Interview With the Creator of Foreskin Man

guest post by: Eli Ungar-Sargon

More than anyone in recent memory, Matthew Hess is testing the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. After Nancy Appel of the Anti-Defamation League released a statement condemning his comic Foreskin Man for its “grotesque anti-Semitic imagery,” many prominent intactivists felt the need to distance themselves from him and his organization MGMBill.org. Moreover, the furor over Foreskin Man undoubtedly contributed to the pressure that ultimately shut down the ballot initiative in Santa Monica. Over the past month, many people have been asking me whether Matthew Hess is an anti-Semite. I don’t know the man, so I decided to contact him and ask him some questions. Below are his unedited responses:

EUS: What inspired the creation of Foreskin Man?
MH: I first came up with the idea for Foreskin Man back in 2006 when I made an intactivist movie poster spoof to promote the MGM Bill. I thought it would be cool to create a superhero theme for that, and when it was finished I realized that Foreskin Man would also make a great character for a comic book. I developed the story for issue #1 a few years later, with the scripts for the next two issues following shortly thereafter.
EUS: In Foreskin Man #1, you write of the pro-Circumcision Lobby: “They have all of the well-connected Doctors and Lawyers.”-Is this a coded reference to Jews?
MH: The “well connected doctors” alludes mainly to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In my opinion, those two lofty groups are the biggest obstacles to ending medicalized infant circumcision in the USA because their official policy is tolerance. The “well connected lawyers” refers to the hired guns for interest groups working to squash any attempts to legally protect boys from forced circumcision. That would include some of the attorneys representing the Anti-Defamation League, who are now trying to strip our San Francisco MGM Bill initiative from the November ballot.
EUS: When you were writing Foreskin Man #2, did you think it might stir controversy?
MH: I expected Foreskin Man #2 to cause some sparks to fly because no one had ever published anything like it before. It was a direct assault on the Jewish practice of forced circumcision, and because it exposed Brit Milah as a cruel rite I knew a lot of people would feel threatened by it.
EUS: Were you familiar with the history of circumcision as an excuse for Jewish persecution?
MH: Yes. The most oft-cited cited example is how the Nazis required some males to prove their ethnicity by dropping their pants to show that they weren’t circumcised. I’m also aware that in some regions of Africa, boys and men have had to drop their pants to prove that they ARE circumcised. And if they weren’t, some of them were circumcised against their will. To be clear, I support every man’s right to undergo circumcision if he chooses it voluntarily – regardless of the reason. I am only opposed to circumcision when it is performed on someone by force.
EUS: Were you familiar with the history of anti-Semitic imagery associated with mohels when you created Monster Mohel? Did this inform your artistic decision-making?
MH: I first saw some of those cartoons in middle school during lessons about World War II and I have seen other examples since then. But they didn’t influence me one way or the other when creating the art for Foreskin Man #2. While I did not wish to borrow anything from those cartoons, I also felt I would not be doing justice if I held back on portraying Monster Mohel and his goons as evil characters simply because they were Jewish.
EUS: Is it simply coincidence that the hero has blonde hair and blue eyes while the villains have darker complexions?
MH: Foreskin Man’s blond hair, blue eyes, and fair skin reflects my own German heritage. I see absolutely no reason to be ashamed of that. Suggestions in the media that Foreskin Man is a Nazi because of the color of his hair is pure racial stereotyping. And Monster Mohel, Yerik, and Jorah were drawn based on photographs of actual mohels.
EUS: Are you surprised that there were Jews who took offense at the comic?
MH: Religion in general is a hot-button issue for most people, and when you attack a religious practice – any religious practice – there will be fireworks. The older and more entrenched the practice, the bigger the perceived offense when it is criticized. So no, I’m not surprised.
EUS: Are you surprised that some Jewish people who are against circumcision were offended by the comic?
MH: Not really, because even though the comic wasn’t attacking Jews in general, it did attack a Jewish practice – and that created some defensiveness, I think.
EUS: Do you believe that the fact that Jews have circumcised their boys for thousands of years means that there is something wrong with Jews?
MH: Circumcision of both genders has been practiced by other religions and cultures for thousands of years, too, so I don’t think it means there is something wrong with Jews in general. But I do think there is something not right when a person who is given all the facts refuses to acknowledge that forced circumcision is a serious human rights violation.
EUS: Do you think that Foreskin Man has helped or hurt the intactivist cause overall?
MH: Foreskin Man has created some friction within our movement, and as a result some intactivists have distanced themselves from both me and the MGM Bill. On the other hand, Foreskin Man has brought worldwide attention to the issue of male circumcision and that has created unprecedented public interest. Our biggest problem as intactivists has always been getting people to talk about circumcision. Well, they are certainly talking about it now, and I think the more they talk about it the less they will like it. So in my opinion, Foreskin Man has given the intactivist cause a significant boost.

Eli Ungar-Sargon is a documentary filmmaker based in Los Angeles. His first film, Cut, is about Circumcision and Jewish Identity. He is currently working on a documentary about the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

76 Responses to “Interview With the Creator of Foreskin Man”

  1. Excellent! I still don’t understand why people are so quick to confuse reality-based depictions of RELIGION with race. Anti-semitism is racism, as in a belief that the Jews are an inferior race, and it has nothing to do (good or bad) with Judaism.

    God forbid we call out christian fundamentalist homophobes for their (far lesser) social injustice. Does that equate to anti-caucasian?


    Bryan · June 30th, 2011 at 4:54 pm
  2. Speaking as an “intactivist”, I was upset that Hess used such inflammatory images. I felt that he sabotaged my good efforts to save babies from the horror of genital cutting. With that being said, I do NOT appreciate being slandered as an anti-semite because I choose to protect babies from forced genital cutting. I believe this type of accusation is a smoke screen, that is employed strictly to silence critics of circumcision. It’s shameful.


    Kathleen Legler · June 30th, 2011 at 7:54 pm
  3. [...] proposed SF circumcision banSan Francisco ChronicleCity weighs in on proposed circumcision banKGO-TVJewschoolall 35 news articles » This entry was posted on Friday, July 1st, 2011 at 1:20 am [...]


    A Mother’s Celebration of the Jewish Circumcision Rite – Huffington Post (blog) » The Legends of the Jews · July 1st, 2011 at 2:30 am
  4. I say simply put that it should be an ADULT choice.

    Really, what if you saw a baby with piercings and “Outlaw Biker” tattoos all over his body? Remember the fuss the “Botox Baby” created even though it was a hoax?

    And, frankly, he could have made it a LOT worse.

    Like how in RL there’s (at least) one Mohel who killed one baby and crippled two for life. He sucked their BLOOD with his MOUTH, but by coincidence (not saying it represented his people) he had HERPES… www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6898403/ns/health-kids_and_parenting/t/rabbi-probed-circumcised-infants-herpes/ And there’s always a news story at least every decade about a drunken Mohel who “Slips” but let’s not go there…

    I’d advise you Jews to STOP ringing the “Anti Semitism! Help!” bell on this cause. Sooner or later that bell is going to crack and the hinge will break. WW2 is a lifetime ago and people are forgetting the guilt and considering the guilt-trip a “Con Game”. Save it’s last decaying resonances for the important stuff, not every little quip that doesn’t go your way.

    Case in point, they rave at the end of FM #2 the burning effigy, a weird statue made of Circumstraints… Saying it’s a Menorah… Well, look up this weird but not yet completely bought out cultural event called “Burning Man”. Read issue #2 then look up Burning Man… He’s trying to make an “Intactivist Movement” and that’s some kind of symbol for it…needs work IMO, but think how easy (both to draw and make in RL) a real Menorah or Star of David… Burning man started on the California beaches at least…


    Annexian · July 1st, 2011 at 3:31 am
  5. Foreskin Man is not anti-Semetic but anti MGM. Some Semites, not all, are pro-MGM.Why don’t the Semites learn from their own historical mistakes and realize they will be kicked out of their own countries again and again because of the practice of the coven-ant law? The US should learn from their mistakes and prevent the fall of the USA due to forced religious, ritual, and routine genital mutilation.


