circumscribed

November 14, 2010 § 4 Comments

The conversation, I mean.  San Francisco is considering banning male circumcision, and the odds are that the discussion won’t go much beyond the “Baby Mutilator/Anti-Semite” name calling. New law is only part of creating real, lasting cultural change, but it does seem like it should seal the deal.  I can see the appeal of a quick fix.  The law, I mean. Not the babies.

I’m Jewish, although I’m very secular, and this is not the most important part of my identity.  Yet if I were to have a son I would not want to circumcise him. I can’t square the idea of circumcision with my profound belief that all people have the right to bodily integrity. Parents are entrusted with their children — they don’t own them — and shouldn’t allow surgeries that are not necessary for the life and health of the child.  For me that breaks down to heart surgery yes, cleft palate yes, circumcision no.

I understand why people do it, though, and I don’t think they’re bad people for doing it. Not at this point in history. Not until the culture has shifted. I am Jewish, and I always wonder in the back of my mind how much of this is motivated in part by anti-Jewish prejudice.

A friend posted about this on facebook, suggesting that it is Jewish traditions that are responsible for the vast number of U.S. circumcisions.  “Your traditions” he said and then corrected himself: “our (shared) traditions.” In fact, the medicalization of circumcision in the U.S. and Great Britain is mostly the product of puritanical, anti-masturbation evangelizers. The Jews — the influence is overestimated here.

My friend is a good person. None of us, I think, are ever fully cognizant of the prejudices that shape our thinking. The left is certainly not immune to prejudice. (No it’s true.  Really.) In a political climate of rising xenophobia (anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish, anti-immigration–the list goes on) both in the U.S. and internationally, I am concerned about both the motivations of the proposed ban and about its outcomes.

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§ 4 Responses to circumscribed

  • Aimee says:

    In my experience, there is a HUGE non-Jewish pro-circumcision group that is in favor of it just because of the perception that most boys are circumcised and they don’t want their babies to be different. These people are usually unaware that it’s not common practice in most places of the world, and from what I can tell generally unaware that it’s a Jewish tradition.

    Personally, I am slightly anti-circumcision (mostly indifferent, actually), but I definitely wouldn’t go so far as to make it illegal. If I have a boy, I plan to defer to my husband on this topic – total cop out, I know.

  • Jen Blair says:

    This is my experience too, that huge group. But lawmakers need to think through the implications of the laws before they go enacting new ones.

    You go on and do what you need to do. Or what Jason needs to do, I suppose.

  • Adam Trowbridge says:

    I am incredibly happy to have been, maybe for the first time in my life, called a “good person”, thanks. It’s likely an error.

    I don’t know why I was mutilated and my parents have admitted to me they don’t really know why either. I do NOT consider it a Jewish issue, at all, but attacking the procedure makes it one in many instances and I am not sure how to respond. I am incredibly angry about it, in proportion to the anger I feel at the multiple other groups who suffer at the hands of religion and state-based mutilation and physical repression. I refuse to deny my own physical mutilation, in relation to much worse mutilation suffered by others. My stance is: “I got off lightly but if I shrug it off, I’m not helping anyone.” I don’t expect to receive a pass just because I got mutilated but I will say that there is little to no serious support for “coming out” on this and the discussion I’ve received has been “Get over it.”

    I know, I know, “join the club” in relation to SO MANY wrongs for SO MANY people, so I guess, yes, I don’t have an answer but I will join the club, as someone who has a minor issue in comparison but who is willing to stand with the club until everyone’s issues are addressed.

  • Jen Blair says:

    Hey Adam! Of course you have a right to be angry about anyone doing anything to your body without your consent. The standard response to any trauma is “get over it,” but that’s a statement that compounds the harm.

    Furthermore, it is totally unnecessary to parse out how the harm done to you measures up to that done to me, or to anyone. We are expected to do this measuring, but it’s a diversion. That’s why we’re expected to do this, so that we don’t have time to make it better in a real way.

    I do think that it is naive to say that circumcision is not a Jewish issue. It is a Jewish issue, but it isn’t only or even mostly a Jewish issue. However all male Jews are supposed to be circumcised, and any ban on circumcision will affect Jews in a way that it doesn’t affect other group simply because most other groups do not believe that they’ll be violating God’s law if they don’t circumcise. The conversation about not circumcising is more complex for Jews.

    It is tough to get people to change their religious beliefs even when we on the outside think those beliefs are horrible. Much harder when the group has a history of being persecuted. Everything starts to look like an attack. And you know, a lot of the time it is. So if outsiders want to enact changes within such a group they, to put it mildly, have a lot of work to do.

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