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INTACT — The New Normal

People and organizations that work to abolish infant circumcision are often labelled by the media and opposition as being anti-circumcision. That moniker is untrue. Circumcision is sometimes medically necessary and some adults desire to be “cut” for personal reasons. I wish them well. Technically, Intactivists are pro-intact. We know the foreskin is an integral part [...]
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“Cut: Slicing Through the Myths of Circumcision” Goes Digital, Earns Entry Into Pasadena Film Festival

Beyond the Bris - January 21, 2014 - 10:13pm

“Cut,” a documentary film that challenges Jewish circumcision, is an official selection at the 2014 Pasadena International Film Festival. The film will be shown on February 13 at 3:30p.m. at the Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, CA. A special thank you goes out to Danielle Gladding, who made this possible.
For those who would like to own a copy of this incredible film, now is a great time. Previously, the film was only available as a DVD. Eli Ungar-Sargon, the film’s director, has recently teamed up with an online distributor to allow for digital purchase. The film can now be downloaded for $9.99.  
“We’re just very excited to be able to make ‘Cut’ available to the world in a convenient way and at a reasonable price,” Ungar-Sargon says.

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Jewish Psychologist to Debate Circumcision in Europe

Beyond the Bris - January 9, 2014 - 10:14am
Ronald Goldman, Ph.D.Ronald Goldman, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Circumcision Resource Center, a nonprofit educational organization in Boston, has been invited by the Council of Europe to participate in an interdisciplinary dialogue about circumcision at a meeting in France on January 28.

There is a growing European debate about circumcision. In October the Council of Europe, an organization of 47 member States, overwhelmingly passed a non-binding resolution that called circumcision, among other procedures, a violation of the physical integrity of children according to established human rights standards. Circumcision is uncommon in Europe except among Jews and Muslims.

As the only non-European invited to this meeting, Dr. Goldman said, “I look forward to contributing to the effort to raise awareness about circumcision in Europe in light of its physical, sexual, and psychological harm.” He is the author of Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma and Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective.

Information from the Circumcision Resource Center and the Jewish Circumcision Resource Center (a section of the CRC) was used to support the Council’s report on the resolution. The resolution, which received international media attention, urges member States to raise awareness, provide training, initiate public debate, and promote an interdisciplinary dialogue about the procedures.

Other invited guests to the meeting include an official representative of the French Jewish community, a representative of the Muslim community from Turkey, and a medical professional from Germany.

The Circumcision Resource Center has the purpose of informing the public and professionals about the practice of male circumcision. Its mission is to raise awareness and facilitate healing. Since 1991, the Center has been a valuable source of male circumcision information for parents and children's advocates; childbirth educators and allied professionals; medical, mental health, and academic people; Jews; and others.

Dr. Goldman has participated in over 200 media interviews with local and national radio and television programs, newspapers, and periodicals. He also gives lectures and seminars on circumcision and counsels parents and circumcised men.

Twitter @circresource Facebook

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Circumcision In Israel Not Taken For Granted Anymore

Beyond the Bris - December 25, 2013 - 11:54am

The drawbacks and potential benefits of infant circumcision are now being publicly debated in Israel, the consequence of a pending High Court case there. I wrote about some of the ethical issues last week.  The unusual case stems from a rabbinical court ruling where a mother was ordered to circumcise her nearly one-year-old son or face fines.

While some might assume that circumcision for the eight-day-old boy is an absolute in Israel, more Jewish people are questioning, and rejecting, the necessity of the rite. In researching this case, I spoke with Israeli ethicist Carmel Shalev of Haifa University Faculty of Law. She indicated to me that there is awareness in her country of the arguments against the practice.

Israeli circumcision critic Eran Sadeh (featured in the above news broadcast) has been working hard to educate Jewish people in Israel about the downsides to foreskin removal. He is the founder of the Israeli group Gonnen Al Hayeled (Protect the Child) and he is also a Beyond the Bris contributing writer. There can be no doubt that Sadeh's advocacy is playing a large role in getting Israeli parents to think critically about this once universally accepted tradition.

