Friday, October 28, 2011

Instead of "What to Expect When You're Expecting"



Due to the heavy marketing of the What to Expect series of books, and promo/sponsorship from special interest and lobbying groups (not always those who have mother/baby wellbeing at the forefront of their agenda), these are books that tend to be in every bookstore, every library, and on every shelf.

We spent some time talking with a Barnes & Noble manager in Iowa who said that their local store had all front-facing space in the pregnancy/baby section 'spoken for' by the What to Expect publishers. There simply were no other books to be found - and this was the only large bookstore in a 60 mile radius of the city's two hospitals. An expecting mother seeking insight at her local bookseller would be led to believe that this is thee book for her to read...

We visited a holistic health store in Virginia that had only two book options for pregnant women among their hundreds of books - guess what one of those two was? (We've since spoken with this manager as well to provide the store with many more holistic options for books that would fit better with the philosophies of the store).

What to Expect is everywhere. But it is far from being a 'good book' - or even one we'd recommend to anyone. In fact, there are much better options for a pregnant or planning-to-conceive woman who wishes to pick up a research-based, empowering book and discover what is going on with her body, and her baby. Don't let the ubiquitous nature of this series fool you -- instead, ask for one of the excellent pregnancy/birth books. You deserve it! And so does your baby.


Pregnancy/Birth Top 10:

Before Your Pregnancy

The Pregnancy Book

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth

Gentle Birth Choices*



Birthing From Within

Birth and Breastfeeding

Childbirth Without Fear

The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth*

* Indicates book contains research-based information on genital autonomy and intact baby boys.


Highly Recommended Pregnancy/Birth Books:

Taking Charge of Your Fertility

The Natural Pregnancy Book: Herbs, Nutrition and Other Holistic Choices

Journey Into Motherhood

Orgasmic Birth

Hypnobabies Home Study

Birth Matters: A Midwife's Manifesta

Choosing Waterbirth

Your Best Birth

Pushed

Born In the USA

Rediscovering Birth

Having Twins and More*

Active Birth

Homebirth and Other Alternatives to Hospital

Heart and Hands

The Birth Book

Primal Health

Birthing From Within Keepsake Journal

The Caesarean

Silent Knife

Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way

She Births

A Holistic Guide to Embracing Pregnancy, Childbirth and Motherhood

Birth Without Violence

Back Labor No More

Painless Childbirth

Creating a Joyful Birth Experience

Better Birth

Calm Birth

Hypnobirthing

Mother Rising: The Blessingway Journey into Motherhood


For Kids:

Baby On the Way

On Mother's Lap

We're Having a Homebirth

Mommy Has to Stay in Bed

Hello Baby

Angel in the Waters


Post-partum:

Mothering the New Mother


Additional Good Related Book Collections:

VBAC/HBAC: 
http://astore.amazon.com/peacefparent-20?_encoding=UTF8&node=37

Pregnancy: 
http://astore.amazon.com/peacefparent-20?_encoding=UTF8&node=7

Birth: 
http://astore.amazon.com/peacefparent-20?_encoding=UTF8&node=3


Have a favorite pregnancy or birth book? We'd love to hear it! 




Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ban Male Circumcision in Britain

By Eve Fensome for The Mancunion.
Read more from Fensome and weigh in on the debate here.

Assembly line of circumcision. Residents and medical assistants circumcise baby boys born at George Washington University Hospital. 
Photo Credit: Alexandra Garcia - The Washington Post.

In Britain it is accepted wisdom that female circumcision on minors (now widely referred to as female genital mutilation) is in effect child abuse. How else could you describe carrying out an unnecessary, risky, painful surgery to remove parts of a child’s genitalia? But why do our infant males’ genitals not receive the same protection from cutting?

Despite the laws safeguarding female genitals, parents of infant males in the UK are allowed to decide on behalf of their offspring whether that child’s genitals are left intact or not. This means that male juveniles are not protected from non-therapeutic infant male circumcision. Non- therapeutic infant male circumcision is the practice of amputating healthy parts of the genitals (in this case the foreskin) of a child’s penis for non-medical reasons.