    FredR · July 1st, 2011 at 8:18 am
  6. Yeah, way for Hess to be aware of but ignore all of the hot-buttons he touched. It’s just stupid, and counterproductive. I’m with Kathleen Legler. Hess seems to me a mindless opportunist instead of a good activist.

    That said, circumcision is a violation of autonomy. Anyone with understands bodies under the purview of the person they constitute must understand it that way. Then the only question is whether you believe that religious reasons override autonomy. I don’t.


    Dan O. · July 1st, 2011 at 10:51 am
  7. Does Hess really expect us to believe that his coded references and sly winking is anything other than Jew-bashing? Circumcision aside, his portrayal of Jews draws on classic anti-semitic tropes. He sidesteps any direct questions about this and it rings hollow.

    I have very mixed feelings about providing him with a venue. Whatever one feels about circumcision, Hess proves here his I have very mixed feelings about providing him with a venue.

    Eli- was it your point to expose him or to apologize for him?


    adam · July 1st, 2011 at 11:24 am
  8. What I was trying to do with this interview was answer the very specific question: Is Matthew Hess an anti-Semite? I don’t think that Foreskin Man alone provides sufficient evidence to draw that conclusion. My questions were pointed, but I believe in giving people the chance to speak for themselves. My intention was to get Hess on the record so that people would have something more concrete than the comic to rely on in their judgments.


    Eli · July 1st, 2011 at 1:25 pm
  9. Eli, my friend, you may let Hess off the hook easily, but I will not afford you the same luxury. What is your assessment: is he or is he not an anti-Semite?

    Its not like you’re objective on the issue of circumcision in your film, so there’s little reason to allow such leeway in playing the journalist on his anti-Semitism.

    Of course, some might claim one possible reason being to better ingratiate yourself with intactivisists who applaud your film by giving their hero Hess a pass. I know you better than this, however, and that your value of intellectual integrity over commercial sensibility is what led you to make CUT in the first place.

    That said, you’re in a unique position as the man behind CUT to denounce what seems obvious. Or you can throw your lot in with someone oddly proud of his Aryan appearance and despite awareness of concerns that go beyond circumcision, feels little need to clarify his slippery personal views on Jews.

    Are the Jews collective human rights violators (that sounds so familiar…)? How is it that a critique of Hess’ obsession with the Aryan appearance is stereotyping but not his drawings of Jews? None of the mohelim or the mohelet in CUT or those that I have ever met resemble Hess’ depictions.

    That is because the photographs he is thinking of are posters for ‘Der Ewige Jude’ and Hess can barely keep himself from bragging that he is to the graphic novel what Fritz Hippler was to film.

    What say you, Eli?


    adam · July 1st, 2011 at 6:45 pm
  10. A burning Menorah isn’t anti-Jewish? Really?

    You really have to ask the guy of his intentions?

    What was the point? To give another avenue for this creeps to post comments on a Jewish blog intellectualizing the overt antisemitism? Hess has no problem relating the imagery to both anti-Jewish propaganda AND his own German heritage, so why is it still a puzzle wether one should take offense?


    ugh · July 1st, 2011 at 8:22 pm
  11. Annexian: “Read issue #2 then look up Burning Man”

    Burning Man started as Solstice ritual, so that’s a loaded comparison to begin with.
    Unlike Burning Man, the comic decidedly depicts a Judaic object being burned.


    ugh · July 1st, 2011 at 8:31 pm
  12. [...] Is this equal to anti-Semitism?The Jewish Journal of Greater L.A.KGO-TV -CounterPunch -Jewschoolall 56 news articles » This entry was posted on Saturday, July 2nd, 2011 at 5:40 am [...]


    THOMAS D. ELIAS: Circumcision moves suggest anti-Semitism – Appeal-Democrat » The Legends of the Jews · July 2nd, 2011 at 7:02 am
  13. Foreskin Man Unmasked by Messianic Jewish Sheep Shearer

    ayidindixieland.blogspot.com/2011/06/foreskin-man-unmasked-by-messianic.html


    A Yid in Dixieland · July 2nd, 2011 at 1:31 pm
  14. “Eli, my friend, you may let Hess off the hook easily, but I will not afford you the same luxury. What is your assessment: is he or is he not an anti-Semite?”

    Because you can hold him up and force him to answer your questions over the internet, apparently.

    “Its not like you’re objective on the issue of circumcision in your film, so there’s little reason to allow such leeway in playing the journalist on his anti-Semitism.”

    Personally, I found his film to be quite objective. I hope you recognize that’s all it comes down to. Your opinion of it’s worth.

    Surgical jabs aside, my opinion (an increasingly popular one these days) is that circumcision is incredibly stupid, whether ritualized or not. Nobody had the right to force a medically dubious procedure on my intimate parts against my will, regardless of what they think their beliefs entitle them to. End of discussion.


    Steven · July 2nd, 2011 at 7:34 pm
  15. I’m kind of leery of calling Hess an Anti-semite. OTOH, the interview doesn’t really provide any evidence he isn’t, either. OTOH, I think it’s interesting that the first target of the circumcision movement is mohelim, who have a far lower rate of injury and accidents than doctors who perform circumcision as a purely medical practice.
    I actually think that for non-Jews and non-Muslims, intactivism makes a certain amount of sense, given the ambiguous evidence of health benefits. IMO until the evidence is somewhat stronger, it doens’t make sense for non-religious people to circumcise their sons. So why target the religious first? Why not push harder for non-religious people who circumcise their children first? work on public opinion, rather than a ballot. Hmm….
    Could it be that targeting the religious practices of a minority makes it more palatable to people? For Jews and Muslims, this is a religious act, and it has great importance. Many of the claims of the so-called intactivists are disproven simply by the history of these religious traditions (that it impairs sexual function, for example. I don’t note that Jewish or Muslim men seem to have any problem with that, despite it being a ritual that is widely practiced even by relatively non-religious Jews (I couldn’t say about the Muslims)). And Jewish men have a rep for being great partners (they’re fine in my experience. And I have to say, that also IMexperience, they’re cleaner, and less likely to cause yeast infections, and the science, while unclear on the health benefits for the men themselves, do seem fairly clear on the health benefits for female partners). Maybe all those Aryan German-heritage types are jealous? I can’t wait for the cartoon taking a page from the Nazis showing the Jewish (or, all things considered, more likely Muslim) men as snivelly, scary, sexual predators. Or maybe he just doesn’t like women? Who knows, but the “intactivists” are not making a good case for themselves by targeting religious ritual first.


    KRG · July 2nd, 2011 at 10:48 pm
  16. KRG: He didn’t target mohelims first. The first issue of this comic actually targeted secular circumcision by doctors.

    “Maybe all those Aryan German-heritage types are jealous?” Actually, if you’ve read interviews with Mr. Hess, my best guess would be that he is pissed off that he himself was violated as an infant.

    “Who knows, but the “intactivists” are not making a good case for themselves by targeting religious ritual first.”

    Actually they haven’t been attacking religious circumcision first, unless you consider any attack on circumcision an attack on religion. Most of their efforts to date have been focused on education; mostly in a secular context.


    Joe · July 3rd, 2011 at 12:44 am
  17. Part of the intactivist argument that I agree with is that babies have the same rights as all other human beings. The part that gets left out though, I think, is the idea that babies have no way to make decisions, that is why they have parents to do so for them. Their parents decide to vaccinate them or put them in a seat belt or to feed them certain kinds of foods and not others. None of those things are a question of having something forced on you, so why is this? Because it is physical? So is getting a shot, no? We do all kinds of things to our children whether they like it or not and we do them because it is for their own good. Being a Jewish boy with an uncircumcised member is culturaly ‘unhealthy’ for him as a member the Jewish community. Baby rights is not/should not be the issue. If it is then many other things should be attacked as well as taking away an individual child’s right to choose.