It is important to note that there is absolutely no legal requirement in Israel that a child be circumcised. The controversial ruling in this case came as part of a divorce proceeding where the father demanded that his son be circumcised. It is also unlikely the ruling will be upheld, and the High Court has already issued injunctive relief to the mother while the case is being decided.
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Ethical Issues in Israel's Bizarre Circumcision Case

Beyond the Bris - December 18, 2013 - 8:43pm

Jewish mother Elinor holds up a sign of protest against the
rabbinical court ruling that she must circumcise her son.An Israeli mother ordered to circumcise her eleven-month-old son, or face a daily accruing fine, has today taken her case to the High Court of Justice, the court of last resort in that country.

The strange case stems from a divorce proceeding. When it comes to matters of divorce, the Israeli judicial system is very different from the American system, as this case illustrates. In Israel there is no civil marriage and rabbinical courts have jurisdiction over Jewish divorce. So when the father in this case demanded that his son undergo brit milah—religious circumcision—during a divorce-related hearing, the court cited the importance of upholding the biblical covenant.

Elinor, the mother, was ordered to pay what amounts in U.S. currency to a $140-per-day fine until the boy undergoes brit milah. Elinor (who is among the approximately 40 percent of Israeli Jews that aren’t religious) says she doesn’t want to circumcise her son at all, that he is fine just the way he is. She says medical reasons prevented him from being circumcised at eight days old in keeping with the Jewish tradition, and that as time went on and she learned more about the procedure she decided against it. The boy’s father originally agreed but then made a surprising about-face in court, she says.

I wanted to get the scoop on what kind of chance Elinor’s plea would have on appeal—as well as some of the ethical issues involved, so I spoke to a prominent Israeli lawyer and ethicist, a bioethicist in the U.S., and a political scientist in London with an expertise in circumcision.

“The is a really bizarre case, the first of its kind,” said Carmel Shalev, an Israeli ethicist and human rights lawyer who teaches at Haifa University Faculty of Law. She told me she thinks the High Court of Justice will likely rule that the rabbinical court doesn’t have the authority to force anybody to perform circumcision.

In Israel, where there is no civil marriage, Orthodox rabbis, applying Orthodox religious law, are the only ones who may grant a divorce. It certainly seems like an odd system for those of us in the U.S. where church and state are separate. “They aren’t lawyers, they aren’t professional judges,” Shalev pointed out to me, adding that their powers are limited. She said in this case they are exceeding their authority. “There is no duty under Israeli law to perform male circumcision,” she said.

The rabbinical court system, where women don’t have the same right as men to obtain a divorce, was inherited from the time of the Ottoman Empire and is part of the early politics of the State of Israel. “People mostly accept the tradition and don’t make a big fuss about it,” said Shalev.

According to U.S. ethicist Ruth Macklin, the main issue for her is one of religious freedom. “Fining people for failing to adhere to a religious law is not religious freedom. This should not be the case in a democracy,” she told me.

Macklin is a professor in the Department of Epidemiology & Population Health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and a Dr. Shoshanah Trachtenberg Frackman Faculty Scholar in Biomedical Ethics.

“It’s patently unfair to women—straightforward sexism—that a woman does not have an equal right to a divorce,” Macklin added. However, Macklin said she doesn’t feel that a parental decision about whether to circumcise is an ethical issue. She pointed out that parents make all kinds of decisions for their kids, including ones that have lasting consequences, including whether to even bring their children up in a particular religion.

Rebecca Steinfeld, a political scientist at SOAS, University of London, who has written and broadcast on the history and ethics of circumcision, told me she sees it another way. “If the rabbinical judges coerce Elinor into circumcising her son, her right to freedom of conscience would be violated,” she said. “By compelling her to irreversibly remove a healthy part of her son’s genitals without his consent, the rabbinical judges would also undermine her son’s rights to bodily integrity—a cornerstone of post-Holocaust human rights law—and an open future, since he would have to live forever with his father’s and the judges’ choice.”

