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Circumcision in Germany is now illegal
June 27, 2012 10:19 AM   Subscribe

A German court has ruled that male circumcision is "bodily harm" and that a child's right to "physical integrity" trumps parental or religious rights. Jews and Muslims have reacted strongly to the decision, with some going as far to allege anti-Semitism. Intactivists are generally pleased.
posted by mrgrimm (493 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
intactivists
posted by LogicalDash at 10:22 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


"This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later about his own religious affiliation"

Wow, talk about the right move for the wrong reasons
posted by MangyCarface at 10:22 AM on June 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


intactivists

It's just a little bit that got cut off, no need to make a fuss.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:23 AM on June 27, 2012 [72 favorites]


Perhaps I shouldn't feel this way, but the fact that it's Germany doing this makes it extra-scary.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:25 AM on June 27, 2012 [17 favorites]


Value judgements aside, this is about...

Removing the protective sheath of one of the most sensitive (and joyfully so) parts of the male anatomy.

While said male is unable to vocalize anything but a binary pleased/not to pretty much anything.

In the name of something that must've seemed strange, even 2000-odd years ago.

Anti-semitism it isn't. It's pro-peen, through and through.
posted by flippant at 10:25 AM on June 27, 2012 [78 favorites]


Genital Integrity for All!

Raises Intactivist* penis of solidarity...
posted by Skygazer at 10:25 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Inactivists are generally pleased.

Thanks to those of you who pointed out that the word is supposed to be "intactivists", because I didn't realize that it was a misnomer and just thought, "You'd think the inactivists wouldn't bother to care."
posted by orange swan at 10:26 AM on June 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


Inactivists, as usual, stayed home.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:27 AM on June 27, 2012 [28 favorites]


So the articles don't mention at what age a boy could be circumcised, should he choose. 18? What age do you have to be to get body piercing or tattooed in Germany, and would that be comparable?

If it doesn't get overturned, I can see two forms of backlash; underground procedures, or a rash of "medical necessity" circumcisions. Or maybe people just going out of the country to do it.
posted by emjaybee at 10:28 AM on June 27, 2012


Not even Chloe Smith would have anything to do with this discussion.
posted by fullerine at 10:28 AM on June 27, 2012


Not showing in a theater near you in Inactivision.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:29 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


[Fixed the typo.]
posted by cortex at 10:29 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


What age do you have to be to get body piercing or tattooed in Germany

If the Germans I've known are any indication, these are inborn traits.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:29 AM on June 27, 2012 [15 favorites]


Perhaps I shouldn't feel this way, but the fact that it's Germany doing this makes it extra-scary

That's pretty xenophobic, you're right. Do you have any rational reason for feeling that way, or just, like, ignorance?
posted by howfar at 10:33 AM on June 27, 2012 [66 favorites]


There is an almost unavoidable risk of this being a rehash of a circumcision debate that has never, and will never, be resolved on this site. Can we mutually agree that this is something we disagree about, and instead focus on some of the other details of this story?

I'm interested in the fact that this was a local court that made the decision, and that it may have national ramifications; that the remainder of German may be bound by it. I am curious about Germany's court system -- if a local court decided to ban some less controversial aspect of a religion, such as the muezzin's call to prayer, it sounds like this would also be a ruling that the rest of the country might also be bound by. How does that work, and what protections are built in to make sure that a judge with strong opinions doesn't foist them on the rest of the country?

Anybody familiar with the German court system able to address this?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:33 AM on June 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


Anti-semitism it isn't. It's pro-peen, through and through.
posted by flippant at 10:25 AM on June 27 [+] [!]


Eponysterical.
posted by R. Schlock at 10:33 AM on June 27, 2012


Thanks for the fix. Unfortunate typo ...
posted by mrgrimm at 10:34 AM on June 27, 2012


Oh look, Bunny Ultramod is ultramodding!
posted by R. Schlock at 10:34 AM on June 27, 2012 [21 favorites]


That's pretty xenophobic, you're right. Do you have any rational reason for feeling that way, or just, like, ignorance?

There's one big historic answer that you may be overlooking.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:34 AM on June 27, 2012 [25 favorites]


The Smegma Preservation Society issued an amicus brief.
posted by delfin at 10:35 AM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


...some less controversial aspect of a religion, such as the muezzin's call to prayer...

Does Germany have something at the national level akin to the United States freedom of religion that such a ruling would run afoul of?

It seems the distinction here is with respect to bodily autonomy and consent, which in this particular example happens to overlap with some particular religious traditions.
posted by odinsdream at 10:36 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The article in the Commentary Magazine is a little too excited.
posted by Jehan at 10:36 AM on June 27, 2012


There's one big historic answer that you may be overlooking.

I'm not overlooking anything, but nor am I getting into the argument. It's your problem.
posted by howfar at 10:36 AM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


A court in Germany has ruled that circumcising young boys for religious reasons amounts to bodily harm.

Obviously, obviously, obviously. Parents should not the right to mutilate their children. Full stop.

Ironic that a German court would have to point that for Jewish and Muslim parents, but good for them.
posted by three blind mice at 10:36 AM on June 27, 2012 [22 favorites]


I'm not overlooking anything, but nor am I getting into the argument. It's your problem.

I don't understand what this means.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:37 AM on June 27, 2012


Fair enough.
posted by howfar at 10:38 AM on June 27, 2012


freedom of religion

Also means the freedom to not have any religion which in my opinion is the more precious aspect of religious freedom and the one which needs all the support the law can offer.
posted by three blind mice at 10:39 AM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


The persistence of Germanic panic in the Anglosphere is astounding.

Seriously, this is a decision by a court in an exceedingly liberal modern democracy, which is intended to protect the rights of children to their bodily integrity until such time as they might decide, voluntarily and autonomously, for body modification.

This has fuck-all to do with the real or imagined proclivities of ethnic Germans, and everything to do with the rights of children.
posted by edguardo at 10:40 AM on June 27, 2012 [115 favorites]


Cases like this do raise interesting issues about the intersection between absolute standards set by governments (often with the best of intentions) and religious practices that contravene those standards but are absolutely integral to the religious practice and identity of minority groups.

The same thing with the ban on the slaughter of un-stunned cattle as in Kosher and Halal traditions. On the one hand, it's great to see attention being paid to animal welfare and granting exceptions to those welfare rules for religious reasons would seem to create an untenable privileged position for religious groups. On the other hand, slaughter is hardly the only unfortunate part of the life of a cow and granting rights to non-human animals is no more logical than believing in religious food prescriptions.

Of course we can reason that if these practices were not already established parts of major religions, and some small group started engaging in them then we certainly wouldn't carve out a legal exception for them. That's true, but it also isn't the reality that exists today and given the central importance of these rituals to the identity of the groups in question I think that it isn't unreasonable to allow for exceptions to the rules. Obviously there is some harm associated with letting people perform medically unnecessary surgery on their infant children, but I think that in this case the harm is fairly minor and the contrary harm of not allowing them to follow millennia of ethnic and religious tradition is much greater.
posted by atrazine at 10:40 AM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hitler never dropped his drawers for doctors because he was keeping the status of his foreskin a secret.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:41 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


UK Human Rights Blog has a good analysis.
posted by plep at 10:41 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


This has fuck-all to do with the real or imagined proclivities of ethnic Germans, and everything to do with the rights of children.

And yet it takes away the absolute defining male symbol of an ethnic heritage, based on an understanding of the rights of children that is very much in dispute, and on which reasoned adults can disagree without forcing their disagreements on each other.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:42 AM on June 27, 2012 [24 favorites]


I wonder about the judge. Is it a well-respected judge or one of those strange backwater judges who uses quaint rural expressions and makes odd inarticulate rants that get excised from judgments. I wonder how likely this is to be taken seriously.

I wonder how this can contravene human rights when it seems to obviously protect the right of the child - but I guess this will be hashed out, so good for that.
posted by Listener at 10:42 AM on June 27, 2012


> no more logical than believing in religious food prescriptions.

This is a derail, but many religious dietary prescriptions are quite logical in their context (nomadic people with no modern medicine or even soap).
posted by Burhanistan at 10:43 AM on June 27, 2012


Eh, I come down on the "don't hurt people" side. Until someone can demonstrate unequivocally that having a significant piece of one's genitals removed in infancy isn't hurting them, I gotta be against the whole circumcision thing.

That said, I do think that of all the places for a law that would seem to run directly counter to Jewish mores, Germany would be a poor choice.
posted by Mooski at 10:43 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


And yet it takes away the absolute defining male symbol of an ethnic heritage, based on an understanding of the rights of children that is very much in dispute

I was not aware that people disputed that children have a right to not be harmed. I thought the disagreement was about what level of harm parents are allowed to inflict on their children without restriction.

Historically this is a dwindling set of parental rights. It's not surprising that this one is being rethought as well.
posted by odinsdream at 10:45 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


And yet it takes away the absolute defining male symbol of an ethnic heritage, based on an understanding of the rights of children that is very much in dispute, and on which reasoned adults can disagree without forcing their disagreements on each other.
The right to have control over your body is not "very much in dispute". Not even close. There are good reasons to oppose a ban on circumcision, but this isn't it.
posted by Jehan at 10:46 AM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


We chose not to circumcise our two boys, but there seem to be benefits to circumcision. I actually had to deal with militant anti-circumcision advocates on behalf of a client if you can believe, and, man, what a weird, strange, motley, rag-tag group of people.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:46 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


From the "antisemitism" link:

The ruling baldly claimed circumcision inflicted “damage” on children and could not be protected by freedom of religion, though there is no rational reason for anyone to believe this is the case.

Two paragraphs previous to this:

The case, which stemmed from a botched circumcision of a Muslim child,

Smack my ass and call me Neville, but I'm not really seeing the specter of Hitler, here...
posted by Sing Or Swim at 10:46 AM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm circumcised. I'm not Jewish. I do not feel I was harmed by this process and have in fact always been grateful I don't have to deal with dick smegma, but thanks, German judge, for protecting victims like me from shit I never asked to be protected from.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:46 AM on June 27, 2012 [29 favorites]


If it doesn't get overturned, I can see two forms of backlash; underground procedures, or a rash of "medical necessity" circumcisions. Or maybe people just going out of the country to do it.

