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Outlawing circumcision: Anti-Semitic and Islamophobic

A German court ruling against circumcision has sparked controversy and emotion across religious and secular lines. The debate has reached +972: Larry Derfner views the decision as a crucial message against a practice he rejects, and Noam Sheizaf considers circumcision’s normative power in conformist Israeli society. The following text presents a third perspective, which sees grave danger in state intervention in religious rituals. 

By Alex Stein

Attempts to ban circumcision are anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic, even if their primary motivation is not always anti-Semitism or Islamaphobia. Or, to put it another way, if outlawing core Jewish/Muslim practices is not anti-Semitic, then the term has no meaning. It is not enough for proponents of a ban on circumcision to say they are simply putting child welfare above the feelings of a religious community; they should have the courage to admit that the barbarity of Jews and Muslims forces them to support anti-Semitic/Islamaphobic* legislation.

For circumcision is certainly barbaric, and it does irrevocably alter a baby boy’s appearance (not necessarily for the worst, at least according to my admittedly unscientific survey on the subject) without their consent. And, more importantly, it powerfully declares its opposition to some of the axioms upon which liberalism is built. As Philip Roth wrote in The Counterlife: “Circumcision makes it clear as can be that you are here and not there, that you are out and not in – also that you’re mine and not theirs. There is no way around it: you enter history through my history and me. Circumcision is everything that the pastoral is not and, to my mind, reinforces what the world is about, which isn’t strifeless unity. Quite convincingly, circumcision gives the lie to the womb-dream of life in the beautiful state of innocent prehistory, the appealing idyll of living ‘naturally,’ unencumbered by man-made ritual. To be born is to lost all that.”

For the state to declare that what a parent does with their newborn baby is abuse, the case should be overwhelming. Despite the best efforts of “intactivists,” most reasonable people know that it is not in the same league of brutality as its female counterpart, evidence that circumcised men have worse sex lives is fiercely disputed, and few people would describe a circumcised penis as disfigured.

In terms of the present debate, though, this is mostly irrelevant. The intactivist bottom line is that nobody has the right to do anything to anyone else’s body without their consent. And with this we arrive at the fundamental difference between liberalism and pluralism. As with its religious counterpart, liberal fundamentalism places one value – in this case the value of irrevocable personal autonomy – above all other values, without producing any evidence as to why it should be placed there. By contrast, the pluralist recognizes that the world is full of competing, irreconcilable values.

Regarding circumcision, we have to weigh up intactivists’ concerns for other people’s babies with the centrality of the ritual of Brit Milah to the Jewish people, a ritual so important that it would surely be difficult for a Jew to remain in a country that made it illegal, at least if they ever had a son. As long as nobody can be sure that a newborn baby would object to being circumcised (personally I would have sued the state if it had prevented my parents from circumcising me), and as long as the case against circumcision remains less than overwhelming, the values of multiculturalism and tolerance should take precedence. Or to be rather more brutal: the alleged suffering of the babies is less important than the indisputable suffering of the Jewish and Muslim communities if they were not permitted to allegedly make their babies suffer. If outlawing circumcision would lead to an exodus of Jews and Muslims from Germany, would intactivists be proud?

I have no objection to anyone trying to convince Jews and Muslims that they should stop the practice of circumcision.  But demanding that the state should intervene must be actively and unashamedly opposed. Outlawing Jewish rituals is anti-Semitic, which is why it has usually only happened under openly anti-Semitic regimes. If Germany – of all places – goes any further down this path, it sends a terrible signal to Jewish and Muslim groups, and we should all hope that these efforts are defeated sooner rather than later. In the meantime, we must stand up for the right to put a knife to our babies’ foreskins.

*In this article, I mainly refer to Jews, for the simple reason that I am Jewish. But the arguments refer equally to the Muslim community.

Alex Stein is a freelance grant-writer and student tour-guide. He is looking for a publisher for his debut novel, Subcontinent, which he wrote while travelling for six months in India. Alex lives in Jerusalem and blogs at falsedichotomies.com.


For more on this issue:
Stand up for your son: Say ‘no’ to ritual circumcision
My (inadequate) justification for circumcision: A reply to Larry Derfner

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    1. “Outlawing Jewish rituals is anti-Semitic”, yes just as outlawing witch-burning is anti-catholic. For heavens sake, is this site hacked or something?