Steinfeld points out that “most criticisms of the rabbinical judgment focus solely on the violation of the mother’s rights, but it is important to remember that the child’s rights would also be undermined if Israel’s High Court of Justice fails to overturn this unprecedented ruling.”
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Why This (Jewish) Mom Skipped Circumcision

Beyond the Bris - December 11, 2013 - 9:54pm


Every mom is different and brings her own style when it comes to raising her kids. I didn’t circumcise my son and feel it was 100% the right choice. At the same time, I don’t condemn parents who circumcise. I recognize that good people can experience the world in different ways due to their circumstances and their natures and can come to different conclusions.   
Choosing to leave my son with the penis he was born with was a decision very much in keeping with how I see myself as a parent. Some see parenting as a dictatorship (albeit benevolent) where the parent always knows best. Children are viewed as blank slates that must be taught not simply how to navigate themselves in the world, but also such things as morals and spirituality.   
I hold a different view, which is that children come to the world perfect. That it is they who can teach us about how many things should be, if we would only step back and allow their true natures to unfold.
In this I agree with poet Kahlil Gibran (1883-1930):
“Your children are not your children. /  They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. /  They come through you but not from you, / And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. / You may give them your love but not your thoughts. / For they have their own thoughts. / You may house their bodies but not their souls, / For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. /You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.”
It's in the context of this approach to parenting that I entertained the question of whether to circumcise. Being American (and Jewish) I grew up in a culture where removing the foreskin of newborn boys was viewed as perfectly normal. I think this is why that even as a staunch circumcision critic, on some level, I still accept the circumcised penis as the “authentic” version. How hard it is to break from the shackles of what’s known and familiar! But despite my prejudices, the more I learned about circumcision, the more I came to see it as unnecessary and harmful.
Once we get can get away from the preconceived notions we’ve absorbed from the society around us, the bizarreness of circumcision becomes evident. Is it really necessary to perform a surgical procedure on a newborn to correct the natural anatomy? After all, it’s a procedure that hurts, has a risk of complications, requires a degree of wound care, leaves a scar, and can never be undone.
I would certainly consent to a needed and beneficial medical procedure on my child’s behalf, but I would have to be convinced that the benefits far outweighed the downsides. And here is where circumcision fell short for me. Many Reasons to Circumcise
Recently my friend Stan, a behavioral psychologist of the skinnerian variety and a staunch defender of male infant circumcision, handed me a three-inch thick stack of papers, the sum of his internet research into the health benefits of the practice.
Stan, who is in his seventies, is a man of science to the core, a Jewish atheist, and has one of the biggest hearts I’ve encountered. He genuinely cares about people. Stan’s point is simple: it’s been demonstrated in the medical literature that circumcision can prevent a range of medical problems, both in circumcised men and in their sexual partners. Given Stan’s understanding that circumcision is a prophylaxis against illness, tantamount to vaccination, he sees every reason to circumcise infants at birth.
I’m well aware of the medical justifications for circumcision that Stan cites. Most of have been around for decades (prevention penile cancer, reduction of urinary tract infections, and the elimination of phimosis—a foreskin that’s too tight). The touted ability of circumcision to reduce STD acquisition and transmission is more recent. Although these medical justifications are not without some merit, in the end I didn’t find them persuasive enough to subject my son to the procedure. Here’s why. Like most who favor circumcision, Stan views the foreskin as a functionless body part. (I’ve tried to convince him otherwise, but he won’t see it any other way.) For Stan, the foreskin has no merit of its own, so he see nothing wrong with removing it, especially if it’s been shown to have any potential for causing trouble.
The Not So Worthless Foreskin
Before undertaking to learn about it, like most Americans (and Jews) I was completely uneducated about natural male anatomy. Although I questioned circumcision due to the obvious pain and potential complications, I assumed the foreskin was nothing more than excess or redundant skin. A covering on top of the “real” penis. What I learned, however, is that the foreskin has a number of important functions.
Like the human eyelid, the foreskin is made of a special kind of skin. It’s very thin and it’s dry on the exterior side but mucosal (moist) on the inside. This moist skin covers the penis, keeping it in a continually moist condition. For me, the very fact that the natural penis is a moist organ was a total shocker. Many American doctors don’t even understand this because they themselves are circumcised, and were trained by doctors who had no such knowledge, and the textbooks don’t explain it.
It’s not rocket science that the sexual experience must be different with two naturally moist organs coming into contact with one another. Some have even postulated this is the reason why the U.S. and Israel are the biggest consumers of Viagra and personal lubricant.          
