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“Circumcision will be targeted after shechita.”

January 12, 2012

This headline appeared in the January 4 edition of the Jerusalem Post, quoting a European rabbi speaking out against efforts in the Netherlands to ban the ritual slaughter of livestock. According to European activists against ritual slaughter, this practice—called shechita in Hebrew, and mandated by Jewish and Muslim (halal) dietary rules—constitutes animal cruelty.

Rabbi Uri Makley, a member of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee, is reported to take issue with the claim that shechita is cruel to animals, pointing out that the same authority that declared it a mitzvah to eat kosher meat also said cruelty to animals was a sin.

Rabbi Moshe Friedman, representing the European Rabbinical Council, is quoted as calling laws banning ritual slaughter (such laws are already in effect in Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden) “anti-Semitism disguised as animal rights.” He goes on to say that “the message European citizens have received is that Judaism is a religion that is cruel to animals, and the path from this to prohibiting circumcision is very short.”

I haven’t thought much about the relative cruelty of ritual slaughter as compared to the mass, mechanized slaughter of animals in the commercial meat industry.

I have, however, thought a lot about circumcision. What I find revealing in this article is a religious authority acknowledging the parallels between the ritual killing of animals—a one-on-one blood encounter that pits a knife-wielding human being against a helpless and unsuspecting animal—and a ritual that involves a knife-wielding adult inflicting a painful, invasive, and permanent wound on a helpless and non-consenting child.

The rabbis’ comments clearly imply that it is the perpetrator’s motive—not the victim’s experience—that determines whether a practice is cruel or not.  No matter how bloody or barbaric the custom, if we can get others to buy the rationale, the motive, it’s ok.

Of course, American culture and our legal system also support that construct. We give a pass to doctors because they circumcise baby boys for “health benefits” or “hygiene” or cultural conformity.  We give a pass to parents and faith practitioners who cut babies “for religious reasons” when, otherwise, bringing a stranger with no medical license into your home to cut off part of your son’s penis would clearly meet the definition of assault, battery, and child abuse. Our hypocrisy on this matter becomes even more apparent when we consider how the gender of a child turns the world I just described upside down: If it’s a girl whose genitals are being cut, suddenly there are no excuses—not even religion—that will keep you out of jail.

Interestingly, people who deplore female genital “mutilation” while defending male “circumcision” often explain the difference in terms of motive—that FGM discriminates against women, and represses their sexuality, while circumcision is a modern, clean thing.

Our poor sons.

—Georganne Chapin

40 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul permalink
    June 28, 2012 6:04 pm

    I am very pleased with the german court. Unfortunately religious fanatics will contuneu this barbaric mutilation. It also causes in many circumcisewd people later in life premature eiaculation and impotence- with can conduct to suicide or other selfdestructive behaviour.This part of the curse of circumcision has not been adequately documented,

  2. January 31, 2012 9:31 pm

    I don’t agree that it’s not illegal. Repeately stating that it is not illegal is not what makes the statement true. The only thing that could do that would be to pass a law that explicitly legalizes that specific form of mayhem.

    Domestic Violations of International Treaties[1]

    “Circumcision” is a deprecated euphemism for the atrocity that is more accurately referred to as “Male Genital Mutilation[2].” It is the wanton amputation of a normal, healthy, functioning body part, which is certainly a second degree felony under Utah Statute[3] 76-5-105, “Mayhem.” Infant Genital Mutilation also certainly falls under 76-5-109, “Child Abuse”. In particular, the following definitions given under 76-5-109(1) can be easily shown to be applicable:

    76-5-109(1)(f)(i)(B), “involves physical torture”;
    76-5-109(1)(f)(i)(G), “any conduct toward a child that results in severe emotional harm, [...] or severe impairment of the child’s ability to function”; and
    76-5-109(1)(f)(i)(H), “any injury that creates a permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, limb, or organ”;

    Given the true and factual information about the anatomy and physiological function of the male prepuce explained by the D.O.C. Policy Statement[4], along with the above definitions from the Utah Statutes, Child Abuse 76-5-109(2)(a) makes Infant Male Genital Mutilation a second degree felony. Other Utah laws that may apply include 76-5-107, “Threat of Violence,” 76-5-103, “Aggravated assault,” 76-5-106, “Harassment,”, Solicitation for Conspiracy to commit, Fraud by Deception, and Omission or failure to act. Genital Mutilation is not a “rite.” It is a crime.