    13 days ago my wife gave birth to a son and we had no hesitation about giving him a brit. Was it hard to watch? Yes. Was it the right thing to do for our family? Yes. Should this be a matter of law in SF or any other city/country in the world? Absolutely not. If you don’t want to circumcise your child then don’t but don’t call those of us that wish do so, for any number of reasons, monsters and anti-human rights.

    If this was a bit incoherent it’s because I have a newborn baby in the house!


    Uri Allen · July 3rd, 2011 at 6:21 am
  18. Hess pulled his punches. Monster Mohel mentions metzitzah b’peh but does not explain it or get to show it. (I wonder what the reaction would be if he had… even louder cries of anti-semitism, I imagine.)

    I didn’t get the Burning Man connection but I did see the structure was in the form of the Intactivist Underground logo, not a menorah. I think it was Bill O’Reilly who noticed the tiny human forms but didn’t know what a Circumstraint (TM) is. (It’s a plastic tray with a baby-shaped depression and velcro straps.)

    Uri, the difference between circumcision and the other things you mention is that it is a life-long irrevocable reduction to his body. Vaccination confers strong protection against contagious deadly diseases of childhood, now rare precisely because of vaccination. The “health benefits” of circumcision are all arguable, partial reductions in already-rare diseases of late onset, that can be better prevented or treated by other means, as they occur.

    “Being a Jewish boy with an uncircumcised member is culturaly ‘unhealthy’ for him as a member the Jewish community.” Yet more and more such boys and men are already in Jewish commmunities worldwide. I have met them.

    And “the right thing for our family”? As one man said, but more colourfully -
    “My family doesn’t [urinate] with my [penis],
    my family doesn’t [masturbate] with my [penis]
    and my family doesn’t [have sexual intercourse] with my [penis],
    so what business did my family have to go cutting part OFF of my [penis]?”


    Hugh7 · July 4th, 2011 at 6:13 am
  19. I hear you Hugh. I guess my point was simply that babies don’t get to choose lots of things. I would argue that it is a great benefit for a Jewish male to be circumcised just as it is to be vaccinated against hepatitis. I am not really concerned with the actual health benefits, if any, to circumcised males. As noted by a commenter above the benefit seems to be more for any sexual partners than the man himself.
    I have no objection to people not wanting to circumcise their children (I have objection to Jews not wanting to do so, but that is a for another time). I have objection in making this issue about ‘babies don’t get to choose so we can’t do it’ which seems specious reasoning to me.


    Uri Allen · July 5th, 2011 at 3:20 am
  20. “I have objection in making this issue about ‘babies don’t get to choose so we can’t do it’ which seems specious reasoning to me.”

    You have to go further than that. Let’s divide choices made for a pre-autonomous person into four categories based on two distinctions. Choices for a pre-autonomous person may have desired effects immediately while a child is still pre-autonomous, or delayed – only when a child becomes autonomous. Moreover, some choices have their effects permanently and some are either reversible or have indeterminate future effects. Our four categories then become immediate/permanent, immediate/reversible or indeterminate, delayed/permanent, delayed/reversible or indeterminate.

    There are very few choices I make for my child that are permanent. The overwhelming majority are reversible or indeterminate (would that diaper changes would last forever, but they don’t). Let’s assume that vaccinations are permanent (not really true since most require boosters, but that’s not really important). Their effects are intended to benefit the child *immediately* – while he is still pre-autonomous. Circumcision, on the other hand, only has its intended effects when the child becomes autonomous. That’s important because the child then has the ability to make the choice.

    I’d say that, generally speaking, making delayed-effect permanent choices for a pre-autonomous person is wrong. It disrespects autonomy precisely because one overrides it unnecessarily.

    This argument depends on a Kantian understanding of morality, which is still the best attempt to rationally ground moral realism. The controversy regarding circumcision is a direct result of the uncoupling of morality from religion. The cat has been out of the bag for around 350 years. This is just trickle-down.


    Dan O. · July 5th, 2011 at 11:03 am
  21. @KRG The question at hand is, Hess – Jew hater or not?

    Eli Ungar Sargon gives Hess enough rope to hang himself but by refusing to pass judgement, he forgets to toss the noose over the rafter. In doing so he lets Hess swing that rope around the room and further whip the Jewish people under the guise of anti-circumcision and humanitarianism.

    I don’t care if Eli or Hess or anyone else calls me barbaric for defending the ritual. That’s not what this is about. Demonization of Jews for Jewish practices is Bigotry. The defense of those doing so under the guise of progressive values is anything but Progressive. Silence on this is a shibboleth of one’s true liberal colors and we await USG’s verdict.

    Of course, if the aim is self-promotion, I guess it doesn’t matter as long as they spell your name right.


    adam · July 5th, 2011 at 2:15 pm
  22. @ Dan O
    That’s a good breakdown of the choices. Thanks.

    I agree that indeterminate or reversible choices are the majority of choices I will make for my son. It’s just that I don’t really care that circumcision is immediate/irreversible and intended to be of benefit to the child only when he is an autonomous person. For the way that I practice Judaism, and the communities that I want to be a part of, brit milah is what 8 day old Jewish babies get. That is not to say that it was easy to watch or care for him afterwards. It wasn’t.

    I’ll go brush up on my Kant.


    Uri Allen · July 5th, 2011 at 3:15 pm
  23. @Dan- except deciding to get circumsized at age 16/18/21 is a liitle different poposition than getting that booster shot


    shaul · July 5th, 2011 at 3:25 pm
  24. @Uri – That’s fine. For you, autonomy isn’t THE source of goods and obligations. Let’s just be clear, though, that your point isn’t just about circumcision, because circumcision is only a symbol of divine authority. You think divine authority can override autonomy – that’s why you “don’t really care”. Let me ask you a question, though. Does divine authority override autonomy only for the pre-autonomous? It’s merely hypothetical, of course, but would you be against coerced circumcisions of uncircumcised adult Halachic Jews? What if it were authorized by his parents or his wife? If you’d be against that, please explain why.

    Although I think that civil law should err on the side of protecting pre-autonomous people (conflicts of interests between autonomous and pre-autonomous people, as in the case of abortion, raises further issues), I think that the San Francisco initiative is both fundamentalist in nature, unnecessarily confrontational, completely ineffective, and so totally pointless. But the arguments are hardly specious.

    @Shaul – Would you endorse your future self paying a time travelling mercenary to go back in time and coerce your current self to make choices that would make life easier for your future self? And would you endorse that as a general principle, or merely in the case of circumcision?

    Sorry for the improbable examples. But odd or limiting cases can help shed light on our assumptions.


    Dan O. · July 5th, 2011 at 4:30 pm
  25. What is so wrong with following in our ancestors’ footsteps?


    Alissa · July 6th, 2011 at 1:37 am
  26. ” but would you be against coerced circumcisions of uncircumcised adult Halachic Jews? What if it were authorized by his parents or his wife? If you’d be against that, please explain why.”

    Why are they being coerced to be circumcised? I am not an expert but can one be a Halachic Jew without being circumcised (that is a real question by the way, I really don’t know). How can an adult’s parents or wife authorize a procedure like this without consent of said adult? Is this some kind of pro-forma conversion for some technical reasons?

    I also don’t think that I said anything about divine authority btw. That is another complicated conversation for another time. I certainly do believe that there are sources of value beyond autonomous humans.


    Uri Allen · July 6th, 2011 at 3:11 am
  27. I am not an expert but can one be a Halachic Jew without being circumcised (that is a real question by the way, I really don’t know).

    At least 50% of Halachic Jews are not circumcised.


