A mohel performs a circumcision during a bris (or brit milah) ceremony. (Cheskel Dovid/Wikimedia CC BY 3.0)
Circumcision still a volatile topic
I received the following letter sent to my Mixed and Matched column at the J-weekly.
Dear Dawn: I came across your response to a Jewish mother who was upset that her daughter didn’t want to circumcise her son. Your response angers me. It is not guaranteed that her grandson will have urinary tract infections. My husband is intact and has been that way for 39 years, never had a UTI.
The medical reasons for being circumcised are not valid. The studies done to prove that it prevents UTIs, STDs, STIs and penile cancers have all been extremely flawed. I would also like to point out that we have a circumcised friend who has had multiple UTIs.
In my opinion, your response back to this future grandmother did nothing but perpetuate false information and make this mother even more angry toward her daughter for not circumcising her son.
Despite this being a religious procedure, this little boy is his own person and should be allowed to make the decision for himself when he is old enough. There are naming ceremonies that can be done in place of the bris. Please inform yourself on the true medical facts before you respond to these types of questions. Thank you. — Angry
Dear Angry: You and I are at a difficult divide. I linked to studies on the medical value of circumcision in the column you reference, but it appears that I accept medical research and you do not. Your anecdotal evidence of your husband and your friend is no more convincing to me than my science is to you. We will have to agree to disagree.
You conjecture that my reply increased the mother’s anger toward her daughter. I can assure you that it did not. She was able to move forward after receiving acknowledgement for her personal distress and validation for her concerns. If you reread my response, you’ll see that my focus was on strengthening her relationship with her daughter.
Jews do not circumcise for medical reasons; we do so for reasons of religion and identity. Therefore, emotions can be highly fraught since it often involves new parents and grandparents-to-be feeling that the child will not be a part of their lineage. Jews, religiously observant or not, have said to me, “We are commanded to perform circumcision.” It is a practice that is deeply engrained in our identity. The practice also has been used against Jews, such as when Nazis forced boys to drop their pants to determine their Jewish identity. Yet we persist because this is how we define our identity, not those who hate us.
Finally, I think the real issue for you is your belief that “this little boy is his own person and should be allowed to make the decision for himself when he is old enough.” I see that statement as either a resignation of parental responsibility, or a reflection of your having been thoroughly Americanized in your cultural view. Yes, he is a complete and valid human being. The question now becomes, when is he old enough to decide? At 13? 18? 21? What will he base his decision on — your anger or angst? Will he or his parents pay for this now-costly procedure? This becomes an enormous emotional family burden visited on the child.
What decisions did you leave up to your children? I took charge of all the elements of my children’s lives that I felt were my responsibility.
Here are a few of the areas where I forced my will upon my children despite their objections: brushing teeth, going to school, bathing, changing bed sheets, wearing a seatbelt, bedtime, a balanced diet, vaccinations — the list goes on. Yes, I also chose to circumcise my son. There is plenty of recent medical research showing it to be safe and beneficial.
We live in a vast country with only two bordering countries, a single official language, and tremendous power around the globe. We tend to think that American culture is the definition of correct thinking. America highly values individualism. It is valued over kindness, generosity, sharing, tradition, loyalty, fidelity — I could go on. This was not always true, but it is now.
Saying that babies have their own right to define their lives is very American. It’s not logical or even practical, but it is the current “right think.”