Few Jews are aware that circumcision violates international laws enacted by the United Nations. Article 6 of The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, published on December 16, 1948, just a few short years after terrible human rights abuses against Jews necessitated these words, reads: “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law [and not just as an extension of the parent].” Additionally, in the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child, published on November 20, 1989, a day after I was born, Article 8 and Article 24 part 3, read respectively, “States parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity,” and, “States parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.”
As the descendent of an Auschwitz survivor, I take human rights very seriously. Circumcision is a topic very, very deeply embedded within the Jewish culture, and not merely just a religious act, but a societal and familial one as well. When first researching this topic, I expected to run into obstacles of the facts being muddled in opinion, or worse yet, myth. But there is no escaping that at its core, circumcision is the willful mutilation of powerless children and has no place in modern society.
Historically, circumcision appears to have been a practice adopted by the Semitic peoples of antiquity from a religious rite based in the Egyptian culture. There it was an offering to deities descended from the blood of their sun god that occurred when a boy was considered a man.
Today, it is both a religious rite and a common medical procedure. But when consulting doctors, many parents who are considering circumcision for their children are misinformed, or at the very least, informed negligently concerning the procedure. Few are told how a circumcision vastly reduces the number of nerve endings in the penis, and thus the ability to enjoy intercourse. (Today there are both surgical and nonsurgical methods to restore the foreskin, but it is impossible to regenerate the lost nerves and sensitivity.) Few are told specifically about the high rate of infection, or how it can mentally disable or even blind a child, as one Alaskan couple claims. In addition, illnesses related to circumcision often go vastly underreported to the general public while others, “caused by the foreskin” are hyped up.
Fortunately, the procedure is rarely fatal, with fewer than two or three deaths per year. But still, the question should be raised: if death is possible, even if it is unlikely, is the religious rite worth the life of the newborn?
One may also wonder that if the female anatomy functions in relation to that of the male, then could the forced, violent modification of one anatomy cause problems during coitus?
And further, if it is true that man is made in the image of Yahweh, then what truly are we doing in that alteration?
The easy answer is, “Because it is written in the Bible.”
Jews have already foregone other practices, such as the stoning of children for speaking back to their parents. If we have abandoned others, why not mutilation too?
Circumcision goes against the edicts of the United Nations, and therefore violates human rights. If Jews are to exist in a contemporary world, and escape the barbaric past in which we have so suffered, we as a people must be willing to make sacrifices of our own to coexist. For we have no right to exist within an international community if we do not adhere to its norms.
The United Nations represents all peoples, placing the greater good over any specific being or group, and that is especially so for Jews. It is no exaggeration to say that had the United Nations existed prior to World War Two, the Holocaust would not have occurred. If the leaders of all of humanity have ruled that circumcision is against what is deemed humane, then so must the Jews learn, and change.
Circumcision may be a deeply felt, cultural, and religious rite; it is a covenant with God, and as so, is divine. But if we are to live in a human world, without tension or behavior that can be viewed barbaric, then sometimes we must even be willing to give up some of that which we find divine. For whether one is in a covenant, belief in God is something of the heart and soul, for every individual. And no being, not even God, could take that belief away.
It is perhaps for this reason circumcision is no longer necessary: We Jews no longer need the physical reminder of our pact. We have realized it spiritually, and so the need to maim ourselves is obsolete in that so many still honor the faith, no matter the hardships our people have endured.
(An excellent, in-depth documentary concerning the subject by critically acclaimed filmmaker Eli Ungar-Sargon can be viewed here.)
The writer is a student at George Mason University in Washington, DC.
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