    BZ · July 6th, 2011 at 8:35 am
  28. My understanding is that having an infant son circumcised is an obligation on the parents, but if they don’t fulfill it, it then becomes the adult man’s obligation. But not being circumcised doesn’t make a man not Jewish. (That’s what someone told me, anyway. I’m sure there are people here who could cite sources.)


    em · July 6th, 2011 at 8:54 am
  29. I am not an expert but can one be a Halachic Jew without being circumcised (that is a real question by the way, I really don’t know).

    The answer is yes, one can be a halakhic Jew without being circumcised. The mitzvah is an obligation of the parent until Bar/t Mitzvah at which point it becomes the obligation of the individual. If that individual does not fulfill the obligation, then that individual lives in karet (their soul is ‘cut off’ from God and the Jewish people). However, that individual would be exempt from making offerings, so there would be certain things in contemporary practice the person would be exempt from such as aliyot. Whether or not an uncircumcised Jew could be a shaliah tzibur (prayer leader) and have the ability to take others out of their obligation I do not know…
    I am having a hard time remembering precisely where it is, but somewhere in the Talmud it says that an uncircumcised Jew is still circumcised of heart, so that may be grounds enough that they would in fact be able to bring others out of their obligation, but that is by no means a psak (ruling).


    Justin · July 6th, 2011 at 9:02 am
  30. If that individual does not fulfill the obligation, then that individual lives in karet (their soul is ‘cut off’ from God and the Jewish people). However, that individual would be exempt from making offerings, so there would be certain things in contemporary practice the person would be exempt from such as aliyot.

    Why are we playing the pronoun game here??? This is about CIRCUMCISION.


    BZ · July 6th, 2011 at 9:16 am
  31. In that case to answer you Dan, if such a Halachic Jew were coerced to become circumcised I would have a problem with it precisely because of the issue of taking away his choice in the matter. I don’t have a problem with ‘coercing’ it on baby boys because they would not be able to choose anyway and the mitzvah is on that boys father and not him.

    @BZ – that is a very high statistic and surprises me. Is that worldwide or just in USA? And good point about the pronoun game.


    Uri Allen · July 6th, 2011 at 10:18 am
  32. @BZ – that is a very high statistic and surprises me. Is that worldwide or just in USA?

    Women live longer, so they’re more than 50% of the population.


    BZ · July 6th, 2011 at 10:39 am
  33. The Golem of Prague’s Foreskin Now on display at the Smithsonian. Take that Foreskin man!

    ayidindixieland.blogspot.com/2011/07/golems-foreskin-now-on-display-at.html


    A Yid in Dixieland · July 6th, 2011 at 10:47 am
  34. Why are we playing the pronoun game here??? This is about CIRCUMCISION.

    trying to be sensitive to transgender folks which would include both those with male genitalia who identify as women, those with female genitalia who identify as men; and those with either genitalia who identify as neither men nor women. ain’t livin in the 21st century fun?


    Justin · July 6th, 2011 at 12:03 pm
  35. Are the people in the first category still chayavot milah? I suppose they must be, if we hold that obligation in the mitzvot doesn’t depend on gender, but only (if applicable) on physical possibility. Fascinating.


    BZ · July 6th, 2011 at 12:44 pm
  36. Justin-You missed a step. The mitzvah is on the father. If the father fails to perform it, the mitzvah is then on the local Beit Din. If the Beit Din fails to perform it, the mitzvah is then on the individual.

    “However, that individual would be exempt from making offerings, so there would be certain things in contemporary practice the person would be exempt from such as aliyot. Whether or not an uncircumcised Jew could be a shaliah tzibur (prayer leader) and have the ability to take others out of their obligation I do not know…”

    You seem to be pulling this out of thin air. It’s true that an uncircumcised man cannot participate in the Korban Pessach, but that’s the extent of it. I really don’t know where you got this notion that they can’t get aliyot or lead a service. You forget, of course, that a certain percentage of Jews are exempt from circumcision halachically, because they are hemopheliacs.


    Eli · July 6th, 2011 at 1:12 pm
  37. @Eli,
    I don’t have the sources in front of me, but I have actually studied this stuff at great length. Around the late Middle Ages the concern of who could or could not have an aliyah became codified halakhically and certain people who did not perform certain mitzvot would be considered exempt from receiving honors and those who could serve as prayer leaders were limited to those deemed pious enough by the community–this is why I made that leap. Again, those Jews exempt from circumcision by halakhah (which not only includes hemopheliacs, but the sons of a parent who had a previous child who died as a result of complications from the circumcision) are considered to be circumcised because all Jews are circumcised of heart. I will try and find the sources in the next couple of days so people can see it for themselves.


    Justin · July 6th, 2011 at 1:49 pm
  38. Justin-Please do share the sources that specifically reference circumcision. This is the first I’ve heard of this.

    “Again, those Jews exempt from circumcision by halakhah (which not only includes hemopheliacs, but the sons of a parent who had a previous child who died as a result of complications from the circumcision) are considered to be circumcised because all Jews are circumcised of heart.”

    It’s actually quite a bit worse. There’s a makhloket (dispute) in Yevamot (64B) about whether it is necessary to circumcise the boy of a mother who has lost two boys to circumcision-related complications. One opinion is that the third son is exempt from circumcision and the other is that only the fourth son is exempt. Can you please provide a source that backs up your “circumcised of heart” claim. I know, for example, that no matter the reason, an uncircumcised Jewish male cannot partake in the Korban Pessach. I imagine there’s a halachik device to absolve a hemopheliac of Karet, but it doesn’t change the fact that he is an arel. On the other hand, this is the only actual practical halachick exclusion that I am aware of to an uncircumcised Jewish male. If you have sources for anything outside of the KP exclusion, I’d be grateful.


    Eli · July 6th, 2011 at 2:26 pm
  39. @BZ
    I get it. Duh


    Uri Allen · July 6th, 2011 at 2:37 pm
  40. @Eli-
    I don’t have the sources from the middle ages, but I do have the circumcised of heart reference handy. it can be found in the Mishnah in Nedarim. I know the page in the Talmud is 31b. it reads, more or less:

    One who makes vow that “I will (not) provide benefit for ‘the foreskinned’” he is permitted regarding ‘the foreskinned’ of Israel and forbidden regarding ‘the circumcised’ of idol worshippers. That “I will (not) provide benefit for ‘the circumcised’” he is forbidden regarding ‘the foreskinned’ of Israel and permitted regarding ‘the circumcised’ of idol worshippers since the foreskin is only used as a name for idol worshippers as it is said “for all of the nations are ‘foreskinned’ and all of the House of Israel are ‘circumcised’ of heart,” and it says “And this ‘foreskinned’ Philistine shall be,” and it says “lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of ‘the foreskinned’ triumph.”


    Justin · July 6th, 2011 at 3:47 pm
  41. “Why are they being coerced to be circumcised? I am not an expert but can one be a Halachic Jew without being circumcised (that is a real question by the way, I really don’t know).”

    It’s a hypothetical to test your intuitions on autonomy, pre-autonomous people, and coercion. As to the factual question, as has been covered, the answer is “yes”.

    “I don’t have a problem with ‘coercing’ it on baby boys because they would not be able to choose anyway and the mitzvah is on that boys father and not him.”

    The trouble with your logic, and why I assumed you’ve got a divine-command theory in mind, is that you won’t step-outside a discussion of Jewish law. This is a policy issue, not a Jewish issue. I mean, from a Jewish perspective female genital mutilation is not an issue because it is not a mitzvah (it is, for all I know, explicitly proscribed). But from a policy point of view, it is an issue. Consider the recent controversy over the AAP’s policy paper suggesting non-permanent genital ‘nicking’ or ‘pricking’ for baby girls to allow certain ethnic groups to discharge their felt-duty to “circumcise” girls without permanent damage. AAP revoked the paper over concerns that their view would set-back the autonomous control of girls’ and womens’ bodies.

