Sunday, February 17, 2013

Intactivism: It's Not Just for Gentiles Anymore

One of the greatest brick walls for intactivism has been the fact that the circumcision of newborns happens to be a religious ritual practiced by a very vocal minority. When circumcision is challenged, it doesn't take very long for Jewish defenders of infant circumcision to start insinuating that those who oppose circumcision are equivalent to, or worse than Nazi Germans. In the past, accusations of antisemitism were a very effective tactic at silencing any discourse regarding the circumcision of infants. To date, Jewish circumcision advocates still expect opponents of the practice to feel guilty because they're challenging a tradition practiced by survivors of the Holocaust, but that strategy is slowly losing its effect.

Accusations of antisemitism are based on three assumptions:

1) That circumcision is exclusively Jewish
2) That circumcision is universal among Jews
3) That intactivists focus on stopping only Jewish circumcision

The fact is, circumcision is not exclusive to Jews; only approximately 3% of all circumcisions in this country are Jewish brisim; the rest are secular, gentile circumcisions performed at hospitals.

In addition, circumcision is not universal among Jews. There are Jews in Europe who have been leaving their children intact for years. A growing number of Jews are forgoing a traditional Bris Milah circumcision ceremony, and instead opting for a more peaceful, non-cutting Bris Shalom naming ceremony. Even in Israel, there is a growing number of parents who are not circumcising their children. A recent poll reveals that 1/3rd of Israeli parents question the practice.

Molly Tolsky brings the following picture back from her 10-day Birthright trip to Israel:

"Wherever you go, even in the Holy Land, people have opinions on circumcision. Case in point–I managed to capture this from the bus on the way to Tel Aviv. I believe what that van is blocking out is “Freedom of choice for newborns.” So even though this debate is getting a little annoying and at times totally out of line, it’s sort of nice to know that it’s not just us crazy Americans who spend hours discussing the rights of our baby’s penises. It’s us crazy Jews everywhere."

The following documentary follows two Jewish couples, one in America and one in Israel. One couple decides to proceed with the circumcision ritual, the other does not:

And finally, it would be one thing if intactivists targeted the Jewish ritual of infant circumcision. The fact is that intactivists oppose the forced genital cutting of ALL minors, regardless of race or creed. Of all circumcisions that happen in the US, only about 3%, perhaps even less, comprises of Jewish brisim; the rest are secular, non-Jewish circumcisions that happen at hospitals. We're opposed to ALL of it.

It is dishonest for Jewish advocates of circumcision to pretend like they're being "singled out," when this clearly isn't the case. Little by little people are seeing through this smear tactic, as more and more people have the courage to speak out, despite the threat of being labeled Nazi-Germans.

Jewish Intactivists Galore
Now as I've said earlier in this post, circumcision is not exclusive to Jews. But furthermore, intactivism is not exclusive to gentiles. Some of the most outspoken voices in the intactivist movement happen to be Jewish. In this blog post I include a list, which is by no means complete, of some of the most outspoken Jewish intactivists.

At least one young man has written an open letter to the mohel who circumcised him. Shea Levy is to be commended for the courage to challenge tradition, and to challenge the very man who cut off part of his penis.

Shea Levy

Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home, is author to the revolutionary documentary CUT: The Film, which examines the subject of male circumcision from a religious, scientific and ethical perspective. In addition to writing the OpEd "Outlawing Circumcision: Good for the Jews?" for the Jewish Daily Forward, he has also participated in other intactivist demonstrations.

 Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon wearing tefillin in protest against the latest AAP Statement
"When considering the practice of female genital cutting, we don’t start from a neutral position of 'I wonder whether there are any health benefits to permanently altering the genitals of baby girls? Let’s set up some studies and see what kinds of diseases cutting off clitorises can prevent!' We don’t do this, because we understand the very basic concept that cutting away healthy, functional tissue in the hopes of preventing potential disease is just bad medicine."
~Eliyahu Ungar Sargon

An interview with Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

Cultural anthropologist Leonard Glick, MD, PhD, is the author of Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America. Glick became aware of the role of circumcision in Jewish history during the 1990s, while working no his first book, Abraham's Heirs: Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe. This was the catalyst that led him to research on the entire subject of circumcision. Glick is a father of three sons, all of whom were circumcised; he admits he hadn't given the practice a second thought when they were born. Through his research, he became "totally convinced that cutting the genitals of infants and children, girls or boys, is fundamentally evil. And that is why I am an intactivist." Glick describes himself as a "scholarly activist." He regularly sends letters to legislators, marches in protests, and gives lectures on Judaism and the history of circumcision.

 Leonard Glick MD, PhD
"The fact that I am opposed to this anachronistic, barbaric behavior has nothing to do with the fact that I am Jewish.... Children, whether male or female, of any race or ethnicity or background, have the right to their own physical integrity... No one, no parent, no adult, no one has the right to deprive a child of any part of his or her body without extreme medical emergency justification."

