Jewish circumcision - references

In support of Brit Shalom/Shelem - supplement


What the Rambam says about Milah
Chapel Hill News, January 10, 2001: A delicate ritual
New York Magazine, May 21, 2001: Live and Uncut
North, June 9, 2002: Sacred practice or unnecessary procedure?
Sechum, The newsletter of Machar, the Washington Congregation for Secular Humanistic Judaism, March 2001
Official policy statement on Circumcision of Secular and Humanistic Judaism

Next page
Jerusalem Post, 21 November 2002: A cut above the rest
The Guardian, January 19, 2003: British editor boasted of being an intact Jew
Mothering Magazine, August 20, 2005: My Son: The Little Jew with a Foreskin
October 3, 2005: A New Year's gift
Toronto Globe and Mail, May 22, 2007 : Jewish, and uncircumcised
Chicago Tribune, May 22, 2007: Some Jewish parents break ranks over circumcision


What the Rambam says about Milah

Maimonides, Moses
The Guide of the Perplexed
  Translated by Shlomo Pines
The University of Chicago Press, 1963
(Many scholars consider this to be
the most authoritative translation to date.)

Similarly with regard to circumcision, one of the reasons for it is, in my opinion, the wish to bring about a decrease in sexual intercourse and a weakening of the organ in question, so that this activity be diminished and the organ be in as quiet a state as possible. It has been thought that circumcision perfects what is defective congenitally. This gave the possibility to everyone to raise an objection and to say: How can natural things be defective so that they need to be perfected from outside, all the more because we know how useful the foreskin is for that member? In fact this commandment has not been prescribed with a view to perfecting what is defective congenitally, but to perfecting what is defective morally. The bodily pain caused to that member is the real purpose of circumcision. None of the activities necessary for the preservation of the individual is harmed thereby, nor is procreation rendered impossible, but violent concupiscence and lust that goes beyond what is needed are diminished. 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.  In my opinion this is the strongest of the reasons for circumcision.

p. 609.

According to me circumcision has another very important meaning, namely, that all people professing this opinion-that is, those who believe in the unity of God-should have a bodily sign uniting them so that one who does not belong to them should not be able to claim that he was one of them, while being a stranger. For he would do this in order to profit by them or to deceive the people who profess this religion. Now a man does not perform this act upon himself or upon a son of his unless it be in consequence of a genuine belief. For it is not like an incision in the leg or a burn in the arm, but is a very, very hard thing.

It is also well known what degree of mutual love and mutual help exists between people who all bear the same sign, which forms for them a sort of covenant and alliance. Circumcision is a covenant made by Abraham our Father with a view to the belief in the unity of God. Thus everyone who is circumcised joins Abraham's covenant. This covenant imposes the obligation to believe in the unity of God: To be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.  This also is a strong reason, as strong as the first, which may be adduced to account for circumcision; perhaps it is even stronger than the first.

The perfection and perpetuation of this Law can only be achieved if circumcision is performed in childhood. For this there are three wise reasons. The first is that if the child were let alone until he grew up, he would sometimes not perform it. The second is that a child does not suffer as much pain as a grown-up man because his membrane is still soft and his imagination weak; for a grown-up man would regard the thing, which he would imagine before it occurred, as terrible and hard. The third is that the parents of a child that is just born take lightly matters concerning it, for up to that time the imaginative form that compels the parents to love it is not yet consolidated. [This contradicts the claim that circumcision is done with love.] For this imaginative form increases through habitual contact and grows with the growth of the child. Then it begins to decrease and to disappear, I refer to this imaginative form. For the love of the father and of the mother for the child when it has just been born is not like their love for it when it is one year old, and their love for it when it is one year old is not like their love when it is six years old. Consequently if it were left uncircumcised for two or three years, this would necessitate the abandonment of circumcision because of the father's love and affection for it. At the time of its birth, on the other hand, this imaginative form is very weak, especially as far as concerns the father upon whom this commandment is imposed.

p. 609-610

The fact that circumcision is performed on the eighth day is due to the circumstance that all living beings are very weak and exceedingly tender when they are born, as if they were still in the womb. This is so until seven days are past. It is only then that they are counted among those who have contact with the air. Do you not see that this point is also taken into account with regard to beasts? - Seven days shall it be with its dam, and so on.  It is as if before that period it were an abortion. Similarly with regard to man; he is circumcised after seven days have passed. In this way the matter is fixed: You do not make out of it something that varies.

