Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Interesting Stimulus Response

I just came across this article, which includes a link at the end with a response from the "other side" (my side).

http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/my-body-my-choice-ban-non-consensual-circumcision

And the response

http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/becoming-a-jew-is-dangerous-circumcision-is-the-least-of-it

Were I to respond to the original author (and I might here eventually) [Update: Response Part I, and Response Part II]  I would take issue with a lot of his points. I'll just respond to one here, becomes it is brought up a lot by people who make similar arguments:

The author quotes Maimonides - and takes the same quote that many people who areanti-circumcision like to quote from "The Guide tothe Perplexed" [3.49 (118a), 609] in which Maimonides expressed how circumcisiondecreases physical sensitivity. 

But their quotation of Maimonides is always incomplete, and therefore intellectually dishonest. Maimonides is coming from the perspective that there is a lot more to life than "running like chickens to one's bedroom."

In the part they don't quote, Maimonides outlines why we circumcise. Avraham was the first to recognize the power of the male "drive" and the need to have other pursuits in life [see Hilchot De'ot 3:2]. More importantly, in his day (certainly before any notion of routine circumcision that exists in the United States today), circumcision gave our people a common physical sign of our peoplehood, along with the faith that this is what God has asked of us. 

The covenant forged with Avraham, in which God agreed "to be a God for you and for your children after you" [as described in Bereshit 17] is the source for declaring God's oneness.

[As to Maimonides' real reason for why we circumcise, see here]

Maimonides states unequivocally that the Torah cannot be properly fulfilled without circumcision. He shares three points of wisdom in the process of circumcising at this age: 1. Were we to leave it for the child to do when he grows older, there's a great chance that he wouldn't do it. 2. The long-term pain experienced by an older person, who will add emotional stress to the ordeal, does not compare to the when-it's-over-it's-done experience of a newborn 3. Submitting a newborn to circumcision is much easier than an older child, for whom our love only grows over time, who experiences pain differently and who might remember it.

To Maimonides first point here, the author of the first "Tikkun" article quoted above might say, "That's exactly my point!" But to a Jew who has faith in God and appreciates that life itself is a gift from God, and that our bodies are given to us to house our souls, circumcision is a non-question. [See a discussion on the subject of God's creation versus Man's intervention here]

To the second point (which follows, once we assume circumcision will be taking place), Maimonides is essentially arguing that when a child is newly born, circumcision is not as traumatic as it might be at a later age. As a mohel, my experience echoes such a sentiment. Most babies are calm and cooing minutes after their circumcision, if not resting quite peacefully, and no worse the wear. Contrast this with the father of a baby, who was born in Russia, and told me how grateful he was that this was being taken care of in infancy while he personally was circumcised at age 18 and remembers the pain of the experience as one of the most difficult times in his life ("Couldn't walk for weeks!").

These days, even many Muslims have switched from the older practice of circumcising at 13 or a younger age of childhood, opting for the newborn period, which is far less traumatic and entirely forgettable.

CONCLUSION
I readily admit that in the general culture the to circ or not to circ question is a legitimate one that people can debate. But for Jews who observe this commandment, there is no question, need for further rationale, or discussion to be had (aside from "which mohel," "where will the party take place" and "who is catering").

With blessings for happy occasions and many celebrations of the births of Jewish children, and the occasional bris (on the boys only), may we continue to fulfill God's commandments until the end of time.

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