German Rabbi Faces Potential Criminal Charges For Performing Circumcision

Under German law, this ceremony, which Jews believe dates from the time of Abraham, is now illegal.

A rabbi in Germany is the first person to be prosecuted under that country’s new ban on circumcision:

A German rabbi is facing charges for performing a circumcision, less than two months after a Cologne court outraged Jews and Muslims by outlawing the procedure.

Rabbi David Goldberg has become the first rabbi to face possible legal action for performing the ritual after an unidentified doctor filed a criminal complaint against the spiritual leader, alleging “bodily harm” to the child involved, the Times of Israel reported.

The charges against the 64-year-old, a rabbi of the Bavarian city of Hof for over 10 years, have sparked widespread anger among Jewish and Muslim communities, with many groups demanding that Germany pass legislation to protect the practice.

“The charges laid against a Jewish religious leader for performing a fully legal action is outrageous and a very troubling escalation, sending a deeply problematic message,” Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, told the Jerusalem Post.

“It has been many decades since a Jew was charged for practicing Judaism openly and is reminiscent of far darker times,” he added. “We hope that in Germany, of all places, the authorities would remain far more sensitive to this issue.”

The complaint comes nearly two months after judges in Cologne banned the ritual, claiming that the procedure resulted in criminal “bodily harm” to those unable to consent. The ruling was in response to the case of a Muslim boy who suffered medical complications after being circumcised.

(…)

The local chief public prosecutor, Gerhard Schmitt, told Reuters that it’s too early to determine whether the case against Goldberg will merit a trial. His office is currently in the process of reviewing the doctor’s charges.

The ban imposed by the Judges in Cologne has evoked much international criticism since it was first handed down last month. To many, it aroused memories of the manner in which Jews were treated in Germany under the Nazis. However, it’s worth noting that circumcision after birth is also considered a necessary religious ritual by Muslims, who are becoming a more and more visible presence all over Europe thanks to immigration and birth rates that are much higher than native Europeans. Indeed, German is not the only country in Europe where circumcision has come under fire and, in France, there has been an ongoing battle between the government (regardless of who heads it) and the nation’s Muslim community over the wearing of the hijab by girls in school and women in public. In both cases, there’s an effort by Europeans to force the immigrant Muslim population to conform to the standards of the rest of society, even when it comes to something as trivial as dress.

There’s also been a bizarre movement growing against circumcision itself here in the United States and in Europe. Just last year, for example, a referendum that would’ve banned circumcision in the City of San Francisco was scheduled to appear on the November 2011 ballot before being removed. The motivations for this version of the anti-circumcision movement seems to be something similar to what the Judges in Cologne stated, that it was some kind of assault about a party who is unable to grant consent. Andrew Sullivan, for example, contends that infant circumcision is an assault on infant boys. Left out of the argument, though, is the fact that parents have been long assumed to be able to competently make medical decisions for their minor children. Leaving that argument aside, I would think that any ban on circumcision in the United States would, because of the First Amendment, have to include an exemption for Jews and Muslims who consider the procedure a requirement  of their religion.

Writing about the ban shortly after was imposed, Charles Lane noted just how egregious the decision was:

The most astonishing link in the judge’s chain of reasoning was his assertion that circumcision, because permanent and irreversible, would limit the child’s own ability to decide what religion to join later on. I do not know of any faiths that bar circumcised converts; maybe in Germany there are some.

In any case, what this remarkable judge does not grasp — or does not care about — is the fact that a father cannot be a Jew in good standingunless he circumcises his son at eight days. Nor can the child himself unless he sees to his own circumcision once he comes of age. (A separate rule applies to converts.) Jewish law is crystal clear on this and has been literally since the dawn of recorded time.*

The Cologne court’s sloppy legal balancing act — kid’s physical integrity vs. parents’ religious interests — completely ignores the nature of religious tradition, which is that it is transmitted from parents to children. To posit a world in which the parents have their religion, and kids choose theirs, when they’re old enough, is to imply that even sending one’s child to a religious school — or making him prepare for a bar mitzvah — might be a form of brainwashing. Certainly it pushes progressive notions of human rights past the point at which they would undermine the spiritual basis of ancient communities.

As Walter Russell Mead went on to point at the time, what the Court effectively did was to make the practice of Judaism illegal in Germany.  As much as I am loath to violate Godwin’s Law, it is a historical fact that the last time that happened was when a guy named Adolf Hitler was in power.  I’m not sure, but would be interested to know if the circumcision ban has the same impact in Islam in that a Muslim man cannot be a Muslim in good standing unless he has followed the religious laws regarding circumcision of a male child. If that’s the case, then the court in Cologne also outlawed the practice of Islam in the country. In either case, it’s an entirely unacceptable assault on religious freedom and parental autonomy, all supposedly in the name of a weird movement that claims circumcision is some kind of “assault.”

Jonathan Tobin doesn’t buy the “assault” arguments of the Cologne court at all, and considers the entire affair an attack on Judaism:

Circumcision opponents may claim they are not anti-Semitic, especially since their campaign also targets Muslims. But there is little doubt that the driving force behind this movement is resentment toward Jews and a willingness to go public with sentiments that long simmered beneath the surface in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Just last week, French scholar Michel Gurfinkiel wrote on his blog that anti-Semitism has increased in France since the Toulouse massacre in March. Since then violence has grown, fed by what he calls a rejection of Jews and Judaism. In France, these sentiments are fed by the Jew hatred openly expressed by the expanding Muslim population. Throughout Europe, the demonization of Israel hasn’t just increased hostility to the Jewish state; it has served as an excuse for anti-Semitism to go mainstream for the first time since World War Two. Just as some claim circumcision critics aren’t intrinsically anti-Semitic, there are those who blame anti-Semitism on Israeli policies. But when you add all these factors together what you get is an undeniable upsurge in Jew-hatred.

If that’s true, then it is a quite troublesome development. Even leaving this element out of it, though, there’s something troublesome about this entire affair. Circumcision has been an accepted practice in Western societies for centuries and, in the case of two religions, it isn’t just an elective medical procedure, it is a requirement of their faith. The arguments of the circumcision opponents strike me as being little more than ridiculous nonsense that, for some, has turned into some kind of weird cult of the foreskin. As far as I’m concerned, parents are perfectly capable of making this decision for their sons and the state really has no business getting involved in at all. When you bring the element of religion into it, state interference becomes even more problematic. One would hope that the government in Berlin will intervene and put an end to the nonsense that the judges in Cologne started.

FILED UNDER: Europe, Religion, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Franklin says:

    Left out of the argument, though, is the fact that parents have been long assumed to be able to competently make medical decisions for their minor children.

    You’re saying this is a medical decision here, and a religious decision elsewhere. Which is it?

    (BTW, I would say this is a religious decision, any claimed medical ‘benefits’ of circumcision are marginal at best. All that said, I support religious freedom here as you do.)




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  2. Alex Knapp says:

    I always find myself torn on this issue. So I’ll pose the question I always pose:

    If a religion that was a decade old started circumcising their boys, and no other religion had ever practiced it before, would you be okay with it?

    Or, to turn it another way:

    If there was a religion that demanded that all infants have the tips of their pinkies removed above the first knuckle, would you be okay with that?




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  3. There’s also been a bizarre movement growing against circumcision itself here in the United States and in Europe.

    What’s so bizarre about the belief that parents aren’t empowered to begin cutting perfectly healthy bodyparts off their children for purely cosmetic reasons? Children are no chattel property, and have a right to bodily integrity until they reach an age where they can choose for themselves whether or not to have a circumcision.




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  4. Alex Knapp says:

    The above, FYI, are just thought questions. As a practical matter, I don’t support circumcision bans simply because of the long tradition and relative innocuousness of the procedure (as opposed to FGM, for example).

    But if it were a new tradition that started with some folks last week, I’d think long and hard about it.




