Saturday, 19 May 2012

Rabbis speak out against circumcision

Circumcision is a “violent” and “barbaric custom”, “deaths and maiming have occurred”, it’s “unnecessary and painful” it’s  an “unimportant part of Jewish life”, there’s “no official place” for it in Judaism anymore and it should be replaced with a ceremony that’s “joyful” and “beautiful” and doesn’t “hurt little babies”.

These are the words of a growing number of Rabbis who are speaking out against Unnecessary Male Circumcision and encouraging members of different Jewish communities to give up the practice.

They include Rabbis in the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and many other branches of Judaism, according to an excellent report at Intact News about Rabbis who are creating a Jewish covenant without circumcision

The quotes from the Rabbis (below) speak for themselves and demonstrate that the religious aspect of Unnecessary Male Circumcision is not the inevitable and impenetrable problem that some commentators would have us believe. 

For Jewish parents who choose not to have a 'brit milah' (circumcision ceremony) an increasing number of Rabbis are perfoming a 'brit shalom' which is a ceremony without the circumcision. 

Here are some of these Jewish leaders speaking about a covenant without circumcision in their own words:

"I believe circumcision is a major mistake……The code of the Jewish law is called "halacha" (the way). Within the Code, there is a provision that if a mother loses a son because of circumcision, she is NOT obligated to circumcise her next son. I extrapolate from this, the inter-connection of my human family, that enough deaths and maiming have occurred because of circumcision. Therefore - circumcision is no longer a requisite! Just as we no longer practice the animal sacrifices in the traditional temple, so let us not sacrifice an important piece of our mammal in the temple of tradition." 
Rabbi Nathan Segal

"When I see the babies crying……and I've spoken with neurosurgeons as well, and I know that babies undergo….a lot of pain. Our faith should be about healing and joy, not about inflicting more pain. And so from my perspective I'm very interested in performing brit shalom. You can do everything you do in that ceremony - except the violent part. Everything works….it's beautiful...that's the beauty of who we are today. We should be joyful and not hurt little babies. I too am rooted in tradition.I've led services in the Conservative synagogues and in the Reform synagogues."

Rabbi Steven Blane

"We're all born into the world vulnerable and in need of people who love us and take care of us…  we depend upon each other for love and protection and that extends in this case I would say also to creating a covenant without circumcision….  There’s no official place in our movement’s philosophy for circumcision… the welcoming ceremony has no place for it… it’s really unimportant actually… most Jewish people who have any of covenant actually focus primarily on how we treat each other…   we’re all in this together folks… we all have to live some kind of ideas… not sacrifices of children’s bits. I think that’s completely absurd at this time in history. I will say that I would not circumcise a child. I think many Rabbis actually if they were going to be honest would say that circumcision is an unimportant part of Jewish life.”

Rabbi Binyamin Biber

"I have already written about my opposition to infant circumcision….. there is finally some momentum building among Jews to do away with this antiquated and barbaric custom.... I cannot imagine why any sane person would put their baby boy through an unnecessary and painful surgery without even the benefit of anesthesia.  Yet, until recently, no one in Jewish leadership has challenged this obsolete and primitive ritual."

Rabbi Jeffrey Falick

 "There is more emotion about eliminating circumcision than perhaps any other traditional practice. But it is time to find a different symbol of a boy's entrance into the community. Instead of cutting our sons, we might celebrate their masculinity. A more appropriate symbol would be a nurturing act, one that would affirm a boy's relationship to a loving father, both his own and that of his God. We might, for example, feed our sons, since a meal is also a traditional symbol of covenant. Indeed, in one text, Moses and Aaron and the elders go up to the top of the mountain, and when they see God, they eat and drink. Feeding our sons, rather than wounding them, would be a symbol of our nurturing relationship to them." 

Rabbi and Professor Howard Eilberg-Schwartz

To find out more about the Jewish community speaking out against circumcision see Jews Against Circumcision in the USA.


  1. The quotes from these Rabbis give me hope that we will see a more rapid change with this issue (forced genital cutting of children) soon.

  2. It is most encouraging to hear such comments from those within the rabbinical community and I applaud them. However, where a ritual such as circumcision is rooted so firmly in ancient tradition it will inevitably take a long time for those who will fiercely defend what they have always preached to leave the stage. Maybe then we can look forward to a better world in which infant boys need not suffer the mutilation that many of us have had to live with.

  3. firmly disagree. the penis makes enough trouble when it is 'intact'. we should find ways to make it more trouble like embellish it with ribbons, so that the women can unwrap them. we can tie bows around the foreskins, then they will behave peoperly. the pain helps remember where you came from, its the fist in the face that says you have just left god and he is always with you, never forget. or... we could just piss ourselves into spiritual miseryand forgetfulness. the zen teachers speak of holding on to a memory as being as painful as a dislocated shoulder. there is pain to holda thought and a memory, we can bear a pain, and a thought. or forget.