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Jun 21 2011

Do Babies Have Freedom of Religion? Does Natalie Portman’s Baby?

By at 2:20 pm

Natalie Portman at the 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 30. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times

I don’t always agree with Mayim’s posts, but I think her most recent one on circumcision got it just right. She was writing about whether Natalie Portman will circumcise her son and it’s been a little disturbing to see the vitriolic attacks lobbed at Mayim for essentially saying that parents should make their own decisions about these things.

The decision to circumcise one’s son is extremely personal, and every family, Jewish or not, has to make their own choice. As I have written before, I think it’s fine if Jews don’t circumcise. (Just to put my cards on the table: if I ever have a son, I will circumcise him. This is a decision my husband and I have made together.)

What I do have a problem with is folks who a) don’t respect other people’s choices, and b) some of the reasons people use to attack other people’s choices around circumcision.

I get if you think it’s barbaric, I don’t agree.

However, please don’t tell me that parents who circumcise their children are violating their baby’s freedom of religion. Let’s be clear here, people. Babies don’t have freedom of religion. (Babies do, however, have human rights, and I understand if you think that circumcision is a violation of those human rights. Again, I happen to disagree.) Back to the freedom of religion claim—I’m no lawyer, but just from a practical standpoint, I just don’t see how it applies to babies. They don’t get freedom of association or press, and they sure as hell don’t have freedom of speech (at least not in my house!). My husband and I are raising our children Jewish. Thus, we deprive them of Christmas trees and Easter eggs and cheeseburgers and many other aspects of main stream American culture. We are choosing to raise our children in a minority group, a people who have an extensive history of persecution, a history that unfortunately, is not dead. I have more concerns about the implications of this choice than about the status of a foreskin.

I know, I know, many of you are probably gearing up to angrily reprimand me for comparing Christmas trees to circumcision. But let’s not kid ourselves. The air our children breathe, the sleep they get, the food they eat, and the way they spend their days—it all affects their bodies, and as much as we’d like to tell ourselves differently, it all has a permanent impact on who they are, and who they will become. (Believe me. I’m a clinical social worker. This is the reason I have a job. And yes, I have already started a therapy fund for my own kids.)

Once they grow up and develop functional frontal lobes, the ability to wipe their own tushies, and all the other benefits of adulthood, my kids may choose something else for themselves.  They may decide to believe in Jesus or eat lobster for dinner.  And at the risk of sounding glib, that’s life. That’s the human condition.

If you don’t agree with circumcision, that’s OK. I’m not here to convince you, and to be honest, if this ritual isn’t meaningful for you, then I can’t explain it. If you can’t relate to the power of a centuries-old tradition that has helped bind a people together through endless expulsions and persecutions, well, I understand that. My only hope would be that you try to respect the choices of those of us who do.

Jun 20 2011

Will Natalie Portman Circumcise Her Son? Should We Care?

By at 3:03 pm

What will Natalie do on day eight?

I have gone back and forth on my place in this circumcision “debate” more times than I can count.

Should I write about the proposed ban on circumcision in San Francisco and (almost) Santa Monica? Should I put myself out there to be (again) attacked with vicious hate language for my adherence to Jewish law? Should I voice my feelings of conflict and simultaneous joy to fulfill this most difficult of commandments?

Should I strike back at the anti-circumcision folks with the tools they have given me; namely, the anti-circumcision comic book with images like this of “Foreskin Man” and  “Monster Mohel”? Should I use sarcasm and anger and a smidge of Holocaust-driven paranoia or deal with the issues at hand minus sarcasm, anger, and paranoia? Should I speak up?

No. I decided I am not gonna do it. I am hyper-sensitive by nature and it’s been too hard of a week. I wish I had more in me to handle this, but I don’t right now.

So I will instead ask you this: what will Natalie Portman do? (In case you live in  cave or don’t read Kid-dish, Natalie had a baby boy last week.) Not that it’s my business, but will she or won’t she? Circumcise, that is. Will she even make public her decision about what to do on day 8 of her son’s life? (Mazel tov, by the way, Nat.)