I don't think there's much to fear in the way of back alley circumcisions. Germany is a relatively small country that borders on nine others. The only real barrier to getting a kid circumcised is a brief car ride.

Meh.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:46 AM on June 27, 2012


I was not aware that people disputed that children have a right to not be harmed. I thought the disagreement was about what level of harm parents are allowed to inflict on their children without restriction.

I would read through any of the previous threads on this subject. Or, for that matter, anything. And I would politely suggest that framing it in terms of "harming a child" is not engaging in good faith arguing.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:47 AM on June 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


Having done some reading on female circumcision, the less extreme forms are very much like male circumcision. Given wide-spread condemnation of underage female circumcision in western countries, people are drawing natural parallels.

For the record, I would stand by any woman (or man) who wished to choose circumcision; on a policy side, I would just say that it should be after 18, so that they have the best chance of being able to make the choice for themselves. (Male and female circumcision in many places in Africa are both traditionally coming-of-age/adulthood rituals).
posted by jb at 10:47 AM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Saying that an opposing viewpoint is- by sole virtue of you disagreeing with it- "not... engaging in good faith arguing" is so quintessentially Metafilter of you.
posted by hincandenza at 10:48 AM on June 27, 2012 [26 favorites]


For years, circumcision was strongly encouraged by medical authorities in the US on health and hygenic grounds. So it's a little weird seeing how now the debates around circumcision seem to focus solely on circumcision's role in religious superstitions and traditions.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:48 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm circumcised. I'm not Jewish. I do not feel I was harmed by this process and have in fact always been grateful I don't have to deal with dick smegma, but thanks, German judge, for protecting victims like me from shit I never asked to be protected from.
Before this discussion goes any further, it is worth remembering that outside of religion, circumcision is not usual in any part of Europe. The idea that men would get circumcised for any reason other than religious belief is pretty alien.
posted by Jehan at 10:49 AM on June 27, 2012 [35 favorites]


I would read through any of the previous threads on this subject. Or, for that matter, anything. And I would politely suggest that framing it in terms of "harming a child" is not engaging in good faith arguing.

Perhaps you will note that I have engaged in said previous threads on this subject, and I'll restate that it seems quite obvious that this act is physically harmful. Whether it's a net benefit, or of cultural value, certainly can be hashed out.
posted by odinsdream at 10:49 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


For years, circumcision was strongly encouraged by medical authorities in the US on health and hygenic grounds. So it's a little weird seeing how now the debates around circumcision seem to focus solely on circumcision's role in religious superstitions and traditions.

Because most of the claims were unsupported.

Except for the fact that circumcised men are less likely to contract AIDs from PIV sex - which is why some groups are promoting adult male circumcision in places in Africa where it is not part of the culture.
posted by jb at 10:51 AM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is cutting edge news....
posted by mfoight at 10:51 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Saying that an opposing viewpoint is- by sole virtue of you disagreeing with it- "not... engaging in good faith arguing" is so quintessentially Metafilter of you.

My complaint was not about disagreement, but about framing. I will not discuss circumcision if others insist that it is a discussion of "harming a child," any more than I will discuss abortion in terms of murdering a child. It is a framing device designed to make one side inherently wrong, and that goes just fine in a world where we don't want to discuss a subject, but not so well in a world where there is more than one opinion and we start from a presumption that the other side has thought about their viewpoint and has a right to be heard and judged according to the quality of their ideas.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:52 AM on June 27, 2012 [22 favorites]


[Fixed the typo.]

Glad you nipped that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:52 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Germany would be a poor choice.

Yes, but modern Germany is an excellent choice. Like Nixon going to China, the Germans of all people must be scrupulously careful to not let their history of anti-semitism influence the modern state. Today's Germany is nothing like your grandmother's Germany. You gotta give those krauts credit for the progress they have made.

The only real barrier to getting a kid circumcised is a brief car ride.

Not if they view this as female genital mutilation is viewed. Taking a child abroad for the purpose of FGM is illegal in most European countries.
posted by three blind mice at 10:52 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


and I'll restate that it seems quite obvious that this act is physically harmful.

"it's pretty obvious" is not exactly a sound basis for a medical opinion.
posted by The World Famous at 10:52 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm interested in the fact that this was a local court that made the decision, and that it may have national ramifications; that the remainder of German may be bound by it. I am curious about Germany's court system -- if a local court decided to ban some less controversial aspect of a religion, such as the muezzin's call to prayer, it sounds like this would also be a ruling that the rest of the country might also be bound by.

This decision isn't binding on anyone and in general courts in Civil Law jurisdictions don't play the same role in forming the law as they do in England & the US.

This is a derail, but many religious dietary prescriptions are quite logical in their context (nomadic people with no modern medicine or even soap).

Certainly true, but even when I lived in the Hejaz I had a shower. Similarly, Muslim inheritance law is actually better for women than what it replaced but that doesn't mean it should still be used today.
posted by atrazine at 10:53 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


For years, circumcision was strongly encouraged by medical authorities in the US on health and hygenic grounds.

As a "cure" for the "unhealthy" practice of masturbation, for example.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:53 AM on June 27, 2012 [21 favorites]


I'll restate that it seems quite obvious that this act is physically harmful.

So is a great deal of what is done to children. Would you come into a thread about vaccines and frame it as a discussion about the harm done to a child because they have a needle put in their arm?

But I can see that this thread is one in which people wish to congratulate them that their viewpoint is the right one, and not discussion the specifics of this case, so I will see myself out.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:54 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Protecting children from unnecessary and irreversible genital surgery seems reasonable enough.

Not being comfortable with having the German government outlaw Jewish religious customs seems reasonable enough.

Tough choices today on the outrage farm.
posted by Winnemac at 10:55 AM on June 27, 2012 [49 favorites]


So the articles don't mention at what age a boy could be circumcised, should he choose. 18? What age do you have to be to get body piercing or tattooed in Germany, and would that be comparable?

The minimum legal age to get tattoos (and I assume piercings as well) is 16, regardless of parental consent. The legal age where one will be allowed to make the decision to cut a part of their penis off, I would assume will be 18, and will find very few takers.

Now back to the predictable Germany-bashing...
posted by cmonkey at 10:55 AM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I would politely suggest that framing it in terms of "harming a child" is not engaging in good faith arguing.

We are talking about infant genital mutilation.

The fact that something is "traditional" doesn't mean it's right, or just. It doesn't mean it's not barbaric, or that people should be entitled to keep doing it to their own kids just because.
posted by mhoye at 10:55 AM on June 27, 2012 [41 favorites]


Hey guys, let's not do anything permanent to anyone's body without their permission, even if we happen to be closely related to them. So for kids, we could just, you know, wait until they grow up and decide for themselves.

Children aren't chattel.
posted by edguardo at 10:56 AM on June 27, 2012 [36 favorites]


"Perhaps I shouldn't feel this way, but the fact that it's Germany doing this makes it extra-scary"

Sorry to say agreeing with Howler here.

Also, please folks, whatever your feelings on the issue, don't compare "female circumcision" with male circumcision because the two things are not comparable. Read a description of the operation wrongly described as female circumcision which is really an extreme genital mutilation and removal of the clitoris, among other things, before you compare the two.

I am the not sorry mom of 4 circumcised boys, not for religious reasons, just signed the consent in the hospital and do not feel any grave harm was done. My father had to have it done as an adult for recurrent medical problems, and that was no fun at all. The law should stay out of this, especially German law.
posted by mermayd at 10:56 AM on June 27, 2012 [14 favorites]


And I would politely suggest that framing it in terms of "harming a child" is not engaging in good faith arguing.

There is a great diversity of opinions on the subject. It's really easy to see how someone would come at it from the perspective of circumcision harming a child. The other aspects of the practice might be more salient to you, but your differing choices of framing do not represent "not engaging in good faith arguing".

On preview:
Would you come into a thread about vaccines and frame it as a discussion about the harm done to a child because they have a needle put in their arm?

If someone did, you could say "BAD FAITH! I'M OUT!" or you could say "this is a situation with tradeoffs; here are the benefits". You might actually change someone's mind.
posted by Jpfed at 10:57 AM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


And where would people stand on the side of ear piercings for infants?
posted by Peach at 10:57 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not much for prohibition here, because the last thing we need is underground circumcisions, but I think it's quite obvious that we need this kind of dialogue -- and much more so in the US, South Korea, and other countries which routinely circumcise sans the religious reasoning.

Also, it's interesting that much of the judge's ruling seems to hinge on religious freedom: to wit, the child's freedom to choose a religion other than his birth religion, or to choose no religion. I'd like to see this discussed, given that people seem opposed to discussing the "harm" angle.
posted by vorfeed at 10:58 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


And yet it takes away the absolute defining male symbol of an ethnic heritage, based on an understanding of the rights of children that is very much in dispute, and on which reasoned adults can disagree without forcing their disagreements on each other.

Isn't the issue that it isn't chiefly those adults who might be having things forced on them at the end of all that disagreeing?
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 10:58 AM on June 27, 2012


> And where would people stand on the side of ear piercings for infants?

It's pretty fucking stupid, and I'm constantly surprised when I see someone who is otherwise intelligent do such a thing. Life is weird.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:59 AM on June 27, 2012 [17 favorites]


My guess is there will likely be an exodus of Jewish (see what I did there) and Muslim Germans from Germany. This is a pretty important issue for them.
posted by orange swan at 10:59 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good on them. The fact that we needlessly modify (if not necessarily mutilate) our children's genitals without consent is sickening. The fact that if you say so to most people you'll get at most a shrug is moreso.

