Justice, Religion


Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon is finished and now screening “Cut,” a provocative new documentary film about a traditional Jew from an Orthodox background rethinking circumcision. The film is respectful in questioning this most sacred held tradition, and Eliyahu explained at yesterday’s screening at Realbirth in Manhattan that he wanted to “allow people from different perspectives to feel comfortable watching the film.”
As is demonstrated in “Cut” through the mental gymnastics of some of the pro-circ members, an anti-circ (intact) position is often an extremely difficult, even painful, idea to most Jews. In fact, it is the more fundamentalist who appear the most honest about the disconnect between modern thinking and this ancient rite, in no small part because Ungar-Sargon made sure to have the Orthodox put their most “sophisticated foot forward.”
The personal change in the dynamics between Ungar-Sargon and his Modern Orthodox father over this issue seems an important resource as well, as it demonstrates that what appears impossible to so many Jews can perhaps, over time, evolve into greater understanding towards such a choice.
For gentiles, or at least liberal and secular Christians, this must seem like a strange and unnecessary debate. But it is different for the Jews. On the one hand, we have a foundation mitzvah, a mitzvah that was used against us throughout the ages, perhaps similar to how many Africans feel FGM is used against them today by westerners. On the other, we have, as the perennial protester Dan Strandjord points out, the issue of “basic human rights. Nothing fancy, just basic human rights.”
The release date for the film is still being “worked out.”

35 thoughts on “Cut

  1. “It’s where the rubber hits the road.”
    Ha ha ha ha!
    Thing is, Kelsey, I think my penis looks pretty damn good “cut.” And I hate to think what it would look like “uncut” — especially given the massive amount of time I spend staring at it.
    So I’m gonna have to remain cut.
    I’m sorry, man.

  2. “In today’s world, where erotic images are always around the corner, or a few mouse clicks away…”
    Why don’t they give links?

  3. Eh, if it tried to be balanced OK but it’s clearly has an anti-circ agenda (which is its right). But the whole medical benefits thing? Come on – brit milah is done because it’s halakha not because it’s medically beneficial (and arguing in favor of it Jewishly b/c of medical reasons is equally bad, even if there are pros medically).
    It’s halakha. To reject it is to reject halakha. Plain and simple.

  4. amechad,
    your point stands from a traditionalist perspective that holds by a more static halacha. But that isn’t the case for the Reform. Shouldn’t they drop brit milah according to their standards?

  5. It’s not like we’re talking about chalav Yisrael or Shabbat timers. This is the fundamental Jewish practice, this fact is not up for debate in the slightest, and the fact that even this can be questioned saddens me.
    Then again, you also have a huge movement of people who would like to do away with the concept of marrying Jewish, another major fundamental, so…

  6. Y-Love,

    Can you at least understand why the demand that Jews cut part of a child’s penis off is problematic to some, and different than a person choosing to marry someone Jewish or choosing to wear a four cornered garment with strings attached? I guess either you hear the question or you don’t. Keep in mind, I am talking about people who do not necessarily believe that Judaism is divine. If you believe that, then true, there are no questions. But if you don’t, how is this not a question?

  7. I also think that even a discussion about doing away with circ. is sad. Ditto to Y’love. Yes, I’ve accepted that some Jews frankly have no connection to their ‘nation’ and would rather be not-Jewish except in name perhaps. It is sad that they try to take away other Jews with them. Why don’t they just leave us alone and go off silently to become goyim?
    On a spiritual macro-level, it is said that the circ. is what protects the entire nations. It’s what protects the Arabs (Yishmael), as well as the others(Esav), but we already know that the Esavs’ circ figures are dropping.
    Mob, great link, amen.

  8. Exactly, like Josh said.
    Circumcision is far more than just a fulfillment of words of Shulchan Aruch, it is a long-standing tradition, a fundamental tenet of Judaism beginning with the Patriarchs.
    What, then, does “G-d-optional Judaism” (ø”ì) consist of if not time-honored traditions and, like Josh said, things which tie us all in together as one nation?

  9. Josh wrote,

    “It’s what protects the Arabs (Yishmael), as well as the others(Esav), but we already know that the Esavs’ circ figures are dropping.”