    Further, because this brutally harmful atrocity has seen such widespread and systematic practice in the United States of America, it truly fits the definition of a “Crime Against Humanity”[5] as defined by the Rome Statute[6], which establishes the International Criminal Court.

    Crimes against humanity, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum, “are particularly odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. Murder; extermination; torture; rape; political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice. Isolated inhumane acts of this nature may constitute grave infringements of human rights, or depending on the circumstances, war crimes, but may fall short of falling into the category of crimes under discussion.”

    The United States of America justified the invasion of Iraq, in part, by citing the crimes committed by Saddam Hussein’s regime—e.g. the use of poison gas against the Kurdish people. If that war was justifiable, then perhaps it is reasonable to consider Male Genital Mutilation to be a threat to U.S. National Security. It does not require very many steps of reasoning to cross the border between U.S. actions in Iraq and forseeing a large posse entering within this country to do battle against these domestic violations of human rights. Fortunately, this is not a battle likely to be won with the use of destructive weaponry. Violence is the problem, not the solution.

    Furthermore, if our own citizens, law enforcement, and courts will not acknowledge Genital Mutilation as an atrocious crime, then certainly our “government”, guilty of selective enforcement of it’s own laws, faces a very serious legitimation crisis[7]. We can no longer live in denial of this obvious threat to our health and welfare. We need to look the serpent in the eye, see it for what it is, and help it to become entire and whole again. We must end the cycle of violence by refusing to continue to inflict pain and deprivation upon each new generation, and by protecting infants from those who would continue this atrocity.

    You know what they say: “If you want Democracy, then start with your own family.”

    Links:

    http://karlhegbloom.blogspot.com/2011/01/domestic-violations-of-international.html
    http://www.mgmbill.org
    http://www.le.utah.gov/UtahCode/title.jsp
    http://www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org/DOC/statement0.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_against_humanity
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rome_statute
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legitimation_crisis

  3. January 18, 2012 11:10 am

    The idea about “barter magic” intrigues me. I have not heard of it before. Is it an anthropological concept? I am curious to know about the origins of the peculiar practice of circumcision.

    Up until now I have associated the ancient roots of circumcision with child sacrifice. The absolute deal-breaker story in the Bible for me is when God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac (who, by the way, is particularly precious, because he is an only child who came in old age–in fact so old that it is biologically impossible, but that is another story). Abraham is willing, and God is well-pleased. It’s the ugliest story I know of, which the Bible seems to acknowledge as Abraham gets off the hook at the last minute. I guess my point is that modern circumcision has an UGLY origin. It is not a sacred commandment.

    • Scott permalink
      January 19, 2012 1:42 am

      The Bible is full of ugly stories about circumcision; here are some links that discuss sympathetic magic and part-for-the-whole-sacrifice; Wikipedia was shut down today in protest about government interference, but it has some good information on the subject. The basic concept is that there is a line connecting human sacrifice through to part of the body sacrificed (a less fatal blood sacrifice), through to substitute sacrifices like Eucharist.

      http://old-mage.com/magick/evobldsb.htm

      Circumcision: A Part for the Whole

      As societies changed, killing one’s first born became distasteful, and rituals were substituted for the actual killing of the infant.One such ritual is infant circumcision (the Hebrews adopted the Egyptian male adolescence rite [indicating the male to be as powerful/valuable as the female because he could bleed, also] and Moses moved it to infancy so his son would not need to be totally sacrificed). Animal sacrifices were still required.