This class of commandments also includes the prohibition against mutilating the sexual organs of all the males of animals, which is based on the principle of righteous statutes and judgments,  I mean the principle of keeping the mean in all matters; sexual intercourse should neither be excessively indulged, as we have mentioned, nor wholly abolished. Did He not command and say: Be fruitful and multiply? Accordingly this organ is weakened by means of circumcision, but not extirpated through excision. What is natural is left according to nature, but measures are taken against excess. He that is wounded in the stones or hath his privy member cut off is forbidden to marry a woman of Israel, for such cohabitation would be perverted and aimless. Such a marriage would likewise be a stumblingblock for the woman and for him who seeks her out. This is very clear. 

p. 611


One of many Jews wrestling with circumcision:

Chapel Hill News, Illinois

Village Voices Wednesday, January 10, 2001

A delicate ritual


On Saturday I attended a brit milah, Hebrew for the covenant of circumcision. The baby boy was, according to Jewish law, eight days old and healthy. Also according to Jewish law, he was incomplete and the surgical alteration that marked him as a Jew had to be performed to complete him in the eyes of God and man.

This ritual marking is the most ancient of Jewish rites mentioned early in Chapter 17 of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. The Orthodox Jews answer the question of why did not God create boys already circumcised, saying that both the physical and spiritual aspects of the (hu)man need to be perfected by acts in this world. That perfecting starts with the circumcision. It is done on the eighth day to indicate, symbolically, that the physical creation is complete and this is time to begin creation of the soul.

There are a variety of religious answers to why Jewish girls are not circumcised, ranging from "they are already perfect in God's eyes" to a much more patriarchal approach that essentially keeps them out of a covenant with God. There is no equivalent naming or blessing ceremony in traditional Jewish religious practice although most modern Jews formally name and bless their girl children.

While there is no indication that the ancient form included a prayer service, set ritual and liturgy, the service now used is codified and generally done at home. Aside from any pain and trauma, the ritual is long and loving, beginning the night before the ceremony with the father and his colleagues staying up all night studying the Torah at the new born's bedside. Young children are invited in to say prayers over the newborn and are rewarded with sweets.

The day of the brit, the boy's mother hands the baby to the woman of a pre-selected honored couple, godparents, who hands him to the man of that couple, who places him in a special chair reserved for Elijah, the prophet. Elijah is said to be invited to all brits as an honored guest. The sandek, or honored man (like a grandfather), picks up the baby and is designated to hold him during the ceremony. Candles are lit and a series of blessings are recited over the act, the naming of the child and sanctifying the child as a Jew. During this series of prayers, either the child's father or the mohel, or ritual circumciser acting as his agent, does the cutting. For extensive information on the ceremony, see two Web sites " and "

While the ritual is beautiful, it is also chilling. This is a blood sacrifice, a very ancient tribal rite. In the dozen or so brits I have attended, I have never failed to get a chill up my spine when the prayers are being recited invoking the covenant between Abraham and God. Maybe it's because I remember that Abraham was 99 years old when he was summoned by God. Or some visceral memory of my own experience. I have seen many mothers of these baby boys, including my sister-in-law, then a neo-natal nurse, leave the room during the act.

An infant is being subjected to what is now widely perceived as a medically unnecessary procedure. In fact, the mohel said to me on Saturday, "I do not recommend this for non-Jews." The American Association of Pediatricians does not endorse it anymore. Nonetheless Jews have clung to this rite almost more intensely than any other. Even now, many Russian Jewish immigrant adults who were not circumcised at birth, due to fears of anti-Semitism, immediately seek out a ritual circumcision on arrival in this country or Israel. Strong medicine. Powerful ritual.

The ritual has its detractors. In fact, a whole industry has risen in the past 10 years to try to eliminate secular circumcision, and some have also included religiously based ritual in their call for abolition of this "unnecessary operation." Recent books including Billy Ray Boyd's "Exposing Circumcision," Ronald Goldman's (not the deceased waiter) "Circumcision, the Hidden Trauma" and his somewhat heretical "Questioning Circumcision, a Jewish Perspective" pile up evidence that the majority culture in this country may have erred in adopting circumcision as a universal approach. They are having an effect; circumcision rates have fallen dramatically in this country -- below 50 percent in some states.