As a Jew I hate this tradition. As a gay man I am pleased I will most likely never have to make this decision. Also as a Jew I inwardly blanched at the German thing. But I got over that within 2 seconds. Again, good on them.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:00 AM on June 27, 2012 [29 favorites]


Good on 'em. Fuck circumcision.
posted by Sternmeyer at 11:01 AM on June 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


The fact that something is "traditional" doesn't mean it's right, or just. It doesn't mean it's not barbaric, or that people should be entitled to keep doing it to their own kids just because.
No. But the practicality of banning circumcision is too hard, and may make it worse for those in religions which require it. If circumcision is unlawful, and doctors bound to report instances so that parents can be convicted, sick children could be kept away from care that they need for fear of being discovered. Likewise, training and support to deliver circumcisions may become patchy if it is only available "underground", leading to far more dangerous operations.

Circumcision can't be banned in any real way, but people must be won over to the belief that it is wrong.
posted by Jehan at 11:02 AM on June 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


So is a great deal of what is done to children. Would you come into a thread about vaccines and frame it as a discussion about the harm done to a child because they have a needle put in their arm?

I would, and I would also continue that line of argument with "...and it is worth inflicting that harm because of XYZ"

Would you mind doing the same here?
posted by odinsdream at 11:02 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


saulgoodman: I do not feel I was harmed by this process and have in fact always been grateful I don't have to deal with dick smegma

He was a nice guy. Taught my defensive driving class.
posted by dr_dank at 11:02 AM on June 27, 2012 [18 favorites]


Comparing pierced ears to circumcision is rather silly. I had pierced ears when I was 16, but I no longer have pierced ears -- the holes grew shut a couple years after I stopped wearing jewelry in them. Circumcision is permanent surgery.
posted by vorfeed at 11:03 AM on June 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


Read a description of the operation wrongly described as female circumcision which is really an extreme genital mutilation and removal of the clitoris, among other things, before you compare the two.

Getting a bit off topic, but doesn't the term FGM cover a large range of procedures, the removal of the clitoris being on the extreme end, but also including "ritual nicks"?
posted by ODiV at 11:03 AM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Doctors in the US still often recommend circumcision to minimize risk of uterine infection in newborns.

And no, those benefits are not made up; there's data supporting them.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:03 AM on June 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


Circumcision can't be banned in any real way, but people must be won over to the belief that it is wrong.

Yes, because religious people are so open to rational criticism of their traditional practices.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 11:03 AM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Circumcision is a 6,000+/- year old tradition that never caused much harm*, and which is of extreme symbolic importance to (many) Jews and Muslims. A lot of them are going to receive this as "Germany just made me illegal." I can see some going so far as "Germany does not want me to procreate."

In a field with some very capable competition, this is the dumbest thing I've heard all year.


*I'm living proof.
posted by sensate at 11:05 AM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


> And where would people stand on the side of ear piercings for infants?

It's pretty fucking stupid, and I'm constantly surprised when I see someone who is otherwise intelligent do such a thing.


Stupid enough that you think that there should be an actual law forbidding the practice?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:05 AM on June 27, 2012


Abraham circumcised himself as an adult, didn't he? Does the bible/torah specifically state that it must be done as a child?
posted by stavrogin at 11:05 AM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


In principle, I agree that circumcision should be administered only with the individual's consent. However, the level of harm inflicted by the procedure (minimal, in the majority of cases) suggests that it does not merit a legal proscription.

Also, I'm not an expert in the German legal system, but I think that this judge's decision does not, in effect, outlaw the practice. Precedent is subordinate to statutory law in the civil system. Though this decision is still likely to influence the behavior of doctors. Correct me if I'm wrong, please.
posted by MetalFingerz at 11:06 AM on June 27, 2012


Doctors in the US still often recommend circumcision to minimize risk of uterine infection in newborns.

Urinary tract infections; uterine would be highly unlikely.
posted by elizardbits at 11:06 AM on June 27, 2012 [43 favorites]


Until someone can demonstrate unequivocally that having a significant piece of one's genitals removed in infancy isn't hurting them, I gotta be against the whole circumcision thing.

There must be a hell of a lot of data already (millions and millions of men who were or were not circumcised can be compared). If it was doing significant long-term damage, I think you'd be able to prove it now beyond a reasonable doubt.
posted by pracowity at 11:07 AM on June 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yes, because religious people are so open to rational criticism of their traditional practices.
At least in Islam, the timing of circumcision is traditionally far more movable. It may well be possible to convince not insignificant numbers of people to leave the rite until 16.
posted by Jehan at 11:07 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Afroblanco: Perhaps I shouldn't feel this way, but the fact that it's Germany doing this makes it extra-scary
Jehan: The article in the Commentary Magazine is a little too excited
Yeah, no kidding, although a quick click on "About" for that site shows that they're basically a magazine about Jewish issues, so no surprise they'd be a bit axe-grindy about this particular issue. And as edguardo stresses, modern day Germany bears very little resemblance to its history in the first half of the last century. Riffing on the idea that this is somehow 'scary' or the first signs of resurgent anti-semitism in Germany is just hyperbole.

I don't see the kerfuffle here; I was not aware there were any specific medical benefits to circumcision at all, and that while I (not Jewish) was circumcised in the mid-1970's when that was apparently something you do more for cultural reasons that had hit the mainstream, it's no longer in vogue medically. Is there any believed medically necessary reason to get circumcised (the comparison to vaccines above is... um... questionable)?

Because otherwise, it seems circumcision is a form of genital mutilation which is done solely for religious/ethnic purposes, and seems hard to justify on those grounds- a person could choose to be circumcised at age 18 of their own consent, no? So is there any comparable surgical procedure that is medically unnecessary, yet still done to an infant/child well before they could possibly consent, which is considered okay?
posted by hincandenza at 11:07 AM on June 27, 2012


Also, it's interesting that much of the judge's ruling seems to hinge on religious freedom: to wit, the child's freedom to choose a religion other than his birth religion, or to choose no religion. I'd like to see this discussed, given that people seem opposed to discussing the "harm" angle.
posted by vorfeed at 10:58 AM on June 27 [+] [!]


I agree- this was the part that struck me as most interesting. I've never framed the act in that kind of mind, because here in the US (where I live) people get snipped for no reason other than 'sure why not!". But as someone pointed out, in Europe it's a different matter.

This is an act whose purpose is solely religious, being enacted on a person who has no way of voicing their belief for that religion. It reminds my of a previous FPP that brought up the LDS habit of baptizing the dead. Except in this case, it has actual physical ramifications. I'm against circumcising infants for other reasons, but this point alone is enough to turn me off completely.

If you don't think of it as mutilation, then fine. I can't change your mind, nor do I feel like it. But is it still ok to permanently physically alter an infant based on a religion they might not practice later on?
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:08 AM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


Abraham circumcised himself as an adult, didn't he? Does the bible/torah specifically state that it must be done as a child?

the medical benefits (protection against UTIs) only apply to newborns, so if you were persuaded to circumcise for medical reasons, and not on religious grounds, it wouldn't make any sense to do it as an adult.

Urinary tract infections; uterine would be highly unlikely.

Ha! Good catch. Of course I meant urinary tract infections.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:09 AM on June 27, 2012


How often does circumcision create complications? I've seen some that were cut a little too tight or aggressively and that looks painful. I mean, scar tissue puling taught over your [insert ribald pun here] can't feel good, can it?

I hope that wasn't out of line. I'm still haunted by that book about the twin boy whose penis was burned off in a botched circumcision and was subsequently raised as a girl. The title escapes me.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:09 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is an act whose purpose is solely religious

That's not what US doctors have been saying for years. It's interesting that there's this cultural gap between Europe and the US, but it's absolutely not the case that male circumcision in the US is seen as a purely religious practice.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:10 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Circumcision is a 6,000+/- year old tradition that never caused much harm

If you're proof of that, then any of the hundreds of kids that die from botched circumcisions every year can be counted as proof of the contrary.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 11:11 AM on June 27, 2012 [17 favorites]


This is an act whose purpose is solely religious, being enacted on a person who has no way of voicing their belief for that religion. It reminds my of a previous FPP that brought up the LDS habit of baptizing the dead.

Actually the same argument could be made for baptizing the living as well. Doesn't that happen at roughly the same age as (jewish) circumcision?
posted by elizardbits at 11:12 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Circumcision is a 6,000+/- year old tradition that never caused much harm*.....


*I'm living proof.


Please don't tell me that you're honestly, genuinely arguing that you, one single person, can be counted as "proof" for something that's happened possibly millions of times of several millennia? I'm not discounting your statement, but saying "This is true because look at how I turned out!" is not good for your argument.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:13 AM on June 27, 2012 [18 favorites]


Fritz: I wish those stats distinguished between traditional religious circumcision rites and medically administered circumcisions in hospitals in the US--because traditional circumcision is a vastly different animal than clinical circumcision.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:14 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, because religious people are so open to rational criticism of their traditional practices.

I'm going to assume that you know what you're talking about and this was not sarcastic.

Actually the same argument could be made for baptizing the living as well. Doesn't that happen at roughly the same age as (jewish) circumcision?

With regard to the LDS practice, two important things: 1. No, the LDS church baptizes at 8 years old; 2. LDS do not baptize dead people. They perform proxy baptisms on behalf of the dead, who, per the religious doctrine, then have the option of voluntarily accepting or rejecting the rite performed on their behalf - in other words, it's an offer of baptism, not a baptism. Some characterize that as a minor point, but in my experience that's always a post hoc dismissal after their argument has been made based on the prior erroneous characterization.
posted by The World Famous at 11:15 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


>>This is an act whose purpose is solely religious

That's not what US doctors have been saying for years. It's interesting that there's this cultural gap between Europe and the US, but it's absolutely not the case that male circumcision in the US is seen as a purely religious practice.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:10 AM on June 27 [+] [!]


Yes, well, it doesn't really matter how it's "seen" in the US, since we're talking about Germany here. So the stigma that this is, ultimately, a religious act still applies.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:16 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Though I agree with vorfeed that they're different, I'm closer to thinking infant ear piercings are a violation of children's bodily integrity than to thinking circumcisions aren't, even if that means making the former illegal.

I'm still haunted by that book about the twin boy whose penis was burned off in a botched circumcision and was subsequently raised as a girl. The title escapes me.

