from this same federal protection; the 14th Amendment to the Constitution would support this argument.


For many years, a number of courageous Jewish and Israeli Rabbis, scholars, historians, mothers, fathers, and activists have raised serious objections to circumcision surgery. The idea that an individual has the right to their own body, regardless of age, sex, gender, and parents' religious affiliation is a recent development historically. Today, more and more Jews in North America and worldwide are choosing not to circumcise their sons. As this ripple effect of scholarly thought and introspection takes place, Jewish voices against circumcision are beginning to enter the mainstream conversation.

There are a growing number of Jews who question both the ethics and the legality of circumcision. Jews in the Reform movement have already been advocating for an end to ritual circumcision for the past 180 years. Today, more Orthodox Jews are speaking up in unison with these assertions. What follows is a reflection of this collective voice, growing louder by the day. 

Jewish Intactivist Groups


Jews Opposing Circumcision 

Jews For the Rights of the Child 
Beyond the Bris Milah  
Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon
Jewish Circumcision Resource Center

Jewish Intactivists in Israel (sites in Hebrew)


Kahal 
Gonnen 
The Israeli Association Against Genital Mutilation 
Af-Mila: An Israeli Magazine for Jewish Intactivists 

Jewish Literature on Circumcision

Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective
Covenant of Blood: Circumcision and Gender in Rabbinic Judaism
A Measure of His Grief
CUT: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision [film]
Marked In Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America



Voices of Jewish Parents who Choose Peaceful Covenant Ceremonies

My Son: The Little Jew with a Foreskin Published in Mothering Magazine. 
Feminism, Judaism, and My Son's Foreskin Published in Tikkun.

⦁ Circumcision: Identity, Gender and Power Published in Tikkun and DrMomma.org
The Naming Published on Very, Very Fine.
⦁ Jewish Father's Letter to His Son Published on DrMomma.org
⦁ The Jewish Movement to Abolish Circumcision.
A Jewish Woman Denounces Circumcision A Childbirth Educator's Viewpoint
⦁ Jewish Grandfather & Physician: My Position on Circumcision Published on DrMomma.org
How "Cut" Saved My Son's Foreskin : A Movie Review Published on Beyond the Bris.
A Letter to My Intact Jewish Son: Why I Kept You Whole Published on DrMomma.org.
Jewish Mamma: Today’s Jews Reject Circumcision and Choose Peaceful Welcoming Covenants An Intactivist Midwife.

Our Son's Bris Shalom Published on DrMomma.org
Intact & Jewish Published on the Natural Parents Network.

⦁ Ready To Talk: A Jewish Mother's Change of Heart Published on DrMomma.org
Lucking Into Bris Shalom Published on Beyond the Bris.
Ending Circumcision in the Jewish Community? Envisioning an Intactivist Judaism.

The Ethical and Moral Problems of Circumcision: Jewish Arguments for Intactivism


Circumcision Questions (letter from uncircumcised Jew) . Published in the Northern California Jewish Bulletin.
Outlawing Circumcision Good for the Jews?  Published in the Jewish Daily Forward.
How Judaic is circumcision?
Circumcision: A Jewish Feminist Perspective Published in Jewish Women Speak Out.
Evolving Jewish Practices Published on Beyond the Bris.
A Progressive Case for Bris without Milah.
Being Rational About Circumcision and Jewish Observance
Brit Milah: Inconsistent with Jewish Ethics?
An Interview With Miriam Pollack
An Alternative Perspective
The Jewish Roots of Anti-Circumcision Arguments
The Ethical Problems of Circumcision At the Manhattan Jewish Experience.
Rabbi Nathan Segal Calls for an End to Circumcision A Progressive Rabbi urges us to move to peaceful covenants.
An Ethical Jewish Movement to Abolish Bris Milah Part 1.
An Ethical Jewish Movement to Abolish Bris Milah Part 2.
An Ethical Jewish Movement to Abolish Bris Milah Part 3.

Example Peaceful Covenant Texts for New Parents


Worldwide list of Rabbis who lead covenant without cutting ceremonies
A Brit B’lee Milah (Intact Jewish Baby Welcoming) Ceremony
Song for an Intact Jewish Boy’s Welcoming Ceremony
A Brit Shalom (Intact Jewish Baby Welcoming) Ceremony
Brit B'lee Milah (Covenant Without Cutting) Ceremony

Quicktime Audio with Intactivist Jewish Leaders


Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon with Rabbi Steven Blane and Laurie Evans
The Psychological Consequences of Circumcision with Ronald Goldman Ph.D
Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon with Ryan McAllister and Rabbi Binyamin Biber

This history of circumcision: Voices of Progressive  Jews who Oppose Circumcision


The Measure of His Grief A novel exploring Jewish intactivism. 
⦁ Jewish Mother on Circumcision & Jewish Identity Published on DrMomma.org
Howard Stern: Jewish Intactivist
The History of Circumcision: Leonard Glick , MD, PhD. explains how he came to write Marked In Your Flesh.

