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I moved from dank, dark North Manchester, U.K. to Karmiel, Western Galilee, Israel in March 2010. It is, believe me, one of the sunniest, loveliest towns on earth. With a background in local Jewish journalism I continue to write freelance. I manage several blogs, have  appeared on Technorati and Blogcritics and now contribute to the online magazine, 'Live Encounters'. My main blog is Alwayswriteagain (http://wwwalwayswriteagain.blogspot.com

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

‘The Most Kindest Cut Of All’?

.Nothing To Be Cut Up About! on Technorati


When Prince William and Catherine Middleton discuss starting a family, the possibility of  circumcising any boys may be  on their agenda. The British Royal Family has a long tradition requiring that all male children be circumcised.

However, I’ve also read that:

Princess Diana for some reason best known to herself was opposed to circumcision and refused to allow either William or Harry to be done. There were reports at the time which suggested that both the Queen and Prince Philip were very annoyed at this

In the west there is a remarkably low incidence of injuries and deaths following male circumcision, be it purely surgical or for religious reasons, as performed by specially trained Jewish mohelim  or   Moslem ritual circumcisers.

But now  a group of American anti-circumcision activists is  petitioning for a ballot measure that would ban circumcision in San Francisco.  If the group acquires sufficient signatures, local voters would see an anti-circumcision bill on their ballots within 12 months.

If it became law, the measure would make circumcision procedures illegal within San Francisco city limits, except in the case of extreme medical emergencies. 

The protestors say the law would protect innocent, defenceless children from the abuses of their parents, like any other child welfare law.

Extremists may well view the surgery (or ceremony) as ritual abuse, even mutilation, or otherwise take the eminently sane view expressed by most Jewish and Moslem parents that when it is performed early enough (after eight days in Jewish tradition, unless the boy is ill) there is nothing to worry about and it is a simple way of marking the child’s entry into our respective traditions.

So let’s look at the pros and cons of male circumcision only, because I view so-called ‘female circumcision’ as so incomprehensibly awful as not to be worth debating in this context:


  • Any surgery for any reason is potentially lethal.
  • Circumcision for religious reasons may indeed be viewed as ritual ‘mutilation’
  • Ritual circumcision is an antiquated tradition and it may be argued that it brings gratuitous suffering to a tiny infant as it is performed without medical anaesthetic.

In Favour:

  • It is  a medically approved practice and has proven to be healthy, not only for men but also for women, as in the Jewish community (I am unable to write authoritatively about the Moslem community) there is very low rate of cervical cancer.
  • The ceremony is neither ‘mutilation’ nor ‘abuse’ but  a tiny material sacrifice that the child makes marking his entry to his community.
  • It is the child’s first proof of his covenant with God and he cannot be frightened in advance of the procedure as he is too young to understand what is happening to him.

I’ve heard said that the boys often appear fractious at the ceremony. But no baby likes to have their nappy (‘diaper’) removed and I understand that a Christian baby may seem unhappy at his christening – simply because he dislikes the feel of  water suddenly sprinkled on his head.

I charge that the entire process is far more of an ordeal for the adults than for the children – which is certainly why Jewish mothers are usually advised to absent themselves during the actual ‘cut’.

Which brings me to a personal story: The communal mohel at the synagogue to which I belonged in Manchester is a fine, well-known senior surgeon in his working life. He does not have a rabbinical diploma like his counterparts serving Orthodox Jewish communities in the U.K. Far from earning a personal income from this work, he encourages the families involved to make a donation to the synagogue.

I remember being present at several circumcisions he has performed. One was on the son of my close friends and another was when he supervised a fellow surgeon as he performed the operation on his own son. I thought both men were enormously brave for those few moments and can report that the ‘infant’ is now well into his teens, having celebrated his barmitzvah about 18 months ago.

So back to  ‘Frisco: I can’t see an anti-circumcision law being passed without a fight. There are very big Jewish and Moslem populations in the area. Both are highly politicised and wield a lot of clout. Like the lack of rain in Israel this summer and autumn, the row could be a way of bringing the two communities together. Let’s see!

Pidyon.Ha'Ben… And who’s plated up, looking good enough to eat? None other than my great-nephew at his Pidyon Ha’Ben in  Jerusalem this summer. The ceremony’s title translates as “The Redemption of the First Born Son”. It takes place in Jewish tradition after the circumcision, when a baby is 31 days old and involves buying him back from a Priest for five silver coins. Now everything begins to gets complicated, so please don’t ask me to explain more!







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