      http://psychohistory2001.com/Hamlet.html

      Eventually they are circumsized, sacrificing part of their genital, on behalf of themselves: a part of the genital as symbol of their all body. (…) In our unconscious, the penis is the pars pro toto (a part for the whole) of its owner.

      http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/hunt_19_3.html

      One is the device used by many animals of sacrificing a part of themselves in order to escape from danger. Some spiders’ legs break off easily and continue to twitch for a while to distract a predator while the spider escapes. (…)

      Human analogs of this behavior exist as religious rituals – sacrifices of desirable possessions to the gods in order to escape ill fortune, such as pouring wine on the ground, slaughtering and burning a valuable animal, giving money to help build a temple. And there are many examples of far more serious sacrifices performed to placate God, such as the self-castrations performed by certain devout early Christians and by the Skoptsi, seventeenth-century Russian religious fanatics. And giving up sexual activity altogether, along with parenthood and family life, as priests and nuns have done for centuries, is surely as extreme a sacrifice of the part for the whole as physical mutilation.

    • myrick permalink
      January 22, 2012 9:19 pm

      Why two major religions believe that getting rid of the foreskin is a divine commandment, and many traditional cultures (sub-Saharan Africa, Polynesia, Philippines, Australian aborigines) have adopted circumcision as a male rite of passage, is a major unsolved problem in ethnography and the social psychology of human sexuality. Given the popularity of circumcision around the world, I am not totally surprised that the English speaking people (Ireland excepted) fell the syren call of the bald penis. The UK and New Zealand have broken free. In Australia and Canada, the bald penis is now a minority taste.

      But large parts of American society are still enthralled by foreskin disgust. We honestly do not know why this is. America is the most Biblical of western societies. Granting that, Acts and Paul annihilate the mitzvah laid down in Genesis 17. For the vast majority of Americans, the bald penis has absolutely no religious value. The explanation may simply be that most Americans are, in their family lives and childrearing practices, very nervous conformists. They silently assumed that an intact boy will be ridiculed by his cut peers. That the better sort of women will refuse to date, and hence to marry, an intact man.

      RIC entered British and American life as an urban upper middle class fashion. Thanks to the promiscuity of barracks life during the world wars, all walks of life became aware of this bodily mark of having been born into the urban smart set. The British working class declined to come to the party, as per a long standing tradition of distancing themselves from the toffs and their peculiar ways. But in the USA, RIC became the norm for all who could afford an insured hospital birth. Once Medicaid reached cruising altitude around 1970, that meant all Americans. American medicine has largely backed off from “pushing” routine circ. The reason why half or more of American baby boys are still circed is because raising a boy with a natural penis takes his parents outside of their genital comfort zone. It reminds his father of something he lacks, his mother of something absent from her intimate life.

      @Scott, circumcision is more radical than celibacy, a lifestyle that can always be abandoned. The sexual sensitivity of that which circ discards can never be regained.

    • Scott permalink
      January 22, 2012 10:22 pm

      Myrick, I agree with all of your points, with a few caveats; my listing of barters and part for the whole sacrifice was not an attempt to analyze modern support for circumcision, or to draw one-to-one parallels between say circumcision and celibacy, but rather one view of the sacrificial origins of some religious circumcision.

      Male sexuality is substantially psychologically dependent on the erection; the sudden appearance and disappearance of the obvious signs of arousal and the waning of these signs due to age, illness and injury may well have spurred a desire to make a religious sacrifice (even of a genital part) to the deities, designed to protect male sexual abilities. Some other groups circumcise so that male shedding of genital blood parallels female bleeding at puberty. Other groups use circumcision as a manhood-ritual form of torture, in which the source of men’s male identity is attacked, injured and survives, thus allegedly creating an adult man in the wake of the experience.

