Reb Nachum to SF: Keep Your Laws Off My People’s Body

THERE’S A PLACE — CHELM IS its name — where all the inhabitants are so open-minded that they tolerate any behavior whatsoever from anyone they deem open-minded as themselves. It’s a nice place to visit, but I hope never to have to live there.

From the post title, you can guess where I stand on San Francisco’s proposed anti-circumcision measure, which would criminalize the act if performed on anyone under 18 and disallow religious exemptions. But considering that Matthew Hess, the fellow behind it, is the same fellow behind the eye-washingly anti-Semitic “Monster Mohel” comic book, I feel I know as much about his motivations — and defenders — as I need to.

Here’s how I see it: I am a Jew. If I had a son, he would be circumcised as I was, as was my father, as was his father dating ‘way back to (an historical or at least notional) Abraham. That’s my choice. It’s a cultural marker, one of many aspects to Jewish identity and practice for more than 3,000 years. If the effects were as deleterious as its opponents claim (and who wrongly mistake it for/equate it with clitoridectomy and “ritualized child abuse”), why are we Jews still here? and so successfully in the forefront of science, literature, medicine and many other high-intensity fields?

Another argument, that one misstep condemns the whole — either in moheling (ritual circumcisiing) or in religious observance — strikes me as just silly. (As do such over-the-top hypotheticals as, “What if the tradition were to break the child’s legs?”) It’s long been an anti-Jewish conceit that inability to observe the entire Torah makes it invalid. But should I start murdering people just because I occasionally drive over the speed limit? No less an authority than Rabbi Nachman of Breslov allows that no one can observe Torah to the letter — and no one can possibly do everything it requires. But it’s important that we try. (At least, to those of us for whom trying in this way is important.)

Circumcision is safe, painful, traditional, irrational, occasionally beneficial, occasionally botched, and many other things. If a Jewish or Muslim family chooses not to have their child circumcised, that’s their choice and none of my business — just as it was their choice to have a child in the first place, or raise it in one or another tradition (or none at all).

Legislation removes my family’s choice. Please — leave my family alone.

3 comments for “Reb Nachum to SF: Keep Your Laws Off My People’s Body

  1. Tim Wittle
    2011.06.13 at 1133

    They’re enough of a dick to piss off the Jews, but they haven’t got the balls to piss off Muslims. What a supersize circumcized cock up!

  2. Kathryn
    2011.06.20 at 2240

    Interesting. Very interesting. I’ll be honest here: Without thinking about it, or even considering others’ religious beliefs, I would have supported such a measure. I don’t like the thought of circumcision, and I have prided myself on my broadmindedness, thinking that if we women demand that no body-altering procedures be performed on us without our consent, why should we routinely deprive males of the choice of whether to keep their foreskins? Also, with respect to the argument that the procedure done on an infant will eventually help protect the health of women who will be one day be his sexual partner(s) – well, I’m a feminist and a lover of women and am all about supporting women’s health, but nonetheless don’t think that’s a good enough reason to dictate someone else’s choice about his body.

    So there I was patting myself on the back for my broadminded sense of fairness – and then you come along with this. :>D

    Now what I have to consider, is the parallel with the eternal abortion debate. I am pro-choice, but sympathetic to the feelings of those who sincerely oppose abortion on moral grounds. I feel this issue will never be resolved, because there are sincere individuals with valid, well-thought positions on both sides, and there probably always will be. For those who would outlaw all abortions, my response is summed nicely in the bumper sticker slogan, “Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one.” But now the shoe is on the other foot. You could substitute the word “circumcision” for “abortion” in my bumper sticker pithyism, and volley it back to me…and now I understand the discomfort of the “pro-lifers.”

    Now I got one for ya. Consider the clitoridectomy. I think nearly all of us within this culture can agree we find it appalling, and a horrific practice. However, across the pond, on that other continent, there are valid, viable human cultures in which this practice is, well, traditional, painful, irrational, and all those things. How do you feel about attempts to have clitoridectomies outlawed there?

    • 2011.06.21 at 0430

      I’m all for outlawing ’em. Unlike circumcision, c’dectomies serve no medical function (not even a much-debated one), only an oppressive one: they deprive the victim of sexual feeling, go hand in glove with female subjugation and, speaking as someone who experiences the divinity of sex and woman, is an offense against God. If that were part of my tradition, I’d work to change it too.

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