    Esav’s figures were never high, and yet, Esav managed in the Jewish narrative to be quite powerful anyway. And the “protection” in Europe did not work terribly well. Are there any empirical charts on how this “protection” works, exactly, like for the Jews in say, Poland? Cause if that’s protection…

    Y-Love wrote,

    “Circumcision is far more than just a fulfillment of words of Shulchan Aruch, it is a long-standing tradition, a fundamental tenet of Judaism beginning with the Patriarchs.”

    And it was banned under Moshe. Oh, right, because there was sand there in the desert. Big emergency. Sand was spotted in the Middle East.

    There is at least some ambivalence in our faith about this ritual if we look closely. Not much, but there is some.

  10. Do we really need another 50 posts? B’kitzur, it wasn’t banned, it just wasn’t done, and we see that Moshe Rabbeinu’s life started to suck as a result. B”H his wife came in to regulate.

  11. Note the posters delicacy in making an untrue point: female genital mutilation (which he claims creates the same questions as circumcision) as practiced by the AFRICANS!!!!!!!!!!!!! NO, AS PRACTICED BY MUSLIMS IN AFRICA AND ELSEWHERE. MUSLIMS, not Africans, remember, the ones going around murdering little babies, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Phillipinos, Thais, etc. etc. – those Muslims.

  12. As a former child protection worker…
    If you’re an atheist, and you expose your child to Brit…your child should be removed and placed in foster care.
    We removed children from their families for far less deeds.
    As a deist, I’ve never been comfortable with this ritual. I’ve been to a few, and it’s very, very, very, very, very clear the child’s shriek is due to pain, possibly pain we adults can’t imagine. I’m sick of people stating: “The child doesn’t feel anything’. BULLSHIT.

  13. I can clearly picture a day when the practice of circumcision will be unacceptable and there has NEVER been a time when judaism has sanctioned, much less required, something which is considered unacceptable by medical opinion.

  14. “Do I smell racism” indeed. What proof do you have that “dem kid-killin'” Muslims are the ONLY ones in Africa practicing FGM, as opposed to say, the animist groups, or even certain Christian groups? Unless you cite sources, you’ll never be trusted on this forum.
    As for male circumcision, it is hardly the distinguishing brit of Jews from the others. Quite the contrary – most Semitic nations, including those “other” b’nei Abraham, had practiced circumcision, and some still do to this day. And being cut didn’t quite protect us from the Arelim (Philistines), did it? On the other hand… no other circumcised nation had a concept of Shabbat. So what’s more uniquely Jewish – cutting your kid’s wee-wee, or observing a day of total rest every week?

  15. as a muslim (and someone who was circumcised, by Christian doctors when I was a child) – I must object to comparing circumcision to FGM, and also the latter allegation that FGM is predominantly practiced by muslims – untrue, the most common form of FGM is known as “Pharaonic,” which might serve as a clue as to it’s pre-Islamic roots – and it is not practiced in most muslim lands, outside of East Africa and the lands influenced by them – what is problematic is that some muslims confuse the permissible (not desirable) practice of clipping the clitoral hood, or shortening the labia majora (external) with the practice of severing the clitoris, as is also done in Ethiopia (newsflash, not a muslim country)…
    for a modern muslim scholar’s take on a question about female circumcision:
    please see below:
    Female Genital Mutilation is predominantly an African problem, it is rarely, if at all found in other Muslim countries. If you look at Amnesty International’s website pages on FGM you will see that the majority of the practice occurs in African countries where Muslims are not the majority:
    the following is a page of a break down of African countries by religion:
    I celebrate that Jews have honest discussion on this, and thank those who criticized irrational hatred of muslims before any showed up to defend themselves, but would like to say that circumcision, as a religious practice for men, is not to be confused with the disturbing (and indeed vile) mutilation of women’s bodies by the ignorant – and we should respect that which we believe to be the word of God, and not be of those “who forget Allah, and He forgets them.” (Qur’an)

  16. BBN, on those occassions when I have been factually challenged I have done a little searching and proven my point, posted it, and not once time has an objector responded with an apology. SO I’m through doing your work – you look it up, there’s a secret source I’ll reveal to you – it’s call GOOGLE (don’t spread it around) You check and see whether it’s Africans in general or muslims who predominantly practice female genital mutilation – and if there’s any racism here, it was created by the original poster who tarred “Africans” with this barbarous practice instead of placing the blame where it belongs.