      Reply to Comment
    2. If the law protects Jewish and Muslim (don’t forget Filipino, American and Korean) children from a barbaric and cruel procedure done without consent and anesthesia, how can protecting Jewish kids from harm be deemed antisemitic? Furthermore, in a modern Republic, all individuals are protected by the powers of the state equally. Religion is free to be practiced, but is always overruled by the powers of a Republic. This is called the rule of law.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Alan

      Now you’re comparing a bris to a witch burning? No wonder you’re a disciple of Gilad Atzmon.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Steve

      Alan, clearly Engelbert is not saying that the two practices are the same but rather pointing out the implications of saying that outlawing particular religious practices is anti-Semitic, Islamophobic. And he’s right to do so; if someone were to support legal measures to ban animal sacrifices, would that mean that they’re prejudiced against those who practice religions that demand such sacrifices? If someone were to support legal measures to ban adult-child marriages, would that mean that they’re prejudiced against those whose religions call for such marriages? And so on.

      Reply to Comment
    5. JG

      I’m against circumcision and I really don’t give a shit who is it doing, I condemn that practise in US also, where people of all backgrounds do that to their childs. I’m also against christian baptism of childs. If one would choose to do whatever it is to be a part of any religion he could do this if he is old enough to decide for himself. Period.
      If that makes me an anti-semite in Stein’s eyes I could live with it. But normally I only hear such nonsense from hasbarists if I criticise the occupation.
      By the way, I guess I’m also hinduphob cause I condemn their widow burning.

      Reply to Comment
    6. JG – do I really need to spell out the difference between circumcision and sati to you?

      Reply to Comment
    7. ursula keller

      If there is no rational argument left….then it must be “anti-semitism”. Especially, when it comes to Germany. What about putting the right of a tiny baby/infant first ,to NOT be the object of its parents ideological/religious beliefs and being forced to suffer from it ? Grown up, everybody is free to get a circumcision…if he decides for himself.
      I am happy and proud for this court’s decision.It is a step forward as well for the german society to put “Human Rights” first. Concerning humans of all ages, all religions.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Philos

      Full disclosure, I didn’t read the whole article. No need to. The argument is too weak to even bother. Female circumcision (a.k.a, genital mutilation) is a religious rite in many parts of Africa. By the author’s own argument the abolition of such a misogynistic practice is an example of a state overstepping its boundaries on religious freedom.

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    9. XYZ

      Ah, yes, Ursula, the Germans and their famous historic concern for “human rights”, particularly for the Jews! The progressive Germans banned kosher shechita in the 1930’s after a new regime came to power. No doubt, Ursula, you praise that move also as being “concern for animal welfare”.
      Well, what about freedom of religion? A basic right recognized by all democratic countries and the UN Charter of Human Rights. To hell with that if it conflicts with your ARBITRARY “progressive” values!

      The idiocy of comparing witch-burning with circumcision boggles the mind. But no doubt many Left/Progressives would in reality like to restore auto-da-fe’s for people who eat non-free-range chickens, or who smoke, or who drink sugary drinks or oppose homosexual marriages or drive too-big-cars, or who oppose restrictions on CO2 emissions.

      As I said in the other thread, Jews will fight TO THE DEATH any attempt to prohibit circumcision. The current group of antisemites who are attempting to prohibit it (and that is what it really boils down to) are not the first to attempt this, the first was 2000 years ago and it failed. It also failed in the USSR in modern times. You don’t realize what a can of worms you have opened up. All this is is the new, soft totalitarianism of the Left/Progressives.

      Reply to Comment
    10. The Scoot

      Abraham and his sons all willingly and knowingly took the cut, as adults. A faithful Jew or Muslim who wishes to have himself cut is perfectly, 100% free to do so. Either do it with the benefits of modern anesthesiology and surgical instruments, or just do like Abraham did – tug it out and use a bronze knife. It’s up to you, whatever you think God would be cool with.

      If you’re so insecure in your own faith that you need to impose your religion’s scarification on your child, then there’s something wrong with YOU, not with the people telling you you shouldn’t do that. Your faith, whatever it may be, does not give you authority over another person’s body.

      Reply to Comment
    11. ursula keller

      …judging people by their religion, ethnicity,crimes of former generations
      gives your arguments the right background.
      You obviously are not a person, striving
      for a better future for every human being,
      but are sticking in a archaic past with archaic,brutal rituals.
      It would be better to concentrate on the
      crimes which are happening NOW, in OUR times,
      as those are the crimes, WE are responsible
      And the crime of hurting little innocent babies
      for a “spiritual reason”…that is not very
      much enlightened.
      If there should be a God, he hopefully is a
      God of mercy, of happiness and allowing his
      “creations” to enjoy the life he has given them to the fullest, without hurting any other of the creatures he has granted life .

