Beyond The Bris: Website Unites Anti-Circumcision Jews

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Rebecca Wald
When the Brooklyn District Attorney's office announced that it would investigate the death of an infant who got herpes during a controversial circumcision practice, many decided to revisit the tradition, and ask whether it still has a place in modern society.

Now, this particular case deals with a very rare technique called metzitzah b'peh -- which is when the individual performing the procedure, the mohel, uses his mouth to suck blood away from the baby's penis.

Metzitzah b'peh tends to take place only in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, but New York has nevertheless tried to educate parents about the health risks of the practice: The New York Times reports that in 2003 and 2004, three cases of circumcision-linked herpes were reported to the City, one of which resulted in death.

Runnin' Scared caught up with Rebecca Wald, founder of Beyond the Bris, a multimedia forum for anti-circumcision Jews. Wald talked to us (and our sister paper!) about the practice and how this case has affected American Jews.

Runnin' Scared: What prompted you to start this website?

Rebecca Wald: There is a growing sense by some in the Jewish community that there needs to be a place for Jews who don't wish to circumcize their sons, and who are opposed to circumcision, to connect with each other. So I founded Beyond the Bris in 2010 as a way to support Jews who shared those feelings.

Runnin' Scared: Were you just interested in the topic?

Wald: Prior to having a son, it was more theoretical for me. I knew that I was opposed to circumcision, but I wasn't a parent on the front lines of having to make a decision. When I had a son, the issue became all the more intriguing to me and all the more meaningful to me.

Runnin' Scared: How has the Jewish community reacted to your project?

Wald: I have received a lot of support from Jews who are for my project -- even ones who favor circumcision. There's lots of different ways to be Jewish and we jewish people have sort of taken what is meaningful to us and kept them. With things that are not meaningful to us or that we are morally opposed to, there is room in our religion to express disagreement. So, in that sense, I think Judaism is a very open and dynamic culture, and I attribute that as being one of my main reasons why I found a degree of support in the Jewish community for what I am doing.

Runnin' Scared: Why do you think this practice persists?

Wald: It's something that's been done for thousands of years. I think there's a feeling that when a young man is looking for a wife, it will be an issue if he is intact, because Jewish women may find being intact less than desirable. And for religious Jews, it is seen as a commandment from God.

Runnin' Scared: How has the Brooklyn investigation impacted debate among Jews?

Wald: I'm surprised that I haven't seen more reaction from Jewish people nationally to denounce this practice. In my understanding, the Jewish people who are part of the anti-circumcision movement recognize that this is a very rare practice -- that is done only by the most religiously observant Jews. Even there in many, many communities, it has been modified so that the suction is not done with the mouth to the genitals -- it's done through a sterile pipette.

I think anytime there is news made over circumcision, it brings awarness to the issue and I think that regardless of how anyone feels about the benefits or the risks of circumcision, we should all agree that infants need to be protected from life threatening sexually transmitted disease that can be consequences of this very practice.


Runnin' Scared: What started an anti-circumcision movement among Jews?

Wald: There's actually a range of reasons why people are opposed to circumcision -- not everybody is opposed to it for the same reasons. Some see it as a men's rights issue -- that every man should just be able to decide for himself whether to be circumcised. Other people see it as having to do with what's in the best interest of the newborn.

Runnin' Scared: Are Jews changing their mind about circumcision?

Wald: We're seeing a slow shift. Rabbis are becoming more willing to do naming ceremonies for boys who they know are intact. And we are also seeing more Jewish humanist rabbis who are distancing themselves from circumcision.

Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.



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26 comments
Jon
Jon

Circumcision was invented to reduce sensitivity and thus self pleasuring. Circumcised men have about half as many sexual sensitive nerves as uncut men and enjoy sex less.

FACT.

Brinxster
Brinxster

Let's get this straight... this is about CHILDREN... Millions of them being circumcised against their will... hundreds of them dying annually as a result. 

This is a surgical procedure that should need the consent of the boy and no one else. This is disgusting that in 2012 we are still perpetrating this horrific assault on the Human Dignity and RIghts of these boys.

Give boys back their free will. Let them decide.

Barb
Barb

Myriam Breitman says, "But people should be allowed to chose whatever they want."

Yes, indeed.  Are baby boys "people" - or not?

Amanda Englund
Amanda Englund

I feel so blessed to have been able to find a rabbi that was willing to do a bris for our son without a circumcision as well.  I wish I had found this wonderful organization when my son was first born--it was a long road and I didn't know of any other Jews who were anti-circumcision.  

YouWayhjj
YouWayhjj

Rebecca you're such a leader and are so inspirational like Oprah! I was thinking about making a movement where we do Shabbat on Tuesday because I don't like to "rest" on the weekends. And instead of lighting candles and saying prayers, I want to light fireworks and play Katy Perry songs on my acoustic guitar. Also, do you think Yom Kippur is kinda meh? I mean I hate starving and really wouldn't mind getting rid of that too. I think that we can work together to completely change every stupid 5,700 year old tradition ourselves. We will be so famous and "unique". Maybe one day they'll write about me in the V.V. too.

figoliu
figoliu

herpesdateonline.c-/0m  is a warm-hearted and exclusive community for singles and friends with herpes , HPV,HIV/AIDS or any other STDs. Here you can get on with your life and meet new friends, partners or potential spouses, or learn about STD medical information. If you just need to find someone to talk to or offer help or advice, this is the best place.Never feel lonely again!

