“Tanya Gold articulates well the existence of contemporary antisemitism (A ban on male circumcision would be antisemitic. How could it not be?, 12 October). But I think she’s wrong in describing the Council of Europe as antisemitic for including ritual male circumcision in its examples of violations of children’s rights.
I write as a male Jew circumcised at birth in 1958 as part of ritual. I would rather not have been. Yes, male circumcision isn’t as extreme a practice as female genital mutilation. However, I know from personal experience that it results in such problems as desensitised sexual feeling, frequent soreness and occasional bleeding. I believe that this irreversible action is at heart an assault on a child, incapable of giving meaningful consent. I attach no blame to my parents’ generation, who would have made the decision in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and who would have experienced a society more overtly hostile to them. But I find it depressing that contemporary Jews wish to continue the practice.
And she is quite wrong to say all Jews agree on circumcision. Many secular Jews take pride in where we come from, but also have the confidence to explore an identity appropriate to the world we inhabit. For me, that’s an identity that says yes to traditional Jewish elements such as emotional openness, warmth and respect for older people; and no to, for example, physical mutilation, homophobia and misogyny.”
“In fact, Dr. Avshalom Zoossmann-Diskin, one of the most vociferous objectors in Israel to circumcision and the founder of Ben Shalem – an organization which fights circumcision – says that in his many years of anti-circumcision activism he has encountered only one harsh response. That was in 1999, in connection with a petition he submitted to the High Court of Justice against circumcision on the grounds that it violates the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, the Children’s Charter of Rights and criminal law. After the petition was rejected, the interior minister at the time, Eliahu Suissa (Shas) stated that “the petitioner should be thrown out the window.”
The powerful emotions the subject generates is also the reason that some of the interviewees for this article did not want their name published. They wanted to contribute their opinion and personal story − but without making their children the focal point of the struggle against circumcision.
Another group of interviewees agreed to be identified only by their first name, to protect their children’s privacy and leave them the option of talking about the subject when they are older, if they wish. Finally, there were some who agreed to have their full name published, believing that they have no reason to be ashamed of their choice and also being ready to deal with the responses.
Among those in the latter group are Eran and Maya Sadeh, who live in the north of the country. They say that the most shocking piece of information they came across about circumcision, and the one that influenced them most deeply was the view of Maimonides on the subject (see Circumcision in Judaism below). The great 13th century physician and philosopher “accorded emasculating justification to circumcision,” Eran Sadeh says. “He maintained explicitly that it is done in order to affect male sexuality and reduce the pleasure of the sex act. For me, that connected with female circumcision and shocked me. I immediately read up on the physiological aspects and understood that what Maimonides said is correct: Circumcision affects the functioning of the genital organ in sexual relations.
“I connected that with my legal knowledge about human rights and understood that it’s wrong from that point of view as well. You take a person in the most vulnerable and helpless condition and amputate part of his body. Maimonides talks about that, too. Circumcision is performed when the infant is eight days old, because the bond between the parent and the child is not yet very strong and the parent is capable of inflicting this on his son. It is a gross violation of human rights, perpetrated by none other than the child’s parents, those who are responsible for protecting him.”
Maya Sadeh has a son from a previous marriage who underwent circumcision and needed corrective surgery afterward. The complications prompted her to accede easily to her husband’s wish not to have their child circumcised. According to Health Ministry data, in 2010 there were 57 cases of complications following circumcisions performed by a mohel, and a further 19 where the circumcision was performed by a doctor. There were 44,665 Jewish boys born in Israel that year, indicating that the proportion of complications is less than 1 percent. (According to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the committee that oversees the mohelim dealt with 54 cases of complications in 2011.)
“The most frequent complication is bleeding in the first hours after the circumcision. That happens if a blood vessel does not close well,” explains Dr. Daniel Shinhar, a pediatric surgeon. The Rabbinate states that in 2011 there were 48 cases of bleeding.
“The second most frequent complication is infection [5 cases in 2011],” Dr. Shinhar continues. “Following that is potential damage to the organ itself, resulting in amputation of part of the organ [1 case in 2011]. A further complication, which occurs as a result of the circumcision itself and appears later, is the narrowing of the opening of the urethra, thereby causing urination problems.
“Another complication can cause an unsightly cosmetic problem in the form of surplus foreskin. That happens in about 5 percent of circumcisions, but only one in 10 of them will need corrective surgery. It is important to point out that in this case, the surgery is for cosmetic reasons and is unrelated to medical or religious considerations.”