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    12. Johan

      Alex, first you are making the argument that things are not comparable; that any difference female and male circumcision is besides the point. But then you continue with saying that the centrality of circumcision within Judaism and Islam makes it “non-bannable” without being anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic, meaning that some values within religion(s), however contrary to liberal thought and practice, cannot be made unlawful?

      How about religion and liberal values MEET – let the child do it when they are 18, just like Abraham did? Now that would be progressive religion right there. Why is it always the state that has to back off when it comes to religion?

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    13. Mitchell Cohen

      I won’t touch on the question of whether the anti-circumcision law in Germany is anti-semitic/Muslim because it is. I will touch on the argument that “because the infant has no say in the matter it shouldn’t be done”. Using this logic, then shouldn’t it be forbidden for vegetarian parents to deny their children meat. Their is no small amount of evidence that meat is an essential part of one’s diet:


      Yeah, I know, there are also arguments that meat is not essential as iron can be provided by other foods, but that is the point: there is a debate. And there is no more evidence that circumcision is such a big trauma for the infant that it will effect him later in life, hinder his sex life (that is my favorite one; hello, the Haredim hardly seem to have their sex life effected having 11 kids and all….LOL), cause permanent psychological damage, etc. than that meat is an essential part of one’s diet.

      So, if a law was passed that any parent/s denying their children meat be accused of child abuse and their children be taken from them, what would you all say to that? After all, when one is 18, one can decide to be a vegetarian for himself, but to make that decision for your kids. Based on enough scientific evidence, that is wrong?

      Not to mention buying your children cellphones when there is DEFINITELY proof that using them increases chances of cancer.

      And the list goes on….

      Reply to Comment
    14. While I admire the attempt at even-handedness that the author occasionally displays (admitting the barbarity of the practice, etc), I would have to disagree with the conclusion. Maybe I am a liberal fundamentalist (though i don’t think so). But essentially, the way I view things is that one needs to have some objective scale of rights, privileges and responsibilities. As everyone has pointed out – Jews and Muslims will be free to circumcise themselves as adults if they choose. Essentially – allowing painful unnecessary, occasionally life-threatening (the ruling came after a child died), irreversible surgery on an 8 day old infant is a sever breach of rights which affects the most elemental of human needs (as determined according to Mazlow’s hierarchy). Whereas, not being allowed to carry out a religious ritual is not a real infringement on a person’s most basic needs (security, shelter, food, health, etc). To save one child’s life is to save the world. If someone really believed in Jewish values, they would applaud this decision. Of course it makes being a Jewish fundamentalist in Germany difficult, but then if you were a real Jewish fundamentalist, what are you doing living in Germany?

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    15. Noam W

      “liberal fundamentalism places one value… the value of irrevocable personal autonomy – above all other values, without producing any evidence as to why it should be placed there.”
      Seriously? Have you read absolutely no philosophy written in the last 400 years?
      Maybe Mills, Bentham, Kant, Locke, Rousseau, or any of the thousands of philosophers who have developed on their works? No? Guess not…

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    16. Richard Witty

      Intent – Probably not intended to be anti-semitic of anti-Muslim by the judge. Probably, just trying to do what most contreversial legal opinions do, codify the need for clarification in existing law by legislatures.

      Intent of supporters – Probably intended to be anti-Muslim. Jews are now forgotten. They are nobody’s enemy, as there are bigger fish to fry. But, they did get caught in the net.

      The nature of parental relations – Parents of infants by definition make decisions for the infants. There is no possible delaying that. Some of the decisions, like to innoculate, are invasive, changing one’s body. (I still have my polio scar, at 58).

      As a circumcism does not currently provide any definable benefit (that we know of), then its apparent current purpose is solely as a marker, to designate a person as Jewish (in the case of a Jew).

      Is that barbaric? Having no traumatic memory of my bris, nor any noticable traumatic memory of my sons or any Jew that I’ve ever known, I think the argument that it is an abusive ritual is ludicrous.

      Again, anyone that eats meat is responsible for institutionalized mass murder of mammals. (I had a friend who raises goats over for lunch a couple days ago. He said that after about a year, his family gets too emotionally connected to baby goats to ever butcher them, as unruly as the males might be.)

