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A Ban on Circumcision?

A Ban on Circumcision?

The San Francisco initiative is an assault on Jewish religious liberty.


On the ballot in San Francisco this fall will be a proposal making it a crime to circumcise male children. If the measure passes, anyone convicted of circumcising a baby boy could be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced to a year in prison. Even for San Francisco, this is madness.

The circumcising of newborn boys is perhaps the most familiar type of surgery in the United States. According to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, US hospitals perform the procedure more than 1.2 million times each year. While there are wide variations by ethnicity and region, and while circumcision rates have declined in recent years, the great majority of American men are circumcised. And in nearly every case, the decision was made for them in their infancy by their parents -- just like the decision to breastfeed or bottle-feed, or to use cloth or disposable diapers. Even in the most childless major city in America, it's hard to see voters approving what would be an egregious infringement on parental rights.

Related Article: Bris Milah: Beautiful or Barbaric?

The health benefits of circumcision are clear, if modest. The Mayo Clinic website reflects the medical consensus, noting that circumcised men and boys generally have a lower risk of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and sexually transmitted diseases; and that circumcision makes genital hygiene easier. At the same time, Mayo endorses the view of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which doesn't consider the advantages of circumcision compelling enough to recommend that infant boys be circumcised as a matter of routine. The academy's bottom line is commonsensical: "Because circumcision is not essential to a child's health, parents should choose what is best for their child by looking at the benefits and risks."

Reasonable people can and do disagree. But there is nothing reasonable about the fanatics trying to make it a crime.

In short, circumcision is something about which reasonable people can and do disagree. But there is nothing reasonable about the fanatics trying to make it a crime.

Circumcision, a fundamental rite in Judaism, has been
a part of Jewish life for nearly 4,000 years.

The ballot campaign in San Francisco is being spearheaded by a group of self-described "intactivists," political crusaders obsessed with the preservation of foreskins. Their mania might be laughable if not for two things: (1) they hijack terminology used to describe a dreadful type of violence against girls and women, and (2) they are attempting to criminalize a fundamental rite of Judaism.

Promoters of the San Francisco initiative call it the "MGM bill." The initials stand for "male genital mutilation," a dishonest phrase meant to link the safe and medically unobjectionable procedure of male circumcision with the frightful cruelty of female genital mutilation.

The two are not remotely comparable. "Female genital mutilation has no known health benefits," the World Health Organization and nine other international organizations stressed in a 2008 report on the scourge, which persists in much of Africa and the Middle East. "On the contrary, it is known to be harmful to girls and women in many ways." It is painful and traumatic; it makes childbearing "significantly" more risky; and it leads to higher rates of post-partum hemorrhaging and infant death. Long-term consequences of female genital mutilation "include chronic pain, infections, decreased sexual enjoyment, and psychological consequences, such as post-traumatic stress disorder."

Related Article: Circum-Decision

By contrast, the WHO report emphasizes, "male circumcision has significant health benefits that outweigh the very low risk of complications." Of particular importance in regions ravaged by AIDS, "circumcision has been shown to lower men's risk for HIV acquisition by about 60 percent." Precisely because circumcision is so benign, WHO and the other agencies are at pains to distinguish it from female mutilation, which is always dangerous.

Dangerous in quite a different way is the San Francisco initiative's assault on Jewish religious liberty. Circumcision is the oldest practice of the world's oldest religion. Irrespective of any medical value, it is the sign in the flesh that for nearly 4,000 years has marked Jewish males as heirs to the ancient pact between Abraham and God. Many Muslims also circumcise their sons for religious reasons.

But the law proposed by the "intactivists" radiates hostility to traditional religious belief: "No account shall be taken of the effect on the person on whom the operation is to be performed of any belief on the part of that or any other person that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual."

The campaign to enact a law banning the most enduring obligation in Jewish experience amounts to what the American Jewish Committee calls a "direct assault on Jewish religious practice in the United States. . . . unprecedented in American Jewish life."

Fortunately, even in California most ballot issues are rejected. When San Franciscans vote this fall, the disgraceful anti-circumcision initiative deserves a decisive defeat.

This article originally appeared in The Boston Globe.

May 28, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 67

(45) mel, August 26, 2011 5:10 AM

Circumcision is a crime and has been since the 1990s in teh U.S.

I wanted to make sure you were aware that circumcision is illegal in the United States for not only females but also males and those with undetermined genitalia. The information regarding the Female Genital Mutilation Amendment and equal rights assurances are listed below. There is NO exception for religion in these laws. Thank you for your time and choosing to become educated regarding circumcision. whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined under this ti tle or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both. Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. 14th Amendment Amendment XIV Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

(44) Steve Skeete, July 4, 2011 6:01 PM

A Modest Proposal

Here is a "modest proposal". The best way to hold off these "intactivists" indefinitely is to engage - and if necessary enrage, muslims. Islam is the only one of the "Abrahamic religions" not overtly under attack in North America. Why? Simple, people fear muslim reprisals. Muslims offended by something that happen in the USA will riot in Malasia or Baghdad, and/or threaten lives in Cairo or Sudan. These threats cause even democratically elected presidents to issue immediate apologies. So if Muslims also practice circumcision, let them speak out against these "intactivists" and I guarantee you these cowards will run for cover. Of course, the trick will be getting muslims to do anything they believe will benefit Jews. What a crazy mixed-up world we live in when the world capital of homosexuality wants to outlaw circumcision. It makes one wonder which causes the most pain!

(43) Brayton, June 12, 2011 5:11 AM


The perversion that takes place in San Francisco has grown to new levels of insanity. Taxes pay the homeless to live and excrement on the streets, every sexual perversion is promoted and implemented, and homosexuals parade their phalax symbols in the face of the Creator of heaven and earth. This city is nothing short of a current day Sodom, and they are very proud of it. If the constitution of the U.S. is still in affect in "San Fran" the people need to rise up and stomp on another homosexual agenda. But, obviously the acts of the Sodomites eventually win the day. When will all the "Lots" leave before the fires strikes?

(42) Jacob O'Brien, June 10, 2011 10:05 AM

And to think I live here...

I'm saddened by the intense disregard that some people have for the beliefs of others. I moved to California for more tolerance, and it's here for the most part. But on occasion, there's always something distasteful popping up. The men of Israel have been circumcised since Abraham, as an eternal sign of the covenant, and we can't disregard that. Hopefully this law won't pass, else families in SF may need to go outside of SF County for their son's Bris Milah.

(41) Flo Stine, June 9, 2011 9:41 AM


This law is barbaric. How can this happen in America? It is antisemitism of the worst kind. Th author and any supporters of this bill should be arrested for attempted HATE CRIMES against Jews. I am appalled at the vile thinking of these people - I will pray that God will have mercy on them and give them revelation of Who He is and the evil nature of this bill

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