What of the religious ritual so fiercely protected and defended by many Jews around the world for thousands of years and still almost universally embraced? Is it more than a cultural rite of passage justified by biblical writings? How does a modern person, confronted with the evidence of medical non-necessity and possible trauma, rationalize this act when his religion has eliminated many other customs also commanded in the Bible such as animal sacrifice and stoning people to death for various crimes.

Finally, given the recent world-wide attention and general opposition to involuntary female circumcision, how does one reconcile support for his own cultural norm of circumcising the male in a way that will similarly, though not as completely, reduce his future sensitivity and responsiveness.

My attendance at the inherently joyful event of greeting a new baby on its entry into the covenant and to humankind was not supposed to evoke such contradictory feelings and thoughts. My attendance at the brit milah and meal afterwards I considered a mitzvah or good deed and still do. The contradictory thoughts and feelings are mine to wrestle with.

Blair Pollock lives in Chapel Hill where he frequently wrestles with the contradictions and often loses. He can be reached at or 932-2019.

Parents say 'No' to circumcision

It is no wonder that Blair Pollock ("A delicate ritual," Jan. 10) has observed many mothers leave the room during their son's Jewish ritual circumcision. They cannot bear to watch their precious newborn infant being harmed.

Other Jewish mothers are recognizing they do not have to accept this situation passively. Maternal instincts are awakening around the question of circumcision, resulting in women claiming power and responsibility for the care of their infants. One mother asked, "If a women is made to distrust her most basic instinct to protect her newborn child, what feelings can she ever trust?" Another mother, in conflict with her husband about circumcision, reported she "became like a mother lion protecting her cub," and her son was not circumcised.

A few mothers feel so strongly about their child's welfare that they would do "whatever it takes" to protect their child from circumcision.

As Pollock notes, attitudes toward circumcision are changing, and the evidence is persuasive. According to recent reports, circumcision is extremely painful and traumatic, results in a significant loss of erogenous tissue, is associated with psychological harm and altered sexual behavior, and raises legal questions. Those in doubt believe that the conservative choice is not to circumcise.

Because no national medical organization in the world recommends circumcision, while only a few medical extremists continue to promote it for "potential" health reasons, the debate has shifted to ethical issues. Ethics is at the core of Judaism. It is also at the core of circumcision critics' concerns. The Golden Rule applies: Would you consent to any unnecessary cutting of your genitals? Circumcision challenges us to empathize with newborn infants.

More than ever, Jewish parents are recognizing that circumcision is a choice, and because it involves hurting another human being, it is an ethical decision. Dismissing, trivializing, or rationalizing that hurt occurs in the minds of adults, but that self-deception does not diminish the pain of the person subjected to genital cutting. Furthermore, as adult circumcised men are telling us, that pain does not stop but can change form and continue for a lifetime.

I appreciate Pollock's personal and honest description of his struggle with the issue and wish him well as he wrestles with contradictory thoughts, feelings, and questions. I hope that more Jews will ask questions, whether they expect a child or not. As a community, we need to do this collectively.

Ronald Goldman
Boston, Mass.

Human rights and circumcision

Mr. Pollock should finish wrestling with his conscience over the question of circumcision ("A delicate ritual," Jan. 10) and wake up to a new era of human rights that respects the inalienable and non-negotiable right that another human being has to keep their body intact.

I find the covenant of circumcision impossible to accept because it violates the healthy body of a non-consenting boy. As Jews acknowledge barriers to their faith, they have been changing their traditions to match their contemporary understanding. This process began over 150 years ago with the founding of the Reform movement and continues today in all aspects of Jewish life. Judaism can survive and prosper without ritual circumcision. Jews can still be Jews and choose to protect their baby boys (and the men they will become) from this unnecessary physical harm.

Very few Jews actually choose to be circumcised. Furthermore, non-observant Jewish fathers have long been following the American locker room tradition when it comes to circumcising their sons, not Jewish law. What began as an act of faith now survives for many American Jews because of petty social pressure and out-of-date medical beliefs.