But, female genital mutilation is nothing like male circumcision, right? A circumcised male penis is cleaner and circumcision isn’t dangerous like it is for females.

Wrong. The acceptance of male infant genital cutting relies on two common beliefs: one, that the foreskin is superfluous, and two, that the practice of cutting it off is trivial. Nether is true.

The foreskin is in fact a key functioning part of the penis. It is a mucous membrane (like an eyelid) and serves the purpose of keeping the glans (penis head) moist, guarding the urethral opening, and keeping it sensitive and protected in the same way as the clitoral hood protects the clitoris. On the erect penis the foreskin serves an even more important function; namely the giving of erotic pleasure. The foreskin contains thousands of ultra-sensitive nerve endings, making it a highly erogenous zone, and its ability to move during sexual intercourse increases the pleasure for both parties by increasing moistness and reducing discomfort through a gliding action.

Indeed, scientists have mapped the regions of the intact penis with the use of “fine-touch pressure threshold tests”. Their findings show that the most sensitive regions on an intact penis are exactly those removed by circumcision. On the circumcised penis the most sensitive location is the circumcision scar – however, this is still less sensitive than five other areas on the intact adult penis. The result is significantly less pleasurable sex and masturbation for the circumcised male compared to the intact male.

The procedure itself is also very significant. Firstly, the psychological impact of the pain experienced from circumcision has been recognised as causing problems in infants and children, including post-traumatic stress disorder, maternal bonding failures after breached trust, and a lowered pain threshold recorded in babies more than 6 months after the operation.

These points, however, are trivial in comparison to the risks entailed in the procedure despite the rigorous rules on practice. Circumcised infants are not only more likely to have genital illnesses than intact children, but when complications occur they are much more likely to be serious complications such as permanent mutilation, infection or haemorrhage. Less frequent risks also include gangrene and whole or partial amputation of the penis. However, this price is still far less than that paid by some 200 babies per year in the USA, who pay with their lives.

With such a lot at stake, how can we legitimately uphold that becoming circumcised is for a parent to decide, not for the individual when he is at full consenting age and able to make an informed choice? The laws of this country rightly state that religious observance should be a personal choice. This is why I cannot accept that it is a parent’s right to force their religious beliefs on their non-consenting offspring, whereas I can accept, and in fact defend, an individual’s right to show his religious commitment in adulthood by making an informed decision to become circumcised.

~~~~

For additional resources on circumcision, the prepuce, and intact care, see: Are You Fully Informed?

Join in the conversations at Saving Our Sons

~~~~

Q&A: The New Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children


We post questions from readers daily on the peaceful parenting Facebook page, so that others can chime in, and we are able to foster an extended network of mothers and fathers 'doing life' together. Occasionally, a question comes up that may be good to use as a reference for others seeking info on the same. In those instances, we try to post Q&As on DrMomma.org so they can easily be found again.

Today's question comes from a parent wondering about a particular book that was recommended to her, and how it fits or does not fit with an over all gentle parenting approach. Responses will be found in the comments section below.


"A parenting book was recommended to me (before I was even pregnant), and I'm wondering if I should order it, or if it's going to be full of strict disciplinarian practices.  
The family that recommended it has four very well-behaved children, and they all seemed very loving towards each other. I've since moved and lost contact with this family, and I'm wondering if this book is essentially "Babywise for Kids" or if it's something I would actually find useful. The family is very religious and I know this author has written other "Christian-based" parenting books (although this one supposedly isn't), and that makes me think it might be another Ezzo.

The author is John Rosemond and the book is called, The Six-Point Plan for Raising Happy, Healthy Children." Are you at all familiar with this book or author? I appreciate any insight or knowledge you may have."
 John Rosemond

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

One Regret

By Danielle Humphrey © 2011
Read more from Humphrey at My Life As Danielle

When my daughter was a baby, I did something to her.
Something that did not seem like a big deal to me at the time.
Something that happened to me when I was a baby, and I grew to like as I grew older.
Something that most women, at some point in their lives, have done in our country.
Something that made her look more girly (as this is never done to baby boys).
Something that I was told had little risk.
Something that would be easy to keep clean (maybe even as easy as if I'd left her as she was born).
Something that was completely unnecessary.
Something that was painful,
     done at a time when she would not remember the pain.
Something that I thought was for her,
     but as it turns out... something that was for me.