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  5. @Alex Knapp:

    You raise valid questions and, yea, the fact that we’re talking about a religious tradition that is thousands of years old does play into this to some extent. Also, the medical evidence that claims that the procedure itself somehow causes long term harm is, to say the least, rather dubious. I suppose the interesting thing, from a cultural point of view, is how what was a religious tradition restricted to Jews and Muslims became something that was common procedure in many, if not most, Christian nations. I have no idea what the statistics are now, but certainly there was a time when circumcision was basically done as a matter of course and parents rarely questioned it.

    The other factor about this that bothers me, at least in the European context, is that it seems to be yet another example of Europeans trying to reject an alien culture. Leaving aside the Jewish issue, it should be noted that the case that led the judges in Cologne to issue the ban in question involved a Muslim infant. This is as much a cultural clash as it is anything else, I think.




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  6. @Franklin:

    It’s both.

    For Jewish and Muslim parents, it is a religious freedom issue.

    For other parents, it is an issue of letting the parents decide what is best for their child.

    Put simply, I just don’t see this as being the business of the state




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  7. Colin Sealey says:

    Evolution has determined that mammals’ genitals should be sheathed in a protective, responsive, multipurpose foreskin. Every normal human being is born with a foreskin. It is not just a “piece of skin” but an actual nerve dense membrane. In females, it protects the glans of the clitoris; in males, it has at least 4 major functions:

    1) PROTECTIVE: It covers the urinary opening keeping the mucous membrane soft and moist. And in infants protects the urethra against contamination, meatal stenosis.

    2) SENSORY: It contains 20,000 to 70,000 erogenous nerve endings.

    3) SEXUAL: It provides the tissue necessary for full erection and the gliding mechanism necessary for normal sexual function.

    4) IMMUNOLOGICAL: Glands in the foreskin produce antibacterial and antiviral protein enzymes such as lysozyme that breaks down cell walls of pathogens.

    By the way, the foreskin is also important embryologically in the formation of the end of the penis and the urethra. If there is no foreskin the urethral opening is not at the end of the penis where it should be, but somewhere on the underside of the penis (A birth defect known as hypospadia) It probably has other unknown advantages as well. Thus, the foreskin is an essential part of human sexual anatomy.

    As far as the hygienic arguments they are nothing but rationalizations. Actually the foreskin has a self-cleaning mechanism – like the eyelid or the inner labia. Also, there is also absolutely no need for the pediatrician to forcibly retract a baby or child’s foreskin. Male genitalia are no more prone to infection than female genitalia (less so, in fact), circumcized or not. If the foreskin were really such a liability, we would likely have evolved out of it long ago after we all routinely died of foreskin infections. By saying that foreskin is a risk, it perpetuates the notion that it is a disease carrier that should be destroyed. There is no scientific evidence that having a foreskin, in and of itself, will lead to health problems, with or without daily hygiene. I really wish people would stop relying on an argument that implies having a foreskin is a risk if you don’t have running water.

    To those defending circumcision on STD grounds, well they are either claiming that infants are sexually active and must be protected, or that parents may make preemptive, invasive decisions about the future, adult sexual lives of their infant children. Either proposition is ridiculous on its face. And why are we assuming that the child is going to be a promiscuous man who won’t ever learn to use a condom, which, even given the science, would supersede circumcision. Keep in mind also that the US has one of the highest if not the highest rate of STDs in the rich world, and yet the US has the highest rate of circumcision in the rich world.

    As far as the cultural issue yes it’s true that logical, reasoned, fact-backed arguments detailing why circumcision should not be practiced on minors will make no headway, particularly since many hearing these arguments are circumcised boys and men who have to reconcile the fact that they do not have all of their sexual organ that they were born with and that it was their parents (the two people entrusted to care most for them) who took it away.

    It’ just floors me to see how parents can subject their newborn sons to such a horrific and clinically unnecessary procedure. The babies scream when it is done. That is because it is horrifying and excruciating to the point where some withdraw into a state of neurogenic shock (coma) due to sudden massive pain. Of course if there is a clear and compelling medical condition that necessitates it when they are older, that’s different. And even then it’’s regrettable.

    Finally, at the time in ancient Palestine, some people must have gradually realized (without having any knowledge about bacteria or viruses) that the uncircumsized male genitals, under prevailing hygienic practices and limitations, could cause bodily harm to the males and their sexual partners. Similarly, it was realized that pork and certain kinds of seafood, without the help of refrigerators will spoil easily cause diseases. So, what to do? Certain codes of behavior were necessary. And, to encourage those behaviors, their “sanctification” was the way.

    Now, I understand that we have to respect religious customs but it is mind-boggling that in 2012 people have no problem accepting that “a supernatural being requires parents to slice off a part of their helpless infant boys as a sign of faith or tribal identity. Why would a loving and intelligent creator design you with something he wanted chopped off immediately? Wouldn’’t he just omit it in the first place? Any god who demands that his believers be mutilated and branded on their genitals is a god of questionable ethics.

    It is all so utterly and mystifyingly stupid.

    I really despair sometimes.




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  8. Me Me Me says:

    How far back does the “tradition” of female genital mutilation have to go before we as a society have to accept it?




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  9. @Colin Sealey:

    Fine. Then if you have a son, don’t get him circumcised, that’s your choice.




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  10. @Me Me Me:

    Equating circumcision to female genital mutilation is ridiculous




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  11. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Also, the medical evidence that claims that the procedure itself somehow causes long term harm is, to say the least, rather dubious.

    I’m not sure that opponents are primarily asking that question. Rather, the proper framing of the question, and what is really being asked, is, What medical benefit does circumcision provide?” The answer is, none. Therefore, goes the argument, why are we condoning the removal of a perfectly healthy body part on newborns?

    Alex is right in a way: We don’t seem to condone this for any other body part. Therefore, why should there be a special exemption for penises? (And, yes, I wanted to make sure that I used the word for the body part in question, because I think the word “circumcision” is a kind of avoidance of talking about it.)




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  12. Me Me Me says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Why is it ridiculous to equate circumcision to female genital mutilation?




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  13. rudderpedals says:

    I was leaning towards this is as a horrifying example of bad facts leading to bad German law but @Colin Sealey‘s arguments are compelling. The choice should be left up to the young man.




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  14. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Equating circumcision to female genital mutilation is ridiculous.

    Well, Doug, let’s be fair here. While circumcision is not the same thing as female genital mutilation, it is still comparable in that healthy body parts are removed for effectively religious and superstitious reasons.

    I’m not arguing that there is exact, or even near, equivalence of the two, but I think the larger question, i.e., why are we condoning the removal of healthy body parts for non-medical reasons, governs both issues.




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  15. grumpy realist says:

    @Me Me Me: well, in FGM usually a lot more gets removed….would be the equivalent of actual lopping off the male organ, not just the foreskin.

    I guess I come down against it. The fact that a long-standing religious belief exists does not provide sufficient justification for physical mutilation or death to other beings. In India there was a long-standing religious belief that widows should committ suttee. (The cynical in me says this was a way of getting rid of the how-to-support-the-widow economics problem.)

    And if being a “good Jew” meant lopping off your child’s genitals when they are 8 days old, we should let them go through with that as well?




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  16. PD Shaw says:

    Is this different from parents piercing the ears of a newborn? I see zero (as opposed to marginal) health benefits. I see marginal health concerns, stemming from infection. And I see no choice being made by the infant. More skin?




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  17. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    @Eric the OTB Lurker:

    I’m not arguing that there is exact, or even near, equivalence of the two,

    Realized this phrase might be a little unclear. What I mean is that there is not an exact or even near equivalence of the effects of these procedures. Obviously, I believe there is a comparison on the larger issue.




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  18. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Is this different from parents piercing the ears of a newborn? I see zero (as opposed to marginal) health benefits. I see marginal health concerns, stemming from infection. And I see no choice being made by the infant. More skin?