That was As Nature Made Him about David Reimer.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:16 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, well, it doesn't really matter how it's "seen" in the US, since we're talking about Germany here. So the stigma that this is, ultimately, a religious act still applies.

Is there some evidence that nobody in Germany has ever had their child circumcised for any reason other than a religious one?
posted by The World Famous at 11:17 AM on June 27, 2012


I'm circumcised. I'm not Jewish. I do not feel I was harmed by this process and have in fact always been grateful I don't have to deal with dick smegma, but thanks, German judge, for protecting victims like me from shit I never asked to be protected from.

Before this discussion goes any further, it is worth remembering that outside of religion, circumcision is not usual in any part of Europe. The idea that men would get circumcised for any reason other than religious belief is pretty alien.


Yeah, up here in the frosty north, medicare de-listed paying for it in several provinces, which means that it's an elective procedure that costs extra, and once it stopped being a check box with no consequences a lot of parents default to no. Knowing guys with or without, the 'smegma' problem is really no more awkward than dealing with having female genitalia in a sane manner (I mean washing it gently) and the sexual functioning in the guys who had the extra skin involved extra sensitivity.

I've already used this description before, but the difference between cut and uncut is that uncut retains the delicate pink structure analogous so the soft inner lips of a vulva and the motion of the foreskin stroking back and forth is awesome sexual lubricant for non-condom sex, while the head of an uncut cut cock retains all sorts of touch response. The initial push to start hacking foreskins off, in the US and up here seemed to be the erroneous belief it would but down on 'self pollution' aka masturbation.

As for the medical benefits, fixing your children the way you fix a cat would add to their natural lifespan. It's a hyperbolic example, I know, but the point holds that irreversible bit cutting, no matter how well meaning, might not be a good idea.
posted by Phalene at 11:17 AM on June 27, 2012 [29 favorites]


If this stands, my prediction is that in 20 years there will be a lot of uncircumcised Reform and Conservative Jews who don't see what the fuss is,* a decent number of young hip modern Reform Jews turning circumcision-at-18 into a badass-yet-vaguely-oldschool rite of passage (like getting a sailor tattoo or something!), some Orthodox rabbis ruling that some sort of symbolic ceremony can stand in for a bris, some Orthodox rabbis ruling that it is permissible to lie and claim medical necessity in order to get a surgical circumcision, and a tiny (perhaps rabbinically unsupported) minority of Orthodox Jews still sneaking off to Poland for an under-the-table bris.

I know a lot less about the range of Muslim beliefs and practices around circumcision, but I strongly suspect the response will be similar.

In other words, people will deal with it in various ways, and both religions will survive, as they have for centuries. People are adaptable, faith and practice change constantly, and in the long run organized religion is a lot less immune to progress than people sometimes suppose. It'll take a generation, maybe two, but they'll get there.

*Indeed, there already are uncircumcised Reform Jews who don't see what the fuss is.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:17 AM on June 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


I don't even get how this is open for debate.

We are performing unnecessary (70% of the male population is a pretty good control here) cosmetic surgery on people unable to consent.

even with some nebulous medical justification it's still absurd. Appendicitis is far more dangerous but we don't preemptively remove them.
posted by rcdc at 11:17 AM on June 27, 2012 [20 favorites]


Thank you Two or Three Cars Parked Under the Stars.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:18 AM on June 27, 2012


No, the LDS church baptizes at 8 years old;

I was talking about the majority of baptisms by Christianish religions worldwide and not specifically discussing the LDS. IIRC the majority of Christian denominations practice infant baptism.
posted by elizardbits at 11:18 AM on June 27, 2012


Actually the same argument could be made for baptizing the living as well. Doesn't that happen at roughly the same age as (jewish) circumcision?

Tellingly, because it shows how poorly this "circumcision solely as religious tradition" framing holds up in the US, I was never baptized specifically because my parents (my German mom in particular) wanted me to have the freedom to make my own religious choices.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:19 AM on June 27, 2012


Actually the same argument could be made for baptizing the living as well. Doesn't that happen at roughly the same age as (jewish) circumcision?
The same could be said for raising any child to have any belief whatsoever. The issue around circumcision is that once the individual is capable of choosing for themselves, the choice has already gone. It is trivially easy to forswear baptism if you no longer wish to belong to a religion.
posted by Jehan at 11:19 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Doctors in the US still often recommend circumcision to minimize risk of uterine infection in newborns.

You found an article showing some benefit.

Nevertheless, the American Academy of Pediatrics still advises against it.
posted by mygoditsbob at 11:19 AM on June 27, 2012 [14 favorites]


And where would people stand on the side of ear piercings for infants?

Against. No reason to put holes in a baby's earlobes, cause them pain, and introduce an infection risk so that she can be "pretty".

Making it illegal? I'd rather start with an education campaign and make it rare first.
posted by emjaybee at 11:20 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


IIRC the majority of Christian denominations practice infant baptism.

Increasingly off-topic, but there are a lot of denominations that don't baptize infants, including basically all the churches in the Baptist tradition. Not sure how this relates to the issue at hand, just correcting a misconception for the sake of accuracy pedantry.

posted by nebulawindphone at 11:22 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


>>Yes, well, it doesn't really matter how it's "seen" in the US, since we're talking about Germany here. So the stigma that this is, ultimately, a religious act still applies.

Is there some evidence that nobody in Germany has ever had their child circumcised for any reason other than a religious one?
posted by The World Famous at 11:17 AM on June 27 [+] [!]


If you're using the phrase "Nobody has ever", then I'm pretty sure you're just skewing the argument to fit your needs.

But, I'm going to answer anyway:
No, there's not evidence, because of course there have been instances where there have been circumcisions for reason other than religious. Like medical reasons for example. But since those don't apply under the law, I'm not seeing how they're applicable.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:23 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


> I would politely suggest that framing it in terms of "harming a child" is not engaging in good faith arguing.

It may not be for some of the arguments in the past that you alluded to, but in my case and in no doubt many others, it certainly is. I'm not all excited about this issue because it doesn't directly affect me, but it just seems obviously wrong to me to do this to people. We don't have to agree, but I think accusing apparently all your opponents of bad faith at a fundamental level is wrong.
posted by Listener at 11:23 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Alright, advises against it is a bit strong, but the official policy statement of the AAP indicates that there is no scientific basis to suggest that the benefit of circumcision is sufficient to justify its continuing routine use.
posted by mygoditsbob at 11:24 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bunny Ultramod: "That's pretty xenophobic, you're right. Do you have any rational reason for feeling that way, or just, like, ignorance?

There's one big historic answer that you may be overlooking.
"

Thank god Swastika's are legal in Germany... Once they let people waving Swastika's or Totenkampfs, or 88s or whatever other shit the Nazis use, I'll start worrying. Once Angela Merkel starts Goosestepping in those swank nazi outfits, I'll start worrying. Why does being anti-circumcision automatically indicate anti-semitic policy?

PRO-TIP: (get it? tip?) It doesn't. If there are any indications that the judge was anti-semitic or had any other reason other than the seemingly cruelness of unnecessarily chopping sensitive skin off without consent, then perhaps, we can start worrying, but I've seen no indication that this has anything to do with racism/anti-religious sentiment (rather it's religious in the sense that it's pro-humanism and pro-choice).
posted by symbioid at 11:26 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, please folks, whatever your feelings on the issue, don't compare "female circumcision" with male circumcision because the two things are not comparable. Read a description of the operation wrongly described as female circumcision which is really an extreme genital mutilation and removal of the clitoris, among other things, before you compare the two.

I have read several academic articles on female circumcision, including anthropology, history and medicine. There are several different forms of female genital surgery, and you cannot generalize between them. Extensive research on the effect on women's sex lives has yet to be done, but at least one study found that some forms of female circumcision did not affect a woman's ability to have an orgasm during sex unless she believed that it would do so (it was psychological, rather than physical).* Whereas some circumcised men claim that the surgery has had a detrimental effect on their sexual experience. (*I believe that this study looked at women with Types I or II, not Type III, which is the most extreme).

In many cultures that practice female circumcision, it is an extremely important coming-of-age ritual with the same kind of religious significance as male circumcision has in Judaism or Islam. In Kenya in the 1950s, being circumcised was something teenage Kikuyu girls did (sometimes to their own genitals) as an act of resistance against the colonial government. Colonial attempts to suppress female circumcision may have actually made contemporary female genital surgery more of a problem - in some places, it lead to the age of circumcision being lowered (from teenage to young child) and the whole process going underground (and thus maybe being less safe).

I don't support or oppose either male or female circumcision. But I support the right of an adult woman to choose female circumcision if she wants to, while at the same time believing that female children should not have it imposed on them before they are capable and independent enough for it to be their choice.

And I can understand why people want the same consideration for men. If it is religiously important, it can be chosen by the adult man.
posted by jb at 11:29 AM on June 27, 2012 [18 favorites]


A thought I had as I'm about to leave for work is that the US Constitution can be viewed as implicitly atheistic. Essentially, the state always trumps religious freedom when it believes an exercise of religious freedom enters a space of denying rights to others. It sort of a "your right to swing your fist [practice religion] ends at my face [denying the rights of, or harming, others]". Religious practices then are like sandboxes that exists at the will of a non-religious state, up until they curtail them.

I don't know if Germany has any similar clauses in its own constitution- can someone speak more to the OP, and let us know what the judicial and legislative situation is in Germany in terms of how this kind of ruling progresses or is denied at a national level? But at heart, it's the same idea: okay, we can tolerate your ethnic/religious practices up until you cross a [non-religious] line regarding harm. If the state feels the religious practice is one of irreversible harm, they can step in and outlaw such practice. They can also later undo this outlawing, if evidence comes that it is harmless.

Therefore, this should seem pretty non-controversial even to Jewish/Muslim people outside of those who are highly orthodox/fundamentalist. And the latter seem like the ones who'd benefit from fanning the flames of controversy, or framing this as a case of religious persecution.
posted by hincandenza at 11:31 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there some evidence that nobody in Germany has ever had their child circumcised for any reason other than a religious one?