I had her ears pierced.

She cried.
Not long, but it was obviously painful.

They were not tough to keep clean; but I did have to attend to them like I hadn't before.

Then we noticed that one of them wasn’t put in correctly.
We could see the back of the earring easily, so we took it out...
and had her RE-pierced.

Another cry.

Oh sweet baby girl, if I could take it back I would.

I’ve thought about taking them out.
(Thank goodness you can take them out yourself when you’re older.)
But you’ll always have a tiny scar from where I let them cut into your perfectly formed body.

Those were not my ears to pierce.

I am so, so sorry I did not protect you, and instead, hurt you for a cultural norm.

What was I thinking?
Rather -- why didn’t I think?
Why did I think less about altering your body than I did about selecting a baby carrier?
Why didn’t I listen to people who said it’s not necessary?
Why didn’t anyone shout - "Those are not your ears!"?

You were already perfect in His image and needed absolutely no modification.
You may actually someday resent that decision I made to alter your body...

Why wasn’t I brave enough to make a decision that was different from what happened to me?

The beautiful stones are not more brilliant than your tender, unmarred ears.
They stare at me everyday I’m with you as a glaring reminder of my first regret.
They catch the light.
They blind me.
And I realize I was never seeing clearly to begin with...

I'm being vulnerable in my mistake, so please show compassion.
I am so thankful that my decision has not led to worse, and that in the grand scheme of things, it’s relatively small.