  17. I jsut wanted to remove any and all ambiguity: when I said “do I smell racism” I meant from the video, and not from DK.
    Apparently there was some question. There shouldn’t be now.

  18. You check and see whether it’s Africans in general or muslims who predominantly practice female genital mutilation –

    I’ll do it.
    Wikipedia says Female genital cutting (FGC) “predates Islam and is not practiced by the majority of Muslims, but has acquired a religious dimension.” And “As the FGC rituals predated the missionaries work in North Africa, many African tribes continue the practice as a matter of tradition, despite their religious conversion.”
    And the BBC says “Female circumcision is part of the fabric of many African societies.”
    So yeah, it appears that most FGC is done by Muslims, but it’s done by other Africans, too.

    and if there’s any racism here, it was created by the original poster who tarred “Africans” with this barbarous practice instead of placing the blame where it belongs.

    Africa is a continent, not a race. There are white Africans and Arab Africans. It’s not just black Africans who do FGC, either.
    But you do have a point that it’s not just Africans who do FGC, although FGC is as much an African thing as it is a Muslim thing.

  19. Themicah wrote,
    “It’s not just black Africans who do FGC, either.”
    Exactly, IN FACT the video I linked was from Egypt, and the discussion was between Egyptians, and the debate was about Egyptian Muslim FGM practice versus Saudi Arabian’s no FGM practice. Here it was clearly not specifically black African versus Arab at all, but a regional difference between Muslim communal practices.

  20. Themicah, I’d be interested to know whether you picture any whites when someone refers to “African Americans”. And after googling a few articles (Wikipedia is a quick but not always accurate source of info, too many partisans take over an article), including the one I post below, I think a fair reading is that FGM does predate Islam; it continues because some Muslims(though not all, or perhaps even a majority), favor/insist it be carried out on Islamic religious grounds; the majority of FGM victims are Muslim; and that unified Islamic opposition to the practice would wipe most of it out. So I stand 25% corrected, though I still find it odd to refer to current practices of FGM, which appear primarily amongst Muslims, as an African problem.
    The Article:
    Much has been written on the so-called “circumcising” of women, more appropriately called female genital mutilation or FGM. Globally, 130 million women and girls are said to have been “circumcised”. As a cultural practice, FGM has probably been in existence for thousands of years. It has traditionally happened across Equatorial Africa, yet in the East and Horn of Africa it appears more widespread, probably as a result of Islamic influence.
    In Yemen and Saudi Arabia the custom takes place, but in the Saudi kingdom it is only common in the south of the kingdom. In the United Arab Emirates FGM is not illegal, though public hospitals are forbidden from carrying out the procedure. It was primarily a custom of Somali, Omani, and Sudanese expatriates. However, there have been stories of European Muslims been sent to private clinics in UAE to have the operation. A study from the mid-1990s found that 30.8 percent of girls between the ages of 1 and 5 had undergone FGM.

  21. I just don’t get this one. I was circumcised, and I don’t carry any trauma. Do any of you, who were circumcised? And I was circumcised in an arguably more invasive fashion (the secular manner in a hospital, strapped down). It doesn’t weigh on me, or my family.
    How many things that Hashem told us to do, do we get to drop and still be Jews?

  22. “I was circumcised, and I don’t carry any trauma.”
    The issues being discussed does not focus on long-term psycho-trauma, but rather, focuses on damage to the person’s sexual experience. For instance, if an infant was rendered color-blind, and it hurt tremendously when they did it, the long-term issue would not be the pain except to point out that the child does feel pain, and those who say he does not is lying. The main issue would not be trauma, but a child’s rights, even though devotees of the Covenant-of-Color-Blindness would still insist that they preferred seeing that way and weren’t missing out, not one bit.
    “How many things that Hashem told us to do, do we get to drop and still be Jews?”
    Well, we dropped animal sacrifice, forcibly circumcising ‘the help’, death penalty for religious violations, killing gays, polygamy, etc. So you tell me. How many things can we drop when society changes?

  23. DK, if your point (so to speak) is that circ reduces male sexual enjoyment, please provide any studies that demonstrate that position – I remember reading some time ago (don’t remember where) that circ actually aided sexual enjoyment. I think you’d have a tough case to make the Jewish males enjoy sex any less than non-circ males.