But even prior to sexual maturity, the foreskin has a role. It protects the penis from chafing and abrasion and keeps the urinary opening free from harmful bacteria. I encourage any parent struggling with the question of circumcision to do their own research into the function of the foreskin before drawing a conclusion about whether this part of the body is disposable.    
For those like my friend Stan who view the foreskin as useless, there can be no competing interest that trumps its removal. In other words, if there is even one iota of benefit in removing it, why not? Since I view the foreskin is a valuable part of the normal male anatomy, I would consider its surgical removal a health measure only to be entertained if really necessary. So, what about all of those alleged health benefits?
Penile cancer is extremely rare in developed countries (estimated to be about one in 100,000 men) and is typically associated with other serious health conditions and lifestyle risk factors. Urinary tract infections are rare in boys regardless of their circumcision status (my own son has never had one) and are easily treatable with antibiotics. As far as sexually transmitted diseases, only safe sex can prevent them in a meaningful way. Consider all of the circumcised American men who have contracted HIV. Besides, infants don’t have sex. Adult men can always choose to get circumcised if they feel it’s worth it to prevent contracting STDs, or for any other reason they find compelling.
Just because a body part has some potential to cause trouble doesn’t mean we remove it. Using that logic, men would be walking around with one testicle to halve their chances of testicular cancer and women would be undergoing mastectomies as a matter of routine to prevent breast cancer. Given that the risk of a woman developing breast cancer during her lifetime has been estimated to be about one in eight, and that the consequences of this disease can be devastating, the argument for preventative mastectomies is in many ways more convincing than the medical arguments for foreskin removal at birth.
Cultural Rationales for Circumcising
Of course, there are many other justifications for male infant circumcision beyond the medical. Some say, “I want my son to look like his father,” or “I don’t want my son to be laughed at in the locker room/bedroom,” or “my Jewish parents/grandparents will never forgive me if I don’t circumcise,” or “I just think it’s cleaner,” or “he will be less Jewish.”
As far as fathers and sons looking alike, I absolutely understand the sentiment behind this, which is that fathers and sons should feel deeply connected and have a loving and close relationship. But does having “matching” penises really foster this bond? I think a father demonstrating genuine love for his child by protecting him from the cultural insanity of circumcision would foster a far greater bond with his son than making that son just like him through the same damaging surgery to which he was subjected.
To those worried about the locker room (or bedroom), like any mother I understand that no parent wants their child to be teased by his peers, or a girlfriend, especially about something as personal as his genitals. At the same time, people come in all shapes and colors. We shouldn’t judge people based on appearances, nor should we live in fear of others judging us this way. If we circumcise our sons based on our own fears of prejudice, what does that say about us? What message are we ultimately sending to our kids if we allow the wrongheaded opinions and actions of others guide our important life decisions?   
Then there’s the Jewish parent/grandparent argument. Of course we want to please the older generation and I agree should try hard to do this—so long as it’s in keeping with our values and good judgment. But what if it’s not? Do we live our lives to placate and please others, even close family, when it means doing something we don’t believe in our hearts to be right? Except for those relatives who are devout practicing Jews, firmly entrenched in a religiously observant community, the vast majority will indeed “forgive,” and many may eventually come around to the idea that circumcision is wrong. Just wait until they get their hands on that newborn baby, perfect the way nature made him. In the words of my own mom, kvelling over my son’s nakedness: “Why on earth would anyone want to change that adorable penis?”  
On the subject of cleanliness, girls and women manage to clean themselves properly despite having intact sex organs and boys and men can do the same. As far as young boys go (those whose foreskins have not yet become retractable, which is entirely normal up to puberty), care of the natural penis is simple. The outside is washed; no retraction is called for. The inside gets flushed out and cleaned whenever the boy urinates. Urine is completely sterile and the protection offered by the foreskin prevents bacteria and dirt from causing trouble. Finally, for those who worry their child will somehow be less Jewish because he’s intact, or that he will have trouble finding or pleasing a Jewish woman, or that not circumcising somehow hurts the Jewish people, I think we need to calm down, take a step back and keep things in perspective. Assimilation and intermarriage are the biggest threats to Judaism, not the unaltered penis. My husband and I are Jewish and have chosen to raise our kids in a very Jewish way. They know and are proud of their heritage, we celebrate the holidays, and the kids are learning Hebrew. I’m not worried. Meanwhile, I have many Jewish friends and family members that have married non-Jewish spouses, celebrate Christmas, teach their children little or nothing about their Jewish heritage, and yet they say they circumcised their sons for religious reasons. Being Jewish is about far more than circumcising, and those who view circumcision as the be-all and end-all of the Jewish people are being short-sighted. 