Do celebrity Jews have some sort of obligation to the Jewish community at large to let us know about their observance especially when it puts a “good” face on observance? When Sacha Baron-Cohen discusses kosher food options or working on Shabbat, it really touches me. When Matisyahu puts himself out there as a successful and devout observant Jew, it amazes me. When Natalie Portman conducts an interview in Hebrew (check it out for yourself on youtube!), it thrills me.

So at this time of public discussion about circumcision (at least in some circles), I will be paying a little more attention to any baby news from Natalie’s corner.

Whatever she decides, God bless her right to exercise both her freedom of religion that our country guarantees, and her free will, which our religion guarantees.

Whatever she decides, I respect her right to exercise both her freedom of religion that our country guarantees, and her free will, which our religion guarantees.

Want more Mayim? And to see all of our Natalie coverage, go here.

Jun 10 2011

News Roundup: Russell Crowe on Circumcision, Weiner on his Weiner

By at 4:01 pm

All the parenting news you probably didn’t have time to read this week.

-If you’re a father, or a mother, or a human being with a heartbeat, you probably shouldn’t read this staggering piece about a father coping with the death of his baby. (The New Yorker)

-Could conjoined twins actually share one mind? Krista and Tatiana Hogan, 4, are Canadian twins and researchers are baffled by their brain. If you tickle one girl’s foot, the other sister can feel it. (NY Times)

-More on the anti-circumcision ballot stirring in California. Russell Crowe chimes in: he loves his Jewish friends, he hates circumcision. The Forward (OK, my husband) suggests that Russell should play Foreskin Man when the rabidly anti-Semitic cartoon becomes a movie. (The Forward)

-In ordinary circumstances we would announce with glee that Rep. Anthony Weiner’s lovely wife, Huma Abedin, is pregnant. Though that whole emailing photos of his penis thing is sort of putting a damper on things. (Media Bistro)

-In honor of Father’s Day, Jewish men weigh in on what it means to be a dad. These are, in this order, funny, earnest, and heartbreaking. And there are no less than two references to poop. And one of them just happens to be about my daughter. (The Forward)

Jun 3 2011

Monster Mohel

By at 2:06 pm

“Nothing excites Monster Mohel more than cutting into the infantile penile flesh of an eight day old boy.”

I can’t take credit for having written that. Nor can Julius Streicher, founder and publisher of Nazi propaganda vehicle Der Sturmer. No, it’s from a comic book written in San Francisco by anti-circumcision activist Matthew Hess that not a few people have deemed somewhat anti-Semitic. (He’s at the helm of a movement in San Francisco to ban circumcision.)

The comic book, Foreskin Man (I could make this stuff up, I suppose, but this is all true), sports a cover that shows a dark, bearded rabbi looming menacingly over a naked baby laying on a pool table. Fear not – a muscular blond superhero stands poised to “save” the child.

To those familiar with anti-Semitic iconography, these images are a really short step away from blood libel. I refer you to this frame of the comic, in which the “Monster Mohel” and his machine-gun carrying, payess-sporting thugs break down a door in order to circumcise a baby. Or perhaps this one, where the “Monster” tells one of his “goons” that he will forcibly carry out the circumcision. Or, finally, where the “Monster” holds the scissors menacingly over a screaming baby with sheer blood lust scrawled over his face.

When asked if his comic is anti-Semitic by the San Francisco Chronicle, Hess replied, “A lot of people have said that, but we’re not trying to be anti-Semitic. We’re trying to be pro-human rights.”

Really? Calling a mohel “Monster Mohel,” and literally making a cartoon of something I literally hold sacred, promotes human rights? Interesting – because I think that promotes denigration of those who choose to practice their religion.

As a Jew who believes in the covenant of brit milah – as well as my rights as an American to exercise religious freedom – I’ll go out on a limb and say that my human rights are not being promoted here. In fact, they’re actively being defamed, as the practice of bloodthirsty monsters.

Maybe it’s more frightening, though. Because maybe Hess isn’t trying to be anti-Semitic – maybe the anti-Semitism just comes effortlessly.

Please feel free to contact Hess here. Suggest to him that perhaps you are human too, and perhaps you deserve the benefit of discussion rather than demonization. Our tradition is rich with elements of the former – and, unfortunately, our history is woefully familiar with the latter.

