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Welcome to -  the most comprehensive and up to date mohel blog on the internet . My name is Avi Billet, and I am so ...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bris: Not Barbaric

Someone sent me a message on Facebook which said something along the lines of "What kind of person harms the integrity of the genitals? How do you live with yourself?" As I have mentioned here, this is not the forum to respond to the anti-circumcision people. This is a pro-bris website. So I choose to ignore (as in, not respond) to comments like this, because they serve no purpose. But in the event that an anti circumcision person comes across this discussion, I will try to explain here what I believe you (the anti-circumcision person) might not be able to understand.

Before I do, however, I want to bring an analogy, and let us see if this makes any sense. There are numerous studies out there that debate the efficacy of breast augmentation surgery (the outcomes are more unanimously against - as in, because the procedure is unhealthy). I am not talking about when a reduction is necessary for health reasons. I am talking about when a woman takes her naturally grown (no matter the size) healthy breasts and has an elective surgery in which silicone (or some other foreign object) is placed inside the body. I understand that there may be an emotional side to some of these decisions, where one's self image or femininity is negatively affected. But it's not always the case. And, at least the way society paints the picture, this is a common procedure that people do electively. And while people may cry out saying "You shouldn't do this to yourself!" the fact is that this doesn't stop the myriads of women who go under the knife for a look that they think is more attractive [it probably attracts more attention, but many will debate if it's actually more attractive]. I recognize, of course, that this is a choice that "adults" make about their own bodies – and this is very different than a choice made by adults about someone else's body, particularly that of an infant. I will address this below.

As most of my audience are those looking for information regarding mohels and brisses and how to have the best kind of experience when having a bris, the question is a non-issue. I have addressed the "barbaric" question before. 

And, out of respect for my intended audience, I will answer this question in the simplest way I can.

"Intactivists" and those who obsess over their anti-circumcision campaigns have a little too much time on their hands. [I addressed my specific issues with them as relatedto the proposed circumcision ban in San Francisco in 2011, which was later thrown off the ballot by a judge (not because of my article).

Suffice it to say, easily 95% of the circumcised male population don't give any thought to it, and most are glad it was taken care of when they were babies. Ask most adults who opt to circumcise as adults (for whatever reason) and they will usually tell you "I wish I had it done when I was a baby, so I wouldn't know what it feels like and I wouldn't remember it."

Why is it not barbaric and how can I live with myself?

The objective medical community has the following perspectives on circumcision (some contradict one another, because opinions vary)
  1. Circumcision is unnecessary
  2. Circumcision is beneficial and brings down the percentage possibilities of developing certain illnesses and diseases
  3. It is a simple "nothing" of a procedure
  4. Because it heals so quickly, it is really not a big deal.
  5. It removes sensitive nerve endings that might make intercourse a different experience as an adult.
  6. It doesn't change the experience (of #5) all that much
  7. Having a circumcision (done properly) may or may not give the baby long term trauma. Babies tend to get over it rather quickly and live normal lives with or without having been circumcised.
This last note would indicate what everyone knows to be true. A circumcision (done properly) does not alter one's life. The organ functions the same – in some cases (ie phimosis, severe webbing, etc) it functions better, and it can still do its jobs without incident. It can not even be compared to barbaric acts such as whipping or punishing amputations. A hand without a finger is not the same hand. A penis without a foreskin functions in the same way as it did before the foreskin was removed.

On the subject of trauma, I honestly believe that anyone who, as an adult, claims to "remember the trauma" of the experience as an infant, is LYING – pure and simple. They have trauma as an adult, for whatever psychological reason. But this has nothing to do with a memory of the experience.

So, How can I live with myself after being the agent behind foreskin removals?

Because I am a professional who is hired by parents to do this. With the exception of people I know personally (and even then I don't usually), I do not solicit clients. They find me. They call me because they are looking for this service to be provided, and I provide the service. I do not seek out babies to "mutilate."

Most people are happy and emotionally invested in the circumcision taking place. This is what they want.

My mohel teacher was once asked to speak at a bris when I was training. In his speech, he said, "What gives us the right to do this? How do we know the baby agrees with what we're doing? When we ask him, he cries. Maybe he doesn't want anything to do with it!" Rabbi Sasson answered his own question saying, "When a father brings his own son to the bris, he is demonstrating that he 'agrees' with what was done to him. That this is what he has wanted all along for himself." The baby, after all, is his own flesh and blood.

The mitzvah of bris is one Jews who observe Mitzvot (or even just this mitzvah), have been doing for thousands of years with a pretty good track record, and not much complaint until the advent of the original Reform movement (though Reform has largely accepted bris – there is a very large Reform Berit Milah Board), and the last couple of decades of anti-circumcision (Israelis) and anti-establishment secular (very very unaffiliated) Jews in different pockets around the world.

For every one anti-bris Jew, I am sure there are thousands of Jews who are of the other opinion and find the practice to be a very very very strong tradition, one that does not lend itself to much, if any, dissatisfaction or disgust with it.

I have also found this to be the case with non-Jewish people who circumcise for either religious or cultural reasons. They want it, and have no second thoughts about it being "barbaric."

A number of years ago, I wrote a dvar Torah for Parshat Lekh Lekha, which concluded with these two paragraphs:
Because we know in our hearts that the circumcision is but a small sacrifice to make to get God to live up to His end of the deal [see Genesis 17]. That a nation which has experienced downs, such as the Jewish people have experienced, can continue to experience ups – this is the hand of God as revealed as it can ever be. It is what our lives are all about, it is what our experience on this earth is all about.
 We use Avraham’s model of a struggle-filled life to arrive at the unstriking conclusion that the covenant with God is what keeps us going. In the words of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, in his “Tribute to the Rebbetzin of Talne,” we live “to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle pressure of His hand resting upon my frail shoulders.” It is a struggle worth living when the Comforter is so great.

This is what drives me, and why the role I play is an honored one in the Jewish community.

1 comment:

  1. Apparently I've gone down this road before (it's hard to remember everything I've written about):
    See this:
    And part II:


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