I read New York Times writer Jennifer Medina’s article, which appeared in the Tribune on June 6 (“Efforts to ban circumcision gain traction”), about San Francisco activist Matthew Hess’ endeavors to have a measure placed on the ballot in San Francisco to criminalize circumcision (except for any adult males who may elect to undergo the procedure). Of interest is a similar ballot measure proposed by Jena Troutman, who sought to ban medical circumcision of male infants in Santa Monica, but withdrew the proposed measure on June 7 before gathering signatures. Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom, to his credit, said such a ban would infringe on religious beliefs and the physical health of women.
According to an article in a Santa Monica publication The Lookout (June 7), Bloom stated circumcision is not “only a sacred obligation for many members of the Jewish faith, but medical studies have shown that it reduces a woman’s chances of contracting cervical cancer.” It also prevents infection of the penis in men. Let’s be honest, not all men are equal when it comes to their personal hygiene, and bacteria and worse can get stuck under the foreskin.
According to studies cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, removal of the foreskin has been found to decrease chances for HIV infection by preventing “traumatic epithelial disruptions (tears) during intercourse, providing a portal of entry for pathogens, including HIV.” Moreover, the studies say the foreskin can create a microenvironment conducive to “viral survival,” and that “higher rates of sexually transmitted genital ulcerative disease, such as syphilis, observed in uncircumcised men may also increase susceptibility to HIV infection.”
Having addressed medical issues regarding male circumcision, I believe many people do not fully understand the religious practice of circumcising male infants. Both the Jewish and Islamic faiths have practiced circumcision since antiquity, and both are linked with the prophet Abraham, with whom circumcised males are bonded into a covenant to honor and respect God’s words and commandments.
Looking into Hess’ ideology, I discovered he has penned some anti-circumcision comic books with a ridiculously named “hero”—Foreskinman. Hess’ comics are set against the medical profession, Jewish mohels, and Islamic imams. This procedure, whether performed in a hospital or a religious setting, is done with all requisite medical care and concerns for the infant. It has been done for centuries. Why, now, is there such fear and dread about “mutilated” male genitals?
As a Jewish man, I was circumcised shortly after birth by a mohel, an event I do not remember. I certainly do not consider my genitals as having been mutilated, and I have not been traumatized by the loss of my foreskin as an infant, as many supporters of the proposed ban in San Francisco infer.
“Brit milah,” translated as “covenant of circumcision,” is a Jewish ceremony perhaps best known by its Yiddish name “bris” that takes place eight days after the birth of Jewish males. The ceremony includes a blessing and a “mitzvah” (a good deed) done to honor God and the child, for example a charitable work or donation. The child is greeted by family and guests with the words “Baruch Haba,” Hebrew for “Blessed is he who comes.” It also expresses the Jewish hope that the Messiah has been born. Perhaps this child is the one long awaited by the Jews.
The circumcision is then performed by a mohel, who is specially trained to do this procedure, and the child’s father gives thanks to God for the gift of this new life. Prayers are said for the infant’s well-being, a name given to him, and his parents explain the reason it was chosen. (Jewish girls are similarly blessed and named, but do not undergo a circumcision ceremony. Daughters are no less important because only children born of a Jewish mother are regarded as truly Jewish by birth.) Finally, a celebratory meal is shared with family and friends to celebrate the joyous arrival of the newborn.
Perhaps if activist Hess had bothered to educate himself about the medical and religious reasons for male circumcision, he would find more pro-active things to do with his time. Not only does this practice show a bond between Jewish and Islamic male children and God, as well as a powerful link to their religious past, it is a sound medical decision, according to studies cited by the CDC.
Most important, circumcision is a matter of choice by a child’s parents for his personal medical welfare and religious upbringing—a choice that should not be criminalized by laws such as one proposed by a comic book writer. ∆
Ian Waterman was born in London, England, is retired, and resides in Arroyo Grande. Send comments via the opinion editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.