    Good point. When my daughter was an infant, my wife suggested getting her ears pierced so my daughter wouldn’t have to go through a potentially painful experience. I insisted otherwise, that my daughter be allowed to make the choice when she was old enough. We waited.

    This is kind of my point, too. If nothing, we should be allowed to make our own choices in order to own them–to go through the experience and enjoy (or suffer) the consequences of our actions. That’s how we come to understand why things are the way they are, and to understand our own humanity. Not because our parents or someone else made the decision, but because we did.

    (Sorry about going deep fast, but us philosophy BAs can’t help ourselves sometimes.)




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  19. @Doug Mataconis:

    For other parents, it is an issue of letting the parents decide what is best for their child.

    Suppose I decide that what’s best for my child is being forced to work in a mine? Is that okay?




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  20. @Eric the OTB Lurker:

    What is the medical benefit the foreskin provides?




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  21. @Me Me Me:

    If you understood the fundamental differences between the procedures, you wouldn’t even have asked the question.




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  22. Colin Sealey says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Well I’ve already listed a few in my posting above but let’s continue here:

    1. Full penis length and circumference. The “prepuce” (foreskin) constitutes 50% or more of the skin system of the penis [1]. If unfolded and spread flat, the average adult foreskin measures 60-90 square centimeters (10-14 square inches) [2], or about the size of an index card [see illustration]. The foreskin creates a visibly longer penis, especially when the foreskin extends beyond the head of the penis. Also, the double-layered tissue of the foreskin engorges with blood during erection and creates a visibly and sensually thicker shaft and glans.When the engorged foreskin retracts behind the coronal ridge of the glans, it often creates a wider and more pronounced “ridge” that many partners find especially stimulating during penetrative intercourse. The circumcised penis appears truncated and thinner than a full-sized intact penis.

    2. Protection. The sleeve of tissue known as the foreskin normally covers the glans and protects it from abrasion, drying, callusing (keratinization), and environmental contaminants. The glans is intended by nature to be a protected internal organ, like the female clitoris [see illustration]. The effect of an exposed glans and resulting keratinization on human sexual response has never been studied. Increasing reports by circumcised men indicate that keratinization causes a loss of sexual sensation, pleasure and fulfillment [3, 4].

    3. Ridged bands. The inner foreskin contains bands of densely innervated, sexually responsive tissue [1]. They constitute a primary erogenous zone of the human penis and are important for realizing the fullness and intensity of sexual response [5].

    4. Gliding action. The foreskin is the only moving part of the penis. During any sexual activity, the foreskin and glans work in unison; their mutual interaction creates a complete sexual response. In heterosexual intercourse, the non-abrasive gliding of the penis in and out of itself within the vagina facilitates smooth and pleasurable intercourse for both partners [see illustration]. Without this gliding action, the corona of the circumcised penis can function as a one-way valve, dragging vaginal lubricants out into the drying air and making artificial lubricants essential for non-painful intercourse [6].

    5. Specialized sensory tissue. In addition to the “ridged bands” mentioned above, thousands of coiled fine-touch receptors (Meissner’s corpuscles) constitute the most important sensory component of the penis [1]. The foreskin contains branches of the dorsal nerve and between 10,000 and 20,000 specialized erotogenic nerve endings of several types, which are capable of sensing slight motion and stretch, subtle changes in temperature, and fine gradations in texture [7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12].

    6. The frenulum. This is a highly nerve-laden web of tissue that tethers the inner foreskin to the underside of the glans [see photo]. It is similar to the frenula found under the tongue, the upper lip and the clitoral hood (female foreskin). For many intact men, the penile frenulum is a male “G-spot” that is highly pleasurable when repeatedly stretched and relaxed during sexual activity [13]. Depending on the surgical method used, the frenulum is partially to completely destroyed by circumcision.

    7. Proper blood flow. The foreskin contains several feet of blood vessels, including the frenular artery and branches of the dorsal artery. The loss of this rich vascularization interrupts normal blood flow to the shaft and glans of the penis, damaging the natural function of the penis and altering its development [1].

    8. Immunological defense. The soft mucosa of the inner foreskin produces plasma cells, which secrete immunoglobulin antibodies, and antibacterial and antiviral proteins [7, 14], such as the pathogen-killing enzyme called lysozyme [15 and see explanation]. All of the human mucosa (the linings of the mouth, eyelids, vagina, foreskin and anus) are the body’s first line of defense against disease. This benefit of the foreskin could be one possible explanation why intact men are at lower risk of chlamydia and other sexually transmitted diseases [16-21].

    9. Langerhans cells. These specialized epithelial cells are a component of the immune system and may play a role in protecting the penis from sexually transmitted infections such as HIV (AIDS) [see explanation and 14-16, 18].

    10. Proper lymph flow. The foreskin contains lymphatic vessels, which are necessary for proper lymph flow and immunological functioning.

    11. Estrogen receptors. The foreskin contains estrogen receptors, whose purpose is not yet fully understood and needs further study [22].

    12. Apocrine glands. These glands produce pheromones, nature’s invisible yet compelling signals to potential sexual partners. The effect of their absence on human sexual behavior has never been studied [23].

    13. Sebaceous glands. The oils produced by these glands lubricate and moisturize the foreskin and glans, so that the two structures function together smoothly.

    14. Dartos fascia. This is a smooth muscle sheath that underlies the scrotum, the entire penis and the tip of the foreskin. It is necessary for proper temperature regulation of the genitals (causing these structures to elongate in the heat and shrink in the cold). Approximately half of the Dartos fascia is destroyed by circumcision [7].

    15. Natural texture and coloration of the glans. In the intact penis, the glans normally appears moist, shiney, and pinkish-red to dark purple. These visual cues often attract and excite a sexual partner. The glans of a circumcised penis is dry, rough and often light pink to bluish-gray in color [see photos].

    16. Zero risk of serious infection or surgical injury. Unfortunate boys who suffer botched circumcisions lose part or all of their penis from surgical mishap or subsequent infection. They are often “sexually reassigned” by castration and “transgender surgery.” They are relegated to a life of hormone therapy and are compelled to live their lives as pseudo-females, the success of which has never been fully assessed [24-46].

    17. Zero risk of death from surgery. Every year boy die from the complications of circumcision, a fact that the American circumcision industry ignores, obscures, or downplays [29-31].

    18. Zero risk of delayed or diminished maternal bonding. Circumcision, even if anesthesia is used, causes unavoidable operative trauma and post-operative pain that has been shown to disrupt bonding with the mother, which in turn interferes with the first developmental task of every human, that of trust (trust in human contact, in personal safety, etc) [47-51].

    19. Electromagnetic “cross-communication.” Anecdotal reports suggest that, without the mucosa of its foreskin, the penis lacks the capacity for the subtle electromagentic energy transfer that occurs during contact between two mucous membranes (the vaginal walls and the exposed inner lining of the foreskin). Such contact contributes to the full experience of sexual pleasure. These reports deserve further scientific study.

    20. The foreskin is necessary for optimal health and well-being of the male, as well as contributing to fulfillment
    in his sexual relationships.




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  23. @Colin Sealey:

    Again, Colin.

    If you have a son, you don’t have to get him circumcised. You have no right to use the power of the state to make that choice for others, or to violate the religious liberties of Jews and Muslims.




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  24. Davod says:

    The case which led to the decision was the result of a a botched circumcision of a Muslim boy by a Muslim.




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  25. Me Me Me says:

    @Doug Mataconis: OK, Doug, I don’t understand the fundamental differences between the procedures. So please, explain to me what they are, and why they make it OK to excuse circumcision on the grounds that it is a tradition going back thousands of years.




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  26. Colin Sealey says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    No.

    It is inexcusable when imposed upon male infants who cannot possibly grant INFORMED CONSENT.

    One’s religion ends where their knife touches another human’s body. The idea that another human’s ritual (rite) trumps ones right to body parts is insane and creepy.