I think it's often difficult for Americans to grok the extent to which Europeans do not share our culture of routine circumcision, but it really is done almost solely for religious or (emergency) medical reasons in Germany. The only other people likely to be choosing it would be people from countries where routine circumcision is the done thing.
posted by vorfeed at 11:31 AM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Alright, advises against it is a bit strong, but the official policy statement of the AAP indicates that there is no scientific basis to suggest that the benefit of circumcision is sufficient to justify its continuing routine use.

Clearly that means hacking off penises must be outlawed.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:34 AM on June 27, 2012


Abraham circumcised himself as an adult, didn't he? Does the bible/torah specifically state that it must be done as a child?
Yes it does. The tradition is within 8 days of being born because doing it later in life causes more pain and has higher risk of complications. It is also considered one of (if not THE ONE) the most important rituals for a newborn Jewish man.

Seriously, this is a horrible setback for Jews and Muslims alike. If you can't accept this ancient, reasonably safe, and simple procedure without yelling "PENIS MUTILATION!!!" you should seriously rethink your liberal footing for something a little more bigoted.
posted by SounderCoo at 11:34 AM on June 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


I've been on nude beaches in Germany. I can attest that I have never seen a circumsized German penis.
posted by tippiedog at 11:37 AM on June 27, 2012


The Smegma Preservation Society issued an amicus brief.

God save strawberry jam, and all the different varieties.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:39 AM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Until someone can demonstrate unequivocally that having a significant piece of one's genitals removed in infancy isn't hurting them, I gotta be against the whole circumcision thing.

There must be a hell of a lot of data already (millions and millions of men who were or were not circumcised can be compared). If it was doing significant long-term damage, I think you'd be able to prove it now beyond a reasonable doubt.


As someone who works for medical researchers, including population health types who work with "a hell of a lot of data" on a daily basis: even with lots of data, lots of things can still be in doubt.

Moreover, when you are talking about something subjective like sexual pleasure, you have further complications. And how do you compare the two states? Most men have had sex with or without a foreskin; very few have the experience of both.

The study I noted earlier (sorry - read it about 3-4 years ago, and don't have a citation) compared women in Italy who had a) been circumcised and raised elsewhere, b) been circumcised and raised in Italy, to c) women who had not been circumcised. They had relatively small numbers, but mostly they were looking for how often women said that they orgasmed (or described feelings like orgasming). But if you were to compare the quality of arousal between different people? that would be so hard.
posted by jb at 11:40 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, no kidding, although a quick click on "About" for that site shows that they're basically a magazine about Jewish issues, so no surprise they'd be a bit axe-grindy about this particular issue.

Commentary is an extremely right wing magazine about Jewish issues. Off the deep end into conspiracy theories, too. I don't think their position should be taken as indicative of anything besides the opinion of some nutters, some (most/all?) of whom happen to be Jewish.

Give me a minute and I'll track down what the German Jewish organisations think.
posted by hoyland at 11:40 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who yelled Penis Mutilation?

Does the Bible/Torah/Talmud say it needs to be done at birth for soul/religious reasons or is it for the pain/complications reasons? I honestly do not know enough about Judaism to know.
posted by Uncle at 11:41 AM on June 27, 2012


Parents should not have the right to mutilate their children.

As a circumcised (non-Jewish, non-Muslim) male I find this framing offensive. I've never had issues with the fact that my penis was circumcised when I was an infant. I probably wouldn't have had it done as an adult but I don't have any strong feelings either way. If it was going to have to be done I'm glad it was at a time when I healed faster and can't remember it.

My parents made a decision that they believed was a net benefit in spite of some temporary pain. It makes me feel like something is wrong with me and makes it sound like you're calling my parents some kind of monsters when you tell me that they mutilated me. You can talk about "unnecessary medical procedures" all you want but some calling me "mutilated", it's offensive.
posted by VTX at 11:44 AM on June 27, 2012 [36 favorites]


For those who are advocating for the "Let males decide for themselves when they are adults" attitude towards circumcision, it is only fair to acknowledge, which I haven't seen thus far in the thread, that (WARNING: GRAPHIC, POSSIBLY NSFW MEDICAL VIDEO) circumcision is a far more serious procedure in adulthood than infancy.

(Not that this necessarily negates the anti-childhood circ arguments, but just trying to provide some context to the flip "if someone wants to get circumcized he can just do it as an adult" statements sprinkled throughout the thread).
posted by The Gooch at 11:44 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why does being anti-circumcision automatically indicate anti-semitic policy?

Regardless, it automatically criminalizes a practice that is faithfully--literally, religiously--observed by nearly 100% of the Jewish population in Germany. In practical effect, it criminalizes what must seem to most observant Jews to be a routine part of being Jewish.

As a non-Jewish circumcised male, it makes me uncomfortable to know that some of my countrymen consider my parents to be monstrous child abusers and me to be a piteous sexually-mutilated victim of ritualistic abuse, so I can only imagine what it must feel like to be a practicing Jew in Germany right now--barely more than half a century after Germans rose up en mass to accuse their fellow Jewish countrymen of being inhuman monsters with blood libels.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:45 AM on June 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


And yet it takes away the absolute defining male symbol of an ethnic heritage, based on an understanding of the rights of children that is very much in dispute, and on which reasoned adults can disagree without forcing their disagreements on each other.

So the parents' ethnic heritage, and their right to enforce their ethnic heritage on a not-yet-autonomous person trumps that person's rights to freedom from unnecessary surgery and the right to accept or reject their heritage, on their own terms, according to their own conscience, later?

Would it be okay for the founder and sole member of the Cult of van Gogh to cut off their infant's earlobe as a religious identifier? If not, what is it about the fact that the religious groups that practice circumcision have more members than the hypothetical Cult of van Gogh that gives them the right to impose their symbolism on people unable to give consent, but does not extend this right to the CovG?

It sucks when efforts to avoid oppression of individuals conflict with the practices of historically oppressed groups, but rights are for protecting the weak from the strong. In this case, the weakest possible individual humans are being protected from physical violence that they lack any equipment to resist. I don't even see the controversy, here. Circumcision causes unnecessary, preventable suffering. Who suffers, exactly, when an infant is not circumcised?

I'm doing fine, masculinity-wise, without any consciously-imposed symbols and indeed without knowing very much about my own ethnic heritage at all. I don't really see the justification for harming people in order to give them something they don't need. In fact, huge swaths of human history indicate that the world would be improved considerably if people treated their cultures as menus rather than instruction manuals, and invested their egos in something other than an accident of birth. Since this thread has already been Godwinned: for example, it sure sucked last time German nationalism was a big popular thing.
posted by kengraham at 11:48 AM on June 27, 2012 [27 favorites]


Gooch, I was wondering about that. I had always assumed that circumcision was much more painful as an adult than as a child.

I had also assumed that the vast majority of circumcised men are fine with being circumcised (same with women with pierced ears, if we're going there).
posted by girlmightlive at 11:48 AM on June 27, 2012


I have read several academic articles on female circumcision, including anthropology, history and medicine. There are several different forms of female genital surgery, and you cannot generalize between them.

All the more reason why comparing the female procedure to the male one isn't a good move (unless there are several different forms of male circumcison, which would be news to me).

Who yelled Penis Mutilation?

One, two, three, four, five people in this thread, just for the record. (Okay, they maybe didn't say "penis", but my hunch is "mutilation" is the relevant word.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:48 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


To those few claiming circumcision has no benefits:

Medical male circumcision has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV transmission from HIV+ females to HIV- males. Some countries, like Uganda, are actually campaigning for men to undergo medical circumcision as a result of these findings. The WHO considers medical male circumcision a prevention strategy for HIV transmission. In an area with high HIV/AIDS prevalence, medical male circumcision is one important prevention strategy. In Germany, where the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is much lower, this benefit may not outweigh potential risks. FWIW, Uganda's campaign is aimed at males aged 15 and older, not at mothers considering routine circs for their male newborns.

Here is the WHO's statement, last updated March 2012.

The circumcision policy statement from the AAP is from 1999 (affirmed in 2005). The policy statement says that the data are not sufficient to recommend routine circumcision. Interestingly, the AAP circumcision task force is set to come out with a new set of guidelines many suppose will endorse routine circumcision.
posted by pecanpies at 11:48 AM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Aren't they also revoking the right of future adult Muslims and Jews to a painless procedure?
posted by cacofonie at 11:49 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Aren't they also revoking the right of future adult Muslims and Jews to a painless procedure?

I could be misreading/misunderstanding your question, but infant circumcision is not a painless procedure. I say this as a nurse who has seen circumcisions of male infants.
posted by pecanpies at 11:52 AM on June 27, 2012 [23 favorites]


All the more reason why comparing the female procedure to the male one isn't a good move (unless there are several different forms of male circumcison, which would be news to me).

Well, um, good news! There are indeed several forms of male circumcision, both in method and end result.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:52 AM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


As a non-Jewish circumcised male, it makes me uncomfortable to know that some of my countrymen consider my parents to be monstrous child abusers and me to be a piteous sexually-mutilated victim of ritualistic abuse, so I can only imagine what it must feel like to be a practicing Jew in Germany right now--barely more than half a century after Germans rose up en mass to accuse their fellow Jewish countrymen of being inhuman monsters with blood libels.

I don't think of (most) anyone's parents as monstrous abusers, but over time our understanding of world/ medicine/ human rights improves.

Compare seat belt and car seat usage in 1970s, 1990s and now. My parents weren't monstrous parents for not having car seats for me and my brother in 1970s, but I most certainly would at least be ignorant or careless not to have car seats for my sons now.
posted by zeikka at 11:52 AM on June 27, 2012 [26 favorites]


How far are we willing to take this "first do no harm to the children" attitude? my mother forced me and my siblings to eat squash. She said it was good for us. It tasted otherwise. Should she have been prevented from forcing us to eat squash ( and other nasty veggies) because we as children had no say? Could I have sued her?