      I believe that modern circumcision actually began when British colonialism brought them into conflict with Islamic groups in the Middle East; during battle, captured or injured British soldiers supposedly were forcibly circumcised and left to die. Allegedly as a preventative measure, the English military began routine circumcision as a preventative measure. This later became adopted in the UK as a sign of social class. Even Dr. Kellogg, here in the USA, used religiously-based cultural disapproval of sex as a basis for his support of genital mutilation. In both the UK and the USA, modern circumcision has religious roots.

      Modern male circumcision survives (I believe) in a non-religious sense due to many reasons, two in particular. As you pointed out, men having sons really don’t want to face that they are missing something “down there”; in fact, it takes a really big man, a special man, to want his sons to have a genital completeness he does not share. That level of consciousness raising is an important aspect of anti-circumcision groups.

      Circumcision also survives due to the ignorance (and intellectual laziness) of many doctors, and an arrogant unwillingness to admit that lay persons may know more about a medical topic than members of their profession do. Years of training about the uselessness and surgical disposability of body parts is hard to overcome. Remember the automatic tonsillectomies, appendectomies and hysterectomies of the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s? It took time and effort, but those practices did change.

      I believe a great deal of American Jewish support for circumcision comes from a fear of loss of cultural identity – an odd position in a country in which so many men are also non-religiously circumcised, swamping the bris in sheer numbers of cut men, and Jews are no longer distinctive in that regard. Personally, as a Jew, I refuse to accept that Judaism is so fragile as a religion that it can only survive by the genital mutilation of its helpless sons…

      Let us not be too depressed about the permanence of our lack of sexual sensitivity; I refer you to the Foregen.org website, a worthwhile group trying to research true foreskin and sensitivity restoration.

  4. January 17, 2012 1:28 pm

    Here in the UK, several acts of Parliament prohibit the deliberate injury of another person, but in the case of male genital mutilation, nobody is ever prosecuted. That said, it is rarely done, except where the perpetrator cites “Religious freedom”, and are backed by members of Parliament of certain religious belief.

    • eshu21 permalink
      January 18, 2012 12:03 am

      Amazing, that people could see coercive infant genital mutilation of either gender as anything but “the deliberate injury of another person”. Clearly, enough people need to recognize circumcision actually as an injury, for the tide to turn decisively against the practice.

    • Howard Smith permalink
      April 6, 2012 11:56 am

      Keith, that is interesting. Only a couple of years ago I heard of a petition, started by a young man, in his teens, that sought to ban infant circumcision. Somehow Pariament did not make the connection and his initiative fizzled out. Sad.

  5. Bryan permalink
    January 15, 2012 3:44 pm

    Bryan
    Georganne… I thank you very much for what you and your crew are doing on behalf of baby boys in the U S of A. You stated earlier that your attendance at this year’s American Academy of Pediatrics conference in Boston was a tremendous success. You are doing a great job. But mgm isn’t just an American crime, it’s a crime in Canada also. I have heard that the mutilation rate in Canada is going down, but I find that difficult to believe as most people I have spoken to seem to think it is beneficial. I was wondering if you would considered setting up a display/info booth at the Canadian Paediatric Society Annual Conference. Their next conference is being held in London Ontario from June 6-9, 2012. Most media reports on mgm in Canada seem to promote the procedure. It would be refreshing if Intact America’s presence in London, Ontario next June caused a media report condemning it. It’s just a thought but would be great if you could do it. (Sorry, I can’t call it circumcision, too many people hear that word and think it’s a good thing. On the other hand mgm, forced genital cutting, aggravated sexual assault, domestic violence, human rights abuse, crimes against humanity, or torture catches some off guard and makes them think).
    A survey of Canadian maternity practices conducted in 2006/2007 by the national public health agency found a newborn circumcision rate of 31.9%. Rates varied across the country, from a low of 6.8% in Nova Scotia to a high of 44.3% in Alberta (Incidentally a report came out of Alberta in 2011 stating that Alberta had the highest rate of STIs in the country). In Newfoundland, Yukon, and Nunavut the numbers were too small for rate calculation.
    Personally, I think the rates might be higher than that. At least in the area of Saskatchewan where I live it seems most people believe in mutilating their sons. Also I think the rates might be rising due to fear caused by the false reports coming out of Africa that mgm helps prevent the spread of the HIV virus.
    Once again… Thank You.