Scientific evidence of the pain and harm from male circumcision is not lacking today. What is lacking is the willingness to look at this evidence in a rational manner, free from cultural and religious bias. In contrast, the slightest cutting of a girl's genitals by a well-intentioned community wishing to continue their own ancient traditions has been a felony under U.S. law since 1996.

Little do the Jewish circumcisers know today that they are now circumcising a generation of plaintiffs who will someday claim these losses in a class-action lawsuit filed against them.

Norman L. Cohen
Birmingham, Mich.


New York Magazine
May 21, 2001

Live and Uncut

With circumcision rates dropping in America, some squeamish Jews are trying out a bloodless Bris. But is it kosher?


A man holds his newborn grandson before the crowd and announces that the uncircumcised tot is "whole" and "perfect" in God's image, says a prayer, drinks some wine, puts him down, and has brunch. The only knife involved is the one used to cut the bagels.

You call that a Bris?

... the kid's mom ... defied that most basic of Jewish tenets last month by hosting the cut-less "Bris Shalom." "There's no reason to hurt my child to prove he's Jewish," she says.

While there's no hard data that Jews are turning away from it in droves, America's world-leading circumcision rates have been dropping for two decades, thanks to doctors' increasing ambivalence and the effects of anti- circumcision activists. Books such as Ronald Goldman's Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma and Kristen and Jeffrey O'Hara's Sex as Nature Intended It argue against it, and groups like noharmm, nocirc, and norm are getting their message out via the Internet.

"I'm busier than ever," says Moshe Rothenberg, a "Jewish educator" who officiates at the sliceless ceremonies. He admits that three quarters of his clients are "not affiliated with a congregation," but describes them as "very committed, secular and cultural Jews" who have concluded that circumcision is one ritual, like sacrificing a lamb, for which they no longer have a use. Or, as one 31-year-old Jewish man, who chose not to circumcise his son last year, explains it: "I thought about how I don't go to temple or keep kosher and I began to see that my original attachment to circumcision was arbitrary."

Anti-circumcision activist Goldman said he's heard from "hundreds" of Jewish parents who've skipped circumcision. "Often, it's when they hear a child scream at a Bris, or they read about the 'hygiene myth,' or they just believe their child is perfect the way he is."

It's not that rabbis aren't sympathetic. "Even I get chills," says Rabbi Yael Ridberg of the West End Synagogue. "No parents want to intentionally cause pain."

But to the devout, Bris Shalom is an inherent contradiction that gropes for legitimacy in biblical inconsistencies or out-of-context quotes. After all, circumcision is nothing less than a commandment handed down by God himself in Genesis: "The child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised . . . shall be cut off from his people."

"The covenant between God and Abraham involved cutting -- for better or worse," says Ridberg. "It is inscribed in your heart and in your flesh."

But [the mother] -- who doesn't doubt her Jewishness -- felt the inscription could be limited to one place: "My son's faith will exist in his heart, just not in his genitals."



Sacred practice or unnecessary procedure?

Sunday, June 09, 2002

Staff Writer

During her recent pregnancy, Rachel struggled for a way to balance the weight of 2,800 years of religious tradition with the overwhelming protective emotions she felt for her unborn boy.

Rachel and her husband are Jewish, and every male born to their families - as far back as the biblical Abraham, presumably -had been circumcised. But Rachel made up her mind that she wouldn't have that done to her son.

"I didn't want my baby cut," says Rachel, a North Jersey resident who asked that her real name not be used. "There's something deeply corrupted about it. It's a traumatic and barbaric thing."

Her husband's stance kept Rachel awake at night. He disagreed. He wanted his son, as she tells it, to "look like him."

"It's a very loaded issue," Rachel says. "People are not aware of the feelings they have about circumcision."

While the number of hospital circumcisions in the United States has risen slightly over the last two decades, a growing number of Jewish families are questioning their religion's most sacrosanct ritual - cutting the foreskin off an 8-day-old baby's penis.

"There's been a noticeable increase in interest the last three or four years," says Ronald Goldman of the Circumcision Resource Center in Boston. "Lots of people don't want to make it public, but we get hundreds of contacts from Jewish families."

In most cases, the apostasy is initiated by the mother. The force of her emotions is often pitted against the combined influence of her husband, the baby's grandparents, the religious community, and the formidable power of centuries-old, Bible-sanctioned practice.