Part of being a parent is making decisions for your children. This includes religious as well as dietary. I think the court is stretching things a bit.
posted by Gungho at 11:52 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I mean 'eating squash' isn't an irreversible medical procedure. You can choose to never eat squash again.
posted by Carillon at 11:54 AM on June 27, 2012 [17 favorites]


The WHO considers medical male circumcision a prevention strategy for HIV transmission. In an area with high HIV/AIDS prevalence, medical male circumcision is one important prevention strategy.

That is genuinely monstrous. HIV prevention, really?
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 11:55 AM on June 27, 2012


Gungho, eating squash is not an irrevocable decision.
posted by desjardins at 11:55 AM on June 27, 2012


There are no Muslim children, no Jewish infants. There are infants of Jewish parents, and children of Muslim parents.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:55 AM on June 27, 2012 [60 favorites]


I guess the broader question is: does the harm caused by this medically unnecessary procedure, with both reported risks and benefits, merit the state stepping in on and intruding on a religious ceremony of tremendous symbolic importance?
posted by cacofonie at 11:55 AM on June 27, 2012


How far are we willing to take this "first do no harm to the children" attitude? my mother forced me and my siblings to eat squash. She said it was good for us. It tasted otherwise. Should she have been prevented from forcing us to eat squash ( and other nasty veggies) because we as children had no say? Could I have sued her?

1. Did eating squash leave you permanently physically scarred for the rest of your life?

2. Who's said anything about suing?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:55 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey Fritz, all of the examples on that scare site are awful tragic stories that took place in a hospital.

Have you ever been present for religious circumcision in the home? Where the moyle does it? There is no general anesthetic (a cause of a number of deaths in your link), and no drama. Often a topical anesthetic is used. Moyles are rigorously trained, and do hundreds of them a year. I'm not saying they can't mess up, but if I have a son, when I circumcise him, it will be in my home, and moyle will do it.

And as a circumcised male, I can tell you--I am not mutilated. I have been modified, sure, but not mutilated. I accept it as an initiation into a long tradition. And even if I didn't accept it--too bad. I'm Jewish, I was born Jewish, and I have an obligation to all my fellow Jews to acknowledge my identity, even if I never practice my religion. Circumcision means that identity is inescapable. Good. Some things are bigger than individual choice.
posted by oneironaut at 11:55 AM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Those recommendations for circumcision as a step to prevent HIV in Africa are largely because due to cultural practices, monogamy and use of condoms aren't prevalent. Since the foreskin is delicate tissue that can easily bleed, circumcision removes a potential injury site and lessens the risk of blood contact. It's not like circumcision has any magical hygienic property above and beyond barrier methods in those cases. Routine condom use would still be safer.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 11:55 AM on June 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


Against. No reason to put holes in a baby's earlobes, cause them pain, and introduce an infection risk so that she can be "pretty".

That's a bit simplistic and, I must say, smacks of cultural ignorance.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:56 AM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Kitty, I agree; that's why the WHO is specifically targeting countries where cultural practices & HIV/ADS prevalence increase an individual's risk of infection. It's merely one weapon in the arsenal. No one's arguing it's a magic bullet for HIV transmission.
posted by pecanpies at 11:58 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Uncle,

Like most Biblical commands, no reasons are given in the text. But the eight day line is clear enough. In Genesis 17, God commands Abraham both to undergo circumcision and to make sure that going forward every male who is eight days old is circumcised. In Genesis 21, Abraham carries out circumcision on his eight-day-old son Isaac. In Leviticus 12 God tells Moses to say to the Israelites, "A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period." Hence, eighth-day circumcision became part of the law.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 11:59 AM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Eh, some of our cultural practices from Judaism have been happily disregarded, and the ones that remain have been modified accordingly, even within orthodox communities. It makes more sense to evaluate this one based on potential harm (moderate) versus potential gain (minimal).
posted by namesarehard at 11:59 AM on June 27, 2012


Have you ever been present for religious circumcision in the home? Where the moyle does it? There is no general anesthetic (a cause of a number of deaths in your link), and no drama. Often a topical anesthetic is used. Moyles are rigorously trained, and do hundreds of them a year. I'm not saying they can't mess up, but if I have a son, when I circumcise him, it will be in my home, and moyle will do it.

And, hey, if they're really authentic, your baby will get to die of herpes.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:59 AM on June 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


I guess the broader question is: does the harm caused by this medically unnecessary procedure, with both reported risks and benefits, merit the state stepping in on and intruding on a religious ceremony of tremendous symbolic importance?
Does a procedure having religious importance stop or override the rights of the individual to bodily integrity and autonomy? As I've already said, I don't believe the state should ban male circumcision. But to defend it on the grounds that religion trumps rights is going into some pretty murky territory.
posted by Jehan at 12:00 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


There are no Muslim children, no Jewish infants. There are infants of Jewish parents, and children of Muslim parents.

QFT. This pretty much sorts out the issue, for me. Nobody, regardless of their "ethnic heritage", owns their kid. They have some forms of temporary authority over them, and hopefully they will later be friends, but they do not possess them, and in general, it is frowned upon for a parent to cause irreversible injury to a child. I am not sure why "tradition" should get a pass.
posted by kengraham at 12:01 PM on June 27, 2012 [15 favorites]


Well, um, good news! There are indeed several forms of male circumcision, both in method and end result.

Does one of those methods involve the total removal of the penis altogether?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:02 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The phase "eating squash" is a metaphor for the hundreds, nay thousands of decisions parents must make for their children. And yes it did leave me scarred. I am suggesting the courts butt out of parental religious decisions.
posted by Gungho at 12:02 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm circumcised. I'm not Jewish. I do not feel I was harmed by this process and have in fact always been grateful I don't have to deal with dick smegma...

Smegma is a feature not a bug.
posted by fairmettle at 12:02 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


So... let me try to summarise what can be found in the German media.

-The German constitution specifically grants a right to physical integrity (German).
-The decision argues that the right of the child to physical integrity trumps the right of parents to care for their children and the right to religious freedom.
-This runs contrary to the bulk of current legal thinking in Germany.
-There are a few thousand circumcisions performed on children in Germany each year, almost all for religious reasons and almost all on Muslim children.
-None of the articles I've seen has actually quoted anyone from the Muslim or Jewish communities.
-Press release (en) from the Zentralrat der Juden.
-The kid in question was 4 at the time of the circumcision, not an infant.

It's not like circumcision has any magical hygienic property above and beyond barrier methods in those cases. Routine condom use would still be safer.

I'm working from memory, but I don't think this is the case. Or at the very least, the studies considered condom use among the circumcised and uncircumcised groups. At one point, I got into an argument on another forum about circumcision and HIV prevention with someone who was basically arguing "Africans are too stupid to use condoms" and, of all the reasons given for why the conclusions of those studies might not hold in the US or other countries (which aren't convincing, but are always included for thoroughness), monogamy and condoms aren't on the list. (From what I remember, there are different strains of HIV prevalent in the US and the areas where the studies were done (Uganda, South Africa and somewhere else, if I recall correctly), but that's not considered to matter from a public health/prevention perspective.)
posted by hoyland at 12:03 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


My case never got to the point of in-depth research, as I determined eventually that I was mentally male, but I have been told that circumcision can seriously complicate or outright prevent a successful sexual reassignment surgery.

As far as I'm concerned, that's enough right there.
posted by darksasami at 12:03 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Does one of those methods involve the total removal of the penis altogether?

You should read As Nature Made Him.
posted by Jairus at 12:04 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Right, rendering something illegal is awfully big gun for the state to use.

Not getting vaccinated isn't even illegal, and that's something of far more risk to both the baby and those around him.

I worry that circumcision is targeted entirely because of its religious connotations.
posted by cacofonie at 12:04 PM on June 27, 2012


Well, female circumcision is illegal, isn't it?
posted by steamynachos at 12:07 PM on June 27, 2012


And yes it did leave me scarred.

Physically? You're being ridiculous.
posted by desjardins at 12:08 PM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


You should read As Nature Made Him.

I did. That's a case where the surgery got profoundly fucked-up. I'm asking whether there are "circumcisions" where the total removal of the penis is the express intent.

Because the people who are claiming that female and male circumcisions are equivalent are implying that total removal of the penis is a completely and intentional variant of circumcision, and I ain't a doctor but something tells me that's not quite the case. The fact that the only example you can point to is a case where things went horribly wrong is only emphasizing that hunch in my mind.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:09 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I could be misreading/misunderstanding your question, but infant circumcision is not a painless procedure. I say this as a nurse who has seen circumcisions of male infants.

It may not be painless, but judging from the responses I've seen in cases of clinical circumcision of newborns, it can't be much more painful than getting vaccinated or getting an IV inserted, because both of those processes left the children I've seen crying longer and louder.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:10 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's usually spelled mohel, and while the drawing of blood is traditional, the using your mouth to do so isn't common.
posted by jeather at 12:11 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the HIV issue.
posted by edd at 12:18 PM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


judging from the responses I've seen in cases of clinical circumcision of newborns, it can't be much more painful than getting vaccinated or getting an IV inserted, because both of those processes left the children I've seen crying longer and louder.

Again, I might be misreading something, but it looks like you're comparing children (not newborns) getting IV sticks or vaccinations to newborns being circumcised. If so, that's not a meaningful comparison.

Also, many newborns who are being circumcised receive a dorsal penile nerve block (note that this does not necessarily mean the procedure is painless). Newborns (and children) having IV lines started typically do not receive nerve blocks, although they may receive a topical anesthetic.
posted by pecanpies at 12:18 PM on June 27, 2012


This ruling was meant to target a religion, but that religion isn't Judaism.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 12:20 PM on June 27, 2012


children (not newborns) getting IV sticks or vaccinations to newborns being circumcised

No, kids in the US get some of their first vaccines within the first couple of weeks of birth. And both my kids did short stints in the hospital with what turned out to be harmless stomach bugs in their first year. So I mean exactly what I said.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:24 PM on June 27, 2012


That's a bit simplistic and, I must say, smacks of cultural ignorance.