⦁ My Story of Ritual Abuse Published on DrMomma.org
To the Mohel Who Cut Me Published on Beyond the Bris.
Progressive Jews speak out in Favor of Banning Circumcision on Minors. Intactivism and Human Rights.
On Circumcision Authority, and the Perpetuation of Abuse Published on Beyond the Bris.
Jewish Scholar and Intactivist, Leonard Glick, MD, PhD. A Jewish history of circumcision.
Women’s Perspectives Published on Dr. Ronald Goldman’s site.



Kahal booth at a Tel Aviv Baby Expo, March 2007

Voices of Jewish Intactivists in Their Own Words 


“Mutilation of the divinely made human body is as far from Judaism as anything could be… Torah mentions circumcision only cursorily. Circumcision is conspicuously absent from the Sinai Commandments, and from the subsequent listings of rules. Deuteronomy 30:6 mentions circumcision metaphorically at most, 'circumcise your heart.' No less likely is the meaning, 'tame your pride.'" ~Vadim Cherny, Hebrew Scholar, How Judaic is the circumcision?

"It's not a parental choice. There's an ethical problem with making this a parental choice, namely that you're not taking into account the wishes upon whom the surgery is being performed." ~Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon, Jewish film maker and intactivist; Screening at Georgetown University. Washington DC Q&A with Ryan McAllister and Rabbi Binyamin Biber.

"The code of the Jewish law is called 'halacha' (the way). Within the Code, there is a provision that if a mother loses a son because of circumcision, she is NOT obligated to circumcise her next son. I extrapolate from this, the inter-connection of my human family, that enough deaths and maiming have occurred because of circumcision. Therefore - circumcision is no longer a requisite! Just as we no longer practice the animal sacrifices in the traditional temple, so let us not sacrifice an important piece of our mammal in the temple of tradition."  ~Rabbi Nathan Segal, Rabbi of Shabbos Shul, One Rabbis' Thoughts on Circumcision.

 “As an increasing number of Americans – including a sizable number of American Jews – question the act of male circumcision, a group of San Francisco activists are advocating to ban circumcision…Many of the leading activists against circumcision around the country are Jewish.” ~The Jerusalem Post, Challenging the Circumcision Myth [PDF], (Israel) 04/10/2011

"Without compromising either our children’s identity or the survival of our people, we can invite all of our Jewish children, our baby girls and our baby boys, into a brit b’lee milah, a covenant without circumcision, and school them in the wisdom, love, and beauty of the Jewish tradition. Unlike Christianity, which teaches that a child is born into original sin and must be redeemed, Judaism teaches that the soul is pure — only the penis needs 'redemption.' The truth is that the whole baby is pure, body and soul, including his tender genitals, and it is both a mitzvah and our most sacred duty to protect him."  ~Miriam Pollack, Circumcision: Identity, Gender, and Power
, Tikkun 26(3), 2011.

“Voices within the progressive Jewish community have been struggling with their practice of ritual circumcision for over 170 years, since the beginnings of Reform Judaism. Some of circumcision’s biggest public critics have been Jews. Alternative bris shalom (covenant of peace) ceremonies have been performed by Jews to meet the symbolic and communal obligations of the traditional ritual by welcoming newborns into the Jewish community without the pain, trauma, bodily violation, and risks associated with the surgery.”  ~Norm Cohen, What About Religious Circumcision? NOCIRC of Michigan Director.

"Circumcision is child abuse. It is a poor way to introduce a newborn male into the world and into the Jewish community. This presentation will focus on my experience as an active Jew living in an observant Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York, who chose not to have his son circumcised. I will present the brit (literally "covenant") b'lee milah (without circumcision) ceremony that my wife, a full participant in the decision, and I held on the eighth day of our son Sammy's life." ~Moshe Rothenberg, Ending Circumcision in the Jewish Community.

“When all is said and done, circumcision is really a human rights issue. What right do any of us have to permanently remove a normal, healthy, sensitive part of another person's body without their consent? I have no problem with an adult male who chooses to be circumcised. I do have a problem with an adult who makes that decision for a child. I have known too many men, both Jewish and Christian, who resent the fact that they were circumcised."  ~Laura Kaplan Shanley, Jewish birth advocate and author of Unassisted ChildbirthA Jewish Woman Denounces Circumcision.

“I wish I hadn’t been circumcised. I could show you studies that I believe demonstrate the deleterious effects of the procedure on infants, the costs to the adults that had the procedure done earlier in life, and the falsity of the supposed health benefits of circumcision, but I won’t. There are dedicated organizations that can convey that information far better than I could. What I have to offer you is my personal experience. I grew up going to shul [synagogue], celebrating the holidays, going to Sunday School, having a Bar Mitzvah [the Jewish coming-of-age, at 13 for boys], and even going to a Jewish Day School, yet today I am in almost complete control over the extent to which Jewish culture and Jewish religion play a role in my daily life. The exception is circumcision...” ~Shea Levy, To the Mohel Who Cut Me, Beyond The Bris, June 4, 2011



"According to modern scholars, circumcision is not even mentioned in either the earliest, 'J' version of Bereshth ("Genesis") nor the next three rewrites by other authors. Most importantly, the story of Abram is there in its entirety, except the part about the Covenant being 'sealed' with circumcision. The parallel Covenant story of 'a smoking kiln and its blazing torch' passing between the halves of animals and birds sacrificed by Abram is in J. Many biblical scholars agree on this point, and it is in accord with the mitzvot against desecrating the body. It has even been suggested that early Judaism forbad circumcision!"  ~Case for Bris without Milah.