 

Robert Whitten
Robert Whitten

Seems like all rituals leftover from the Bronze age, that involve mutilation of minors, whatever their sex, should have been discontinued by now.

Su-sudio
Su-sudio

A skilled lover makes someone better in bed, not removing a healthy foreskin from a helpless, unwilling child. Let an adult decide if he wants to remove a highly functional, vital part of his penis. It make the most sense. 

Guest
Guest

The practice of "suction" definitely has no place in modern society.  The ultra-orthodox should change their medieval ways into more hygienic conditions of a hospital or skip the metziza part, which is disturbing anyways. Having said that - personally I'm a Jew for circumcision. Makes the men better in bed. 

Bunky D'junky
Bunky D'junky

A brave woman! The ancients demanded all kinds of blood sacrifices that modern people must reject... or remain primitive (even savage) in their hearts.

Myriam_Breitman
Myriam_Breitman

C'mon. We are all free individuals and are free to chose which aspects of Judaism to follow if to follow if at all. 

Robert Whitten
Robert Whitten

Viagra sales will plummet if we stop circumcising our young. What to do . What to do. 

Hugh x
Hugh x

 "Makes the men better in bed." So, they say, does inserting pearls under their skin. Will you do that to your baby boys too?

Barefoot Intactivist
Barefoot Intactivist

If we are all free individuals, why was part of my penis amputated against my will?

TLCTugger
TLCTugger

I think Rebecca agrees we should all be free to choose, versus having an amputation forced upon us. 

YouWayhjj
YouWayhjj

I agree with you. Rebecca's cause is particularly disturbing because Abraham, the first Jew, established his covenant with God and distinguished himself from a world of idolatry through circumcision. And while the Jewish people have spent thousands of years fighting and dying so not be exterminated, we have people like Rebecca, leading the charge to dilute our traditions and helping Judaism perish through assimilation.

Are there any distinct traditions, teachings, or customs that we won't compromise? If you see laws and traditions as constantly evolving and combine high intermarriage rates, people's decision to make the religion fit their lifestyle, and parent's decisions not to give their children a Jewish education, one has to question what the future holds for the Jewish people

abadaba95
abadaba95

 Considering Viagra is used by a mostly odler male population who were born during an age when circumcising was less common, your argument seems limp.

Marc
Marc

The Jewish faith evolves over time.  That's why they stopped animal sacrifices, which were a strong scriptural commandment, and why they have not enforced rules like stoning people for adultery.  Genital mutilation is another human rights violation that more and more Jews are recognizing is wrong.  That number will increase. 

Jasont3671
Jasont3671

Your personal preference Myriam?...Sounds a bit selfish,what about the preference of the tiny baby about to be mutilated?..Think I'd like to hear what he would have to say first.

Guest
Guest

I know that most people think of Israel as a highly religious society. But in fact it's not true. About 20 percent of the Israeli population is indeed religios [some are orthodox], but the rest are secular. The morning after pill is readily available in Israel without any prescription and it was so since the moment it came to the market. Israeli health care pays  for the contraceptive pills, no questions asked. Abortions are not an issue, so is stem cell research. Gays serve in the army and enjoy equal rights [though not official marriage]. So I'm trying to say that I perceive America as being a much more religious and concervative society than Israel. Had Israelis wanted to use viagra - its readily available, no questions asked. But it's use is not as high as in the US [sorry, can't find an online reference either]. So that's why I thought your argument did not stand.  And back to the circumsizion issue - my personal preference is to snip the foreskin. But people should be allowed to chose whatever they want.

Marc
Marc

I'm trying to find the data on Viagra sales in Israel and I'm not finding it.  I would like to see it.  But even if that's true, I think the religious aspect of it can be a major confounding factor.  Religion, and especially orthodox and fundamentalist faiths, are very likely to affect the use of sexual drugs like viagra just as drugs like the morning after pill or contraceptives.  I would not trust a comparison of a strongly religious country with a far less religious one.  I would seem a comparison of the U.S. with Europe would make more sense. 

Guest
Guest

And Israel has a very low usage of viagra, despite of all of its population being circumcised [Jewish and Muslim]. So where does that leave your argument?

Tom Tobin
Tom Tobin

Why does the US consume most of the viagra produced in the world?It's adult population is 80% to 85% circumcised.  It was invented in Britain, yet the Europeans consume far less of it.  People guess that keratinization (callousing of the head from rubbing against clothing) continues throughout a life.  It's not as far fetched as you might want to believe.

Ron
Ron

No limpness whatsoever in Robert's statement, at least as it pertains to the USA.  You'd have to go back to the time when most births were at home to reach the point that circumcision was uncommon.  When birthing became "medicalized" and more often took place in hospitals, circumcising was just part of the deal.  In those days, it was so routine they usually didn't even ask the parents.  They just did it and added it to the bill. 

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