  24. “I think you’d have a tough case to make the Jewish males enjoy sex any less than non-circ males.”

    Only as hard a time as declaring that color blind people see less than un-black-and-whited people. Maybe I can’t say they see less than color-sighted people. What I can say is they see differently, and they are supposed to — by nature, see in color.

    See these links:


    Also–see this rabbi called the Rambam. He is surprisingly popular with the anti-circ movement.


  25. First of all, people need to stop quoting the Ramba”m’s Moreh Nevuchim like it’s a halachic treatise. It isn’t, nor was it meant to be. The Yad Chazaka/Mishneh Torah, on the other hand, IS, and it includes the laws of circumcision. (Similar logic, of quoting Moreh Nevuchim as if it were the Shulchan Aruch you find in the anti-korbanot camp.) Period. I have no doubt in my mind that R’ Avraham ben ha’Ramba”m was circumcised, nor would I allow it to enter my mind for a second that, were the Ramba”m alive today, that he would be somehow part of some renegade “anti-slice” faction.
    I agree with Ya’aziel 1000%, and DK you seem to be forgetting — the only reason we don’t have animal sacrifice is because of the absence of the Holy Temple. G-d willing, Moshiach will come quickly, and we will be slaughtering animals. It pashut doesn’t matter how you, or anyone else, “feels about” this: the way it was written is how it shall be done.
    Almost all of the things you brought up will be reinstituted when the mitigating circumstances preventing them disappear (e.g., no Sanhedrin, no death penalty). Don’t for a second think that we have “done away” with them, galut just prevents them. (And “forcible circumcision” of the “help”? Please.)

  26. DK, there really is not any ambiguity in Jewish tradition on circumcision: it’s considered the indispensable entry point of each Jewish male into the Divine covenant. Moshe forbade circumcision because the entire nation was constantly on the move and traveling through a harsh environment and circumcision in that condition could imperil lives. Hence in the book of Joshua when the nation has ceased wandering and is poised to enter the land of Israel, all the males are circumcised forthwith at Givat ha’aralot. (I forget the chapter and verse, but it should be easily findable).
    In any event: We dropped animal sacrifice because the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and we’re not permitted to sacrifice elsewhere (interesting discussion on this in the Talmud…); I’ve literally never heard of “forcibly circumcising the help” and am unclear as to what you’re referring to; We dropped the death penalty because the Temple was destroyed and there we no longer have a qualified court to impose it; Polygamy is permitted by the Torah but far, far from encouraged (and there were also a number of communities where it was not explicitly outlawed).
    The notion that the first fundamental Jewish commandment in the Torah would somehow someday be dismissed based on the latest volume of the New England Journal of Medicine–or because men really, really, really want a ‘more sensitive’ penis–is frankly both facile and preposterous. (I also recall reading that circumcision enhances sexual enjoyment (forget if it’s for one or both partners) and would really like to find that report again. There are also Jewish sources which hold that circumcision increases enjoyment, in contrast to Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim). Anyone who’s followed this issue knows that the circumcision pendulum swings back and forth through the medical establishment every 10 years or so.
    Rebecca, I think one of your arguments doesn’t hold water. If circumcision is in fact “considered unacceptable by medical opinion” and Judaism does in fact require it (as Judaism does) then there plainly is a time (i.e. now and all periods preceding) in which Judaism has required something that’s against medical opinion. But given the UN and WHO’s current recommendation that circumcision be implemented promptly as an important HIV prevention measure, it seems quite unlikely that it’s either against medical opinion or poised to go away from anywhere in the world anytime soon.
    From a broader view, if you believe that the commandment of circumcision was given by the Creator then it would be unlikely that the Creator would demand something routine that is likely to shorten life. But if you believe it’s just a human-invented commandment then I can easily understand why one would wish to be done with it.
    If you learn the sources on circumcision (i.e. Gemara and Midrash) you see the elements of human vs. natural beauty and creativity that brit Mila is meant to address. Jewish male circumcision vs. female genital mutilation are nothing short of galaxies apart.