    From a policy point of view, then, are we going to end with an imbalance, with the autonomy of girls being specifically guarded by the law, while boys receive no such protection? From a feminist point of view, this is problematic, because the lack of any protection for boys’ pre-autonomy could be used to argue against continuing to protect girls.

    Again, what one does to pre-autonomous individuals when they are pre-autonomous is very much open to question. Consider, for example, the possibility of “treatments” that would determine the sexual orientation of a child. This is not merely a science-fiction example. After all, surgeries are often chosen for sex-ambiguous conditions in infants, sometimes with disastrous effects.

    If you think that pre-autonomy isn’t accorded moral or legal respect, what principle allows circumcision while proscribing female genital mutilation, selection of sexual preference, selection of biological sex, or any other permanent non-necessary bodily modification?


    Dan O. · July 7th, 2011 at 8:58 am
  42. Dan,
    Everything you say makes sense to me. However, as I said before, there are other sources of value than the individual. If I was ready to live in a world where group rights, and certainly rights or religious groups, meant nothing then I your line of reasoning would ring very true to me. Its just that we don’t live in that kind of a world.

    Yes it is a policy issue. A policy issue that would have ramifications on the free exercise of religion for Jews as well as Muslims and anyone else who performs religious circumcision. In a pure policy conversation, I might agree with you but everyone knows that this is not what this ballot measure is about.
    Perhaps another hypothetical for you, since you seem so fond of them. What if it were determined beyond a shadow of a doubt that real health benefits derived from being circumcised both to men and to their sexual partners, would there still be an outcry of genital mutilation? What if it came down to a real public health issue like the spread of some STD such that not only baby boys would be required to be circumcised but any man, what then?

    I respect your position Dan but I simply disagree. Ritual circumcision is just one of those things that (many. most?) Jews do. There is no amount of policy, or human rights logic that will ever convince me that Jews should stop performing this ritual.


    Uri Allen · July 7th, 2011 at 11:28 am
  43. “If I was ready to live in a world where group rights, and certainly rights or religious groups, meant nothing then I your line of reasoning would ring very true to me. Its just that we don’t live in that kind of a world.”

    This has nothing to do with religion. The rights of religious groups never trump individual civil rights. This has to do with the rights of parents over their children. No religious group can force a circumcision. The thought is ridiculous.

    Moreover, FGM is proscribed. Circumcision is not. If this difference has to do with religion, then we have a clear violation of the establishment clause. If you’re uncomfortable with that, you’re uncomfortable with the Bill of Rights.

    Usually people who argue against intactivists avoid this argument, because they know it’s a legal dead-end. They instead go on health or on general cultural tradition. (Most people in my generation were circumcised as a matter of course). Courts care about general cultural traditions. That there is no tradition of FGM in the US is why it may be proscribed. That there is a tradition of male circumcision in the US is why it may not.

    “What if it were determined beyond a shadow of a doubt that real health benefits derived from being circumcised both to men and to their sexual partners, would there still be an outcry of genital mutilation? What if it came down to a real public health issue like the spread of some STD such that not only baby boys would be required to be circumcised but any man, what then?”

    Well, that would be a break from current policy. After all, nobody can get sent to jail for refusing to inoculate their kid. But if the effect were near the effect of inoculations, it should be ‘required’ in the same sense (i.e. required for admittance to public schools). Of course, because wearing a condom actually wipes out any effect of circumcision on STD’s, that’s not going to happen.

    Maybe you don’t see the irony, but religious groups very often oppose good sexual public health policy, like sex education (as opposed to abstinence-only nonsense). So, you’ll excuse me, but when religious groups talk about public health I assume they’re selling something.

    Still, I don’t think that it’s a good idea to proscribe circumcision, which is what the initiative seeks to do, because it’s an established cultural practice. It’s better to allow the cultural practice to decline naturally, which is exactly what’s happening. And among Jews.


    Dan O. · July 7th, 2011 at 6:22 pm
  44. If this difference has to do with religion, then we have a clear violation of the establishment clause

    yay for willful misreadings of the Constitution!!!

    The establishment clause prevents Congress from establishing a national religion for the government and prevents Congress from showing legal favor to one religion over another–that is all. The individual practices of any religion are irrelevant to the establishment clause.


    Justin · July 7th, 2011 at 11:03 pm
  45. I don’t know why you think I am some religious nut, but it sounds like you do. I don’t oppose good sexual public health policy. I am in strong favor of it in fact. It sounds like you don’t understand what I am saying – or at least that you disagree, unclear.
    All I am saying is that the individual as we know is not the only source of value in the world. I accept that for the court system in the US it may be but that is a limitation it has placed in itself and the system not a description of universal fact.
    I am not a constitutional scholar, but it seems to me that the establishment clause means exactly what Justin says it does.
    Look, your analysis is good from a particular point of view, but why do you keep trying to convince me of something that I have already said makes sense but that I don’t really care what the logical points are. Circumcision is a deep part of Jewish culture and practice. That there are many Jews who choose not to circumcise their sons makes me sad. I can only try to educate those people to the meaning of the ritual.
    Ok, I’ll just say it to make you happy – you’re smarter than me and I live in the dark ages because I am a religious person. Fine. You win. What’s next?


    Uri Allen · July 8th, 2011 at 3:54 am
  46. @ Justin

    “The establishment clause prevents Congress from establishing a national religion for the government and prevents Congress from showing legal favor to one religion over another–that is all. The individual practices of any religion are irrelevant to the establishment clause.”

    Isn’t Congress by prohibiting FGM showing disfavor to a religious group? That was my point.


    Dan O. · July 8th, 2011 at 9:28 am
  47. “Ok, I’ll just say it to make you happy – you’re smarter than me and I live in the dark ages because I am a religious person. Fine. You win. What’s next?”

    Being patronized doesn’t make me happy. Nor am I happy when people unnecessarily undermine their son’s autonomy. I’m arguing because I don’t like that, not to prove I’m smarter than anyone. Yeah, I tend to emotionally equate people who circumsize to religious nuts, because the attitude is outlandish to me. Moreover, in a world of piercings and tattoos, I find the Jewish attitude about the sanctity of the natural human body to be refreshing, uplifting, and at odds with itself with regard to circumcisions.


    Dan O. · July 8th, 2011 at 10:12 am
  48. 1) Sorry for being patronizing.
    2) Babies are not autonomous. If they were we wouldn’t need to care for them in the ways that we do.
    3) You can think it’s outlandish as much as you want so long as you recognize my right to be outlandish.
    4) Here is a mainstream Rabbinic view regarding circumcision that I subscribe to. It is from Midrash Tanchuma parshat Tazria. The Jewish attitude regarding the sanctity of the human body is a separate issue as far as Rabbinic thought is concerned.

    “Once the evil [Roman governor] Turnus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva, ‘Whose deeds are greater – God’s or man’s?’ He replied, ‘Man’s deeds are greater.’ Turnus Rufus asked him, ‘Is man then capable of creating heaven and earth, or anything like them?’ Rabbi Akiva replied, ‘I was not referring to the sphere beyond man’s ability, over which he has no control. I refer to those creations of which man is capable.’ He then asked, ‘Why do you circumcise yourselves?’ Rabbi Akiva replied, ‘I knew that that was the point of your question, and therefore I answered in the first place that man’s deeds are greater than God’s.’ Rabbi Akiva brought him grains of wheat and some bread, and said: ‘These grains of wheat are God’s handiwork, and the bread is the handiwork of man. Is the latter not greater than the former?’ Turnus Rufus answered him, ‘If God wanted you to perform circumcision, why did He not create the child already circumcised while still in the womb?’ Rabbi Akiva answered, ‘Why do you not ask the same question concerning the umbilical cord, which remains attached to him and which his mother must cut? In response to your question – the reason why he does not emerge already circumcised is because God gave Israel the commandments in order that they would be purified by performing them. Therefore David wrote, ‘Every word of God is pure (or, purified).’”