    • Scott permalink
      January 15, 2012 4:29 pm

      Bryan, thank you for that information! I had no idea that Canada was still mutilating on such a scale! Are there any active anti-mgm groups in Canada you (and we) can contact, perhaps donate to? I hope that Intact America can go to the conference – and also, perhaps, Intact Canada could form? Eventually, this MUST be a worldwide movement.

    • Bryan permalink
      January 16, 2012 5:32 pm

      Scott, I found The Canadian Children’s Rights Council. They advocate for Children’s rights in general, and yes they do speak out quite strongly against mgm, but they aren’t a specific anti-mgm organization. I had never heard of this organization myself until I started searching for Canadian anti-mgm groups. I typed Intact Canada into my browser and found only financial, insurance, and investment companies. A further search with the words ‘circumcision’ and ‘Canada’ brought up a number of different results on the Canadian mgm rate. These rates are all over the place. They range from a high of 31.9% as mentioned in my first comment to a low of about 9 or 10%. Why the discrepancy? Isn’t this something that should be easy to determine? It’s difficult to know what to believe… what’s the actual truth? This only supports what I’ve been saying for a long time… that this procedure is surrounded by secrecy, mystery, confusion, ignorance, myths, old wives tales, and outright lies Personally I think it’s much higher than 9 or 10%. But you gave me an idea… I think I will contact The Canadian Children’s Rights Council about the Canadian Paediatric Society Annual Conference in June. Also a lot of the mgms in Canada might be performed by family doctors, or general practitioners in Canada, rather than paediatricians.

    • Georganne Chapin permalink
      January 16, 2012 10:28 pm

      We will definitely look into the June conference, and see if finances permit us to attend. Thanks so much, Bryan, for your comments. Georganne

    • eshu21 permalink
      January 16, 2012 10:33 pm

      Bryan, thank you for all that research, that’s excellent! If you ever get contact information for whoever at the Canadian Children’s Rights Council advocates in opposition to circumcision, I for one would be glad to write in support of the end of male genital mutilation; the same for the Canadian Paediatric Society. You are absolutely right that “this procedure is surrounded by secrecy, mystery, confusion, ignorance, myths, old wives tales, and outright lies” – that’s the only way slicing off part of a helpless baby’s genitalia could survive as a “parental (or religious) right”.

    • Petite Poulet permalink
      January 30, 2012 2:00 pm

      The rate of circumcision is Canada is hard to gauge especially since in several provinces people have to pay out of pocket for it. With most of the procedures being done off the books, it is hard to find an easy way to collect accurate data. The attitude toward circumcision (aka mgm) may be age dependent. An older mostly cut population may have a more positive attitude toward circumcision than an younger normal population.

    • Howard Smith permalink
      April 6, 2012 11:52 am

      Bryan, thank you for your post. Georgeanne, I hope you do make it to London.
      I know of one organization in Canada that has been fighting RIC for a long time: Association For Genital Integrity – http://www.courtchallenge.com – which is headed by Dr Arif Bhimji. He lives in Edmonton. Many years ago I wrote a letter to the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons requesting their position on routine infant circumcision. Their response was somewhat terse, stating that they expect all doctors in Alberta to “exhibit good judgement”. A follow up letter requesting a definition of “good judgement” in relation to circumcision was ignored.
      There is no province in Canada that publicly funds the circumcision of infants. Manitoba was the last one, and they defunded circumcision about fifteen years ago. However I am well aware that parents still get the procedure paid for by the doctor stating that it was a necessary procedure because of phimosis …(pick your problem). Of course this is highly unethical, but I know from friends that it happens.
      My family doctor is a wonderful lady from the U.K. and naturaly is against the procedure. We have talked about it many times. She estimates a rate of roughly 50% in children older than 5, but says that her observation is that the rate in recent years has declined rapidly.
      Yes, the Canadian Children’s Rights Council has a strong statement against genital mutilation at http://www.canadiancrc.com/Circumcision_Genital_Mutilation_Male_Female_Children.aspx , however they do not seem to be active in promoting and publicising their views.

