Banning Circumcision in SF
(Warning: contains adult content)
So let me get this right…you can pierce it…you can tattoo it…and in some cases you can show it off while dancing and in others cut it off entirely! These are your rights. But what you simply cannot do is keep a covenant with G-d and have a circumcision on the eighth day of life. Hmmm. This November voters in San Francisco will have the opportunity to vote on a ban that should it pass will make it illegal to circumcise under the age of eighteen.
Normally, I shy away from making statements about the ‘war on religion’ as I have heard it stated, as it has always rung a little paranoid if not outright ‘fringe element’ in my ears, but this argument under the circumstances makes itself. Who else, after all is bound, and I do mean bound, to have one? The importance of the event is underscored in the Torah when Moses’ wife performs her son’s bris herself in Exodus. “So Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched his leg with it, saying, ‘you are truly a bride groom of blood to me’ “ And by doing so she saves Moses’ life as G-d was prepared to kill him for having not carried out this command.
I am also reminded of the story of Jonah and the big fish. Many people seem to gloss over the fact that Jonah ended up in the fish because he was trying to avoid what G-d asked of him. He was to go to Nineveh and foretell of its destruction. (The message stands out, that one can return to G-d, if one is sincere. This is bore out with the timing of this reading, as it takes place on the Day of Atonement.) But another message is clear as well-when G-d asks us to do something; it is not really a conversation. It seems best, with us as with Jonah, not to try to avoid his “requests”.
While arguments have been made regarding the relative health benefits of circumcision, and they are many, reduced instances of urinary infections, reduced risk of other infections such as herpes and syphilis, and the Human Papilloma Virus which causes cervical cancer in women (British Medical Journal), the fact of the matter is it that for Jewish people it is first and foremost a religious ritual.
Many laws are designed to save us from ourselves and to this I say, if you dislike the practice of circumcision, you find it wrong or inappropriate then don’t practice it. But don’t interfere with a religious obligation that you do not understand. And I know there will be arguments that people do understand…so let me say that if YOU are not obligated to have your child circumcised then don’t. But don’t force your options on the people who practice this for religious reasons and view this practice in an entirely different light. And I encourage lawmakers and others who wish to understand the practice better, to make an appointment with a Rabbi (A Jewish one-which I know sounds redundant, but I have found people who use this title and are not.) because this is a person who, having studied for years and years, understands the laws.
The arguments comparing circumcision to female genital mutilation while numerous and varied are moot, because the two are incomparable. It is an effort to sensationalize the argument and thus gain support for a law that would undermine the religious freedoms of many. The argument wants my heart to go out to women who are abused in the most indelicate and unsanitary of circumstances and it does. But I am also moved as much, in my heart and in my soul, by the thought of the tragic possibility of a Jewish man deprived of a bris.