Circumcision: What's a Nonpracticing Jew to Do?

Circumcision remains one defining trait for Jewish men. But how does a Jewish feminist parent rationalize the tradition today?
I hate most pork. Roast it, glaze it, do what you will, pig rarely sings to me like a dead chicken does. But pass me a strip of bacon and I’ll promise you the world. Seventeen years of Hebrew day school can only accomplish so much.

Welcome to modern day Jewry; not so much a state of being as it is a state of mind. Or as the ultra orthodox like to call it, “Jewish goyim,” Yiddish slang for crappy Jew. Or Noam Chomskyin English.

Being the secular sort myself, picking and choosing what defines my Jewishness on any given day has never been much of a problem. In fact I’ve grown quite comfortable in my own hypocrisy, perfectly content with the casual neurosis and ill-defined guilt passed on by my mother, to guide me through life. But there is one exception of this inherited sophism—a Diasporic point of no return, if you will—that even I know not to mess with: that of an eight-day-old penis.

If there remains one solitary trait defining Judaism today, it is without a doubt a circumcised dick. But rationalizing the old snippety snip isn’t as easy as it once was. Back in the day, all Abraham needed was blind faith and a shank. This 2008, however, is an entirely different story. Not only is there the obligatory breakfast buffet of bagels and lox to contend with, but what to do with all those pesky open-minded, anti-circumcision liberals protesting this age-old tradition, the very people I usually relate to, being the lefty, feminist, “sexpert” that I am?

Such being the case, I was curious to see how others like myself intellectualized a life bereft of Jewish tradition and Saturdays spent in shul with an act exclusive to Jewish law.

As it turns out, not very well.

Enter the Jewish Circumcision Resource Center (JCRC), a group so shocked by modern day circumcision you’d think they would have collapsed from some sort of circulatory malfunction by now.

A subdivision of the larger, nondenominational Circumcision Resource Center, the JCRC is one of many online groups currently propagating the dangers and medical futility of circumcising male newborns, and “facilitating [the] healing” process for the estimated 1.2 million Americans still “diminished” every year. At the heart of their argument is the American Academy of Pediatrics dubious policy on circumcision, which states that despite scientific evidence demonstrating potential medical benefits of circumcision, “these data [remain insufficient] to recommend routine neonatal circumcision.”

Rounding out the JCRC’s case are an additional nineteen journal articles further testifying to the awesomeness of the prepuce, with arguments including—but not limited to—a better sex life and the tendency to masturbate a little bit less compared with their crew-necked brethren. Not exactly code red but sufficient for a group going up against the word of God.

All this doesn’t exactly bode well for my fictional future son. By JCRC’s estimates, it’s only a matter of time before he winds up blogging his way through the pain, an activity surprisingly popular amongst the circumcised and suffering. Take, for example, the lucky bastard who posted that circumcision was “the single most traumatic event of my life” on the Circumcision Resource Center’s website. Or the forty-seven-year-old man from Atlanta who blogged about being ignored, explaining that, “When we men discuss our feelings about circumcision, no one listens, not even doctors. I'm one of the millions of men who doesn’t like being circumcised. I wish I had been able to scream at the doctors, ‘Hands off, it’s mine!’”

Though, admittedly, my first inclination is to write this off as insane, there is some legitimacy to the circumcision come crisis argument. In Understanding Circumcision: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to a Multi-Dimensional Problem, editors George C. Denniston, Frederick Mansfield Hodges, and Marilyn Fayre Milos concur that “trauma can occur at any point in the life cycle from infancy to childhood” and that “many children have described their circumcision experience in the language of violence, torture, mutilation and sexual assault” resulting “in the development of long term PTSD in many cases.”

Of course, PTSD is nothing to laugh about (at least not out loud). More and more circumcised men are coming out every day with stories so vivid, you’d think they fought in Nam. And although little is currently known on the psychological impacts of circumcision, doctors now believe that infants as young as eight days old do feel pain, not to mention the neurological capacity to retain, store, and remember painful incidents. Mothers are quite susceptible to circumcision-PTSD as well.

According to psychiatrist Rima Laibow, circumcision significantly impairs mother-infant bonding. She argues that circumcised boys carry around unconscious rage toward their mothers for betraying and abandoning them in their time of need, lending to trust issues further down the road. And mothers, some already dealing with post-partum issues, find themselves knee deep in guilt for allowing their child to be put in a position of undeniable pain.

Finally, a methodological approach toward Jewish guilt.

Where some find humor, others find the need to forge foreskin. Witness the real life version of Europa Europa (single stall bathrooms and Nazi occupied Europe notwithstanding) otherwise known as foreskin restoration. The term refers to various surgical and non-surgical methods that aim to reproduce the appearance of a foreskin. Most of the resources on the Internet are focused on non-surgical restoration, a painful and time-consuming feat accomplished by gradually stretching the skin from the penile shaft into a makeshift foreskin. This technique, also called “tissue expansion,” can be achieved with tape and weights, elastic straps, traction devices, or good old manual stretching.

Oddly enough, foreskinmongering has been around for quite some time. According to The Circumcision Information and Resource Pages (CIRP), the act dates back to biblical times where the “Hellenistic ideals of Antiochus IV, such as public nakedness at athletic games or in public baths, forced Jews to stretch their shortened foreskins with a special weight.” Fast forward a few millennia to 1970s America, where a bunch of pissed-off circumcised citizens bonded over their unfair situation, forming the now internationally recognized National Organization of Restoring Men (NORM).

Along with a slew of other organizations dedicated to undoing the mental and physical harm brought on by circumcision, NORM’s primary focus is to provide a safe space for circumcised men to come together and share their stories without being ridiculed.

Which basically means I should shut-up already, lest somebody have a freak-out over a butter knife.

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