  6. Karen Hobbs permalink
    January 14, 2012 10:47 pm

    Great article Georgeanne!…and a great stream of comments! Thank you for being on top of this! Karen

  7. Petite Poulet permalink
    January 14, 2012 10:24 pm

    A couple years ago a couple of circumcision enthusiasts published a paper that infant circumcision was morally permissible. When I read that they believed that any decision made by a parent could not be mutilation, I stopped reading.

    Depending on location and point in history the first word of the headline could have been “Slavery,” “Honor killings,” “Wife beating,” etc. There are a number of “religious” practices that have been shelved over the course of history. These two practices have outlived their usefulness and are now embarrassing relics from the stone age.

  8. Michelle permalink
    January 14, 2012 2:47 pm

    Georganne,
    You are such a fabulous writer! Bravo!! I am just glad the Jews made the connection to circumcision and not us. Interesting that they would do so. Keep up the good work.

    • eshu21 permalink
      January 14, 2012 2:59 pm

      Speaking as a Jew, believe me, I am not glad. All children deserve protection from mutilation, including Jewish ones. Circumcision is a remnant of an ancient sort of “barter magic”, in which a part is exchanged for the whole; jealous vindictive deities were placated, and prevented from attacking men’s genitalia, by giving them as a blood offering a sacrificial part of those genitalia. The fact that such a barbarity still exists in this day and age is both shocking and saddening.

    • January 14, 2012 4:01 pm

      Yes, I am glad it was the Jews and not we. That is a huge advantage and no-one can put down our defense of infant boys as “anit-Semitism”.

    • eshu21 permalink
      January 14, 2012 4:09 pm

      Yes. I would be much more glad if no one at all “made the connection”, and if everyone would be willing to protect Jewish boys from mutilation, just like “us”. Just because I was born Jewish does not mean I gave up human rights, and a desire to be protected equally.

  9. jimfromcalif permalink
    January 13, 2012 2:50 pm

    This reminds me of the situation in West Hollywood where it’s illegal to declaw cats and a proposal was made a few years ago to ban tail docking on dogs. Yet, just down the road in Santa Monica, a proposal to ban circumcision of baby boys was protested. Are animals more important that baby boys. Learned Jews know the answer from Holy Scripture. One of their own, Paul of Tarsus, told them there was no value in circumcision of the flesh, but their cold hearts didn’t want to hear it.

    • eshu21 permalink
      January 13, 2012 3:54 pm

      Note that when the declawing law was passed, no one in government (including the governor) felt it necessary to pass a law declaring that “veterinary decisions could only be made on the state level.” Similarly, when San Francisco passed its anti-fast-food-toy bill, there was no attempt to hold that restrictions on commerce or public dietary-control decisions could only be enacted by the state… a clear indication of the special place the barbaric mutilation of baby boys holds in the hearts of our legislators.

      I would urge those of us opposed to circumcision to write (or email or phone) all members of state government for your district who voted for the California bill – and that’s all of them, I believe – that you will neither support nor donate to anyone who voted to protect male infant genital mutilation.

  10. January 13, 2012 11:24 am

    Jessica said: “I think in America, the tradition took hold … because we are the only country that switched over to male-dominated ob maternity AND because the way our health insurance evolved.”