      So, when you eat meat, say veal, you are willingly asking another to engage in institutionalized murder that you would never commit yourself.

      I “know” that the judge, and every German in the jurisdiction, and everyone here that declares that circumcism is cruel and barbaric, also does not eat meat.

      Every Jewish mother and father cringe when the ritual is being done. But, we are Jews. We derive the benefit of knowing that we are Jews.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Ursula/The Scoot – children are the object of their parents’ ideological/religious beliefs in all sorts of ways, even without circumcision.

      Philos – if you had read the article, you would have read that my distinction in the case of FGM is that there is near consensus that it causes lasting damage, whereas with male circumcision it’s fiercely contested.

      Johan – our tradition is that we do it after eight days. We have been doing this for thousands of years with minimal harm to the children.

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    18. Raste Wadio

      Utter tripe Mr Stein, and yet another example of crying wolf when there is real anti-Semitism and other kinds of ignorance to fight. What this boils down to is imposing religious superstition on children that is very different to other kinds of religious nonsense because this actually involves interfering with a child’s body. Some strands of Christianity changed the rituals of baptism to make it part of an (at least in theory though unlikely in practice) informed choice on the part of an *adult* whether or not they want to be part of a faith group. Surely, as in certain Muslim groups, circumcision should be something done with at least the nominal consent of the child. The Jewish practice of doing this at eight days-old is barbaric and a gross infringement of the rights of an individual, and the state is quite right to step in to stop such abuses. If the child decides to remain in the faith by the time they are a legal adult, then by all means they should be able to volunteer to have the snip.

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    19. Noam W – thanks for the reading list, but it would be preferable if you said something like “that’s not true actually, because…” so that I know what your point is.

      Haim – tell me more about Mazlow’s hierarchy.

      Reply to Comment
    20. ursula keller

      Alex…”children are the object of their parents’ ideological/religious beliefs”
      Thats true….and unfortunately some parents are misusing this power to really harm their
      Parents, who belong to “sects” are doing this,
      in the catholic church many parents closed their eyes to the atrocities, being done by priests, as…”religion is more important”.
      In the year 2012, having experienced all over the world, what the authority of religion can lead to, it should be up to every parent FIRST take care of the child’s wellbeing, physical and psychological, before following any ideology or religion.
      We are here to learn from the mistakes in the past and do better in the future.
      For the sake of our own children and everybody in the world.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Noam W

      Alex, thank you for your response.
      I think the question “why is individual autonomy important” has been dealt with so extensively, that I think that if you wish to argue it is not, the burden of proof is on you to explain why it isn’t.
      The reason I listed the writers is because I would expect that somebody who would try to argue that individual autonomy is over-rated would have to, at the very least, reference these core philosophers who argue otherwise.
      For example, why our ability to do good is not a reason to respect our autonomy rather than to use us as instruments. Why our ability to reason should not mean that the greatest aggregate good would be created by allowing individuals to pursue their own happiness. Why society is not at its best when it allows us to use the original freedoms people had before organized societies, etc. etc. etc. [these are not all commensurate, I am just bastardizing some of the ideas of the writers I listed above].

      Reply to Comment
    22. Questioner

      Generally the conversation on 972 is one of the best and most respectful in the Israeli blog world. That is why I am upset and saddened that 972 has decided to publish the work of Alex Stein, a known promoter of hateful and aggressive rhetoric towards muslims and especially Palestinians. Stein’s opinions have no place in a free world of ideas based on respect and cultural sensitivity. I hope that the editors of 972 think more carefully in the further about who they publish.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Jim Bishop

      This is more bullshit than I can take in silence,

      ‘…Attempts to ban circumcision are anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic, even if their primary motivation is not always anti-Semitism or Islamaphobia. Or, to put it another way, if outlawing core Jewish/Muslim practices is not anti-Semitic, then the term has no meaning. It is not enough for proponents of a ban on circumcision to say they are simply putting child welfare above the feelings of a religious community; they should have the courage to admit that the barbarity of Jews and Muslims forces them to support anti-Semitic/Islamaphobic* legislation…’

      One need not be anti-semitic and Islamaphobic to object to circumcision, though it certainly helps, both being equally unfounded in anything beyond tradition and faith based mumbo jumbo. That obvious fact is even more unassailable if FEMALE circumcision is the subject. Who among us will defend THAT. If it is repulsive to shear away at the female genitalia, why is it less so to cut off the end of an uncomprehending, non-consenting, infant boy’s penis? ALL such practices should be against the law in civilized countries. Those who don’t agree are serial child molesters and deserve prison.