An interview with Leonard Glick

Dean Edell is a Jewish-American physician and broadcaster who hosted the Dr. Dean Edell radio program, which aired live from 1979 until December 10, 2010. In his own words, he has had "a long and vociferous opposition to the practice of routine male circumcision." Edell had fathered three boys whom he agreed to circumcise before he became an intactivist. Subsequently, he fathered two boys whom he refused to circumcise, and became one of the most outspoken opponents of circumcision.

In recent years, Edell has also strongly criticized the ongoing "mass-circumcision campaigns" in Africa. "The idea, that we Westerners are going to march into Africa... and are going to... perform an operation on millions and millions of men, when we refuse to feed [them], get them useful jobs, and bring them fresh water, is so naïve that it expresses to me the true desperation of the circumcision lobby."

Dr. Dean Edell

The following is an excerpt from one of his broadcasts:

"How do I do this without getting some friends very, very mad...

Are you ready?

Amongst speakers, at the CDC's National HIV prevention conference in Antlanta, which is happening, gonna be happening right now, amongst the speakers is a physician from Operation Abraham, an organization based in Israel, named for the Biblical figure who was circumcised at an advanced age according to the book of Genesis, the group trains doctors in Africa to perform circs on adult men to reduce the spread of HIV.

Two things.

First they had to stop the study, because they found indeed, that it didn't help at all in spreading HIV to women. So it doesn't seem even to be effective there, AND, the recommendation is men still have to wear condoms with every intercourse, where in Africa men think they get circed "I'm not gonna need a condom." But the heavy recommendation is you DO NOT stop using condoms, so then WHAT IS THE POINT? In Africa?

But here's my point.

Of what interest is it to Israelis, of what the rest of the world does?

Now I can say this because I'm Jewish.

And I think when Jews stick their necks out here and become the world's most vociferous proselytizers for circumcision, when it is our paticular religious rite, it would be like Catholics telling me not to use birth-control, I resent that. And when they try to inflict it into public policy, then you really get me blowing smoke out my ears.

We have no business telling other people what to do. It's like telling other people not to eat pork, like telling other people not to drive their cars on Friday. It is not the place.

And you understand the deep fear that Jews have about all of this, is in WWII, they pulled men's pants down [and] if they were circumcised you went off to the concentration camp. So there's a deep scar there.

And, um, this is not said, I'm the only person you'll ever find that say this, will admit this, that Jews feel more secure among populations where people are circumcised.

I know, I know. It's only been 50 years, but never the less. The memory I hope, you know, will be long.

All I've got to say is, very well said. Dr. Dean Edell is to be commended for having the courage to tell it like it is.

An interview with Dr. Dean Edell

Few people may know this, but radio talk show host Howard Stern is very outspoken against the practice of neonatal circumcision. He has openly resented the fact that he was circumcised on more than one occasion. On at least one occasion, he hosted inventor of the TLCTugger foreskin restoration device Ron Low on his show.

"You know, my mother is so into 'natural'. Everythi- , 'The body is beautiful,' you should hear the rap. 'The body is beautiful, we should leave things natural...' So, she wouldn't get me braces. My teeth were as crooked as a four-way intersection in Washington DC, and green, and bu-bu-bu- wouldn't get me braces, My teeth were so wrecked because 'naturally the body will heal itself.' She's like a Christian Scientist. ... but the penis? Right out the window!" 
~Howard Stern

Jonathan Friedman, an Orthodox Jew who attended yeshiva through high school, is the founder of IntactNews, a news organization for the intactivist movement. He is also currently a Projects Coordinator at Foregen, a nonprofit founded to provide therapies for foreskin regeneration using regenerative medicine.

Jonathan Friedman, IntactNews, Foregen

I believe this is what has happened to all Jewish males, as well as the majority of non-Jewish males in the USA: we’ve been hijacked by abusive authority figures of the past. Whether it's the Victorian-era doctors, bent on perpetuating their own sexual repression, or during the Maccabean Period where the Jewish priestly ruling class instituted the more severe form of brit milah that is practiced today, which includes brit peri'ah (complete foreskin ablation), we are made to suffer and cause our children to suffer in an endless cycle of trauma. It's high time we stop.

And finally, but definitely not least, and definitely not the last in the long list of Jewish intactivists, Rebecca Wald is the founder of Beyond the Bris, a blog for the purpose of uniting Jewish people who oppose neonatal circumcision. The blog is self-described as a "multimedia project created by Jewish people who are united in the belief that circumcising healthy children is harmful and unnecessary. We are the faces and voices of the current pro-intact Jewish movement." Many of the Jewish intactivists already mentioned in this blog have contributed to, or have been mentioned in Beyond the Bris

Rebecca Wald

Other notable Jewish intactivists include Ronald Goldman, Ph.D, executive director of the Jewish Circumcision Resource Center in Boston, and author of Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective and Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma (he may be contacted at, Rosemary Romberg, author of Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma, and Lisa Braver Moss, author of the book The Measure of His Grief, and many essays published in Tikkun, Parents, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

But the list doesn't end here. Readers can learn more about Jewish intactivists not mentioned here on Beyond the Bris.