    Uri Allen · July 8th, 2011 at 10:46 am
  49. Isn’t Congress by prohibiting FGM showing disfavor to a religious group? That was my point.

    I do not believe that FGM is a religious rite for any religion, but rather is a cultural practice of certain ethnic groups. Therefore, no I do not believe banning FGM contradicts the establishment clause, and if you want to get really nitpicky about it, as constitutional scholars like to do, then the issue is showing favor, not dis-favor. But like Uri, I’m no constitutional scholar.

    people unnecessarily undermine their son’s autonomy.
    doesn’t that beg the question that minors, especially minors who have no ability to make decisions of their own, have autonomy?

    Moreover, in a world of piercings and tattoos, I find the Jewish attitude about the sanctity of the natural human body to be refreshing, uplifting, and at odds with itself with regard to circumcisions.
    the Jewish view on circumcision and the view on the sanctity of the body are actually related. that you disagree with it is your prerogative, but it’s best not to judge things we do not have a full understanding of.


    Justin · July 8th, 2011 at 11:13 am
  50. “the Jewish view on circumcision and the view on the sanctity of the body are actually related.”
    Related but not the same.


    Uri Allen · July 8th, 2011 at 12:14 pm
  51. @Uri

    1. Thank you. I’m sorry for comparing you to a religious nut. My feelings get the better or me.

    2. I’ve explained my view that non-necessary permanent acts performed upon the pre-autonomous are violations of future autonomy. @Justin – you can see this view above. I’ve got a 2-year old. I know she’s not autonomous (duh). I also believe it would be wrong to choose elective surgery on her as a non-autonomous child. We can disagree about what counts as elective (repairing a hairlip would not be elective due to potential psychological distress, doing a nose job would be). But respect for future autonomy is hardly a radical notion.

    3. “as you recognize my right to be outlandish”

    I’m law-abiding. So is the author of the rather revolting publication interviewed here. Your actions are under no threat from me. I guess I don’t understand the concern.

    4. Yes, the intellect must be perfected as well, which is why Jews study. Of course, women were not included in either circumcision or study. I think a lot of people twenty years ago would have seen Jewish intellectualism as running contrary to its sexism. History ruled them right, although I’m quite sure you could have pulled a lovely example from a Rabbi arguing that women’s intellects are imperfect-able. While you might have stronger religious footing, I can tell you that feminism in large part motivates the serious anti-circumcision movement. Circumcision is evidence of misogyny. If only men’s bodies are purified, where does that leave women? You know the answer: in need of constant and recurring purification.


    Dan O. · July 8th, 2011 at 1:45 pm
  52. Before our son was born, we did not know the gender of the baby. I asked some Rabbi friends of mine if they could steer me towards ceremonies/rituals for girls that would bring them into the brit in a similar way as brit milah would for a boy. He turned out to be a boy so…
    Dan, feminism/egalitarianism is a huge part of my Judaism and I try to correct historical misogyny when possible. However (and this might sound apologetic) I truly believe that men and women are different in many significant ways and that it would not be inappropriate to sometimes mark that difference in Jewish ritual space.
    Circumcision is not evidence of misogyny. It is evidence of male anatomy. Are you advocating Jewish female circumcision as a feminist correction of Jewish practice? ;)


    Uri Allen · July 9th, 2011 at 2:00 pm
  53. Many, many Jews are questioning circumcision from many perspectives including religious, ethical, and spiritual as well as as men, women, and parents.

    To the Mohel Who Cut Me by Shea Levy
    www.beyondthebris.com/2011/06/to-mohel-who-cut-me.html

    A Jewish Woman Denounces Circumcision by Laura Shanley
    www.unassistedchildbirth.com/miscarticles/circarticle.html

    How “Cut” Saved My Son’s Foreskin: A Movie Review By Diane Targovnik
    www.beyondthebris.com/2011/05/how-cut-saved-my-sons-foreskin-movie.html

    Jewish Circumcision: An Alternative Perspective by Jenny Goodman, MD.
    www.cirp.org/library/cultural/goodman1999/

    A Case for Bris without Milah.
    www.circumstitions.com/Jewish.html


    A Jewish Male Against Circumcision · July 10th, 2011 at 1:41 pm
  54. Say many, many Jews question circumcision is grossly overstated. A)there aren’t that many of us. B)most of us circumcise our sons. C)most that don’t circumcise don’t care about being Jewish. This is a vocal minorty, it’s not “many, many” people


    Justin · July 10th, 2011 at 9:26 pm
  55. @Justin
    “C)most that don’t circumcise don’t care about being Jewish.”

    That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. I hear the same claim made in the following contexts as well: (i) support for Israel’s actual policies (i.e. people who don’t don’t really care about being Jewish), and (ii) acceptance of intermarried couples and their children (i.e. it’s not necessary, because they don’t care about being Jewish as evidenced by their selection of a spouse). Generally, I find that when people start talking that way, it’s better to ignore what followed or preceded, because if I took it to heart I wouldn’t care about being Jewish. So I accept that it’s there, but I put it to the side.

    @Uri

    Let me just say, I really appreciate your discussion. To this:

    “I truly believe that men and women are different in many significant ways and that it would not be inappropriate to sometimes mark that difference in Jewish ritual space.
    Circumcision is not evidence of misogyny. It is evidence of male anatomy. Are you advocating Jewish female circumcision as a feminist correction of Jewish practice?”

    I believe that sexuality and culture (religion included) together create gender. So, your view that gender fashions religious practices seems to me like putting the cart before the horse. The question is, “How do we want our religious practices to fashion gender?”, not “How do our religious practices reflect gender?” I feel that men have a better example in respecting others’ autonomy if their own is respected. And I think that makes masculinity better.

    Second, if circumcision is about religious practices following gender, then it’s all about the parents and not at all about the boy. After all, what does an 8-day old know about gender? Your claim about having practice reflect gender would only make sense if boys were circumcised at 13, when gender really begins to make a difference.


    Dan O. · July 11th, 2011 at 12:30 pm
  56. Dan, I’ve been enjoying the conversation as well. Yashar Koach!

    Look –
    It’s not about gender bur rather sex. As you correctly said gender is a societal/personal construction Sex (m/f) is a about plumbing.
    8 day old boys or girls don’t know anything about gender (I don’t think). So let me amend. I don’t have a problem creating rituals based on different anatomy in very limited and specific cases, and I also don’t have a problem having rituals that reflect different genders (not just the two traditional ones) in very limited and specific cases. The cases I’m talking about would be weddings for example, or what about a religious ceremony for a sex change operation, or for a person who comes out of the closet for the first time. These are no less significant life cycle events than a bar or bat mitvah.

    By the way, I don’t want my religious rituals to fashion gender. I want there to be religious rituals that reflect the gender that you tell me you are.

    My view of Judaism is that for the most part everyone gets to participate in everything unless you don’t meet a very specific pre-requisite. For example, girls are not circumcised because they don’t have a penis. I admit that in the past, and unfortunately still today, that has created much hierarchy between Jewish men and women. In my interpretation (I am by no means a scholar but I have studied Judaism all my life and am training to be a rabbi) and in the way that I practice Judaism that is no longer the case. Just because in the past various rituals were designed to subjugate women or oppress non-Jews or any ‘other’ one can think of does not necessarily mean that it continues to serve the same function today.

    The Judaism of the 21st century needs to be ready to adapt and create new spheres of relevance for itself. This comes through knowledge, creativity and courage. I don’t find anything courageous about abandoning traditions that have sustained us without first trying damn hard to see if they can resonate somewhere to our sense of Jewish belonging, whatever that means.