I'm in the Southwest and there are families here that do this. I've asked about it before, and that's the only reason I've ever been told it was done. If it has a religious significance, feel free to explain, but my argument still stands; it introduces pain and an infection risk for no medical reason on a person incapable of consent. I have pierced ears, but I got them when I was a teenager and capable of making the decision. I had friends who got nasty infections or discovered they had nickel allergies when they got their ears pierced at that age, but at least they weren't infants and were able to understand where the pain was coming from and why.

I don't think parents who circumcisized their kids are monsters, especially if you're talking a decade or more ago, when it was common practice and considered healthy by doctors.

But now, knowing that it causes pain and has no medical necessity, and is irreversible, I think it's abusive. I really don't care what cultural or religious ideals that offends. If I have to choose between "not causing an infant pain and scarring" and "offending a religious/cultural group" the group loses every time. And should lose.
posted by emjaybee at 12:25 PM on June 27, 2012 [14 favorites]


Thanks - as a nurse, I'm well aware of US vaccination schedules! I was confused by your use of the words "newborn" and "children" to refer to the same group.
posted by pecanpies at 12:26 PM on June 27, 2012


Getting a baby's ears pierced is abusive? This is too much.
posted by girlmightlive at 12:31 PM on June 27, 2012


Well, either way, I bet it would hurt a kid a lot more and in a more lasting way to walk around knowing he may be viewed by his peers as a sexually mutilated freak than to undergo the clinical procedure of circumcision as a newborn--something that I seriously doubt amounts to much more than a footnote in the psychological history of a new creature who's just gone through the cruelly traumatizing experience of passing through the birth canal and having his direct physical connection to his mother literally cut for the first time.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:32 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Nevertheless, the American Academy of Pediatrics still advises against it.

whereas, just to play dualing authorities, the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, and the CDC support it as providing incomplete but significant protection against AIDS:

Three randomized controlled trials, in Kenya, South Africa and Uganda, have
found that circumcised men are at 48–60% reduced risk of becoming infected
with HIV. Male circumcision is likely to be integrated into the current
package of HIV prevention measures, and a rapidly increased demand for safe,
affordable male circumcision services is anticipated.

(link [warning, pdf file, Male circumcision Global trends and determinants of prevalence, safety and acceptability)
posted by jfuller at 12:33 PM on June 27, 2012


I was confused by your use of the words "newborn" and "children" to refer to the same group.

Maybe I'm the confused one--is a week to two weeks old not still considered a newborn? Honest question.

posted by saulgoodman at 12:33 PM on June 27, 2012



I mean 'eating squash' isn't an irreversible medical procedure. You can choose to never eat squash again.

Vaccinations, tonsillectomies, and so are also irreversible medical procedures.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:34 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hold up --

I bet it would hurt a kid a lot more and in a more lasting way to walk around knowing he may be viewed by his peers as a sexually mutilated freak...

Saul, you're not referring to the non-circumcised child thinking he's a freak, are you? I'm not quite certain in what circumstances the "freak" would be used.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:34 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


whereas, just to play dualing authorities, the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, and the CDC support it as providing incomplete but significant protection against AIDS:

Bullshit. Read this.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:35 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


The right to have control over your body is not "very much in dispute."

Try being a woman in America who wants the right to abortion...many people dispute the right to one's own body.
posted by agregoli at 12:38 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Bullshit. Read this.

Don't tell me, tell the WHO. That's still their current recommendation.
posted by jfuller at 12:39 PM on June 27, 2012


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: Vaccinations, tonsillectomies, and so are also irreversible medical procedures.

Well, vaccinations are known to have a massive public and personal benefit. Tonsillectomies, however, are probably done far too often, yes.
posted by gilrain at 12:39 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why is pain resulting from a procedure for which there are strong medical and public-health justifications (vaccination) being compared to pain caused by a procedure with no verifiable benefit? Also, I'm not knowledgeable about the relationship between circumcision and HIV prevention, but I'm pretty sure that Germany does not have an HIV infection rate high enough to be relevant here.

What is the benefit of circumcision in Germnay that exceeds the harm (i.e. if you think the harm is small, you only have to come up with a small benefit to answer this question)? If the benefit only exists for members of certain (religious) groups, would it be better if circumcision were only allowed by members of those groups? Like, should certain ethnic or religious groups be a protected class, in terms of what their members are allowed to do to their children?

Or is this type of utilitarian viewpoint somehow not the correct one in this situation? What standards should apply in conflicts between respect for cultural traditions of minority groups and respect for human rights, when those come into conflict (and when it could be argued that the notion of human rights involved is a product of the dominant culture)?
posted by kengraham at 12:39 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would just like to suggest, in order to avoid confusion and promote clarity, that all following analogies people choose to present to circumcisions performed on infants that the following criteria please be met:

1) The thing you are comparing to circumcision be a permanent, non-reversible procedure that physically alters a person's body. As in, forever.

2) It may be helpful for clear comparison if this physical alteration is detrimental in some significant, demonstrable way.

3) The thing you are comparing to circumcision be something that is a decision of parents/medical staff/anyone in position of authority without the subject's consent. Meaning that the procedure takes place without any input from the subject.

4) Religious conditions need not apply to the analogy, I think.

Add on suggestions as you feel is appropriate.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 12:45 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ouch, complicated issue. I speak as a North American that had almost no experience with circumcised males before moving to Germany last year.

As has been pointed out above, the issue of circumcision in Germany IS a religious one. Germans are not snipped for any other cultural reason. So of course the people affected by outlawing circumcision outside medical reasons affects only Muslims and Jews (and any other religious groups that I'm not aware of).

While I personally agree that non-medically necessary procedures should not be performed on minors, the issue is sticky in Germany. First and foremost, because of the country's history. And while Germany is a different society than in the past, there are still problems with racism and integration. There are many Turks living here, for example, making up a visible Muslim minority. I've seen evidence of right-wing racism here, while not the majority of the population, there is definitely an integration divide here that results in an us-and-them mentality.

I'm not arguing that circumcision should be legal in Germany but the ramifications should be considered. We need to consider first and second generation immigrant populations that are already, at best, tolerated among many Germans. Where will these people go to circumcise their infant sons? Illegal practitioners? Go outside the country? Leave the country altogether? I think it's naive to believe that the practise will be completely abandoned. I hope that I'm wrong in thinking this.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 12:47 PM on June 27, 2012


And as a circumcised male, I can tell you--I am not mutilated. I have been modified, sure, but not mutilated. I accept it as an initiation into a long tradition. And even if I didn't accept it--too bad. I'm Jewish, I was born Jewish, and I have an obligation to all my fellow Jews to acknowledge my identity, even if I never practice my religion. Circumcision means that identity is inescapable. Good. Some things are bigger than individual choice.

posted by oneironaut

But the question I think is both important and interesting is, how many people do not approve of this entirely non-reversible decision? How many people do not accept it, and do feel as though they've been mutilated, keeping in mind that it is utterly permanent? Does their opinion not matter if the procedure is undertaken as an attempt at some 'greater good' of a religious community? Does religious physical indoctrination (sorry for the term, not sure what else I could use) trump an individual's right to choose for themselves?

I am thankful that the whole 'circumcision at adulthood is not a simple thing' was brought up upthread, but I do think the option should be something that we think about, even if we do not ultimately decide it is a truly viable option.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 12:53 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm asking whether there are "circumcisions" where the total removal of the penis is the express intent.

Why? Female circumcision doesn't remove the entire vagina and much of the clitoris is internal and uncut. It's asinine we even have to make this comparison as if we should grade out degrees of acceptable pointless non-consensual genital mutilation. It's just bad, we don't have to wring our hands about women having it worse for every issue relating to men.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:53 PM on June 27, 2012 [16 favorites]


Getting a baby's ears pierced is abusive? This is too much.

It doesn't feel like it is to me either, but I don't believe that kneejerk responses to ethical questions are the way to go. I mean it's an interesting question as to what point a piercing would be classified as abuse. I can imagine going down a list at a piercing shop and having definite feelings about which options would be abusive for a baby, but I don't think I could pin down my initial reasoning to anything except cultural norms. Piercings don't always close up, so you're sometimes making a permanent cosmetic change. And the cultural significance of these cosmetic alterations change over time.

What gauge is appropriate for a baby's piercing (and is there some sort of age to gauge ratio)? How about a nose or belly button piercing? A tattoo?

There are interesting questions around this issue and I don't think dismissing an ethical discussion out of hand because of obviousness is really helpful.
posted by ODiV at 12:54 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Whoops, I mean I had almost no exposure to UNcircumcised males before moving to Germany.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 12:55 PM on June 27, 2012


> I'm asking whether there are "circumcisions" where the total removal of the penis is the express intent.

Why? Female circumcision doesn't remove the entire vagina and much of the clitoris is internal and uncut.


And there are internal structures to the penis as well, and male circumcision doesn't also remove the vas deferens.

It's asinine we even have to make this comparison as if we should grade out degrees of acceptable pointless non-consensual genital mutilation.

I'm not saying you can't be upset about male circumcision, I'm just saying that female and male circumcisions are not equivalent.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:56 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


So I feel far too strongly on this issue, to the point that I am having a visceral reaction of extreme anger even reading this thread. So I won't comment on the ethics of the issue.

However, I thought I'd point out that the German legal system is indeed pretty different from the UK and American one. As MetalFingerz said, precedent is subordinate to statutory law. This ruling does not outlaw circumcision, but in the absence of a specific law protecting or outlawing the practice, it may affect the outcome of other legal cases on this sort of thing - or later cases may overturn the precedent. Indeed, given the contentiousness of the issue, it's unlikely a statutory law will be created.
posted by Zarkonnen at 1:03 PM on June 27, 2012


atrazine: ...the harm is fairly minor and the contrary harm of not allowing them to follow millennia of ethnic and religious tradition is much greater.

Much... greater... (*rubs eyes; re-reads)

How about if the child decides how minor the harm is?
I'm going to advocate for that rather than for the Lord's potpourri preferences and such.
I truly don't mean to be a dick but Jesus Fucking Christ.
posted by herbplarfegan at 1:08 PM on June 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: I think you're the only one using words like "equivalent" here. I'll read the thread again because I may have missed it, but I don't think anyone was making that strong a statement.
posted by ODiV at 1:08 PM on June 27, 2012



Saul, you're not referring to the non-circumcised child thinking he's a freak, are you? I'm not quite certain in what circumstances the "freak" would be used.