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  27. An Interested Party says:

    It’s rather amazing what excuses are made for religion, including cutting the flesh off of male babies…it’s interesting how when similar acts are done to females, that is considered barbaric…




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  28. @Colin Sealey:

    You obviously have no idea what it means to be a parent.

    And, again, if you’re so wedded to the cult of the foreskin then you don’t have to circumcise your son. Easy solution!




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  29. @Me Me Me:

    A simple google search will answer your question, my friend.

    Again, why are you so obsessed about a tiny piece of skin?




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  30. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    What is the medical benefit the foreskin provides?

    I guess I’m not sure why I should justify the medical benefit of the foreskin, when it’s the proponents who should justify removing it. The presumption should be that all body parts should remain on unless medically required to be removed. The appendix also provides little obvious medical benefit, but we don’t cut that out of newborns.




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  31. @Eric the OTB Lurker:

    Considering the fact that millions, if not billions, of men have been circumcised throughout history with absolutely no ill medical effects, I would say that the burden is on those who would argue that the procedure should be universally banned.




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  32. Me Me Me says:

    @Doug Mataconis: OK, Doug, I did as you requested and Googled it. The first hit was a Wikipedia entry, the first sentence of which is:

    Female genital mutilation (FGM), also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision, is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

    So, on the one hand we have the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical reasons, and on the other hand we have the partial removal of the external male genitalia for non-medical reasons.

    So I am still none-the-wise as to this profound difference between circumcision and FGM that you say is blindingly obvious but yet you cannot be bothered to type out.

    At this point I’m going to stop being po-faced and call a spade a spade – you can’t actually make a coherent case.




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  33. An Interested Party says:

    Again, why are you so obsessed about a tiny piece of skin?

    Anyone who thinks this way should be forced to undergo genital mutilation or some similar procedure as an adult…after all, it’s only “a tiny piece of skin”…

    …you can’t actually make a coherent case.

    Well, he is a libertarian…




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  34. Rick Almeida says:

    Wow, Doug sure is ducking and dodging on this one, but I didn’t see anyone bring up a threat to the glibertarian worldview:

    What consideration of the child’s right to the integrity of his/her own body? Is this another case of disinterest in the child after it passes through the birth canal?




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  35. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    If you have a son, you don’t have to get him circumcised. You have no right to use the power of the state to make that choice for others, or to violate the religious liberties of Jews and Muslims.

    Do earlobes fill any kind of function? Is it ok for parents to slice off their children’s earlobes?
    Do male nipples fill any kind of function? Is it ok for parents to slice off their sons’ nipples?

    How old must a religion be to allow parents to slice off various body parts in the name of that religion?
    Can I start a religion tomorrow that demands that certain parts are sliced off, or would I have to wait a certain numbers of years, decades, centuries, or maybe even millenniums?

    Mormonism is less than 200 years old as religion, should they be able to practice polygamy as they originally did? Is denying them that right not a violation of their religious liberties?

    Or maybe Mormons should be ridiculed for another, let’s say, 1800 years?




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  36. Herb says:

    @An Interested Party:

    “Anyone who thinks this way should be forced to undergo genital mutilation or some similar procedure as an adult…after all, it’s only “a tiny piece of skin”…”

    Cute…..but adult circumcision isn’t unheard of. I bet there are hundreds, if not thousands, of men who have made this very choice.

    But then again…..making it a choice kind of defeats the purpose. Circumcision isn’t a rite of passage.

    Also….contrary to Andrew Sullivan’s work on the subject, don’t think that calling it “genital mutilation” is clever. There’s already an accepted name for the practice: Circumcision.




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  37. Colin Sealey says:

    Doug,

    It always amazes me how people who supposedly circumcise out of faith have to dole out all the supposed “medical benefits” of circumcision, when, benefit or detriment, circumcision is this non-negotiable “covenant.”

    Is religion simply not enough anymore ?

    Without all that scientific “research” for “benefits,” male circumcision stands as naked as female circumcision, and people who wish to preserve circumcision are simply not going to let that happen.

    Look who’s behind all this “research” and you’ll start seeing the same usual suspects, some of who come from countries where circumcision is, or was prevalent. Some men happen to be Jewish, and apparently this isn’t a conflict of interest (Fink, Halperin, Schoen etc.).

    If circumcision is such an important aspect of their religion/tradition, what does any of it have to do with health and medicine?

    Would that science showed that circumcision is medically worthless, if not detrimental to a child, would it somehow really, honestly cause them to abandon circumcision?

    You’ll notice that there is no “female circumcision” task force. No “taskforce on trephination.” No “taskforce on neck stretching” at the AAP. That’s because the absence of virtue in mulling these things would be immediately obvious.

    The time has come for us to call out circumcision for the quackery that it is; doctors and “researchers” need to be looking for ways to displace circumcision, not ways to see it continue. “Studies” that seek to necessitate surgery in the healthy defy all logic and reason. A doctor’s duty is to medicine, not to blood rituals. They need to be searching for ways to prevent needless surgery in children, not necessitate it. Charging to perform medically unnecessary procedures is medical fraud. In helpless, non-consenting infants, it is assault.




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  38. Colin,

    Your multi-paragraph rants are ignoring the fundamental point.

    If you don’t want to circumcise your sons, don’t do it. Otherwise, it’s not your business to use the power of the state to decide this issue for others.




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  39. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Herb:

    Also….contrary to Andrew Sullivan’s work on the subject, don’t think that calling it “genital mutilation” is clever. There’s already an accepted name for the practice: Circumcision.

    As one who is truly ambivalent about this whole thing…. I was circumcised…. Didn’t think twice when I had my sons circumcised (I hadn’t missed the damn thing) and yet on the one hand, I can see why some would call it “genital mutilation” (it is, isn’t it?), on the other hand, so what? I never missed it.

    We live in a world where people purposefully mutilate themselves for “style points” (tattoos, piercings, scarring) and yeah I get the point about “making the choice for one’s own self” …

    But, as one who never got to make that choice for myself, I can only say, “So what? Get a life.”




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  40. Carson says:

    How many males in this country have undergone this procedure in the last 100 years? What has been the percentage of complications? As usual, a small vocal group is making a big deal out of nothing, and as usual, they are attacking religious freedom, unless Heinrich Himmler is still around causing problems for the Jews, Christians, and others.




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  41. Colin Sealey says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I never missed it.

    We live in a world where people purposefully mutilate themselves for “style points” (tattoos, piercings, scarring) and yeah I get the point about “making the choice for one’s own self” …

    But, as one who never got to make that choice for myself, I can only say, “So what? Get a life.”

    Think about what you just wrote.

    It is a shame that so many men feel that they must justify their circumcised status. It is about time circumcised men admitted that part of their penis was removed shortly after birth. They need to admit that they have no basis of comparison between being intact and being circumcised.

    Men circumcised at birth saying that they prefer being circumcised makes as much sense as a man deaf in one ear extolling the virtues of monophonic sound. Neither one has experienced the alternative and CANNOT offer a valid opinion.




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  42. Eric the OTB Lurker says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    And, again, if you’re so wedded to the cult of the foreskin…

    Look, Doug, you started this thread, so referring to the opponents of circumcision this way is cheap. We are trying to present you with the opposite case. If you felt so certain about this issue, why did you ask us to comment?

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Considering the fact that millions, if not billions, of men have been circumcised throughout history with absolutely no ill medical effects, I would say that the burden is on those who would argue that the procedure should be universally banned.

    and

    @Doug Mataconis:

    If you don’t want to circumcise your sons, don’t do it. Otherwise, it’s not your business to use the power of the state to decide this issue for others.

    Well, there are lots of things that used to be considered fine and proper, but are now considered unnecessary or even barbaric. And granted that circumcision may be way down the list of BIG DEALS, the larger question still remains why we allow infants to be maimed–yes, maimed, that’s the correct word–in the name of religion. Would you feel just as strongly if some religion felt appendixes need to be removed?

    I just don’t think that you haven’t really made your case here; you keep talking about “the power of the state” without actually addressing why this may or may not be an issue for using that power. We prosecute Mormons who sleep with their 14-year-old brides, even though their religion calls for that. We throw Christian Scientists in jail for not giving their children emergency medical treatment (and then put the kid in the hospital to treat them), even though their religion calls for that. But somehow cutting off a perfectly normal and healthy part of an infant’s penis, without anesthesia, is “religious freedom” that shouldn’t be interfered with by “the power of the state.”

    For all the high and mighty ideals that Libertarians often insist should first be positively justified, rather than negatively, I’m surprised at your “Meh” attitude.




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  43. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    If you don’t want to circumcise your sons, don’t do it. Otherwise, it’s not your business to use the power of the state to decide this issue for others.

    Which parts of their children should parents be allowed to chop off?




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  44. An Interested Party says:

    Cute…..but adult circumcision isn’t unheard of. I bet there are hundreds, if not thousands, of men who have made this very choice.

    But then again…..making it a choice kind of defeats the purpose. Circumcision isn’t a rite of passage.

    Adult males are lucky to have the choice, unlike the babies who have this done to them…and no, it isn’t a rite of passage, but rather, a completely unnecessary archaic ritual mutilation cloaked in religion…

    Also….contrary to Andrew Sullivan’s work on the subject, don’t think that calling it “genital mutilation” is clever. There’s already an accepted name for the practice: Circumcision.

    Oh I don’t think it’s clever….rather, it’s a more accurate description…




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  45. An Interested Party says:

    But, as one who never got to make that choice for myself, I can only say, “So what? Get a life.”

    I’ll bet defenders of female genital mutilation feel the same way…




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  46. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The other factor about this that bothers me, at least in the European context, is that it seems to be yet another example of Europeans trying to reject an alien culture. Leaving aside the Jewish issue, it should be noted that the case that led the judges in Cologne to issue the ban in question involved a Muslim infant. This is as much a cultural clash as it is anything else, I think.

    Most of Europe also bans docking (cutting off the tail), cropping (cutting of the ears), and declawing animals for the same reason that the judges in Cologne banned male circumcision.
    But I guess that’s also about rejecting an alien culture?




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  47. Tano says:

    ,@Doug Mataconis:

    You have no right to use the power of the state to make that choice for other

    Doug, your responses are not very compelling;

    But they do expose a central question – where do you draw the line regarding how much power parents shall have over their children – especially when it comes to permanent changes to their anatomy.

    Perhaps you would help move the conversation forward if you addressed this on the level of principles. I imagine you would be totally opposed to parents having the right to murder thier annoying children – probably also opposed to allowing a (very) traditional Chinese family from binding their daughter’s feet, or a traditional African family from performing what we call female genital mutilation, but they call something very different.

    On the other hand, probably no one would object to a parent deciding to have a child’s rotten tooth removed, or from getting them a haircut.

    Is it the good libertarian position to claim that a very strong case need be made before the state is allowed to interfere with the parent’s rights over their child? Or is it the good libertarian position that the child, as individual, should be protected from the whims of their parents when the issue is a profoundly unnecessary, yet permanent alteration to their anatomy?

    I find it a bit odd that you seem to have no concern for the rights of the individual child here – if they want someday to get circumsized – they will have that right. Why do you allow others to impose that decision on them?




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  48. PJ says:

    @Tano:

    I imagine you would be totally opposed to parents having the right to murder thier annoying children

    Are you sure? He did say:

    You have no right to use the power of the state to make that choice for others, or to violate the religious liberties of Jews and Muslims.

    And the part in Deuteronomy that you are referring to is pretty clear (It’s old too, not like those newish, fab, religions like Mormonism and Scientology):

    21:18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
    21:19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
    21:20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
    21:21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

    Not letting the parents have their son stoned to death would obviously violate their religious liberties.




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  49. bk says:

    @Colin Sealey: I not only have to agree with Doug here, but to express it in ALL CAPS.

    IF YOU DON’T WANT TO CIRCUMCISE YOUR SONS, DON’T DO IT

    Is that clear enough?????




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  50. Herb says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    ” I can see why some would call it “genital mutilation””

    Me too. It’s an overly technical description that is intended to cast the subject in the harshest light possible.




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  51. Tano says:

    @bk:

    Can’t answer for Colin of course, but I find your assertion rather besides the point, even if it is in caps.

    The issue is this – should the authority of parents over the life of their child extend to making permanent, unnecessary (and some would argue – negative) changes to their child’s anatomy based soley on their own whims (even if those whims are based in religious beliefs).

    To simply assert that Colin has the right to not have the procedure performed on his son avoids the question – why should he have the right to have it performed?

    You need not answer in caps – it really adds nothing to the substance (or lack thereof) of your comment.




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  52. Cara Benson says:

    Anyway, you can’t just ignore history and pretend thing like this don’t have a long association of anti-semitism and islamophobia.

    I am shocked at the distorted and disingenuous claims made by those opposing the Cologne court’s decision, wrongly suggesting that it is an indication of anti-Semitism.

    This is a human rights issue and the emotional blackmail is not going to work this time!




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  53. Moderate Mom says:

    @Me Me Me: As loathe as I am to answer your question, since it is quite apparent that you are not familiar with female reproductive anatomy, the difference between the two is pretty simple. The female clitoris is the most sensitive (and pleasure inducing) tissue in a woman’s sexual organs. To remove it is to consign her to a life devoid of orgasms. And thus the purpose, in certain cultures. If a woman can get no sexual pleasure, she presumably will not only stay chaste before marriage, but won’t be tempted to stray after marriage. The removal of the male foreskin, on the other hand, doesn’t eliminate the ability of a male to have sexual pleasure. To put it in its most stark terms, the clitoris is the female penis.




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  54. Tano says:

    @Moderate Mom:

    So you would be totally cool with a little clitoral shaving of infant girls, but not removal?




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  55. Tano says:

    @PJ:

    Thank you for doing the hard work of actually reading those texts, PJ. Doug, and those who agree with him really need to address the point you make. Here is guessing that they won’t.




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  56. Moderate Mom says:

    Circumcision has also been shown to reduce the incidence of a variety of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and HPV. A more complete list is available under the Wikipedia article on circumcision. Yesterday’s Chicago Sun Times had an opinion piece on the subject: http://www.suntimes.com/news/steinberg/14659139-452/new-circumcision-report-cuts-to-the-chase-doing-nothing-costs-2-billion.html




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  57. Mr. Replica says:

    I was circumcised as a baby due to my family’s religious views. Have I ever “missed” having a foreskin? No. As I was never really given a choice.
    But…
    After years of reading about the foreskin and what it does, I am a little bit bitter about not having one.
    While I have no plans on having kids at this point in time, if I ever was, I would have to really think about whether or not I would follow this tradition.
    I have never been a religious person, even as a kid. I never went to Hebrew School, nor was I even Bar Mitzvahed. So, even if my family gave me crap about not “following tradition”, I wouldn’t feel guilty, I don’t think.

    The only thing that being circumcised helps with, is that most women I have talked to over the years prefer a circumcised penis. There were a few females here and there that liked having a man with a foreskin, while some didn’t really care whether or not the man had one.
    Personally, I would have liked to know what it was like to have sex with a foreskin. Whether or not the added “experience” of having one would really have made that much difference.

    This really does not surprise me that this is a religious issue. If there is one thing that I know about most religions(which isn’t much), it’s that they frown upon people having sex for fun, before they are married, and that sex should only happen in cases of intended procreation.
    Seeing as both circumcision and FGM both help remove the “fun”(for a lack of a better word) from having sex. If you can’t derive pleasure from a sexual experience, there might be less chances of you acting in a way your religion forbids.

    If there was some way for a religion to cut something else off a man, other than his foreskin, to keep said man from having sex outside of his religious dogma(while still being able to procreate), I’m sure male children would be having that cut off as well.




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  58. Moderate Mom says:

    @Tano: If it served a purpose (religious or cultural) and had been being done for thousands of years, and did not eliminate female sexual arousal, probably not.




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  59. Colin Sealey says:

    @Moderate Mom:

    Circumcision has also been shown to reduce the incidence of a variety of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and HPV

    I dare you to produce the scientific paper that demonstrates this. I assure you, all you will be able to produce are the horrendously flawed “trials” in Africa which are nothing more than statistics with correlative hypothesis which cannot be produced in other African countries, not even in countries of the west like the US.

    The CDC has its head up its %$*&!!! to see its own cultural blinders.

    Even given the “science,” it is unethical to remove a part of the genitals of a child because we assume he is going to be a promiscuous man who won’t ever learn to use a condom, which, even given the science, would supersede circumcision.




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  60. Herb says:

    @Tano:

    “The issue is this – should the authority of parents over the life of their child extend to making permanent, unnecessary (and some would argue – negative) changes to their child’s anatomy based soley on their own whims “

    Short answer…..yes. If parents want to raise their children as observant Jews, Muslims, or Americans, absolutely yes.




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  61. Cara Benson says:

    @Moderate Mom:

    Oh please!

    That report is nothing but backlash from fundamentalist groups that have been criticized recently over circumcision as being unnecessary, traumatic, and affecting sexual satisfaction later in life.

    In Europe, where circumcision rates are less than 10%, the STD rate is also quite low. In the U.S. we have about a 55% circumcision rate and a very high rate of STDs. Circumsion does not prevent STDs and scaring parents into mutilating the genitals of their baby boys is disgusting.




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  62. Moderate Mom says:
  63. Moderate Mom says:

    @Cara Benson: From what I’ve read (more than I ever wanted to, to tell the truth), the fall in circumcision rates in the US since the 80s is primarily due to Medicaid not covering the cost.

    As Doug said, if you don’t want to circumcise your son, by all means don’t. No one will force you to.




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  64. Chefmarty says:

    @Doug Mataconis: The good doctors at Johns Hopkins seem to think circumcision is quite worthwhile: Declining Rates of U.S. Infant Male Circumcision Could Add Billions to Health Care Costs, Experts Warn




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  65. Cara Benson says:

    @Chefmarty:

    Ah yes the benefits of amputation! What else can be cut off to save billions while we are defenseless?

    What are the STD, etc per capita rates in Europe as compared to USA? What data did the people at Johns Hopkins use to compute the extra cost of not circumcising boys? If lack of circumcision caused an increase in the cost of health care for a society, why haven’t the European countries with government-provided and paid-for health care done something about their low circumcision rates?

    Please answer these questions first.

    One more time:

    Modern research has adequately DISCOUNTED the “circumcision is a health prophylactic” theory.

    Men wash themselves don’t they? They include the penis and pull back the foreskin and wash there too. Simple isn’t it?

    Let’s spend the $4.4 Billion on education………maybe the ‘S’ in STD stands for stupidly transmitted disease. Outside of rape and broken condoms this one can be prevented

    Who funded this bogus study. Likely the AMA. Give me a break. This is a bunch of crap.




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  66. Tano says:

    @Moderate Mom:

    One of the trends in modern history, especially American history, is to recognize the rights of individuals, as opposed to condemning them to a fate defined by the circimstances of their birth – their gender, their relgion, their ethnicity, the family business etc. I think that is a fair approximation of what most people mean by “freedom” – the right ot make your own decisions about the important things in your life.

    Many seem to argue that the male foreskin is hardly a significant issue – but nonetheless it does raise the question of anatomical integrity and whether, by our contemporary standards, anyone including parents, should have the right ot impose their own personal views on other people’s body, even their own childs.

    I have lived through so many of these issues wherein traditional ways of behaving are challanged by new ideas – ideas that seem so odd at first. There always seems to be this same type of response to the idea – about how strange it sounds, and how the world got along for so long without it.

    In the end though, we Americans seem to always bend toward empowering the individual, at least in those instances where the rights of the individual do not abrogate the meaningful rights of others.

    I think that the circumsizers have an enormous burden on them to justify imposing their beliefs on an innocent and defenseless infant. Just repeating the fact that it has always been that way is totally unconvincing to those of us who have seen so many injustices defended in that manner, and so many of those injusticies ended with postive effect.




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  67. Nigel says:

    For all of you circumcision defenders:

    I just do not understand the thinking.

    You have a beautiful newborn child in your arms. Making strange, cute noises. They are innocent. And what is the next step? Snip. Maim. Slice. Cause unnecessary bodily harm.

    But life is weird.

    I think that people that circumcise a child without a medical reason should be put in jail. Like any other person that goes about mutilating children.




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  68. Tano says:

    @Herb:

    But Herb, I wonder if you really mean your statement to be as unqualified as you present it.

    Those who practice what we call female genital mutilation do so not because they are little psychopaths intent on harming their own children – they are sincere believers in cultural and religious norms who are doing what they have always been taught to believe is the right and necessary thing.

    And yet many of us, you included???, have no problem condemning that and outlawing it.
    Granted that male circumcision is less dramatic and less harmful, but it is simply a matter of degree.

    I think there needs to be a stronger argument from your side as to the threshold question – why should any procedure like this be ever allowed, if not medically necessary – and then perhaps a secondary argument as to why you would draw the line somewhere between female circumcision and male circumcision,….if that is your position.




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  69. An Interested Party says:

    The removal of the male foreskin, on the other hand, doesn’t eliminate the ability of a male to have sexual pleasure.

    But it can certainly reduce that pleasure…hmm, maybe that’s why people used these religions to come up with this practice in the first place…

    Short answer…..yes. If parents want to raise their children as observant Jews, Muslims, or Americans, absolutely yes.

    Using this logic, if parents wanted to completely remove their child’s penis, that would kosher too, after all, the child does belong to them…

    As Doug said, if you don’t want to circumcise your son, by all means don’t. No one will force you to.

    An interesting choice of words, as male babies are forced to have this procedure performed on them…

    The bottom line is that it is a rather weak argument to use religion to justify genital mutilation, as religion has been used to justify a number of other despicable activities in the past…




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  70. PJ says:

    @Moderate Mom:

    A short write up of a brand new Johns Hopkins study: http://www.sfgate.com/health/article/Circumcision-can-cut-health-care-costs-3805183.php

    From the write up:

    But in the past decade, studies have increasingly shown that removing the foreskin of the penis has significant health benefits, said Dr. Aaron Tobian, senior author of the new study.

    Circumcision is believed to prevent STDs by depriving pathogens of a moist environment where they can thrive. The inner foreskin has been shown to be highly susceptible to HIV in particular because it contains large numbers of Langerhans cells, a target for the virus.

    Tobian and his colleagues developed a computer simulation to estimate whether declining circumcision rates would lead to more STDs and thus higher medical costs.

    I really don’t want to pay them what they want to read the actual paper.

    But it’s clear that it’s not a study as such. They used information in some other papers and used that to make assumptions about what would happen with lower circumcision rates.

    Are those studies they relied on to make their computer program the already mentioned flawed “trials” in Africa? I don’t know since I have to pay to read their references…




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  71. jd says:

    “If you don’t want to circumcise your sons, don’t do it. Otherwise, it’s not your business to use the power of the state to decide this issue for others.”

    If you don’t want to bring your fetus full term, don’t do it. Otherwise, it’s not your business to use the power of the state to decide this issue for others.

    If you don’t want to marry someone of the same sex, don’t do it. Otherwise, it’s not your business to use the power of the state to decide this issue for others.

    Couldn’t we just go on and on.




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  72. PJ says:

    Circumcision doesn’t seem to work very well in Israel to prevent STDs.




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  73. Moderate Mom says:

    @jd: I absolutely agree. It’s not my business who you want to marry. It’s not my business if you want to terminate a pregnancy. And it’s not your business if I choose to circumcise my son. Isn’t it nice when everyone minds their own business?




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  74. Karen S. says:

    @Moderate Mom:

    Except of course that another recent study pretty much contradicts this conclusion, indicating there’s really no clear correlation between higher disease rates and circumcision:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2012.02871.x/abstract

    Also please note the name of the lead doctor: Dr. Aaron Tobian

    Tobias (Τοβίας) is a Greek version of the Hebrew biblical name “Toviyah” (טוביה), meaning “Yahweh is good”.

    I suspect his own religious upbringing and those of his colleagues has something to do with this study




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  75. Tano says:

    @Moderate Mom:

    Isn’t it nice when everyone minds their own business?

    We keep coming back to the same issue. Is it really your business to decide whether your son shall keep his foreskin, if there is no medical issue involved? Does your son not have any business of his own that you should keep out of, unless really necessary?




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  76. Herb says:

    @Nigel:

    “I think that people that circumcise a child without a medical reason should be put in jail.”

    Oh great….another “War on Something.” Jail is not the answer for a global religious/social practice. Tolerance is.
    @Tano:

    “Granted that male circumcision is less dramatic and less harmful, but it is simply a matter of degree.”

    Male circumcision is totally different from female genital mutilation. Different anatomy with different functions for a different purpose.

    The only reason to blur the distinction is to attempt to convince people, not with a good argument, but with heated language.

    Removing the male foreskin may be “medically unnecessary” but it’s much more culturally necessary than other “medically necessary” procedures such as breast enlargement, botox, or a GI bypass. What, we can let porn stars get triple Ds, aging Hollywood starlets a wooden forehead, and fat people skinny again, but we can’t let Jews be Jews?




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  77. Colin Sealey says:

    @Karen S.:

    Also please note the name of the lead doctor: Dr. Aaron Tobian

    Tobias (Τοβίας) is a Greek version of the Hebrew biblical name “Toviyah” (טוביה), meaning “Yahweh is good”.

    I suspect his own religious upbringing and those of his colleagues has something to do with this study

    Dr. Aaron Tobian has said that he circumcised his son based on the latest “studies” out of Africa, but I’d like to see his religious and/or cultural affiliations. Most advocates of circumcision have been long-time proponents of the practice and don’t just “convert” over night. Methinks the man is a liar and a manipulator. It is telling that he is employed by one of the American institutions that is bankrolling circumcision “studies” and “mass circumcision campaigns.”

    The trend of opinion on routine male circumcision is so overwhelmingly negative in industrialized nations that it would be quite surprising were male circumcision to be recommended in the United States. No respected U.S. based medical board recommends circumcision for U.S. infants, not even in the name of HIV prevention. They must all point to the risks, and they must all state that there is no convincing evidence that the benefits outweigh these risks. To do otherwise would be to take an unfounded position against the best medical authorities of the West, within and outside of the United States.




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  78. Tano says:

    @Herb:

    The only reason to blur the distinction is to attempt to convince people, not with a good argument, but with heated language.

    No, that is not true. I am not blurring the distinction – feel free to make your arguments for how they are different. You should however, also accept the points at which they are similar – the most basic being that they both represent an unnecessary, but permanent alteration of the child’s anatomy.

    And so there is a threshold question, and both procedures are on the other side of the threshold – why should parents have the power to inflict permanent and unnecessary alterations to their child’s body? Yo have not come close, in my estimation, to giving a coherent answer to that question.

    I do not see the relevance of any of the examples you offer – breast enlargement, botox or a gi bypass are all usually (exclusively?) done by adults to themselves. No one has been arguing that an adult male should not have the right to get a circumcision. Your examples are completely besides the point, which is all about the limits of power that parents should have over their children’s bodies.

    What, we can let porn stars get triple Ds, …, but we can’t let Jews be Jews?

    We can and do let adults do what they wish with their bodies. My argument is that there are limits to what parents should do with their child’s bodies. That is a wholly different issue.
    You agree with me in principle – since you make such pains to distinguish male from female circumcision, I assume you would not allow parents to do that to little girls. So our dispute is simply whether male circumcision is beyond or before the line.

    Where should we draw the line?
    For me it is simple. If there is a compelling medical need, then the parents is certainly empowered to decide for the child to have a procedure done. If there is no medical need, then the child should be allowed to decide for themselves, when they come of age.




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  79. Andre Kenji says:

    There is an important point: circumcision perfomed by doctors is one thing from the medical view point, another very different when perfomed by rabbis or anyone that´s not a doctor.




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  80. michael reynolds says:

    Had it done to me by a mohel. Then was raised a Christian and became an atheist. So It doesn’t seem to have limited my religious choices.

    Also doesn’t seem to have reduced my enjoyment of women. Quite honestly from about age 15 to about age 30 I barely found sufficient spare brain space to think about anything else. Had I enjoyed it any more I’d probably have permanently dislocated something.

    Had it done to my son, in the hospital, after some discussion with my wife, on the theory that “like father like son,” and at the time there were reputed health benefits. He seems un-traumatized. He’s 15, and I believe the “Oh, my God, breasts!” switch has been thrown and I imagine he’ll be fine in a decade or so.

    Are the religious aspects of it stupid? Of course they are. Is it a huge deal? Nah. Should we all be hysterical over it? No.

    Is is f*cking weird that a generation that’s busily piercing body parts and tattooing ugly-ass, inane ‘art’ onto their skin is acting like circumcision is a crime against humanity? Uh, yeah.

    It’s all stupid: circumcision, tattooing and piercing. But frankly I’m more bothered by having a kid brainwashed into a religion than I am by a stupid ritual.

    There’s a whole great big world full of things that ought to shock us. This would be roughly number 215 on that list, way down from Child soldiers in Congo, acid attacks on women in India and elsewhere, and outlawing stem cell research. I have the same reaction to people who get hysterical over circumcision that I have to PETA activists: get some perspective.




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  81. Herb says:

    @Tano:

    ” feel free to make your arguments for how they are different. You should however, also accept the points at which they are similar – “

    They are similar in the sense that things are happening in the genital region, but that’s it. The foreskin is not the male version of the clitoris or vice versa. (To make matters worse, female genital mutilation may not be restricted to the clitoris. In the male version, take anything but the foreskin and it’s not a circumcision….it’s a botched circumcision.)

    Different anatomy with a different purpose. Males are circumcised to mark them as members of a certain religion, tribe, or family. Vaginas are mutilated with the intention of making them less useful. Different anatomy, different purpose.

    So both practices occur in the genital region….that doesn’t make them the same, only similar and in the most superficial way possible.

    why should parents have the power to inflict permanent and unnecessary alterations to their child’s body?

    When you put it like that….

    Again, the most stark language possible. My answer is simple: Because they are parents. They make these decisions. Not only will they choose whether a child will be circumcised, but they’ll pick which language that child will speak, where that child will be raised, what food they will eat….

    I do not see the relevance of any of the examples you offer

    Yeah, sorry….those were examples of “medically unnecessary” procedures, which I think in this case is a canard. I’m aware of the studies that say circumcision may have some health benefits, and the studies that say it doesn’t. Yes, it’s medically unnecessary. A lot of common, socially-accepted procedures are. That’s just me taking away the “medically unnecessary” canard.

    I assume you would not allow parents to do that to little girls.

    Hell no.

    So our dispute is simply whether male circumcision is beyond or before the line.

    I would not draw it where the Germans have, that’s for sure. I’m fine with people making their own decisions about their sons’ foreskins.




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  82. Moderate Mom says:

    I asked my husband if he missed his foreskin. He looked at me like I had lost my mind and and said “Why are you asking me something so weird?” When I explained, he started laughing and said “I enjoy sex. A lot. I don’t think I’ve missed out on anything.”




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  83. anjin-san says:

    @ Colin Sealey

    Evolution also determined that human beings should grow old and die in their 40’s. Have you opted out of medical care and good nutrition out of respect for evolution?