"Women are tormented," says Laurie Evans, a Jewish anti-circumcision activist who lives in Westchester County, N.Y. "They don't want to renounce their religion, but they want to protect their children."

The ritual, called a bris or b'rit milah, dates to the beginning of Judaism. It is performed by a specially trained rabbi, called a mohel, as part of a religious ceremony, often in the parents' home, and is followed by a feast. The bris is so central to Jewish life that, by Jewish law, it supersedes observance of the Sabbath or Yom Kippur, Judaism's holiest days.

"There is no more sacred rite in Judaism," says Rabbi Stephen Wylen of Temple Beth Tikvah, a Reform synagogue in Wayne. "To be Jewish and not to be circumcised is to be outside the fold."

Genesis 17:10-14 mandates that a Jewish boy be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth.

"This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised," God commands Abraham, the Jewish patriarch. "Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."

Twenty-eight centuries later, the threat of shunning - as well as the fear of disappointing generations of ancestors, some of whom died defending their loyalty to Judaism -still weighs heavily on Jewish parents.

Leah, another Jewish mother against circumcision who requested anonymity, says that during her pregnancy she was a "crazy woman with hormones" who faced the opposition of her husband, who "didn't want to go against God," and her father-in-law, who told her that if the baby wasn't circumcised, "something negative would happen to the boy."

"You don't want to be so arrogant as to question God," Leah says. "I want my family to be Jewish, and I want my son to identify himself as Jewish. But it was my baby's sex organ. I couldn't let anyone hurt him."

Leah says the birth of a healthy boy and her insistence the baby not be cut stopped familial debate on the subject - the procedure wasn't done - and eight months later, "we don't talk about it." But her husband's stance had surprised her.

"He gave religious reasons for having our son circumcised," she says. "And it's funny, because he really doesn't go to synagogue. He's not that religious."

In fact, activists say circumcision is often the only Jewish ritual many secular Jewish fathers feel compelled to conduct.

"They don't observe the Sabbath, they eat pork, they even marry non-Jewish women, but they insist on a circumcision," Evans says. "I don't get it."

Wylen says that while an uncircumcised boy can still be a Jew, "it's shameful if you're Jewish not to circumcise."

"God made the world imperfect," Wylen says. "He gave us the responsibility to perfect it." Without a circumcised penis, "one doesn't represent the perfection of the human body that's required to enter the covenant with God."

Adam, a North Jersey father who spoke on condition of anonymity, says his uncircumcised 11-year-old son, a Hebrew school student preparing for his bar mitzvah, is unaware his body is different from other Jewish boys'.

"He showers all the time in the gym locker room and nobody says anything to him about it," Adam says. "It's never been an issue."

But Rabbi Michael Goldstein of the Glen Rock Jewish Center, a Conservative congregation, says an uncircumcised boy studying for his bar mitzvah is "not a desirable thing."

"I don't know if I'd allow it," Goldstein says. "I don't think I'd let it get to that stage. I'd have significant, serious conversations with the family long before we reached the point where the child was preparing to become a bar mitzvah. I'd be trying to convince the parents to have the boy circumcised."

Many of the Jewish couples questioning ritual circumcision would agree with the rabbis that the decision to have a bris is not an intellectual one. For the observant Jew, "it's a practice based in belief," Goldstein says. For Rachel and Leah, their maternal impulse to protect their newborns was beyond argument.

"I feel sickened by the idea," Rachel says. "Female circumcision makes the front page of The New York Times, but [male] circumcision is accepted as common practice."

In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics, citing evidence that the procedure has little or no medical benefit, halted its longtime advocacy of routine hospital circumcision. [Or rather, it changed from one ambivalent position to another.] The pediatricians' group also suggested for the first time that infants receive anesthetic medication before they are circumcised - a practice that today is usually skipped in the hospital and during the bris.

In a bris, the child is held by his godfather while family and friends look on. The mohel may dip his finger in wine and feed the wine to the child - a traditional method of helping the baby deal with pain. Prayers are recited and the mohel usually explains the significance of the event. Then the cutting begins.

The mohel pulls forward the foreskin with a hemostat -a pair of surgical pliers - then slides a specially designed clamp called a "mogen" along the head of the penis and onto the foreskin. Using the mogen as a guide, the mohel then slices enough of the foreskin to expose the head of the penis and the junction where it meets the shaft. The boy bleeds, and the wound is dabbed with gauze and bandaged. In most cases it takes less than two days for the cut to heal.