I will be honest with you about all of this one day.
I will probably have you read this.
I have forgiven myself, and I will never do this to another child of mine.

~~~~

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Circumcision: Identity, Gender, and Power

By Miriam Pollack © 2011
Citation: Pollack, Miriam. 2011. "Circumcision: Identity, Gender, and Power." Tikkun 26(3).
Published at DrMomma.org with author's permission.

"Isaac's Circumcision," as depicted in the Regensburg Pentateuch, Germany, c. 1300.

Circumcision is seen as the central mitzvah (or commandment) of Judaism. Even for nonreligious Jews, circumcision continues to be perceived as the sine qua non of Jewish identity. And yet, unlike any other controversial topic that we Jews address, the subject of circumcision is not to be challenged. We can calmly discuss whether there is a G-d or no G-d, if G-d is masculine, feminine, or neuter, or whether homosexual Jews should become rabbis. Yet, questioning circumcision has been out of bounds. This taboo, in and of itself, is indicative of how strong the feelings are that surround this ancient rite, and how much lies below the surface, in the dark silence, where powerful forces have coalesced for thousands of years.

In order to attempt to understand the role of circumcision in Judaism, we need to explore not simply the biblical injunction found in Genesis 17:10-12. We are also obliged to focus on the functions that male genital cutting serves — socially, politically, psychologically, and individually — in order to see what and whose invisible needs are being fulfilled. Some of this information comes to us from scholarship; some can only be derived by examining the more subtle ramifications that result from the permanent alteration of male sexual organs.

Circumcision is hardly unique to Judaism. However, two elements distinguish the Jewish version of male genital cutting. First, in Judaism circumcision is expressed as the divine mandate, which seals and perpetuates the covenant, G-d’s contractual and eternal relationship, with the Jewish people. Second, it is commanded to occur on the eighth day of the baby boy’s life. Other than these unique identifiers, circumcision in Judaism shares much with rites of circumcision in other societies.

What I intend to do here is to show that cutting out a portion of a child’s genitalia is fundamentally about gender and power. This is true whether the mandate is divine, tribal, secular, or pseudo-medical, and it pertains to little girls as well as little boys.

For those of us who have grown up with the normalcy of newborn male circumcision, this may seem like a bold, perhaps even outrageous statement. As Karen Ericksen Paige and Jeffrey M. Paige state in their book, The Politics of Reproductive Ritual, of the many theories advanced that attempt to explain the function of reproductive ritual, all agree that “the purposes of ritual are seldom if ever the object of conscious knowledge.”

In each and every circumcising society, circumcision fulfills multiple unspoken social, political-tribal, and sexual needs. Paige and Paige claim that male circumcision originally functioned as a vehicle for attempting to achieve by means of ritual what could not be accomplished by means of political arrangement: that is, the defusing of possible competitive claims by male progeny for the same limited resources. In pre-industrial societies, where clan and tribal loyalties formed the basis of economic and military security, the father’s willingness to expose, sacrifice, and risk the tender organ of his son’s procreative potential and the promise of his own male progeny to the knife was a dramatic demonstration to the elders (read that as male elders) of the father’s allegiance to his tribe, a point noted by Leonard B. Glick in Marked In Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America. For this reason, circumcision is rarely a private surgical event. Rather, it is most commonly a communal ceremony accompanied by feast and celebration. Circumcision is, typically, a public declaration of alignment and thus not simply a social event, but a political statement as well. Without a whisper of the true hierarchical intentions of this ceremony, the outcome was always, and continues to be, a reassertion and institutionalization of a power structure based on gender.

The timing of male circumcision furthers the political/social relationships in less obvious ways. Even though the age for circumcision ranges widely across all circumcising societies, what is most universally constant is the requirement that circumcision occur before marriage. This rule not only establishes the father’s status in the male-dominant community, but it also works to achieve another salient objective: marriageable girls are entrained to view any uncircumcised man as undesirable, thereby ensuring the ethnic stability of the tribe. Girls know from an early age that they would risk social ostracism by mating with an uncircumcised male. By enculturating all group members to the necessity, normalcy, and moral superiority of circumcision, circumcising children not only reaffirms the political and social structure of the tribe, but also deepens the identity formation of the group. In this way, circumcision functions as a primary and potent entrainment for group bonding.

In ancient Egypt, genital cutting was depicted as a rite of passage to adulthood. This drawing of a tomb painting from Ankhmahor in Saqqarah, Egypt, is the oldest known illustration of male genital cutting. Judaism took this painful rite of passage and placed it on the eighth day of an infant's life.