Apr 15 2011

The Weekly Roundup: What to Expect When You’re Zsa Zsa Gabor

By at 4:15 pm

All the Jewish parenting news you probably didn’t have time to read this week.

- Zsa Zsa Gabor is 94 years old, and thinking about having a baby. Actually, it was her (ninth) husband, Prince Frederic von Anhalt’s idea to use an egg donor, artificial insemination, and a surrogate mother to carry on the legacy. While it looks like it won’t happen, my favorite part of the whole ordeal is Zsa Zsa’s only daughter’s response: “That’s just weird.”

- You know what else is just weird? Gender cake parties. You know, where the expecting parents hand over the obstetrician’s report on the sex of the baby to a baker, without looking at its results. Then, the baker makes a cake which the couple then has to slice into to reveal either a pink or blue inside and voila, it’s a girl or boy! Weird!

- There’s been a lot of hustle and bustle over strollers recently–really expensive strollers, too. Tom Scocca takes an endearingly level-headed approach to figuring out why we even need strollers, and what the alternative would be in a fast-paced city like New York.

- I am nearly positive the circumcision debate will never, ever cease to exist, and here’s another log on the fire: should teenage boys decide? If so, I think we can all say bye-bye to circumcision as we know it.

Apr 5 2011

Jewish Mamas Who Don’t Circumcise. What Do You Think?

By at 9:54 am

I recently ditched the kids and headed out for a much-needed ladies’ night out.  An hour later, five of us were gathered around a friend’s table, including three Jews and two pregnant Mamas. Three of the Mamas had sons, and the other two of us have two girls.

We chatted about all the foods our toddlers won’t eat, potty training, our failures as mothers, and a range of other topics that are of interest to no one except new mothers and total weirdos.

And then we started talking about circumcision. (Cue menacing music here.)  And no, it wasn’t Jews vs. Goyim in the battle of the foreskin.  In fact, the non-circumcisers included one non-Jewish Mama and one MOT.

You read right.  There is a little Jewish boy running around out there with a perfectly intact penis. And even though I fully intend to circumcise my son (should I ever have one) I’m totally ok with that.

As I’ve told you all before, I’m not a halachic Jew.  And it’s not because I’m too lazy to walk all the way to services on Saturday morning (although I am), or because our kitchen cabinets are too small to fit another set of plates (even though they are).  It’s because I believe that not only are there are many ways to be Jewish, but that the strength of our community depends on it.

Ultimately, Judaism isn’t about what we believe, or even what we do.  Whether one is born Jewish or converts, being Jewish is about making an active decision to remain engaged with the Jewish community and struggling with the challenges of our history and our future. And that’s exactly what my friends were doing when they decided not to circumcise, or circumcise without a bris.  They were finding ways to reconcile contradictory values—a challenge every Jew, regardless of level of observance, faces on a regular basis.  Sometimes the decisions we make are traditionally Jewish, and sometimes they aren’t.

I know, and respect, that circumcision doesn’t work for everyone.  And I am so grateful to have friends who can discuss difficult issues in such a thoughtful, respectful way.  What do you think?

For a couple of perspectives, read about one woman who didn’t circumcise and another one who did.

Nov 12 2010

No Toys AND No Circumcision?!

By at 4:55 pm

As seen below in the weekly roundup, San Francisco likes to be the first at things. They were the first city to take on eliminating toys from Happy Meals, and now they are the first city to take on their next target: mohels.

Sort of. Lloyd Schofield, a resident of San Francisco, is proposing to ban circumcision throughout the city. Though the logic behind the proposal has not been fully explored, if the measure were to pass, it would “make it a misdemeanor to circumcise, excise, cut or mutilate the foreskin, testicle or penis of another person who has not attained the age of 18.” I know that there are a fair number of people who think it wrong to induce unnecessary surgery on a person who does not have the ability to consent to it–and our blogger Sarah Tuttle-Singer has thoroughly explored the issue over at Kveller–but if this were to pass, anyone interested in carrying on the Jewish tradition could face a hefty $1,000 fee or up to a year in prison. Oy!

Chances are the bill won’t pass, as Schofield would need to collect 7,168 signatures by April 26, 2011, but Bay-area mohels might want to start thinking about what kind of front organization they can set up to perform the risky business on the down low.

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