"Two things are required in a ritual circumcision," says Rabbi Gerald Chirnomas, a Boonton mohel who estimates he's performed 13,000 ceremonies. "The first, of course, is the removal of the foreskin. And the second, which many people don't know, is the shedding of blood, which is mandated by the Bible."

Chirnomas cites Ezekiel 16:6: "Live by your blood." [In context, this refers to a newborn's placental and umbilical blood. {Ez 16:4} If enough blood were shed from circumcision for a baby to "struggle in" it, he would probably die.]

Hospital circumcision differs in instrumentation as well as spiritual significance. A device called a Gomco clamp is usually used in hospital procedures, which critics say simply takes too long.

Hospital circumcision remains the most commonly performed surgery in the United States. Circumcision's contemporary secular roots can be traced to the Victorian era, when it was believed to be a cure for masturbation. And while most of the world eschews the practice, 65.3 percent of American hospital newborns were circumcised in 1999, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. In 1979, the figure was 64.3 percent. [It has since fallen below 50%.]

Though Rachel decided against a bris without the influence of statistics or the recommendations of medical organizations, she had no idea if her husband would agree with her.

"I left the decision up to him," Rachel says. "It was difficult for me, but he appreciated it."

Rachel's husband never told her what his decision was. It became clear to Rachel only after he phoned his mother to announce the boy's birth.

"I knew the question was coming, right after my husband told her it was a boy," Rachel says.

It was a question that's been asked by Jewish grandmothers for 2,800 years: When's the bris?

There wouldn't be a bris, Rachel's husband told his mother. And when his mother asked him why, Rachel's husband answered, "It's not for us."

"I'm delighted," Rachel says. "I always go back to the idea that in this generation, a loving father can make a decision he wasn't allowed to make for himself."

(Originally at the Bergen Record.)



The number of Israeli Jewish families who have decided to leave their boys intact has significantly increased in the last three years. Philosophy professor Hanoch Ben Yami at the University of Tel Aviv reports that fewer than one family a year didn't circumcise its son until about 1998. In January 2002, nearly 200 such families existed. A 2007 survey found 3% of Israeli Jewish respondents had not or would not circumcise their sons. A community of families with intact boys has been established, to encourage and support other families considering leaving their son's bodies alone. The community, called "Kahal - the Israeli society of caring parents", is now two years old. All have at least one intact boy, most only one. All the families are Israelis. Few if any are of two immigrant parents and in most, both parents were born in Israel. Kahal members know of many others outsite the group. Some come to only one of the frequent meetings where circumcision issues are discussed, decide not to circumcise, but do not return. For more information about Kahal, email Their website is .

There's also a "circumcision for and against" forum on the Israel Online website, mainly in Hebrew, at

Kahal maintains a discussion in Hebrew on the Tapuz website.


The newsletter of Machar, the Washington Congregation for Secular Humanistic Judaism
March 2001

Viewpoint: Circumcision . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

One Expectant Jewish Mother's View

“It’s a girl,” were the sweetest words I’ve ever heard. The stress caused by the issue of circumcision became evident the moment my daughter Heather was born. I felt tremendous relief; a huge burden lifted from my shoulders. As a Jew, I felt strong pressure to conform. But I couldn’t bear the thought of amputating a healthy body part and causing my child unnecessary trauma.

Now I’m expecting my second child, a boy. I’ve immersed myself in circumcision information, finishing several books, browsing Web sites, and joining an Internet discussion group. Here is what I’ve learned.

The foreskin is a normal structure with important functions. The outer foreskin layer is an extension of the penis skin. The inner foreskin lining is a mucous membrane that secretes emollients, lubricants, and protective antibodies, which keep the glans soft and supple. In childhood, it protects the glans and the urinary opening from feces and urine. Hygienic care of the normal penis is perfectly simple. Diligent cleaning with soap and water is all that is needed.

Removing the foreskin hampers the sexual experience. The foreskin contains specialized nerve receptors, more abundant there than in any other part of the penis, making it one of the more erotogenic of all male body tissues. It contains more than 3 feet of veins, 240 feet of nerves, and 20,000 nerve endings. Circumcision removes about a third of the penile skin, thus reducing the pleasure it senses. Men who have been circumcised as adults testify to experiencing loss of sensitivity and function.