At a more muted level, circumcision does more than restructure identity based on contemporary and historical alliances of gender and power. On a meta-historical and biological level, circumcision acts to rename, remap, and invert our fundamental and primal relationship to the feminine. It is not coincidental that this ritual of tribal belonging necessitates the cutting, blood-letting, and altering — in a public ceremony — of the male child’s sexual organ. As Glick points out, “Female blood contaminates, male blood sanctifies.” Thus, he explains, “the shedding of male blood is an act of consecration.” By creating historical and social linkage through this sacrificial ritual, circumcision functions to supersede and transcend our most primary maternal and biological system of relationship making patrilineal and patriarchal hierarchy appear “natural and inevitable,” as Nancy Jay notes in her brilliant book, Throughout Your Generations Forever. Karen E. Fields, in the foreword to this same book, comments as follows:
In no other major religious institution is gender dichotomy more consistently important, across unrelated traditions, than it is in sacrifice. This is true not only of ancient and so-called primitive religions. Even among contemporary Christians, the more vividly the Eucharist is understood to be itself a real sacrifice, the greater the opposition to ordaining women. ... Consequently, a study of sacrifices focusing on gender leads to a new understanding: sacrifice as remedy for having been born of woman.
Similarly, in both the Hebrew Scriptures (Samuel 1:1) and the New Testament (Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38), by citing and repeating the lineage of male progenitors, legitimacy is established. The names of the mothers are usually unmentioned, irrelevant in a male-dominant culture.

Circumcision subverts the community’s relationship to the life-giving principle of the feminine, not only by obliterating the woman’s rightful identity in structuring the historical social network of her tribe, but also by trivializing and implicitly forbidding her to acknowledge, much less act upon, her deepest mammalian instincts to protect her newly birthed child. She knows, long before she has even conceived, that in order for her male child to be bonded to the male community — past, present and future — and to a male-imaged god, she must surrender him to the men with a knife to cut, wound and cause great pain to the very vulnerable sexual organ of this newly birthed child. Typically, a mother’s feelings are dismissed or ridiculed. Her voice is silenced, even to herself.

Can it be a coincidence that we have language for the primary disempowerment for men, but not for women? When men are wounded in their primal potency of manhood, we say they have been “emasculated.” When women are wounded in their primary potency of womanhood, we rarely notice. We have no language, no conceptual structure, no word to claim, much less attempt to heal the experience of core female disempowerment.


The wounding of circumcision irreversibly alters both mother and child: the mother is fractured at the base of her deepest womb-wisdom, which knows that she must protect her child no matter what; and the baby, shocked and traumatized, is fractured in his ability to absolutely trust the protective arms of the mother he has biologically and innately turned to as his primordial source of safety. From the beginning, masculinity is now defined as that which must be cut off from the mother and all that is female, nurturing, and essential for human survival. In this way women are made complicit in this masculine-defined model of motherhood. Nancy Jay states, “Gender is therefore unequaled as a cornerstone of domination.” Circumcision is the weapon that not only destroys a boy’s foreskin but also deftly excises maternal authority over the ultimate well-being of her child. For if a woman is forbidden to feel entitled to her instinctive need to protect her newborn child, what feelings of her own can she ever trust?

In all circumcising societies, the sacrifice endured by the child is considered incidental to the social, political, and/or religious forces that require it. Typically, the extremity of the baby’s pain is denied, ignored, or made the object of countless jokes. Because we Jews circumcise at eight days of age, when a child is easily overpowered and will not consciously recall this event, we deem those who circumcise children at later ages barbaric.

Many of us Jews are capable of witnessing a bris, that is, a ritual circumcision, looking into the eyes of the shocked, terrified, and shrieking baby, his head flailing and chin quivering, as his foreskin is severed from the delicate surface of the glans, cut, and crushed, and many of us conclude that this is no different from a routine infant protest of having a wet diaper changed.

We ignore or choose to be ignorant not only of what our hearts and wombs are telling us, but of the abundance of scientific data, replicated numerous times in the past several decades, that leave little question about the reality of the baby’s experience. Heart and respiratory rates, as well as cortisol levels of babies undergoing circumcision point to the unambiguous conclusion that circumcision is excruciatingly painful to any baby. And, as is the case in other severe trauma at the neonatal level of development, the implications of lasting sequelae in the nervous system are serious (for the data behind this, check out Male and Female Circumcision: Medical, Legal and Ethical Considerations in Pediatric Practice). Science has not yet turned its attention to identifying what these sequelae may be. Nevertheless, a modicum of psychological awareness is sufficient to suggest that issues of trust, fear, intimacy, sexuality, and gender relationships would be reasonable places for scholarly investigation. While traumatizing an infant is neither the stated nor the conscious intention of circumcision, it is an inevitable corollary of cutting a child’s genital organs with possibly unspecified but hardly neutral alterations in the nervous system.