  27. When I learned that my grandson was not going to be circumcised my husband and I were devistated. It created a great deal of tension between us and our son and daughter in law.
    We were fortunate enough to view CUT and I walked away feeling that it would be very difficult for me to circumcise a child. My husband said he still would do it, but was totally understanding of our childrens’ choice. It is an amazing film. I do not advocate any position other than each parents responsibility to make an informed decision by looking at their reasons to circumcise and the facts. Most people I spoke to about the subject never gave it a thought.
    Thank you Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon for bringing peace to our family. Our intact grandson is now two weeks old and 100% perfect.
    Why anyone thinks it is preposterous for a man to want a full sexual experience, as G-d intended him to have, is shocking to me. And each person can be free to make the decision for himself rather than have it made for him.
    The HV studies are flawed. The rate of HV is no lower in the US (where circumcision is over 50%) than it is in Finland (where it is almost non-existant). There are no medical benefits to circumcision. It is a religious ritual and needs to be addressed only as that. The American Acadamey of Pedicatrics removed their endorsement of circumcision in 1999 which is why we are seeing the rate of circumcision dropping in the US. Again, I am not saying not to circumcise, only to fully understand it.

  28. I hope I’m not speaking out of turn and sticking my nose into someone else’s affairs, but I can only offer my experiences to help others make an informed decision. As a non-Jewish man, I won’t begin to address the issue of whether or not I think circumcision is in accordance to traditional beliefs and Jewish Law, but I will say that I was left intact at birth, and decided to have the procedure done in my mid 20’s, due to peer pressure and being ridiculed by others (both male and female) for being “different”. Upon having the procedure done and after the subsequent (and very painful) healing process, I realized that I had indeed done myself a great injustice by letting the opinions of others affect me as a person. The sensation was about HALF of what it was before the amputation, and I regretted for years having mutilated myself in order to live up to the appearance of “normalcy” to other people. I discovered years ago that I could restore the foreskin, and by doing so, I helped regain my sense of being whole again, and sexual pleasure improved tremendously. Circumcision is excruciatingly painful, whether you are a baby or an adult, and circumcision decreases sensitivity of the penis. I was anesthetized for the procedure, so I couldn’t fathom what it would be like to have this done and be fully conscious. If I am lucky enough to be blessed with children someday and they are males, in no way shape or form would I ever even consider mutilating the penis of my son.

  29. Attempting to discover the origins of this barbaric “religious” ritual, I found that Genesis 17, which supposedly mandates male circumcision, as a “covenant” between Abram and his God, was inserted into scripture some thousands of years after Abram’s putative life. Chapter 17 was placed there by Jewish priests returning from the Babylonian Exile, as a means of asserting political and religious control over those Jews who had escaped exile. Evidently the procedure was earlier instituted by them in Mesopotamia as one of many means of differentiating themselves, as a people, from the larger, more sophisticated world into which they had been transported, a world in which genital mutilation was unknown. Get a people to agree to mutilate the genitals of their children, and pay for the privilege, and they can be convinced to follow just about any “mandate”. How else might a Priest in a Temple obtain victuals and funds necessary to support his life?
    A much earlier, more original, “covenant” between Abram and his God can be found in Genesis 15. Nowhere does Genesis 15 mention male genital mutilation. I find it curious that the sacrificial ceremonies mentioned in Genesis 15 are totally ignored today, while circumcision clings on, as though a people and a religion would lose all meaning unless infants are tied down and their prepuce sliced from their penis.
    History thus suggests that changes can be made in ancient Jewish ritual without violence being done either to religious tradition or to the helpless, innocent infants, themselves. After all, they are incapable of understanding anything except the excruciating pain which they experience. To a child undergoing circumcision, “religion” equates only with suffering.
    I would be so bold as to suggest that advocates of circumcision, who consider the procedure a connection to the past, and as a mark of religious belief, would more profitably wait until the individual is old enough to decide for himself when his religious faith is of a quality to ask that his prepuce be sliced from his penis. That devotion would impress anyone. Forcing the procedure on another person, while he is held or strapped down, without his permission or understanding, constitutes sexual child abuse, pure and simple.
    Rood Andersson

  30. When Moshiach is coming, all traditions are put into question. And when it has come, all traditions that are not beloved, do not survive.
    To get the Jews to give up circumcision, we’d have to be convinced that something has changed in the world to make not-circumcizing safe. Once that was out of the way, once it really seemed safe to let go of it, maybe then the heterim would start coming out of nowhere.

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