    She is correct. It was the evolution of obstetrics as a (until recently male) specialty, and the wresting of the birth process from mothers and female midwives that solidified the custom of circumcising newborn boys. England and other Commonwealth countries followed this path until the 1940s. Then, in 1949, Douglas Gairdner published an article in the British Medical aJournal called “The Fate of the Foreskin,” which talked about the functions and benefits of the foreskin (he got a couple of things wrong, such as the average age at which the foreskin becomes retractible – we know now it’s about 10.5 years old), and about the harms of removing it. http://www.cirp.org/library/general/gairdner/

    The British paid attention, and made the decision not to cover the surgery through their National Health Service. American health care, as Jessica alludes to, evolved into a private, for-profit, fragmented system, in which the more procedures a doctor does, the more money he makes.

    Thankfully, many private insurers and 19 states through their Medicaid programs are refusing to pay for infant circumcision. Our challenge is to educate parents not to ask for it, and not to think it’s something that merits them spending their own dollars on it – and, of course, to call for doctors to refuse to do it, too.

    • January 14, 2012 4:03 pm

      Perhaps with the recession, parents will think twice about their spending their own dollars…

    • eshu21 permalink
      January 14, 2012 4:13 pm

      Hopefully. That is one reason to keep pressure on the medical association(s) considering recommending infant circumcision; it is very important that Medicaid not reinstate paying (using your and my tax dollars) for infant genital mutilation based on such “recommendations”…

  11. Andy permalink
    January 13, 2012 6:22 am

    The only thing wrong here is that circumcision should have been “targeted” first – and a very long time ago.

  12. Henry Not-the-Musician Butler permalink
    January 13, 2012 1:56 am

    These blog responses are intelligent and high level. Some blogs have replies characterized by vicious donnybrooks and irresponsible ad hominem insults. The key thought I come away with today is, why should the beliefs of the perpetrator trump the feelings and pain threshold of the victim? I suppose the Inquisition had a lot of sincere believers burning people to death, but we reject that thinking today. Don’t we?

  13. eshu21 permalink
    January 12, 2012 10:03 pm

    I told my sister-in-law that my brother’s desire to have his grandchildren ritually mutilated (to the point of financially blackmailing his daughter into agreeing to the act) was unethical.

    She made the argument the his desire came from a “religious belief he holds as strongly as you do yours”.

    All I could think was “so what?” If belief is all that matters, how could we prevent evangelicals from stoning “witches” or killing disobedient children? Are the actions of Fred Phelps, who protests at the funerals of those who have died of AIDS, “ethical” simply because of his “beliefs”? Are the actions of those who genitally mutilate girls “ethical” due to their “beliefs”? And if not, what gives a group, any group, the right to claim exceptionalism and insist that we privilege their beliefs to the point of allowing the barbaric ritual genital mutilation of children?

    My favorite part of your post is when you said:

    “The rabbis’ comments clearly imply that it is the perpetrator’s motive—not the victim’s experience—that determines whether a practice is cruel or not. No matter how bloody or barbaric the custom, if we can get others to buy the rationale, the motive, it’s ok.”

    Speaking both as a Jew and as a victim of the sick practice of male genital mutilation, I am here to tell both that rabbi and my family the real answer: “no, it’s not ok.”

  14. Bettie M. permalink
    January 12, 2012 9:19 pm

    PS to my post about my uncle & kosher slaughter: this same uncle, upon being asked by the nurse in the hospital (1950s) if he wanted his newborn som circumcised, went halfways ape shit and threatened violence if they tried to do any such thing to his son.

    • Howard Smith permalink
      April 6, 2012 11:03 am

      Good for your uncle! I think he had an unusual (for the time) sense of right from wrong. A logical and rational outlook that was not compromised by social convention or the opinion of the medical fraternity. Far too many people, even today, are scared to buck the popular opinion. Even worse, they refrain from entering a discussion a topic like circumcision for fear of either offending someone or of being viewed as “wierd”.

  15. January 12, 2012 9:17 pm

    I like how boy’s rights are right up there next to the animals’… geez….