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    24. Judith

      Keep grasping at straws, Alex! There will always be someone using the discrimination card when someone doesn’t let them do what they want. Your right to freedom of religion ends where another person’s body begins. There are many non physical ways to teach our children our religion that do not include torturing them. Shame on you for supporting this barbaric blood ritual.

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    25. Jim Bishop

      @ XYZ – ‘…Jews will fight TO THE DEATH any attempt to prohibit circumcision…’ They may have a chance to prove it. If the mutilation of infant boys is such a sacred thing, they might go to their deaths happily.

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    26. Raste Wadio – consent isn’t part of the ritual. It’s not something that the child has to do; it’s something that the parents and the community have to do for them.

      Noam W – I think individual autonomy is important, very important even, and certainly not over-rated. But I don’t think it’s absolute, and in this case I don’t think it trumps the parents right to circumcise their children.

      Questioner – that’s very strange, yesterday I was in Bethlehem visiting Aida refugee camp among other places, and I got on perfectly well with the Palestinians I met. And next week I will be attending a Jewish-Muslim dialogue conference? Can you quote some of my “aggressive rhetoric towards Muslims and especially Palestinians”?

      Reply to Comment
      • Volker Maiwald

        Obviously you do not realize that you are contradicting yourself over and over in the article and comments. You claim to be an educated person and all that stuff, but what you really are is… racist. You have a problem with Germans. That is all there is to it.

        Just some quick summary of your contradictions:

        You say that there is no reason mentioned why the autonomy is regarded so important vs. the right of the parents to decided upon circumcision or not. So how about you bring on evidence why the autonomy of the parents from the state’s decision is more important than the child’s physical autonomy. You did not bring one. But I can bring you one for the opposite reason: Circumcision can be done once the affected person is old enough to make that decision. So the effect of not being circumcised can be turned around at a later point. That is not true for the case of circumcision. If it is done, it is done.

        “Dan – it doesn’t. It prevents him from becoming a Jew in the manner the tradition prescribes. And remaining intact is not an absolute right, or at least you can’t prove that it should be an absolute right. In this case it should be violated.”

        And who are you to decided at which point “intactness” is acceptable and at which not? This is illogical and arbitrary. So what kind of maiming is ok? OK, cutting of a piece of skin is ok (which is not risk free!), but cutting off female genitals is not in your opinion. So what about a hand? Should we allow to cut off hands? If not, why not? At least you have two of them, cutting off one is not so bad. The answer to your question is very simple: The reason why being intact has to be absolute is because it is the only way you can measure it. Everything else is arbitrary. At what point you want to measure mutilation as injust? Since it cannot be measured it has to be absolute. Arbitrariness takes away your standpoint just the same, because anyone can argue just a little bit further down the road (or not so far) and since your selection is arbitrary you cannot have a valid argument against it.
        And tradition is a non-valid argument. Because we always did something in a certain way cannot be justification for continued application. If so, why are you not living in a hole like it was done couple of Millenia ago? Why are you wearing modern clothes, using the internet to broadcast your views (instead of using pergaments) and so on? Why be progressive about luxury but not religious tradition.

        So only because it was not harmful to you (which in fact you might not even know), you think it is not harmful to all? So if your car is it hit by a speeding car, but just out of luck, you are not harmed, you think speeding should not be illegal? Again: Where do you think the line should be drawn?
        Also where is your expertise about judging what is harmful and what is not? There is proof that even as mundane things as a visit at the dentist can be traumatizing for a child if done wrong, refer to “In An Unspoke Voice” by Peter Levine. I have been traumatized by things that I had long forgotten and did not even realize it for many years.

        As for examples of “meat eating”: Meat eating is not banned, because meat is a natural part of our nutrition. Humans ate meat all their existence. BUT we are not meant to not have a foreskin, because if that were the case, well, we would not have one.