Circumcision creates unnecessary surgical risks and complications. One of every 500 circumcisions results in a serious complication. [This estimate is conservative.] Common complications are bleeding, infection, and the removal of either too much or too little skin. More serious problems include deformities, loss of penis, and even death. There are no legitimate medical reasons to circumcise. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), existing data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision. The incidence of penile and cervical cancer in Europe, for example, where circumcision is rarely done, is no higher than in the U.S. While intact males have an increased risk of urinary tract infections, the risk of such an infection is low (at most 1%).

Cutting off the foreskin hurts. Studies confirm the extreme pain associated with circumcision. While the AAP recommends that circumcision only be performed with analgesia, its effect wears off before the post-operative pain does. The U.S. is the only country that routinely circumcises most (60%) of its newborn males for other than religious reasons. In England, the circumcision rate dropped to almost zero when the national health care system stopped paying for it. [or rather, when it was decided the new system would not start paying for it.] There is money in circumcision. U.S. doctors earn an estimated $150 to $270 million each year, for approximately 1.2 million procedures.

Within Judaism, circumcision has changed. For 2000 years, Jews removed only the foreskin tip. During the Hellenistic period, when public bathing was common and a circumcised penis was considered offensive, many Jews disguised their circumcisions. Rabbis then began requiring the removal of the entire foreskin.

Circumcision is not a requirement of Judaism. The Encyclopedia Judaica states, “it [circumcision] is not a sacrament, and any child born of a Jewish mother is a Jew, whether circumcised or not.” Intact Jewish males can lead Jewish lives. Intact American Jews report that being circumcised has not been an issue for them, their friends, or their parents. Jewish law allows families to forgo circumcision when previous children have died following circumcision.

There is a growing anti-circumcision movement in the U.S and in Israel. Alternative bris ceremonies, for example, are readily available on the Web. Most Jews circumcise their sons for cultural, not religious, reasons—to be part of the tribe, to establish a connection with other Jews. Circumcision continues because of misinformation, tradition, stubbornness, money, fear, silence, and the power of conformity. While Jews value human rights, we ignore our sons’ rights to their natural, whole bodies. I will not circumcise my son. My family plans to have an alternative bris ceremony eight days after his birth. Instead of affirming a covenant with God, my covenant will be with my son—to do my best to protect him from harm.

—Brenda Platt

I welcome your response. Please e-mail me at

(While most families in Humanistic Judaism continue to have their sons circumcised for reasons of Jewish tradition and/or perceived medical benefit, the Humanistic Judaism movement has no position on circumcision. If anyone has a different viewpoint or additional information regarding circumcision, we will be happy to print a further article on this ancient and controversial subject.)


from Machar June 2002:

It was also reported that the Leadership Conference of Secular and Humanistic Jews (the professional certifying organization for madrikhim and humanistic rabbis) issued a statement on circumcision and Jewish identity that has three main points:

  1. Circumcision is not required for Jewish identity.
  2. Parents should make informed choices about circumcision.
  3. Naming and welcoming ceremonies should be egalitarian and separate from circumcision.


Official policy statement on Circumcision of Secular and Humanistic Judaism

Circumcision and Jewish Identity


The ceremony of welcoming a child to the world and to the Jewish people can be one of the most meaningful and exciting experiences. It is a tradition of the Jewish people to celebrate the arrival of sons with Brit Milah (ritual circumcision or " Bris"), yet our commitment to the equality of men and women inspires us to create new welcoming ceremonies. Secular and Humanistic Jews do not see Milah (circumcision) as a sign of a Brit (covenant), but circumcision may retain cultural or personal significance for some.


We, the Leadership Conference of Secular and Humanistic Jews, mindful of both our commitments to Jewish identity and to gender equality, affirm that:

We welcome into the Jewish community all who identify with the history, culture and fate of the Jewish people. Circumcision is not required for Jewish identity.

We support parents making informed decisions whether or not to circumcise their sons. We affirm their right to choose, and we accept and respect their choice.

Naming and welcoming ceremonies should be egalitarian. We recommend separating circumcision from welcoming ceremonies.

Leadership Conference of Secular and Humanistic Jews - April 7, 2002


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