I have been agonizing over circumcision every since my son was born almost thirty years ago. To cut or not to cut, that was the question. I decided to cut, not wanting my son to be the first Jewish boy in our family to not bear the sign of the Covenant. Yet there was and is no doubt in my mind that circumcision is a primitive and barbaric act. I do not believe God actually requires the removal of a baby boy’s foreskin; this is about tribe, pure and simple.
As a congregational rabbi I was often called upon to defend circumcision to mothers who just could not get over the brutality of the act. Since neither my congregants nor myself were orthodox believers, I could not hide behind the belief that God commands all Jewish boys to be circumcised. I could not defend circumcision, but neither could I abandon it. So I’d say something inane like, “It’s like getting your hand stamped at a concert. It gets you in the door.” The analogy was weak. And who would want to hear a band that required you to cut off the foreskin of your penis to get into the concert? And the fact that girls get in free, also seemed unfair, and weakened the analogy unless of course the concert was at a gay bar and now girls were allowed.
Today things are different. A new and exhaustive study of circumcised New Zealanders who were snipped at birth and monitored for 25 years to see how things went, proves that boys who are circumcised are less likely to get and transmit HIV and other STDs. Yeah, YHVH! You go, God!
The reason for this is simple: circumcised guys have less sex. No! My mistake. The study showed that the uncircumcised penis is a festering cauldron of infectious disease, while the circumcised penis is a beacon of cleanliness (yes, pun intended). I may be overstating the case a bit, and I have no hands on knowledge (yes, another pun) of how foul the uncircumcised penis may be, but now all us rabbis who are called upon to defend this tribal practice can point to cutting edge (yes, I know, I can’t help myself) science to back them up.
Now what shall we do with all of you still clinging to your foreskin? You could have it surgically removed. Remember Abraham was circumcised in his nineties, so it is never too late. Or you could learn to keep it cleaner. I have no idea is there is such a thing, but someone could make a lot of money marketing a special brush for the uncircumcised penis. I’d suggest calling it Head-On, but that is already taken.
Of course if the New Zealand study proved that circumcision was bad for you, Jews would still do it. After all, God is God, and if he demands a foreskin you’d better give him a foreskin. But it is good to know that membership (stop me!) in God’s club is not just good for the Jews.
(I will be in Israel for the next week or so, and may be unable to post from there. I’ll blog again as soon as I am able.)