        The decision of the court is not anti-semitic or anti-jewish. It is just setting right a problem: Certain favouring of groups. There is no reason why a parents’ right of religion should be placed more valuable than the right of the child to remain unharmed. Because the consequences have to be faced by the child not the parents and because – as mentioned before – it is not reversable.
        Calling this antisemitic (btw do you actually know the meaning of this word, you should check it out, because a lot of what Isreal is doing is in fact antisemitic as the term semit describes all peoples of a given language heritage and region, which includes Palestinians), simply reveals the problem: you are overly egocentric. This law is not prohibiting Jews to commit traditional mutiliation. It prohibits mutiliation in general. If this includes the Jewish tradition then be it so, but it is not directed at Jews but at unnecessary surgery or in general harm on children.

        Wow, your argumentation is so uninformed and uneducated that it is really a shame.

        “…they are making a rational, informed decision to maintain a tradition that affirmatively binds them to a community and a history.”

        Wrong! The adult Jewish people make a decision that binds their children to a community and a history. And they do not have the right to mutiliate a child (again, at what point you want to draw the line?). What if the child in a later time decides it does not want that? And seriously you derive your feeling of community from a separation of the foreskin? That raises two questions: When and where is the foreskin inspected to fuel this feeling of community and what about females? They don’t even have one, so are they excluded from this community-feeling? And what is the point of a community this is based on something like this? I would base a community on common values, e.g. like intactness of a child’s body, common interests, festivals and so on. Not on whether or not one has a foreskin.
        And if you place so high value on informed decision, why are you against the option of having the off-age grown child making that informed decision for itself instead of someone else? Especially considering religion of course, the question is how rational and informed this decision really is (and I am saying this as a believing Catholic).

        “… This tells me that a bris falls well within the norms of ethical behavior for millions of reasonable, humane people.”

        What are your terms for determining “reasonable” and “humane”? I am sure the Aztecs also found human sacrificing totally normal, also millions of people. In their eyes certainly reasonable and humane…

        “… Considering all the barbarities that are committed on a daily basis in Germany and other so-called civilized countries, this ban seems highly selective.”

        Ah, I see. So there is a lot injustice in the world so why bother? What a very strange attitude. Injustice is so olverwhelmingly huge there is no point in doing something differently, making a difference.

        As pointed out earlier: This has not been a decision against the Jewish or any other community, but just setting right the fact that certain groups are excluded from the law, which disallows people to mutiliate their children. In civilized countries, as you demand them, religion and state are separated. That means no special treatment for anyone.

        Reply to Comment
    27. Jim Bishop – as I have explained, the difference is that with FGM there is near consensus that it is harmful and causes long-term damage. With male circumcision that is seriously disputed, and a majority of the supposed victims of this abuse have no complaints whatsoever about it. Those that do, btw, should be perfectly free to sue their parents.

      Reply to Comment
    28. Elisabeth

      Mitchel Cohen, you say that “the Haredim hardly seem to have their sex life effected having 11 kids and all”.

      I see no evidence for a serious influence of circumcision on sex life, but your example of the many Haredi kids is meaningless.

      Procreation and sex life are not the same. A woman for instance can have 11 kids without ever having had satisfying sex. And even a man can have many children while never having had more than hasty, joyless sex.

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    29. aristeides

      The fact that any religion would argue for the mutilation of newborn children is just one more argument for the elimination of religion. Every word of Stein’s argument only enforces this conclusion.

      If religion can only be enforced at the expense of individual autonomy, clearly religion has to go.

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    30. As Ovadyah Yossef recently reminded us, a Jewish doctor is prohibited from treating a non-Jewish patient on the Sabbath. Is outlawing such a practice anti-Semitic? Is outlawing violent jihad anti-Islamic? Please.

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    31. Philos

      @ Alex Stein, so having some of the most sensitive and pleasurable nerves in the foreskin sliced off at infancy isn’t lasting damage?
      Sure, it isn’t snipping off all of the fun part but it’s snipping off some of it, which is probably too much. Sorrells et al. (2007), in the study discussed above, measured fine-touch pressure thresholds of the penis, and concluded “The transitional region from the external to the internal prepuce is the most sensitive region of the uncircumcised penis and more sensitive than the most sensitive region of the circumcised penis. Circumcision ablates” (removes) “the most sensitive parts of the penis.”
      For the sake of argument let’s compare it to slicing off the clitoral hood on the vagina. For sure it wouldn’t cause “lasting damage” but it certainly has involved diminishing (rather than enriching) future sexual acts.
      I’ve had mine sliced off as an infant but I am somewhat envious of the fact that uncircumcised men will get that extra 10% out of sex that I will never enjoy. Indeed, Maimonides even wrote that the purpose of circumcision was to reduce sexual pleasure (and, hence, temptation) in men! Pretty much the same reasons given for female circumcision!
      It is archaic, it is barbaric and there is no RATIONAL argument in favor of it to be inflicted upon an infant. There is a RATIONAL argument in favor of allowing an adult to inflict it upon themselves. I won’t do it to my kids and my grandparents will have to live with it.