"...It is accepted that he that is not circumcised, but is the son of a Jewish mother, is a Jew. Numerous scholars of Judaism have clearly pointed out that this damaging surgical ritual is inconsistent with all other tenets of the Jewish religion to protect the integrity of the individual and do no harm to another person. The Law Commission would be doing all Jews great service, in fact, to finally recognize the universal harm, the permanence, and the impossibility of informed consent of non-therapeutic circumcision on any infant boy, regardless of religion. To fail to do so, to create a 'special exception' for Jewish boys, would be tantamount to governmental discrimination against infants born into the Jewish faith by assuming that their pain is less (it is not) and that they will simply learn to accept their harm. Our pain is real, we are part of the larger society, and we need and expect full protection under the law.” ~Brian Levitt, Statement to the United Kingdom Law Commission, Consultation Paper No. 139 20, November 1996.

“Although intact, I am a very proud Jew, with a very strong sense of Jewish identity, and never hesitate to affirm my Jewish identity, to Jew and non-Jew alike, but particularly to myself. I can assure you that having a foreskin has not made me less of a Jew than those without one, and in fact has given me additional reason to think about it. I would rather be an intact self-affirming Jew than a now too common circumcised self-deprecating Jew.” ~Alan Altmann, Circumcision Questions, California Jewish Bulletin, May 31, 1985.


"I am so offended by circumcision that it is difficult for me to even write about it. On any given day thousands of men will meet in support groups to vent their anger over having been circumcised without a choice in the matter. Over one third of the active members of the anti-circumcision movement are Jewish. On any given day at least one hundred routine infant circumcisions will result in complications, irreversible surgical trauma, penile loss or even death. I have no problem with Jews circumcising their own as long as the 'circumcisee' is a consenting adult. A week old infant is not a consenting adult. Religious freedom is not about inflicting your beliefs on others, regardless of whether or not the other is your child. Children grow up to be adults, and many, many Jewish men are angry that they were circumcised in the name of religion." ~Laura Kaplan Shanley, Jewish birth advocate and author of Unassisted Childbirth



In Europe today, human rights groups have mounted a grass roots campaign opposing circumcision, comparing it to the brutal mutilation of African women. The Netherlands Institute of Human Rights wants to outlaw Bris Milah. And an article published in the prestigious British Medical Journal (April 2000), written by obstetricians, gynecologists, and midwives from hospitals in France, claimed: 

“The [African] women we interviewed considered their daughters’ mutilation and their sons’ circumcision to be similar. Male circumcision is also a form of genital mutilation because it involves removing a healthy part of an organ. How can we convince mothers that they should not mutilate their daughters while they continue to have their sons circumcised?”
A group of Israelis petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to outlaw circumcision on the grounds that it is criminal assault. Shockingly, this campaign even has adherents in Israel. In February 1998, a group of Israelis petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to outlaw circumcision on the grounds that it is criminal assault. A joke? No. Case number 5780/98 is a real case, and the court has already held hearings.

Avshalom Zoossmann-Diskin, Executive Director of the Israeli Association Against Genital Mutilation in Tel Aviv, says that a campaign is urgently needed to end Bris Milah. “Why are they discriminating against me as victim of Jewish male genital mutilation?” he decries. “Are my human rights, bodily integrity and suffering less important than those of African girls?!” In Circumcision: Beautiful or Barbaric? by Rabbi Shraga Simmons.



Informational cards for sharing available from the Intact Jewish Network. 


For insight into circumcision within other religions, see Faith Considerations on Circumcision.
For information on the prepuce, intact care, and circumcision, see Are You Fully Informed?



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1 comment:

  1. I am in training to be a physician midwife. I feel as strongly attached to keeping all children's genitalia whole and unaltered as I imagine a child would be if they understood what was happening to them. I have been invited to my first bris and I am feeling very torn. I am honored to be invited to a sacred naming ritual, but I cannot abide by the cutting. However, as the family's health care provider's apprentice, I feel I cannot say anything regarding the circumcision out of respect to my teacher, nor can I bow out. I am feeling wretched about the situation.

    As a doctor, I am expected to provide informed consent in as unbiased a manner as possible, but I cannot in good conscience give an unbiased opinion about what I consider to be mutilating a child. However, asking a devout Orthodox Jewish family to reconsider their beliefs is a delicate issue and requires a great deal of cultural sensitivity and finesse. How do other health care practitioners broach the subject and have this discussion in their practice?

    ReplyDelete

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