    Uri Allen · July 11th, 2011 at 1:05 pm
  57. @Dan O. The Jewish view on the sanctity of the human body is derived from the view that the human body belongs not to us, but to God – the same God who commands us to circumcise sons. Judaicly, there’s no contradiction, to the contrary, they both stem from the same source. In Judaism, our bodies are not ours to do with what we will – they belong exclusively to God, and to the extent that God commands us to do or refrain from certain things, that is our obligation – thus, no tattoos, no piercings in a place where the skin won’t grow back, and circumcision is obligatory for males. This isn’t an argument that can be settled in any rational way: if one is a halachic Jew, one has to circumcise one’s sons at 8 days. If not, then you probably shouldn’t. Maimonides says that we do it as a reminder to set limits on our sexuality – and given the sort of thing that we’ve been reading about in the news lately, that doens’t seem so unwise to me – a reminder that sexual pleasure is good (and it is perfectly clear that circumcision doesn’t remove that – one only has to ask most Jewish males to know as a matter of fact that sex is still pleasurable for circumcised men), but not above our obligations to one another and to God. In Judaism, our bodies are a source of good, but like all things, holiness comes about through limitation and separation. Circumcision is one of the ways that the Jewish people have always been set apart. I circumcised my son, and am proud that he will be a whole Jewish man- because until he is circumcised, in Judaism, he is not whole.


    KRG · July 11th, 2011 at 11:43 pm
  58. There is a rapidly growing movement of Jews who are doing without circumcision, and moving toward symbolic and ethical ceremonies.

    Brit B’lee Milah (Covenant Without Cutting) Ceremony
    www.nocirc.org/religion/Naming_ceremony.php

    Being rational about circumcision and Jewish observance by Moshe Rothenberg, MSW
    www.noharmm.org/rationaljew.htm

    Challenging the Circumcision Myth by Jan Jaben-Eilon, Jerusalem Post, 4/10/11 (PDF)
    lisabravermoss.com/uploads/Challenging_the_Circumcision_Myth.pdf

    Circumcision: A Jewish Feminist Perspective by Miriam Pollack
    www.noharmm.org/pollack.htm


    A Jewish Male Opposing Circumcision · July 12th, 2011 at 9:41 am
  59. @KRG – Your particular point of law doesn’t bother me as much as the liturgical perspective it presumes. The pantheist / pantheist + liturgy I am attracted to spins the claim that God “owns” our bodies quite differently. Now, you might not have any respect for the kind of radical (Reconstructionist/Renewal) liturgy I’m attracted to, and that’s fine. Frankly, I don’t care to argue that position if the authorities upon which I base the position aren’t respected. I just want to point out that the conception of ownership (i.e. in God’s ownership over our bodies) you use to draw your conclusion is a literally human conception. The idea that such a human conception of ownership would be applied to humans is an anathema to me. I do not conceive of God as a slavemaster, however beneficent. Moreover, the very idea of divine ownership makes a mockery of the notion of a covenant; one can’t make a covenant with something one owns.


    Dan O. · July 12th, 2011 at 12:06 pm
  60. Foreskin Man Steals The Golem’s Prepuce from the Smithsonian

    ayidindixieland.blogspot.com/2011/07/foreskin-man-steals-golems-prepuce-from.html


    A Yid in Dixieland · July 13th, 2011 at 8:17 am
  61. “I believe circumcision is a major mistake…The code of the Jewish law is called “halacha” (the way). Within the Code, there is a provision that if a mother looses a son because of circumcision, she is NOT obligated to circumcise her next son. I extrapolate from this, the inter-connection of my human family, that enough deaths and maiming have occurred because of circumcision. Therefore – circumcision is no longer a requisite! Just as we no longer practice the animal sacrifices in the traditional temple, so let us not sacrifice an important piece of our mammal in the temple of tradition.”
    - Rabbi Natan Segal, 2007, Rabbi of Shabbos Shul, Marin County, California, U.S.A. www.circumstitions.com/Jewish.html
    www.circumstitions.com/Jewish-shalom.html


    A Jewish Male Opposing Circumcision · July 13th, 2011 at 2:14 pm
  62. Justin-Not to put too fine a point on it, but you totally misquoted the Mishna in Nedarim. It’s quoting a verse from Jeremiah that says that all Jews are UNcirumcised of heart. There are verses in the Torah that talk about being circumcised of heart. Deuteronomy 10:16, for example. There’s also Jeremiah 4:4. It’s worth mentioning that these particular verses are Christian prooftexts against physical circumcision. Karet is not a clear concept by any means, but it’s NOT a state of being. You don’t “Live in Karet.” It’s a punishment. For many things other than being intact, I might add. Again, I’d be grateful if you would actually provide a source for your contentions.


    Eli · July 16th, 2011 at 11:44 pm
  63. Hess is deaf and blind to the power of images to convey meaning independently of any associated text and of the stated intentions of the creator of those images. This power is why political cartoons are so effective.

    I cannot believe that Hess was capable of speaking the following sentences with a straight face: “Foreskin Man’s blond hair, blue eyes, and fair skin reflects my own German heritage. I see absolutely no reason to be ashamed of that.” Foreskin Man does not look German but Slavic. I see many reasons to be ashamed of being the creator of Foreskin Man!

    Brit milah is not a first order human rights or medical issue, simply because brisim make up a small percentage of all circumcisions performed worldwide. The ethics of brit milah is something that Jews will have to work out among themselves. And I predict a three way split in future Jewish opinion. Liberal, secular, unaffiliated, and atheist/agnostic Jews will give up bris entirely, as is already often the case outside of Israel and North America. Most Reform and some Conservative rabbis will quietly accept deferring bris to the early 20s. Circumcision on the 8th day will become a mark of orthodoxy, like payess and tefilim. That said, the time will come when intact orthodox Jew will cease to be an oxymoron.

    Two sociological facts. First, most Jewish families send their children to public schools and to nonJewish universities. Second, there is a powerful Jewish heritage of sexual sophistication and of progressive views on human sexuality. The claim that the foreskin is irrelevant to sexual pleasure and functionality, after ruling the roost for several generations, is fading from sophisticated America. Hence as gentile America gradually gives up circumcision, more and more nonorthodox Jewish families will find it awkward to circumcise their infant sons.

    Matthew Hess did the intactivist cause a major disservice by drawing attention away from the deplorable reasons for the vast majority of circumcisions worldwide, to wit:
    * The secular routine infant circumcisions of Australia, Canada, and the USA. These circumcisions arr blatantly unethical. Many are still performed without pain reduction. A bigger problem is that American medicine refuses to count honestly the occasional long-term adverse effects of infant circumcision for adult sexual pleasure and functionality;
    * The hospital circumcisions performed on adolescents in South Korea;
    * The millions of tribal initiation rite of passage circumcisions performed under barbaric and unsanitary conditions in Africa, Polynesia, and the Philippines. These circumcisions have no religious justification;
    * Islamic circumcision, which is a custom, not a true requirement. The act of circumcision itself is not an Islamic ritual, and the Koran does not mention circumcision at all. A major reason why Islam circumcises is to reenforce its claim to being an Abrahamic religion. Islam believes that a circumcised man is holier because his penis is cleaner. I submit that with the invention of soap, running water, sewers, and daily showers, Islamic circumcision is no longer necessary.

    I am glad to see the warm and mostly civilised Talmudic discussion taking place here, even if I cannot partake in any way.


    RD · July 24th, 2011 at 10:17 pm
  64. @KRG:

    “Maimonides says that we do it as a reminder to set limits on our sexuality…”
    Over the past century or so, the First World has been running a huge natural experiment. Japan and continental Europe have never circumcised. The UK and New Zealand used to, but gave it up. In Australia and Canada, the practice has moved from majority to minority. Are Japan and continental Europe the most sexually depraved nations? Has depravity risen dramatically in the UK and New Zealand? Is it rising in Australia and Canada? Is the USA a paragon of sexual purity because the adult American penis is mostly bald?