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    32. Yossi – as you well know, there are many many Orthodox Rabbis who disagree with Ovadia Yosef. But let us pretend that they didn’t. In this case it would clearly be far more urgent to save human life than to allow the religious prohibition to stand.

      My question to you is: do you really equate a religious command to murder or to not save the life of a non-believer with circumcision? I cannot believe you would make such a comparison.

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    33. I definitely think that reading circumcision as a ritual that aims to limit (although not eliminate) sexual desire is legitimate (and I’m not sure I would go as far as Maimonides); that’s not the same as saying that people with no foreskins have worse sex lives (they don’t). Sexuality can’t be reduced to anatomy – many factors go into defining a person’s level of sexual pleasure. And other studies have shown that circumcised men last longer, which is also an important part of having a good sex life.

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    34. Aaron

      This is a really the wrong use of the word “anti-Semitic.” Really, totally wrong, unless you think this ruling is motivated by dislike of Jews (and I don’t think anyone here’s paranoid enough to believe that).
      The ruling overwhelmingly affects Jews and Muslims. There’s a concept that accurately describes this, and it ain’t “anti-Semitic” or “anti-Muslim.” The concept is “disparate impact.” The disparity in this case is extreme, but it’s no less a case of disparate impact because of that.

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    35. Dan Bollinger

      The German Court’s ruling does not violate the BOY’s religious freedom, in fact, it preserves it. At the same time, it preserves his body. Remaining INTACT is everyone’s right, including children.

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    36. max

      As AS argues, how can the legislation (for the Cologne area only), if not its intent, be not anti-Semitic/Islamic when these are the only defined groups affected by it?
      As for the intent, it was also noted that what we face is a clash between personal liberalism and pluralism.
      Both Judaism and Islam – and Catholicism – put society ahead of the individual, and in principle set limits to personal liberalism.
      So do, in effect, all forms of governments.
      With an estimate of 30 percent circumcised men worldwide (WHO), the German court’s decision is quite questionable; as was mentioned above, why not forbid meat eating, respectively forbid vegetarianism?

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    37. Dan – it doesn’t. It prevents him from becoming a Jew in the manner the tradition prescribes. And remaining intact is not an absolute right, or at least you can’t prove that it should be an absolute right. In this case it should be violated.

      Good points Max.

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    38. Yossi – as you well know, there are many many Orthodox Rabbis who disagree with Ovadia Yosef.

      I don’t anything of the sort, actually. Certainly none of his stature.

      My question to you is: do you really equate a religious command to murder or to not save the life of a non-believer with circumcision?
      No. I am saying that calling a court decision saying that religious freedom expressing itself as mutilation should be prohibited “anti Semitic” is puerile nonsense. We have established that there are some religious edicts which are not compatible with human rights; the court decided that a child’s right not to be subject to an unnecessary painful operation is greater than his parents’ right to express their religious beliefs. And I consider the comparison with female circumcision to be valid. If one is prohibited, both should be.

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    39. Dan – it doesn’t. It prevents him from becoming a Jew in the manner the tradition prescribes.

      I’m sorry, but this is ignorant nonsense. A Jewish child is under no demand to be circumcised; the demand (Mizvah) is directed at the father. It is one of the two “do” (aseh) mizvahs which carry a mystic death sentence if it is not carried out. A Jewish child who hasn’t suffered mutilation is a perfectly viable hazan , for instance – unlike, say, a deaf man. Any Jewish male who think he’s less than a whole Jew if a mohel didn’t cut his dick and suck it afterwards (they always omit this part, for some reason) can always have himself circumcised at the age of 18.

      The other “do” mizvah is the Passover sacrifice. Jewish males have gone on for millenia without the Passover sacrifice; they’ll manage without mangling their sons’ flesh.

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    40. Alan

      “As Ovadyah Yossef recently reminded us, a Jewish doctor is prohibited from treating a non-Jewish patient on the Sabbath. Is outlawing such a practice anti-Semitic? Is outlawing violent jihad anti-Islamic? Please.”