Although the fact is vigorously denied by the proponents of circumcision, the forcible removal of the foreskin also has profound and long-lasting effects for a male’s sexual experience. Even during ancient times, when circumcision was less radical than it is today, the unique quality of the foreskin was understood. In biblical Judaism, circumcision consisted of cutting the foreskin that extended beyond the glans, leaving most of it intact. The full reaming and ablating of the entire foreskin, known as periah, was only innovated by rabbinic decree during Hellenic times in response to the practice of some Jewish men who were trying to avoid ridicule of their fellow Greek athletes by attempting to tie and stretch their foreskins so as not to look circumcised.

Both the Hellenic Jew Philo, in the first century CE, and Moses Maimonides, also known in the Jewish tradition as the Great Rambam in the twelfth century, wrote of the consequences of violently removing the most sensuous part of a man’s sexual organ before he is old enough to understand or consent to this loss. Philo wrote in Special Laws that the “excision of pleasure [caused by circumcision] . . . is most necessary to our well-being.” Many centuries later C.J. Cold and J.R. Taylor would confirm in the British Journal of Urology that the effects of circumcision on sexuality were, indeed, significant, when they discovered that there are over 20,000 specialized fine touch receptive cells in the human foreskin, which function to allow far greater nuanced sensation and control than any other penile tissue.

Additionally, the removal of the foreskin creates a secondary loss of sensitivity: not only has the most erogenous tissue of the male sexual organ been removed, but, as the man ages, the glans loses its mucosal covering, becomes dried out, and keratinizes over time. Typically by middle age the glans of the circumcised penis has lost much of its receptive potential and the man requires more abrasive stimulation to achieve orgasm. Often this is just as a woman is becoming peri-menopausal and experiencing decreasing vaginal lubrication. Typically, the problem is identified as the woman’s entry into menopause; the contribution of the circumcised partner is rarely acknowledged. In subtle but profound ways, circumcision functions to diminish a man’s pleasure potential, allowing his bond to his partner to be subordinated to his bond to his tribal male peers. Both Philo and Maimonides knew beyond a doubt that, as in all other aspects of biology, altering form alters function. Here is what Maimonides, the great philosopher, physician, and Talmudist, had to say in his famous book, The Guide of the Perplexed, written in 1160:
The fact that circumcision weakens the faculty of sexual excitement and sometimes perhaps diminishes the pleasure is indubitable. For if at birth this member has been made to bleed and has had its covering taken away from it, it must indubitably be weakened. The Sages, may their memory be blessed, have explicitly stated: It is hard for a woman with whom an uncircumcised man has had sexual intercourse to separate from him (Genesis Rabbah LXXX). In my opinion this is the strongest of reasons for circumcision.
There they are, the twin patriarchal fears: the fear of woman and the fear of pleasure. Circumcision is both the vehicle and the product, the menace and the antidote, which simultaneously assuages and perpetuates these ancient terrors. This is the achievement and true function of circumcision. Circumcision achieves this by violently breaching the maternal-infant bond shortly after birth; by amputating and marking the baby’s sexual organ before he knows what he has lost; by disempowering, “taming,” the mother at the height of her instinctual need to protect her infant; by bonding the baby to the community of men past, present, and future and to a male-imaged G-d; by restructuring the family and the society in terms of male dominance; and by psycho-sexually wounding the manhood still asleep in the unsuspecting baby boy. In all of these ways — socially, politically, religiously, ethnically, sexually, tribally, and interpersonally — the cutting of our baby boys’ sexual organs is the fulcrum around which patriarchy exerts its power. Circumcision is a rite of male domination — domination and the entitlement of domination over other men, women, and children, both institutionally and personally. It is the essence of patriarchy.

Nevertheless, it would be grossly oversimplifying to characterize Judaism as a purely patriarchal religion, nor would it be accurate to view Judaism as the source of patriarchy in Western religions. The emphatic and elaborate emphasis on this life, on the sanctity of all life as a primary organizing value throughout both biblical and talmudic texts is in complete contradiction to the practice of circumcision. Removing functional sexual tissue is harmful: it is harmful to the infant, to the pleasure potential and sexual bonding of the mature man, and to the mother who is entrained to surrender her sacred bond with her infant in order for his masculinity to be redefined in terms of his community.

