I read with interest Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz’ Opinion “Circumcision Is Out of Vogue” (July 1) and the follow up letter by reader Jeffrey Kass (July 8). Both writers favor infant circumcision; there is no real dispute between them.
Although some Jews oppose infant circumcision, it’s certainly not out of vogue. Most Americans, regardless of religion, circumcise. Only about half of American Jews consider themselves religious. Within this group, circumcision often takes place in a secular fashion; that is, in a hospital without a religious ceremony. Thus what has been “out of vogue” for many Jews isn’t the circumcised penis but the religious motivation.
While I don’t favor banning circumcision, I do see it as a significant trauma in the first days of life, with the potential for serious complications and quite possibly lifelong diminished sexual sensitivity.
Sure, there are plenty of adult men who say they’re happy being circumcised. There are also many who aren’t. For these reasons, my child will determine the fate of his own foreskin.
For me, deciding not to circumcise wasn’t about “doing what’s in vogue” but about doing what I felt was in my son’s best interest. We’ve learned a good deal about the perception and effect of pain on the developing newborn, the biologic function of the foreskin, and the often unspoken complications that accompany circumcision and frequently go unrealized until sexual maturity. This new information should not be ignored. Pursuit of the truth, wherever it takes one, and doing the right thing over the objections of others, has never gone out of style. Indeed, it’s been an integral part of Jewish culture and tradition dating to the days of Solomon and before.
Religious action absent faith and sincere belief is hollow. This applies to those who circumcise without religious motivation, as well as to those who think circumcision is harmful but do it because it’s the expected norm.
Whoever pins their hopes for the future of Judaism on an empty act, whatever it may be, is making a tragic mistake.
For young Jewish families with second thoughts about circumcision, there is an alternative brit, often termed brit shalom, which is a covenantal non-cutting ceremony for eight-day-old boys.
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