      This ludicrous analogy reveals the heart of the issue. Circumcision is not practiced by extremist sects of Jews and Muslims. I can’t speak for Muslim communities, but Jews of every variety– secular, atheist, reform, conservative, ultra-Orthodox, doctors, humanists, reasonable, rational Jews the world over– practice this ancient rite. I don’t think that all of them are doing it out of blind, tribal loyalty; they are making a rational, informed decision to maintain a tradition that affirmatively binds them to a community and a history. The problem with bringing in analogies to various barbaric practices is that the vast majority of people who practice circumcision would not think for a moment of engaging in Jihad or burning a woman at the stake. This tells me that a bris falls well within the norms of ethical behavior for millions of reasonable, humane people. Millions of other people might disagree with it, but that doesn’t give them the right to legislate against it, especially when the rite is so rich with meaning.

      So is a German ban on circumcision anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic? Yes. Considering all the barbarities that are committed on a daily basis in Germany and other so-called civilized countries, this ban seems highly selective. The German government is making a judgment that Jews and Muslims need to be protected against their own religious practices– practices, I would emphasize again, that are well within the norm for mainstream expressions of those religious traditions. Finally, it is anti-Semitic because it so spectacularly insensitive to Jewish history. The German state did its barbaric best to annihilate Judaism; they are the last country that has any business legislating against Jewish tradition.

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    41. Millions of other people might disagree with it, but that doesn’t give them the right to legislate against it, especially when the rite is so rich with meaning.

      So was the sutee, the ritual burning of widows in India. It’s banned now, officially at least, yet for many centuries the rite was considered normal and “was so rich with meaning.” The fact that millions of people do something does not, ipso facto, make it legitimate.

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    42. Yossi – not all of your quotes are coming up. Can you put them in another format so I can read them properly?

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    43. Yossi – I’m well aware of the mitzvah; you’re not the only formerly religious person who knows something about the tradition (although I concede that you probably know much more than me). However, you are missing my point. To most contemporary Jews, circumcision has taken on a value that is far more significant than halacha. To prevent them from circumcising their children would be a violent act; one in which the state unnecessarily intervenes in a practice that causes relatively little harm (if it’s so harmful why do a vast majority of circumcised men not complain about it?). Had the state prevented my parents from circumcising me, I would have sued. Banning circumcision is an infinitely more grotesque form of child abuse than allowing it.

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    44. Yossi – do you recognize that there is a qualitative difference between male and female circumcision? If yes, what is that difference?

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    45. Yossi – no right is absolute, even if you pretend that it is.

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    46. Yossi – I agree that it is not legitimate just because many people do it, or because they have been doing it for thousands of years. But I do think that – for it to be banned – the case that it constitutes an abuse should be overwhelming. As you are hopefully aware, that consensus doesn’t exist with male circumcision, which is what distinguishes it from Suti and FGM.

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    47. Mitchell Cohen

      Elisabeth-“Procreation and sex life are not the same.”
      True, but having a decent sex life is more often than not a pretty darn good start to having kids.
      Elisabeth-“I see no evidence for a serious influence of circumcision on sex life….”
      Well, at least we agree on something….:-)

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    48. ursula keller

      Alan…would you please be so kind and exactly
      tell me, which “barbarities are going on in Germany on a daily basis” ?

      Even, if that would be the case, which I strongly doubt, it would make sense to start
      with one “barbarity” to abandon.

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    49. Piotr Berman

      I think that the state should have a high bar for banning anything, and banning stuff required by various religions smacks using law to suppress those religions.

      Additionally, any religion is a superstition if considered not in the context of that religion.

      It is hard to see why safely performed body modification of an infant is less detrimental than, say, brain washing in some drivel. But it is also impossible to make those judgement objectively enough to make them a function of the state.

      In the case of circumcision, there is a valid testimony that the traditional method is unsafe, but it was routine in USA using safe hospital methods. Adult circumcision is considerably more risky according to Genesis 34, hard to recommend (assuming that Simeon and Levy are still around).

      Thus the following practices are legal in Bermania

      consumption of peyotle, growing peyotle etc.

      other shamanistically necessary drugs may be considered, some standard may be needed to separate them from hard drugs, e.g. ecstasy may be rejected if there are no credible testimonies that it induces prophetic visions

      animal sacrifice: why are you allowed to slaughter your chicken for dinner, but not to perform a Santeria rite?

      male circumcision, with medical safety standards

      forcing children to be vegetarian, although standards of complete diet may be enacted (in USA, feeding children junk food is more of a problem)

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