A few of Beyond the Bris's contributing writers: Eli Ungar-Sargon,
Lisa Braver Moss, Dr. Mark Reiss and Rebecca Wald

Related Links:
The following are links to Jewish groups against circumcision:

The following is a Facebook group for Jews and others against circumcision:

These link to websites in Hebrew, run by intactivist groups in Israel:

The following are resources on "Brit Shalom":

"I believe circumcision is a major mistake...The code of the Jewish law is called "halacha" (the way). Within the Code, there is a provision that if a mother looses a son because of circumcision, she is NOT obligated to circumcise her next son. I extrapolate from this, the inter-connection of my human family, that enough deaths and maiming have occured because of circumcision. Therefore - circumcision is no longer a requisite! Just as we no longer practice the animal sacrifices in the traditional temple, so let us not sacrifice an important piece of our mammal in the temple of tradition."
- Rabbi Natan Segal, 2007
Rabbi of Shabbos Shul, Marin County, California, U.S.A.
Ordination: 1977 Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi Yeshiva B'nai Or Philadelphia, Pa.


"As a Jewish grandfather, I want to assure young couples about to bring a child into the world, that there are other members of the Jewish "older" generation, including other Jewish physicians, and even some rabbis, who feel as I do. If your heart and instincts tell you to leave your son intact, listen!"
- Dr. Mark D. Reiss, of Doctors Opposing Circumcision speaking to Rabbi Nathan Segal's Congregation on Kol Nidre eve.


"I am calm and comfortable in the knowledge that no one will ever take a knife to this baby's flesh in the name of religion... I am confident that my people have such an abundance of life-enhancing, life-affirming and mind-opening traditions, that our identity and sense of cultural self-heed will happily survive our outgrowing of circumcision, a cruel relic which has always felt to me like an aberration at the heart of my religion."
- Dr. Jenny Goodman
Challenging Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective (UK)


" recently as the mid-nineteenth century, in Eastern Europe and Russia there was a widespread move to stop the practice... Led by women--what a surprise!--who thought the practice barbaric and patriarchal, the movement eventually even convinced Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, who refused to allow his own son to be circumcised."
- Michael S. Kimmel, Professor, SUNY Stony Brook
TIKKUN, Volume 16, May/June, 2001.

"Coming from a European background... where many Jews reject a brit milla as an archaic and barbaric ritual... This author grew up in France in a traditional Jewish family. Not a single male of her generation or her children's generation within her large family (or in her circle of Jewish friends) was ever circumcised."
- Nelly Karsenty
Humanistic Judaism, 1988; 16(3): 14-20.


"I should like to suggest to my fellow Jews that perhaps the time has come to redeem the foreskin itself, rather than sacrifice it. Surely some substitute might be found for this rite, ... that would be preferable to this assault upon and mutilation of a newborn infant..."
- Professor George Wald, M.D
Harvard University Professor, Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine


" would be anti-Semitic of us if we didn't defend Jewish babies along with other children. We respect what is beautiful in every religion or culture and speak out against what is brutal. All cultures and religions are capable of evolving."
- Mary Conant, R.N. and Betty Katz Sperlich, R.N. (a Jewish mother), founding members of "Nurses for the Rights of the Child", America's largest union of Nurses who refuse to participate in circumcisions.

"I was raised as a Jew and yet I never even considered circumcising my sons. Reason told me that God or nature doesn't make mistakes. Obviously there is a vast intelligence behind all of life, and just as our eyes have eyelids to protect them, foreskins must serve a similar purpose.
When all is said and done, circumcision is really a human rights issue. What right do any of us have to permanently remove a normal, healthy, sensitive part of another person's body without their consent? I have no problem with an adult male who chooses to be circumcised. I do have a problem with an adult who makes that decision for a child. I have known too many men, both Jewish and Christian, who resent the fact that they were circumcised."
- Laura Shanley


" can be found from many Jewish sources for the view that circumcision of infants is unethical and should therefore be abandoned... Now is the time to lay the knife aside and to move forward into the 21st century with a form of ritual that is truly welcoming and that is truly purely symbolic."
- J. Goodman, MD
Jewish circumcision: an alternative perspective. BJU Int 1999; 83 Suppl 1:22-27.


"AS AN INCREASING NUMBER OF AMERICANS - including a sizable number of American Jews  - question the act of male circumcision , a group of San Francisco activists are advocating to ban circumcision... Many of the leading activists against circumcision around the country are Jewish."
Jerusalem Post, Challenging the Circumcision Myth, April 10, 2011

"In Israel, opposition to circumcision has happened in just two decades, and now these “rebels” number in the tens of thousands, according to Ronit Tamir, founder of Kahal, a support group for parents who choose not to circumcise their children."
Jewish World, 3/11/2010.

1 comment:

  1. This fine post omits two names.

    Miriam Pollack, whose writings introduced me to the revolt of some Jewish individuals against brit milah.

    Edward Wallerstein, the author of Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy (1980). Reading this book 30 years ago turned me into an intactivist.

    Thank you for citing Nelly Karsenty and Jenny Goodman.