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Monday, December 25, 2017

Bris and the Challenge of Consent

Every now and then my Facebook page is attacked by "intactivists" - these are militant online (to whatever degree you can be militant online) advocates for leaving babies alone and not circumcising them.

Aside from their unhealthy obsession with the foreskin, they are most often rude, obnoxious, foul-mouthed, relentless, disgustingly and shamelessly defamatory, one-sided, not-interested-in-facts-or-opinions-which-differ-from-theirs, and, frankly, quite boring.

They have six talking points that don't relate specifically to their misunderstanding of Judaism (they call Jewish circumcision anti-Semitic, they say God does not want this, and they note the very rarely applied halakha that if a child had 2 brothers who both died from their brisses, he is allowed to remain uncircumcised - the closest thing pre-modern halakha ever got to a recognition of a condition called hemophilia - which was concerned about the safety of this baby. In other words, the recognition was that blood loss was causing this, not specifically circumcision.)

1. Mohels are pedophiles and rapists
2. Circumcision is genital mutilation (they often compare it the clitoridectomy, which makes zero sense)
3. Those who circumcise have a fetish for foreskins and penises
4. Foreskin is natural (they have many pro-foreskin arguments), a child is perfect, God does not create imperfection - so leave it all alone!
5. Babies die from circumcision or are traumatized for life
6. There is no consent

Arguments 1, 2, 3 aren't even worthy of a response. They make gross (= disgusting) assumptions and are grossly so far from any sense of reality, normalcy and decency. Just regarding #5, more babies die or are truly maimed for life from bad vaccines (though see here how one family turned this experience into a miracle for thousands of children and families) or from traumatic birth experiences, or from (cough cough) abortions than any kind of real statistic about circumcisions, but the removal of foreskins is their issue. And the idea that anyone who was circumcised as a newborn is traumatized or remembers it is such fantastic gobblygook that only an idea-terrorist can come up with it.

(For the record, if there are practitioners who cause babies to die from circumcision, they should not be practicing. And if their actions are criminal negligence, they should be prosecuted. By and large, these stories are extremely rare. The only acceptable number of deaths from circumcision is ZERO. That is the track record of every mohel I know.)

I will leave #4 for a different time (though I've referenced it here). (and here)

So I will briefly address the question of #6, consent.

But first, a disclaimer. I don't care for routine (hospital) circumcision. Meaning, it doesn't matter to me what the medical community thinks, nor do I care what parents decide to do for their sons. I can agree or disagree with non-religion-based circumcision. But I respect that parents can make a choice either way.

So - how can we do this to a child who does not consent? Why, as the intactivists argue, can't we leave the child alone, and let him decide when he is 18, what he wants to do?

While their arguments don't hold water when submitted to the basest level of scrutiny (though they shout so loud, they don't listen to another side), there is a fundamental flaw in the question.
A child's entire life until 18 is directed upon them without consent.

They are conceived without their consent. They are born without their consent. They are put into a family without their consent. They have their umbilical cord cut without their consent. They may have surgeries, for real conditions, or for cosmetic reasons, without their consent. Anything that is "natural" (they were born that way!) is fair game, and is often enough taken care of while in infancy because the healing process is much quicker and the child will have no memory of it. They have blood tests, needle pricks, shots, vaccines, all without consent. Some of these are painful. Some may be unnecessary. And some can be life-altering. We educate our children the way we want, we send them to the schools we think are best for them, we make them play sports, play instrument, learn skills, all without their consent.

And those which are aborted are killed without their consent. Ask any baby - Do you prefer to live and possibly be circumcised, or killed before you are born because you are inconvenient? I bet if they could understand the question and answer, they would choose the former. 100 out of 100 times. [But, hypocritically, many intactivists are pro-abortion]

The Jewish people have a commandment, fundamental to our lives as Jews, that we circumcise our sons on the 8th day of life. Those who raise their children with the understanding of why this is essential to who we are give NO thought at any time in the year to how life might be different if we had a foreskin. We actually view the foreskin as disgusting - מאוסה הערלה. Many of the enemies of the Jewish people in the Bible are described as ערלים, uncircumcised. (It should be noted today that the biggest enemies of the Jewish people today are mostly circumcised, and that people who are not circumcised can very well demonstrate through their actions that they are friends (or at least not enemies) of the Jewish people)

Our consent is ingrained into us from birth. And reaffirmed when we circumcise our own sons. And those who don't understand Judaism will never understand this.

Could there be Jews who claim "I did not consent"? Of course there could be. (though I wonder what else is really driving their anger? I am sure there is often much deeper trauma or inadequacy from something else in life, and they are blaming life's problems on their lack of foreskin.)  And I would invite Jewish parents who are less observant to learn and teach their children why this is important to us as Jews, and to not simply do it for cultural reasons.

Along with the Torah itself, the mark of the Covenant is the most enduring and endearing item that has sustained the Jewish people through the millenia.

1 comment:

  1. I am grateful to Andrew Gross and the fine people of Knowing how much the intactivists hate him, he is clearly doing something right!


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