While my wife and I were expecting our baby, one of the questions we received most frequently from Jewish relatives and acquaintances was, “You’ll circumcise the baby if it’s a boy, right?”
My response was always a firm, “No.”
Maybe you’d think that would have been the end of those conversations, but these people never gave up at that stage (perhaps it’s the Jewish love of discussing/arguing that encouraged them to keep talking). Instead, after my “no,” I was nearly always then treated to a rant about how circumcision the right thing to do as Jews, and it’s the right thing to do for health and hygiene purposes, and it’s the right to do generally in today’s society, which meant that any uncircumcised boy might feel left out.
There was also some disbelief that I’d deny my relatives the dubious pleasure of a bris (never mind that my relatives all live on another continent anyway and we don’t see each other frequently). It was though I was thought to be selfish for not wanting to circumcise this as-yet unborn child.
Since I’m never one to shy away from expressing my opinions, particularly in cases where other people have started the discussion by telling me that I’m wrong, I began clearly stating my reasons for being anti-circumcision:
1. I can’t imagine wanting to damage or mutilate a child at any stage of his life. The idea of forever changing what was a perfect newborn body is absolutely anathema to me.
2. The research shows that for boys with access to clean water and who are taught how to wash themselves, there is absolutely no health or hygiene benefit to circumcision.
3. Most boys in the UK, where we live, are not circumcised, so a circumcised boy would stick out, as it were, more than an uncircumcised one. Being different is not a problem, of course, but given that people kept mentioning this as a reason to cut a boy, I felt it was worth pointing out that it’s not a cultural norm in many countries beyond the US, Israel, and Muslim nations.
4. I believe in people having ownership over their own bodies, so I wouldn’t want to make any drastic changes to a child’s body without his consent or without a real medical need.
5. I’m against female genital mutilation and while I know circumcision is different, I see them as being along the same continuum.
6. We’re not religious and have no strong need to prove our beliefs by cutting off a baby’s foreskin.
Even these reasons didn’t stop some people. I was sent quotes from a variety of sources, stories from other families, and even photocopies from books. I was repeatedly questioned about our decision, or, rather, encouraged to change it.
Once, while I was heavily pregnant and sitting, panting and dizzy, in the heat at my university’s graduation ceremony, a colleague even began badgering me, telling me how “disgusting” and “weird” and “dirty” non-circumcised boys are. Funny, but those are terms anti-Semites often use to describe Jews.
The baby we welcomed to the world was, in fact, a girl. We’d known we were expecting a girl throughout our pregnancy, but we hadn’t told people. One reason why I didn’t share the sex and why I continued to engage with the circumcision debate was to challenge their ideas.
If we ever had another child, I would do the same thing. A person’s body is their own, and I wouldn’t circumcise a boy, though I’d gladly engage in discussions about the topic.