    Nearly all American men of my generation who were born in a USA maternity ward were circumcised at birth. I can assure you that many of my male contemporaries never let their circumcisions ever stand in the way of crude, immature, and irresponsible sexual behaviour. It never crossed our minds that circumcision was supposed to nag us into resisting temptation and being chaste. Nor did it ever cross our minds that circumcision protected us from STDs.

    Over the past 30 years, around 200,000 American and Canadian gay men have died of AIDS. The vast majority of these men were circumcised.

    The Victorian doctors who sold circumcision to the British and American urban upper middle class as a way of discouraging masturbation, fornication, and adultery, and therefore of making men more pure, were laughably mistaken.

    “…a reminder that sexual pleasure is good (and it is perfectly clear that circumcision doesn’t remove that – one only has to ask most Jewish males to know as a matter of fact that sex is still pleasurable for circumcised men…”
    There has been no honest and scholarly survey of the adult Jewish penis. There has been no attempt to count the possible damage to adult sexual pleasure and functionality, especially after age 40. Hence we do not know whether and how often brit milah affects Jewish sexuality.

    “…but not above our obligations to one another and to God. In Judaism, our bodies are a source of good, but like all things, holiness comes about through limitation and separation.”
    Holiness through limitation of carnality is central to traditional Christianity and probably to Islam as well. But it is also true that Judaism celebrates marital passion. It is possible that in some cases, circumcision impairs a wife’s marital pleasure, especially after menopause. We don’t know, because we have not carefully looked.

    “Circumcision is one of the ways that the Jewish people have always been set apart.”
    This is true of the Ashkenazim in Christian Europe, but not in North America. Also not true of the Mizrahim in the Moslem world. Moreover, it is my understanding that circumcision was common in the Arabian Peninsula during biblical times.


    RD · July 24th, 2011 at 10:54 pm
  65. Justin doubted the number of Jews who question circumcision. He may want to consider the many Jews and viewpoints here.

    Jewish Voices: The Current Judaic Movement to End Circumcision: Part 1
    intactnews.org/node/104/1311886091/jewish-voices-current-judaic-movement-end-circumcision-part-1

    Jewish Voices: The Current Judaic Movement to End Circumcision: Part 2
    intactnews.org/node/105/1311886372/jewish-voices-current-judaic-movement-end-circumcision-part-2


    A Jewish Male Opposing Circumcision · July 28th, 2011 at 6:26 pm
  66. Jewish Intactivist Miriam Pollack has some great commentary on ‘Foreskin Man’ in this recent interview.
    www.beyondthebris.com/2011/07/defying-convention-interview-with_27.html

    She’s also written some very insightful material on pikuah nefesh and how it relates to the circumcision dilema.
    www.noharmm.org/pollack.htm

    Intactivist moyel Moshe Rothenberg also has some insights about how modern Jews should live our principles by bypassing circumcision.
    www.nocirc.org/symposia/second/rothenberg.html

    Those of you who thought that the intactivist movement was anti-semetic, may want to learn about some of the Jews who believe that circumcision should be against the law.
    intactnews.org/node/103/1311885181/jews-speak-out-favor-banning-circumcision-minors


    A Jewish Male Opposing Circumcision · July 29th, 2011 at 1:10 am
  67. The comic parody, Smegna Man Gets Circumcised, (published at Smegmaman.com) is a lot funnier; has a great plot; and passes along sound information about the medical and cosmetic benefits of the procedure– and, in the end, the villains meet a very appropriate end.

    Ed Margolis


    Ed Margolis · July 29th, 2011 at 9:58 pm
  68. In light of the San Francisco circumcision referendum being removed from the ballot, a new Jewish intactivist group has formed. More radical than before, this group believes that circumcision surgery should be made against the law.

    There are currently two Jewish intactivist groups calling for circumcision to be criminalized.
    In Israel – www.britmila.org.il/
    In America – www.jewsfortherightsofthechild.org/

    Is this a good turn of events? Is this the best way for this issue to turn out?


    IA · August 7th, 2011 at 3:55 am
  69. Considering that in absolute numbers, circumcision for religious reasons is considerably more often practiced by muslims than by jews, having the second volume of this comic directed directly agains jewish circumcision seems to be the result of an at least somewhat warped perspecitve, which could indeed point to the author being an anti-semite (or possibly a coward, since attacking muslim practices is more likely to result in bodily harm these days than attacking jewish ones…)


    A. N. Imus · December 21st, 2011 at 3:33 pm
  70. I find it very sad that so many Jews find nothing more in Judaism than the mutilation of the sexual organs of human males.

    This great monotheistic religion, the deliverer of the Ten Commandments, and the Bible is all forgotten. For them Judaism is nothing more than a belief in the cruel cutting of the genitals of boys, contrary to modern concepts of human rights.

    For these Jews, who see nothing in Judaism other than circumcision, an attack on circumcision is viewed as an attack on Judaism.

    Thankfully, not all Jews are so simplistic in their understanding of Judaism. Many Jews are adopting a non-cutting naming ceremony usually called Brit Shalom.


    Roland Day · March 31st, 2012 at 7:00 am
  71. [...] Matt Hess, described in the June 6, 2011 edition of the Digital Journal, as “a leading figure in the movement” is the creator of “Foreskin Man”. Read an interview with Matt Hess at  http://jewschool.com/2011/06/30/26510/interview-with-the-creator-of-foreskin-man/ [...]


    "Mazal Tov!" ... I think? Contemporary Challenges to Torah Observance | ownnexusarticles.info · April 5th, 2012 at 11:49 pm
  72. [...] Matt Hess, described in the June 6, 2011 edition of the Digital Journal, as “a leading figure in the movement” is the creator of “Foreskin Man”. Read an interview with Matt Hess at  http://jewschool.com/2011/06/30/26510/interview-with-the-creator-of-foreskin-man/ [...]


    "Mazal Tov!" ... I think? Contemporary Challenges to Torah Observance | putnexusarticles.org · April 7th, 2012 at 12:39 pm
  73. [...] Matt Hess, described in the June 6, 2011 edition of the Digital Journal, as “a leading figure in the movement” is the creator of “Foreskin Man”. Read an interview with Matt Hess at  http://jewschool.com/2011/06/30/26510/interview-with-the-creator-of-foreskin-man/ [...]


    "Mazal Tov!" ... I think? Contemporary Challenges to Torah Observance | articleshub6.in · April 26th, 2012 at 6:34 am
  74. [...] Matt Hess, described in the June 6, 2011 edition of the Digital Journal, as “a leading figure in the movement” is the creator of “Foreskin Man”. Read an interview with Matt Hess at  http://jewschool.com/2011/06/30/26510/interview-with-the-creator-of-foreskin-man/ [...]


    “Mazal Tov!” … I think? Contemporary Challenges to Torah Observance (Ezine Ready) | Jewish Holidays · May 31st, 2012 at 8:25 pm
  75. [...] Matt Hess, described in the June 6, 2011 edition of the Digital Journal, as “a leading figure in the movement” is the creator of “Foreskin Man”. Read an interview with Matt Hess at  http://jewschool.com/2011/06/30/26510/interview-with-the-creator-of-foreskin-man/ [...]


    “Mazal Tov!” … I think? Contemporary Challenges to Torah Observance (Ezine Ready) | 2011 Jewish Holidays · June 11th, 2012 at 8:24 am
  76. [...] Matt Hess, described in the June 6, 2011 edition of the Digital Journal, as “a leading figure in the movement” is the creator of “Foreskin Man”. Read an interview with Matt Hess at  http://jewschool.com/2011/06/30/26510/interview-with-the-creator-of-foreskin-man/ [...]


    “Mazal Tov!” … I think? Contemporary Challenges to Torah Observance (Ezine Ready) | 2010 Jewish Holidays · June 29th, 2012 at 12:24 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik