Having surveyed the web for reactions to the ruling of a regional court in Germany to outlaw circumcision of young male children out of religious reasons, one gets the impression that most people believe the argument produced by the court that male circumcision is harmful. Many react with outrage in regard of the practice of circumcision, believing it to be a mutilation of the body of young children. Public sentiment is not always informed. Quite in opposite, public opinion is often misinformed. Why not hear what medicals say? Here is a report from Science Daily, published on the occasion of voting on banning of male circumcision in San Francisco last year. While public opinion seems to be in favour of the opponents of male circumcision, the ban of it is not tenable both out of juristic and medical reasons. What’s more, it exhibits a blank ignorance of the public of the Jewish culture and religion, what is most mind-boggling for a society which prides itself in its “multicultural tolerance, respect for other traditions and cultures etc.”. Without circumcision, one, though born of Jewish parents, is not a real Jew according to the Jewish understanding. In the end, good sense prevails. The ban of male circumcision in San Francisco was struck from ballot last November. The German court which decided that religious male circumcision is unlawful is only a regional court and its decision is not binding for other regional courts. While the opponents of the male circumcision, especially the so called inactivists, are hoping that other courts will follow suit, the Jews living in Germany decide to appeal to the Federal Diet (Bundestag), in the hope of getting the legal support of a higher level court. Perhaps, or let’s hope at least, that the highest court in Germany, the Constitutional Court will make a decision to give the 4000 years old Jewish practice a positive legal support. And that will be a good outcome.
Efforts to Defund or Ban Infant Male Circumcision Are Unfounded and Potentially Harmful, Experts Argue
ScienceDaily (Oct. 4, 2011) — Johns Hopkins infectious disease experts say the medical benefits for male circumcision are clear and that efforts in an increasing number of states (currently 18) to not provide Medicaid insurance coverage for male circumcision, as well as an attempted ballot initiative in San Francisco earlier this year to ban male circumcision in newborns and young boys, are unwarranted. Moreover, they say these actions ignore the last decade of medical evidence that the procedure can substantially protect men and their female partners from certain sexually transmitted infections.
The Johns Hopkins experts argue that implementing policy or financial barriers to safe circumcision could potentially disadvantage people most in need of publicly financed services to improve their health. These groups include minorities and the poor, among whom sexually transmitted infection rates are often the highest.
Critics of infant or childhood circumcision claim, among other things, that the procedure should not be considered until males can give legal informed consent at age 18.
In an editorial to be published in theJournal of the American Medical Association online Oct. 5, Johns Hopkins health epidemiologist and pathologist Aaron Tobian, M.D., Ph.D., and health epidemiologist Ronald Gray, M.D., highlight the most recent medical research showing the considerable life-long health benefits of circumcision performed during infancy and the potential disadvantages associated with waiting until adulthood before undergoing the procedure. The experts point out that there are medical benefits during childhood, as many young men are already sexually active before age 18, and at greater risk of infection from sexually transmitted infections. Circumcision at older ages is also associated with more complications and cost than having the minimal surgery in infancy.
“Our goal is to encourage all parents to make fully informed decisions on whether to circumcise their infant boys based on medical evidence and not conjecture or misinformation put out by anti-circumcision advocates,” says Tobian, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Among the research cited by Tobian and Gray, a professor at the University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, are multiple studies conducted within the last five years showing that in heterosexuals, circumcision reduced HIV infection risk by 60 percent, genital herpes by 30 percent and cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV) by 35 percent in men. Females benefit from a 40 percent or greater reduced risk of bacterial vaginosis or parasitic trichomonas spread during sex, as well as HPV infection, which causes cervical cancer.
In addition, the experts say the data clearly show that having the procedure in infancy reduces the risk of urinary tract infections, as well as inflammation in the opening or head region of the penis. Risk of infection from surgically removing the foreskin, considered a minimal and simple surgery, is already low overall but even lower during infancy, at between 0.2 percent and 0.6 percent. In adults, infection and complication rates are higher, between 1.5 percent and 3.8 percent.
In contrast to what circumcision’s opponents claim, Tobian and Gray say that research shows no reduction in sexual satisfaction or male performance. Indeed, they add, circumcised men in the trials, the gold standard of medical evidence, reported no difference or even increased penile sensitivity during intercourse and enhanced orgasms compared to uncircumcised men. The majority of female partners also reported either no change or increased sexual satisfaction, largely because of improved hygiene.
The Johns Hopkins experts argue that delaying circumcision until adulthood, when young men can legally decide for themselves, not only carries added risk of infection, but also challenges the long-held rights and responsibilities of many parents to make decisions about the long-term health of their children, including vaccinating them against hepatitis B, measles, polio, whooping cough and influenza. The proposed ban or delays also counter the religious rights for parents who observe Jewish and Muslim faiths, in which infant male circumcision is a prescribed religious obligation.
In the editorial, Tobian and Gray conclude that if a vaccine comparable in disease-prevention benefits to male circumcision was available, with the same disease-preventing benefits, “the medical community would rally behind the immunization, and it would be promoted as a game-changing public health intervention.” They say that banning male circumcision would be “ethically questionable.”
Tobian and Gray say Medicaid and other insurers should cover male circumcision costs if parents opt for the procedure, and that leading medical groups, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, need to recognize the health benefits of male circumcision and do more to educate parents and physicians about them.
More than 500 U.S. and international observational studies and 13 studies from randomized trials, Tobian says, have been published in the most influential medical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine and the Lancet, in the past decade — reaffirming the benefits of male circumcision in preventing sexually transmitted infections.
However, the Academy’s policy on male circumcision, last issued in 1999 and re-affirmed in 2005, is ambiguous with respect to medical benefits. The CDC’s policy also takes no firm position on the medical benefits of male circumcision, but that policy is expected to be updated shortly.
“In light of the latest medical evidence, the medical community and government officials at all levels would do well to revisit their policies on male circumcision, so as best to counsel parents on the potential health benefits to their children well into adulthood,” says Gray.
Jewish and other community groups successfully challenged the San Francisco ballot initiative in court, and in July, the male circumcision ban was taken off the city’s November ballot because of a legal technicality. The most recent states to stop Medicaid funding for infant circumcision are Colorado in June, and South Carolina, in February 2011. States that already had funding bans in place include Louisiana, Idaho and Minnesota, all since 2005; Maine, since 2004; Montana, Utah and Florida, since 2003; and Missouri, Arizona and North Carolina, since 2002. California, North Dakota, Oregon, Mississippi, Nevada and Washington — all had stopped funding before 1999.
And the following is an article to explain the significance of circumcision for the Jewish identity, the author is Rabbi Eugene Korn:
The Significance Of Circumcision
Ritual purity and impurity dominate this week’s Torah portion of Tazria, but after the destruction of the Second Temple these religious institutions have been discontinued in Jewish life. Nor do many contemporary Jews yearn for their return, for what meaning could the ancient purity rituals offer Jews trying to understand the world in modern terms? By contrast, the commandment for Jewish males to undergo ritual circumcision, [Leviticus 12:3], which also appears in Tazria, continues to be a key to Jewish identity, a subject that continues to ignite controversy today.
Like Jewish identity itself, circumcision carries a dual significance, both ethnic and religious. It is the Jewish male’s quintessential sign of ethnic belonging and biological lineage. Though only a small percentage of Jews today consider themselves believers in any traditional sense, nearly every Jewish male undergoes circumcision. Indeed, circumcision is the most popular custom observed among our people. As the hallmark of national identity, it was the most visible difference between Jews and their Greek counterparts in the second century B.C.E., when Hellenists ruled over the Jewish commonwealth, and two millennia later it was, tragically, the tell-tale sign of Jews when Nazis hunted them down during the Shoah.
The ethnic significance of circumcision helps explain a mysterious incident in the life of Moses that is described in Exodus Chapter 4. After growing up in Pharaoh’s court and then spending 60 years in Midian, alienated from any Jewish identity, Moses was tormented by his unformed identity. He was psychologically unable to make the fateful existential choice between throwing his lot in with a nation of slaves or living an easy but purposeless life tending sheep in Midian. Because he lacked the commitment to his people and his higher destiny, God sought to kill him until his wife, Tzipora, hurriedly circumcised their son. It was that act which solidified Moses’ identity and endowed him with the determination to redeem his people.
Yet the Bible is more concerned with the theological meaning of circumcision than its ethnic significance. First commanded to Abraham, circumcision in the Bible does not constitute the brit (covenant) itself, but is the most permanent ot (sign) of someone who undertakes to live in covenant with God. Without this commitment, circumcision carries only surgical meaning; and without circumcision, the Bible’s commandments that were intended to be suffused with higher religious dimension lose their value. Hence, according to rabbinic tradition, the Jews in Egypt had to circumcise themselves before performing the first paschal sacrifice, and according to the Book of Joshua, 40 years later the next generation of Jews circumcised themselves before they entered the Promised Land.
What is this Jewish brit, the covenant of which circumcision is only a sign? In rabbinic parlance, it is to accept the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven—a life of responsibility, or as God tells Abraham, the imperative “to teach your children to do righteousness and justice” (tzedakah and mishpat).
Maimonides merged both dimensions of circumcision, hoping it would unify Jews as well as foster “love among all bearers of the same sign of brit milah.” He envisaged circumcision as the carrier of God’s seal with us and a catalyst for Jews to act with peace and communal loyalty toward each other. Perhaps he had in mind Malachi’s admonition, “Have we not all one Father … why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother?”
Jewish law supports this notion of communal solidarity regarding circumcision, for if the baby’s family cannot afford the cost of the circumcision, the community then assumes the responsibility to usher the child into the covenant of Abraham.
There is a famous fictional dialogue in the Talmud between the Roman official Tarnus Rufus and Rabbi Akiva concerning circumcision. The Roman challenged Akiva about why circumcision should performed at all: “If God wanted humans circumcised, He would have ensured that babies leave the womb without foreskins.” In reply, Rabbi Akiva tells Tarnus Rufus the secret and glory of the Torah: “The Holy One, Blessed Be He, gave commandments only for the purpose of refining human beings.”
Commandments are about improving ourselves, raising ourselves from mere biological objects to moral beings, about moving from facts to values, and about constantly striving for spiritual perfection. Judaism knows no noble savage. On the contrary, Jewish nobility is found only in the elevated being who has overcome the brute conditions of nature. On a national level, it means the transformation of an ethnic collection into a holy people. Individually or nationally, this transformation does not come cheap. It requires effort and sacrifice — the blood that transforms a medical procedure into a covenantal event.
Perhaps this is the deeper meaning of the old purity/impurity rituals — the staking out of values, and the importance of human striving to improve, purify and elevate. Though the rituals are relegated to antiquity, their underlying spiritual message seems eternal.
Rabbi Eugene Korn is American director of Israel’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, and editor of Meorot-A Forum for Modern Orthodox Discourse.