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  84. anjin-san says:

    But it can certainly reduce that pleasure

    Well, if I had the ability to have more pleasure than I have already experienced, my head would have exploded a long time ago. I don’t think I’ve missed anything.




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  85. Piran Jade says:

    The question here is:
    Should parents have the right to have a unnecessary and potentially harmful (still some circumcision go wrong and cause lifelong problems) operation done on their child before the age of consent based on the sole reasoning of “My religion tells me to”?

    I say no. This includes female genital mutilation, male circumcision and the scarring or tattooing of the face or limbs as practiced in some African religions.




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  86. Piran Jade says:

    @Herb:

    My answer is simple: Because they are parents. They make these decisions. Not only will they choose whether a child will be circumcised, but they’ll pick which language that child will speak, where that child will be raised, what food they will eat….

    When you become older you can learn another language, you can move to another country, you can choose what you eat. Gluing your foreskin back on might prove slightly more difficult.




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  87. grumpy realist says:

    There’s also the possible risk of a botched circumcision. Drunk or old-shaky-hands mohel, whoops, didn’t mean to cut THAT far…. Don’t tell me it doesn’t happen.

    As said, I’m against it.




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  88. Tano says:

    @Herb:

    So both practices occur in the genital region….that doesn’t make them the same, only similar and in the most superficial way possible.

    Ah, no. They are similar in a most profound sense, as I said – they both represent unnecessary and permanent alterations of one’s anatomy. That is not a trivial similarity. Within the context of that profound similarity, there is also a very significant difference.

    My answer is simple: Because they are parents. They make these decisions.

    That is overly simple – for it avoids the question, it doesn’t answer the question. The question was WHY should parents have that power – and you answer by simply asserting that they do. It seems like you are unwilling to actually think through the issue.




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  89. Tano says:

    “I enjoy sex. A lot. I don’t think I’ve missed out on anything.”

    How would he possibly know?




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  90. @michael reynolds:

    Is is f*cking weird that a generation that’s busily piercing body parts and tattooing ugly-ass, inane ‘art’ onto their skin is acting like circumcision is a crime against humanity? Uh, yeah.

    That’s like saying raping your children shouldn’t be a crime because they might choose to have sex when they’re adults.




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  91. @Moderate Mom:

    Circumcision has also been shown to reduce the incidence of a variety of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and HPV.

    Gelding would reduce the risk of STD’s far more effectively than circumcision. It’s also been shown that removing the testicles or ovaries before puberty greatly reduces the lifetime risk of cancer. Would you be okay with a parent choosing that what’s best for their children is being neutered as an infant?




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  92. michael reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    No, actually, it’s nothing like that.




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  93. Ron says:

    It seems that most people posting here have already made up their minds, but if anyone is interested in a thorough review of the benefits and risks of circumcision, which also analyzes the optimal age to conduct a circumcision, here is a nice scientific paper from Australia:

    http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1471-2431-12-20.pdf

    The authors conclude that circumcision in infancy is preferable (from a medical point of view) to circumcision during adulthood. Of course that finding doesn’t address the moral concerns some have raised here, but it does show that asking to delay circumcision until adulthood not only violates some religious traditions, but also carries risks of its own.




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  94. Moderate Mom says:

    @Tano: And how would you know he didn’t? Were you not circumcised as an infant and then, after reaching adulthood and having had sex, then gotten circumcised? It’s the only way one could potentially truly answer the question, in being able to compare the two options.




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  95. Albert says:

    I imagine the tenor of this debate is very different in the US since we have a widespread tradition of circumcision, for non-religious reasons and, in later generations, as a way for sons to match their fathers. You also have a generation of women in this country whose only frame of reference is their encounters with the aforementioned circumcised men.

    I have trouble imagining a sexually active, adult, uncircumcised male arguing that their foreskin is just a pointless piece of flesh. For the circumcised men here, simply imagine not having to constantly reach for the artificial lubricants.




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  96. Rob in CT says:

    I’m with Alex Knapp, way up at the top. I’m conflicted on this one.

    One principle, I think it’s wrong (as I do not see a medical purpose, and the child cannot consent to the proceedure). But religious folks seem to really care about it and it does little harm. This is one of those times where I think it’s best to fight the good fight culturally rather than legally. Advocate against unthinking circumcisions, sure. Ban them? Too much, IMO.

    Like Doug, I think the comparison to female genital mutilation is a poor one. It is superficially similar, but the harm isn’t in the same ballpark.

    If I have a son, I think I’ll just make sure I teach him to wash properly (and, later, use condoms, which one should teach anyway).

    [I was born in NYC in 1976, and it was just the norm to be circumcised. My parents are not even religious]




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  97. Rob in CT says:

    @Rob in CT:

    For clarity: what I mean by “unthinking” circumcisions is when parents do it because… well, um… well I was circumcised or well it’s what you do or oh I vaguely recall somebody saying there’s a health benefit…

    That sort of thing.




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  98. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    Some short notes: The hysterical posts that ascribe some sinister purpose to the court decision are simply ridiculous.

    Under German law every purposeful injury to the human body is a prima facie violation of the law. This includes all manners of helpful medical procedures. It’s just the approach of German law.

    The next step is always to ask if there has been an agreement to the violation. And this is where the problem occurs. By German legal thought, parents do not have the right to bodily harm their children. There is an unequivocal “duty to protect” against all bodily harm.

    Deducting from this the judge concluded that the agreement of the parents would only be binding if there was a net benefit to the child at this point in time. This was clearly not the case here.

    As such neither the “you can elect not to circumcise” nor the “it prevents STDs” arguments have any bearing here. The fact that they could not have done it does not change the fact that they did (and thereby triggered the duty to protect of the state that applies equally to parents and third parties). And STDs in an 8-day old infant are just not a relevant factor to the decision.

    Regarding the “not a good Jew” argument, it should be noted that this application of the law follows Kantian principles that were introduced into German law in response to the horrors of the Third Reich. Simply said: no person may be used simply as an object to someone else’s desires. As such the child may not be harmed to satisfy the parent’s interest in the proper execution of their religion.

    Currently the ministry of justice is scrambling to find some addendum that will de-criminalize this. But in all honesty I currently see no way that would hold up to constitutional scrutiny.

    If you allow circumcision then you violate the “equal protection” clause for all parents whose beliefs also prescribe bodily harm (real genital mutilation comes to mind or, on a smaller scale the “beat your children to lead them to god” strain of conservative Christianity).

    Extend it to “all bodily modifications as long as the parents agree” and the widely approved of notion of “no bodily punishments” goes right out the window. It’s currently a real conundrum.




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  99. michael reynolds says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius:
    That was an extremely informative and useful comment. Thanks.




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  100. Clanton says:

    I have seen many times at the mall when parents have their very young (2-4) years ears pierced. Is this different?




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  101. Colin Sealey says:

    This just in:

    Op-ed: Instead of crying anti-Semitism, Israel should also abolish unethical ritual

    Link:

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4272455,00.html




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  102. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    @Clanton: This just in: Berlin Judge hears case of ear piercing on three-year old girl. So far this propagates as expected.




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  103. Lederer says:

    Tano:

    Would you sue your parents for unwanted tonsillectomy at age 5? We now know that these tissues, a lot more voluminous than a tiny foreskin, are the body’s first defense against pathogens.

    Would you sue your parents for various involuntary vaccinations and their painful after-effects?

    How about soccer moms who send their boys into the mayhem on the pitch?

    Or all those ambitious parents, medals dancing before their eyes, who risk the limbs and lives of their offspring on the ski-run, balance beam or show-jumping horse?

    The foreskin, such a small piece of flesh, and such a big war. If the Cologne judge had known his history, he would have let discretion prevail over secularist rigor. “Live and let snip” might have been the wiser choice.

    Who wants to tangle with the Man in Heaven above?




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