Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Addressing Some of the Anti-Circumcision Claims

The Forward published an article today entitled Anti Circumcision Activists are Making More Noice. Will They Make a Difference?

So I guess it's as good a time as any to address some of their claims against Jewish Circumcision (complain about routine hospital circumcision all you want, but that is not what we are doing.". Of course, it is worthy to note that nothing they say - and I mean nothing - will change how we operate. We don't do this for medical reasons, so any claim about the benefits of the foreskin or the inherent risks of circumcision are irrelevant. (Of course, it should go without saying, I am a big advocate of only trained, responsible professionals operating under safe conditions.)

One of the most inflammatory and ridiculous claims that anti-circumcision advocates make, driven by their belief that circumcision = cruelty to the child, is that Jewish circumcision is anti-Semitic.

Seriously. I am not making that up.

On the simplest level, you can’t take the defining act of Judaism, predating the giving of the Torah itself, commanded twice in the Torah (Bereshit 17 and Vayikra12) and referenced countless times in the Torah and the rest of the Bible, and say it’s anti-Semitic.

You can’t ignore all the references the Bible makes to the non-Jews living in that era, calling them ערלים (foreskinned), sometimes just as identification, and sometimes as a point of denigration, and say that removing the foreskin is anti-Semitic.

Every time I get into an argument with an anti-circumcision activist, a simple summary of the conversation is this: They produce their talking points, and I ignore them because of how fundamental Bris Milah is to who we are. And this gets them even angrier. Sad!

Put another way, they might even be polite in asking questions which go something like this: “I don’t understand why you can’t wait until the boy is 18 and then let him decide” or “Isn’t it true that if a boy has brothers who preceded him who died from circumcision that he doesn’t need to be circumcised and can still be a full Jew?” (technically yes, but for this to happen there would have be a. an undetected family case of hemophilia, b. a really really really bad mohel.) Or they’ll say, “God creates a child perfect.” Or “No God is so cruel that he wants to harm a child!” Or “Why do you sickos need your blood sacrifice?”

Sigh.

Firstly, I find strange irony in atheists, who don’t believe in God, using God when it is convenient for them. Really? You decry any reference to God anywhere, but then you use God to make a claim against Judaism?

Secondly, many of these people who talk about cruelty to the child have no problem at all with taking a healthy baby, while still in utero, and cutting off its limbs and draining its brain. Male or female. I would be willing to bet that every baby, if we could only poll it, would say - A. life with possibility of circumcision, or B. being murdered because I'm inconvenient? "A" please, every time.

Responses to God claims.

1. The God you don’t believe in is not the God I do believe in (thank you Yoel Oz for the great quote!)

2. God commanded circumcision. So to suggest He is cruel is asinine.
[Yes, Genesis 17 also refers to the circumcision of servants/slaves (depending on how the word עבדים is translated). So it is important to remember the following.
     a. Jewish law never mandates “you must own slaves.”
     b. Jewish law (and the Torah) address how you deal with slaves, what their status is in your household, and how you are to treat them. This certainly pertains to a time when slavery or this kind of servanthood was mainstream, as it was in every culture around the world. To suggest that Jews today have slaves (and/or are looking to circumcise them) is dishonest.]

3. When God commanded Abraham to circumcise himself and the males of his household, He first told him, “Walk before Me and become complete/perfect.” (The Hebrew word תמים can be taken to mean either complete or perfect.) Translation: before being circumcised, Abraham was incomplete/physically imperfect. Ever wonder why he couldn’t father a child with Sarah? She needed to have a circumcised husband!!

As for the anti-Semitic argument, we clearly view circumcision very differently. While I understand that some Jews are part of the anti-circumcision movement, I would suggest that by and large they are more culturally Jewish than religiously observant. In other words, they are driven more by emotion and feelings than by any base understanding of Judaism, its history and practices. I would also suggest that they are driven more by a political agenda than by any inkling of trying to at least understand the Jewish perspective. Let alone considering a perspective that circumcision has long-term benefits (we are doing it anyway, so the benefits is for the pro-circumcison outside of religion camp argument).

1. Calling circumcision a sacrifice is silly. We don’t murder babies. We circumcise them.

2. Calling circumcision mutilation is silly. It is a practice shared all around the world, by people who are not interested in destroying the functionality of the penis.

3. Comparing male circumcision to a "similar" (?!?) procedure on females, calling us hypocrites for excluding our girls from this "rite" is similarly ridiculous. We don't circumcise our girls because a. God said "males," and b. girls don't have penises. And no Jewish woman ever said, "Hey! Why was I left out of this one?!" (For the record, our women are part of the Covenant, they just don't bear the mark of the Covenant in their flesh)

4. To suggest we don't love our children is an accusation not worthy of a response.

5. The greatest anti-Semites in the history of the world tried to outlaw circumcision because they knew it also served as an identification marker of a people who refused to completely assimilate, who insisted on observing and practicing religion quite differently than anyone else. Look at the Greeks and the Romans, and in more recent times the Communists. This is why I say that those who are against Jewish circumcision, no matter who they are and no matter how they couch their claims, are the real anti-Semites here.

6. One of the more meaningful passages I have found which describes how we view circumcision can be found in the Pesikta Rabati, a Midrashic work that is over 1200 years old. And here it is

 When you honor God through performing a commandment that He gave you, you don’t do it with what is yours, but with what is His. When you “Honor God from your substance” (Proverbs 3:9) you honor Him from that which He graced you. If He gave you a son, circumcise him. If He gave you a house, place a mezuzah [on the door] and a fence [around the roof]. If He gave you a yard, build a Sukkah [for the holiday of Sukkot] on it. If He gave you a sheep, do the commandments associated with sheep. If He gave you other animals, fulfill the commandments associated with those animals. If he gave you silver and gold, fulfill commandments with them (such as giving to the poor, or buying things that enhance your performance of other mitzvoth).” 
 פסיקתא רבתי (איש שלום) פיסקא כה - עשר תעשר 
הוי אם כבדתם את הקדוש ברוך הוא במצוה שנתן לך, אין אתה מכבדו משלך אלא משלו, כבד את ה' מהונך ממה שחננך, נתן לך בן מול אותו, נתן לך בית עשה מזוזה ומעקה, נתן לך חצר עשה סוכה, נתן לך צאן הפרש בכורות וראשית הגז, נתן לך בהמה לא תחטא בהם אלא עשה מצות שלא תחרוש בשור וחמור ולא תרביע כלאים, נתן לך כסף וזהב עשה בהם מצות, עשר תעשר את כל מהו את כל אפילו ממונך. 

In other words, nothing to see here. We view our children as a gift from God, the same God Who said to circumcise the males among us.

Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand God (the way we do).
Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand Judaism.
Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand the Torah.
Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand why we do what we do.
Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand why this isn’t cruelty.
Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand why we don’t obsess over our lack of foreskin.
Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand what a commitment to a life different from their own could mean.
Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand what has defined the Jewish people for thousands of years.
Those who are against Jewish circumcision don’t understand that just because they have ignorant-of-Judaism Jews in their camp, they will not change who we are, what we do, and why we do it.

And if you can't at least understand us, there's really nothing we can do to help you.
It really is that simple.

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