The rabbis explain that, because women are closer to the divine due to our ability to give birth and sustain life, men are in need of other ways to access spirituality — circumcision being the primary one. However, the notion that trauma can be a bona fide path, much less an ethical avenue, to greater spiritual awareness would be vociferously challenged by contemporary neonatologists as well as epigeneticists. What is unethical cannot be spiritual. The dichotomy and hierarchy assumed and taught for millennia in multiple religions between sexual aliveness and spirituality is false and has led to ages of human suffering. Spiritual sexism is still sexism and needs to be discarded.

I remember when I first learned about the phenomenon of female genital cutting. I was appalled. How could they? How could anyone? It took years before I could hear their voices: “It’s who we are, who we’ve been for thousands of years.” “No one will marry us if we’re not cut.” “Intact genitalia are ugly.” “They are unhygienic.” Then, I realized... we say the same things.

Yes, there are significant differences between female and male cutting, but it is not honest to claim that one is physically and sexually insignificant and the other barbaric; that one is enlightened, the other primitive. Holding a child down and forcibly removing genitalia is sexual abuse. We would not hesitate to use that label for an individual or culture that countenanced sexual fondling of children. Why do we think slicing off genitals is acceptable? Circumcision is not holy, it does not transmit the Jewish spiritual heritage, nor does it secure Jewish continuity.

"The discarding of animal sacrifice ... did not result in an unraveling of Jewish spirituality or continuity."

For religious as well as tribal and secular reasons, many Jews believe that “circumcision ensures our survival.” Without circumcision, we tell each other, the Jewish people will disappear, a very frightening prediction to a people for whom annihilation is a perpetual possibility. Again, the transparent sexism of such a contention is only too apparent. Are males the only ones who count as Jews? Is the contribution of Jewish women irrelevant, invisible, and insignificant? More fundamentally, why is it that Jewish women can carry on our spiritual legacy and remain whole, but Jewish men cannot? How, indeed, did circumcision further our survival during the desperate epochs of Jewish purges when the enemy had only to pull down pants in order to eliminate Jewish males?

In the United States, where most men over thirty have been circumcised, or in the Middle East, where circumcision is normative for Muslims, are naked Jewish men distinguishable from their non-Jewish counterparts? And if circumcision is the quintessential protector of Jewish identity, why do we have tens of thousands of Jewish men in the United States who have had their genitalia radically and permanently altered but are ignorant of Judaism and completely unaffiliated with Jewish communities? The question of how we are to secure and sustain Jewish survival is extremely serious, but the answer is not circumcision.

An orthodox rabbi interviewed by Eliyahu Unger-Sargon in his brilliant movie Cut: Slicing through the Myths of Circumcision stated unequivocally that circumcision was tantamount to sexual abuse. Yet this thoughtful man went on to justify the practice of circumcision for religious reasons, saying that this is where “the rubber hits the road” if you are a Jew. It is a commandment. We have no choice.

Indeed, we do have a choice. What is sacred is our obligation to protect the integrity and privacy of all of our children’s genitals. They are not the province of family, community, or anyone else. Spiritualizing the wounding of circumcision does not change the damage, nor make it ethical. As Deuteronomy 30:6 teaches, what is truly required of us in order to contact the divine has to do with the architecture of the heart, not the alteration of male genitals. Creating a joyful and loving Jewish home, and providing our children with meaningful and in-depth Jewish education, are the only authentic means we have to ensure our survival. Cutting our babies’ penises will not do it.

Neither in biblical texts nor in the Talmud has brit milah been commanded for hygienic reasons. Nevertheless, in the United States routine neonatal circumcision has been normative, in spite of the fundamental standard of all U.S. medical practice that requires that surgeries be used as a last resort, not a preventive strategy, particularly when dealing with healthy tissue on non-consenting minors. For these reasons and more, the medical societies of Holland, Finland, Australia, Canada and the UK have been explicit in stating that routine neonatal circumcision is medically ill advised and not in the child’s best interest. Promoting circumcision for presumed health benefits is neither an authentically Jewish position nor medically valid.

Circumcision may be an ancient rite, but it is wrong. Over the ages Judaism has demonstrated a remarkable ability to mutate in practice and retain the integrity of its spiritual legacy. Judaism was not vanquished when the first temple was destroyed, nor when the second temple was razed. The discarding of animal sacrifice as the primary mode of worship did not result in an unraveling of Jewish spirituality or continuity. Legally, Jewish identity is defined both by halachah (Jewish law) and by the Israeli Supreme court according to the status of the child’s mother: if the mother is Jewish, the child is Jewish. Circumcision does not trump maternal lineage.

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.

Jews for the Rights of the Child protest the continued genital cutting of infants.




For the past twenty years, Miriam Pollack, member of a Conservative Synagogue, has been advocating, locally and internationally, for intactivism. She is founder and director of the Literacy & Language Center in Boulder, Colorado.


~~~~

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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