    “Freedom of Religion” and “Parental Rights” have no actual validity anymore, and the litmus test for this is female circumcision. These alibis fail, which is why male circumcision advocates have to turn to supposed “medical benefits.” Tis the true reason for circumcision “research” in Africa. As long as we allow it, there will always be circumcision “research,” and there will always be “new discoveries” that it prevents this or that. Notice how the same “rigorous studies” do not exist for female circumcision.

  16. Bettie M. permalink
    January 12, 2012 9:17 pm

    Georganne, this is a fabulous article.

    You said, “I haven’t thought much about the relative cruelty of ritual slaughter as compared to the mass, mechanized slaughter of animals in the commercial meat industry.” Well, consider this:

    My late uncle worked in a slaughterhouse, not slaughtering, but nearby. He had the opportunity to witness both the mechanized slaughter of animals as well as the rabbi doing the ritualistic version. Now, Uncle Mike was no particular animal lover nor into animal rights or vegetarianism or anything. He was a tough fellow from the farm and farm people don’t usually get at all emotional about livestock. Also, he was a quiet man who never said much or raised his voice. One day when visiting him & the family, the subject of kosher slaughter somehow came up.

    He almost screamed, “That’s torture!!!” with much anger. I had never seen him get emotional about anything, so it has to be pretty bad for him to have made this eruption in a roomful of people.

    • Henry Not-the-Musician Butler permalink
      January 13, 2012 8:00 pm

      Maybe that’s because kosher ritual slaughter involves cutting the throat of the live animal. Ordinary slaughter, if you can use a phrase like that, involves stunning the animal first by means of a fatal bolt projectile, thus presumably eliminating pain.

  17. Jessica permalink
    January 12, 2012 8:26 pm

    I once had a college professor in an Animal Science class I took say that the method used to slaughter animals for kosher sales was the most brutal of the modern methods. I wasn’t and An Sci major so the details I did not really know or remember- however, he was a great prof (originally from England) and someone all students admired. That was before I knew anything about circumcision, so that topic didn’t come up, but his statement made an impression on me since it seemed to be an honest assesement from someone who is an expert (in meat science not necessar.

    I understand tradition (I’m sympathetic but don’t think that gives a pass), but methods have changed through times and the refusal to apply modern ethics is appalling to me. SO WHAT if circumcision is next– you cannot apply morality in some areas and not others? FGM is already outlawed and it is terrifying that the AAP tried to rename it and suggest that drs could petition for a change for a minor ritual nick back in 2009 (they pulled the policy, thank goodness). I’m sure that was some sleight of hand trick because of the conflict apparent when comparing male and female circ

    I think in America, the tradition took hold (therefore there was no one really contesting bris) because we are the only country that switched over to male-dominated ob maternity AND because the way our health insurance evolved. In addition to the hangups the general population has, Jews deal with this feeling like an attack on their tradition- and blindsided because it has been considered fine up till recently. I know not everyone is respectful about this, but the majority of supporters (to end circ) are just average moms, dads, people who don’t understand how this practice can stand the scrutiny of ANY people with good moral judgement.

  18. Heidi M. permalink
    January 12, 2012 8:09 pm

    Thank you for this post!!!!! Why ARE the feelings of the perpetrator and not the victim the ones being considered?? And what makes an infant girl more special and in need of more protection than an infant boy??? These are questions I have been screaming about. I keep getting the “freedom of religion” thing, and yet the government had no problem outlawing FGM, which is considered a religious ritual and rite of passage in some cultures. They had no problem criminalizing the marriage of 9 and 10 year old girls to middle-aged church elders. Where were the freedom of religion concerns then?? Do our male children matter so little by comparison? Have females fought so hard for equality that they believe that they are the ONLY ones that matter?

    • jimfromcalif permalink
      January 22, 2012 2:25 pm

      Answer to Heidi. May I suggest that any woman fighting against female genital mutilation and not doing likewise for males is not at all fighting for equal rights?

  19. margaret permalink
    January 12, 2012 7:18 pm

    amen….

  20. January 12, 2012 7:10 pm

    You are so right on…. I love your blog!!!!

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