This essay is just a starting point, ideal for those who are new to the arguments against circumcision. 

There are more justifications for circumcision than I've mentioned here, as well as more arguments in favor of the natural penis. I encourage everyone to do their own research into this multifaceted topic.
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THE ECONOMIST: Against the Cut, The intactivist movement takes on the oldest surgery known to man

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 14, 2013 - 3:18pm
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a magazine with its origins in Britain, a largely intact country, would take a sober and objective look at the San Francisco circumcision ballot measure. The Economist correctly concludes, “Whatever the fate of his proposed … Continue reading →
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ZIMBABWE: A familiar fear – one intervention at a time, likely the norm in HIV prevention

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 14, 2013 - 3:06pm
Many critics of the African circumcision trials drew the obvious conclusion that a push for male circumcision in Africa and elsewhere would result in a corresponding drop in condom use. In a partially useful risk reduction intervention, such a result … Continue reading →
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“Circumcise @Oprah” protest … Thank you, @GlenCallender

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 11, 2013 - 5:34pm
Glen Callender loves his foreskin. I love the size of his balls. Wow! Thanks, Glen, for sticking it to The Woman!
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OPINION: Intactivism, Anti-Semitism, and Foreskin Man

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 11, 2013 - 4:41pm
Growing up in Texas, the only Jews I knew lived in the Bible. As far as I could understand, circumcised boys were all my fundamentalist and not so fundamentalist Christian friends. Intact boys were foreigners or the kids who spoke … Continue reading →
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SWAZILAND: Mass HIV infection, shortage of medical personnel, and now false hope

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 11, 2013 - 4:06pm
In a nation where the HIV infection rate is said to be nearing 50%, people are desperate. Getting sick with wholly curable diseases can be life-threatening. Getting HIV is a short-order yet slowly unfolding death sentence. It may take 10 … Continue reading →
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GENITAL CUTTING: Geese get equal treatment in Africa at Dr. Piot’s urging

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 11, 2013 - 3:46pm
When the Kenyan and Ugandan studies were announced linking lower HIV infection risk with male circumcision, many sober voices immediately called for safe and consensual procedures by trained clinicians instead of those provided in the wild by folk doctors, if … Continue reading →
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Male Circumcision and HIV - July 10, 2013 - 2:49pm
This blog, Male Circumcision and HIV, is going on hiatus indefinitely. The way the world interacts on issues of public health and culture is changing. This blog was started before twitter and facebook and the social revolution that characterizes online … Continue reading →
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DENMARK: Circumcision associated with sexual dysfunction in men and women

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 10, 2013 - 2:23pm
UPDATE: Download paper here. Int J Epidemiol. 2011 Jun 14. [Epub ahead of print] Male circumcision and sexual function in men and women: a survey-based, cross-sectional study in Denmark. Frisch M, Lindholm M, Grønbæk M. Source Department of Epidemiology Research, Statens … Continue reading →
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Change Again

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 10, 2013 - 1:57pm
I’m starting a “best of” effort to import old posts from Scroll down for posts in the order they were originally published.
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CNN’s “The Debate” asks, Should teens make circumcision decision?

Male Circumcision and HIV - July 10, 2013 - 12:14pm
Given a choice between the occasional teen obsessing over getting circumcised and a majority of parents obsessing over doing the circumcising for said teens before they are of an age to raise a ruckus, the former seems far preferable. This … Continue reading →
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