No, I'm saying I feel its implicit in the remarks that some have made here regarding their grave concern over the childhood victims of circumcision (like myself) that if you are circumcised, you should view yourself as a sexually mutilated person. I'm saying it feels subjectively very much like being called a freak to be told you have no choice but to view yourself as having been sexually mutilated as a child if you're circumcized, and that's what many in this thread are telling me: that I am and will always be a sexually mutilated human being because that's the only correct way to view male circumcision. I don't buy that. In fact, I think it's far more cruel than male circumcision, however painful that may be in the moment.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:09 PM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm asking whether there are "circumcisions" where the total removal of the penis is the express intent.

You are asking whether there are "apples" that are oranges.

Ritual removal of the entire external male genitalia used to happen quite a lot, as a matter of fact. It's still done in some places. But it's not "circumcision," because the definition of "circumcision" stops short of complete emasculation.

And besides, comparing the most extreme forms of female genital mutilation to its male counterparts is a useless exercise. The fact that one thing is worse than another does not mean the latter is good.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:10 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not saying you can't be upset about male circumcision, I'm just saying that female and male circumcisions are not equivalent.

Of course they aren't exactly the same, it's entirely different organs being mutilated. However, they are equivalent in many significant ways including the causing of pain, the medical pointlessness, the permanence, and the cultural backgrounds involved. They are enough the same that some comparisons can be made in this kind of conversation.

However, we don't need the "other people have it worse" stuff any time someone is a victim of a weird practice. Neck rings are a little fucked up, but the thread isn't about them so let's leave it aside for now. Foot binding was messed up, but a very common cultural practice until people made an effort to stop it. A pretty good idea even if it wasn't the worst thing in the world!
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:13 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


I truly don't mean to be a dick but Jesus Fucking Christ.

This is the most perfect sentence ever uttered in a discussion about Judaism and circumcision.
posted by The World Famous at 1:14 PM on June 27, 2012 [21 favorites]


And besides, comparing the most extreme forms of female genital mutilation to its male counterparts is a useless exercise.

That was actually precisely my point. As it was mermayd's, when she initially introduced the point.

I think you're the only one using words like "equivalent" here. I'll read the thread again because I may have missed it, but I don't think anyone was making that strong a statement.

No, but that argument has been made in other threads, and I was backing up mermayd's call to please not do that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:15 PM on June 27, 2012


No, I'm saying I feel its implicit in the remarks that some have made here regarding their grave concern over the childhood victims of circumcision (like myself) that if you are circumcised, you should view yourself as a sexually mutilated person.

No. And I say this as a circumcised male who does feel somewhat violated by the senseless mutilation of my body. (Though, honestly, not all that violated.)

It's not about self-esteem; it's about basic human rights. It's about whether we should have a say in what is done to our bodies--and we should, just like everyone should, always.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:16 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Would it be okay for the founder and sole member of the Cult of van Gogh to cut off their infant's earlobe as a religious identifier?

Probably. Under the circumstances you might want a court to evaluate whether the belief is sincere and the practitioner is sane. But, given what you've said, sure.

This court may have issued a ruling based purely and dispassionately on the basis of the relative rights of parents and children. Really. But the court may also have been swayed in part by the simple fact that circumcision is not popular among Germans -- it's something weird and foreign and other, and I would expect governmental agents in any country to find it difficult to give concerns that are other the same weight that they would give cultural concerns from their own culture, which are bound to seem natural and normal.

Anyway, I don't know where you'd want to draw the line about things that parents can choose to have done to their children for their children's ostensible benefit (even if they are very misguided about that). But I think that line ought to be drawn so that practices that are weird and foreign and different enough to make me pretty fucking uncomfortable are on the "legal" side. Things like circumcision, ear piercing, earlobe cutting, decorative scarification, tattooing, or raising children in Scientology probably ought to be things that parents can choose on behalf of their children, even though most all of them seem like pretty bad and/or stupid ideas. Better that than a national government deciding that all the stuff we like to do to our kids is fine, but stuff that other peoples do to their kids is forbidden if they happen to move here.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:17 PM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Where do people get off comparing circumcision to female genital mutilation? Hundreds of millions of men are happily circumcised; it doesn't prevent them from enjoying sex, and it makes said sex safer. The same cannot be said female genital mutilation, which is specifically designed to remove the pleasure from sex, and which frequently results in horrific complications that ruin the lives of the women it's forced upon. It's beyond moronic to compare the two.
posted by Dasein at 1:18 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Where do people get off comparing circumcision to female genital mutilation?

A couple sentences after that, apparently.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:21 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


For the record, I'm opposed to this law, because I don't think it should be a government's choice to dictate what an individual can or can't do to their own body. When it comes to the matter of children not being able to consent, I have to admit I am not certain how to resolve that question, so I have no answer yet; I can see validity to both sides of the argument.

Hell, no matter what each of us thinks is right and appropriate, or no matter what each of us thinks is wrong and crazypants, there is going to be someone out there that sincerely wants to do it to themselves, and more often than not, those people are indeed sane. I personally wouldn't get a tattoo, nor would I get cosmetic surgery, but hey, some folks want to. There are people who sincerely think that they look better with forked tongues or steel spikes in their cheeks or any number of things that I think are completely wacked out, but hey, that's their choice. So for a government to draw a bright line in the sand and say "no", I'm not certain that's a good thing, regardless of what it is you're talking about.

I can't speak to the long-term effects of circumcision on the male organ, because I do not have the aforementioned organ and can't understand it. (Although, in my admittedly limited experience with the aforementioned organ, I have found that the circumcised variety of the aforementioned organ seemed plenty sensitive, so while I do not doubt that circumcision causes some sensitivity loss, that loss does not seem to have affected quite so many people to quite so great a degree as has been sometimes claimed.) I am speaking strictly from a perspective of "government passing laws about individual choice of body integrity=bad".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:23 PM on June 27, 2012


So let's review the medical case again, shall we?

Medically documented benefits of circumcision:

1. Decreased risk of certain forms of HIV transmission unless you consider a single blog post a more authoritative source for objective medical science than the AAP, WHO, and basically, every other formally recognized authority on medical science.

2. Decreased risk of serious UTIs in early infancy, which even the wisest bloggers (Oxford affiliated or not) don't dispute.

3. No smegma.

4. Lower likelihood of causing UTIs in female sex partners.

5. Increased sexual sensitivity.

Reasons despite the above documented benefits male circumcision can only be viewed as a form of abusive sexual mutilation:

1. Religious people do it for religious reasons.
2. It's really scary to imagine getting an ouchie down there, and how much worse to imagine a helpless baby going through that.
3. Moyles sometimes use their teeth. (OK, now, this one is actually kind of icky. But it's also not very common.)
4. Some women's clitorises are forcibly removed in early adulthood in certain Muslim
countries.

However, we don't need the "other people have it worse" stuff any time someone is a victim of a weird practice.

Step a little closer and let me show you my pitiful, mutilated genitals up close and say that to me again.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:25 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dasein: it doesn't prevent them from enjoying sex

Do they have the opportunity to enjoy the sensation of their lover toying with their foreskin? No? Then, while they may not be prevented from enjoying sex, they have unarguably been prevented of a pleasure that uncircumcised men enjoy.

I don't mean to get graphic, but it's odd to me that people are arguing that you lose literally nothing when you lose your foreskin. I assume that when you've been circumcised all your life, it's difficult to imagine, but no... the foreskin is not just a superfluous flap of skin.
posted by gilrain at 1:26 PM on June 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


It's mohel, not moyle.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:27 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


For the record, I'm opposed to this law, because I don't think it should be a government's choice to dictate what an individual can or can't do to their own body.

What about what an individual can or can't do to someone else's body? What you're saying seems to support the law.
posted by darksasami at 1:27 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


For the record, I'm opposed to this law, because I don't think it should be a government's choice to dictate what an individual can or can't do to their own body.

What law are you talking about? The German ruling is about what people can or can't do to other people's bodies, not their own.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 1:28 PM on June 27, 2012 [13 favorites]


>>And besides, comparing the most extreme forms of female genital mutilation to its male counterparts is a useless exercise.

>That was actually precisely my point. As it was mermayd's, when she initially introduced the point.


Well, no. You meant compare as in "equate with," whereas I meant compare as in "weigh against," which is what you were doing.

5. Increased sexual sensitivity.


Um, what?
posted by Sys Rq at 1:30 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman: 3. No smegma.

What is wrong with smegma? That said, I have never had smegma.

5. Increased sexual sensitivity.

I'd be interested in reading about this. You said it's medically documented; can you link to that?
posted by gilrain at 1:30 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


You're right. It's not nothing. But don't just talk up the pros. Don't tell me you've never gotten it caught painfully in a zipper, too. Don't pretend you just spend your whole life getting your foreskin lovingly stroked and that's what's made all the difference in the world.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:30 PM on June 27, 2012


uncut dick just doesn't have the same visual impact when scrawled on the wall of a public facility.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 1:30 PM on June 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


3. No smegma.
This is an utterly weak justification for circumcision.
posted by Jehan at 1:31 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Skimming this thread, Lady Sovereign's "Save The Hoodie" sprang to mind for the first time in years, so cheers, guys!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:31 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


uncut dick just doesn't have the same visual impact when scrawled on the wall of a public facility.

Um, you know it retracts, right?
posted by Sys Rq at 1:32 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


For those who are advocating for the "Let males decide for themselves when they are adults" attitude towards circumcision, it is only fair to acknowledge, which I haven't seen thus far in the thread, that (WARNING: GRAPHIC, POSSIBLY NSFW MEDICAL VIDEO) circumcision is a far more serious procedure in adulthood than infancy.

Option 1: God wants this to happen.

Option 2: A handful of deluded people long ago believed God wants this to happen.
posted by odinsdream at 1:32 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


Step a little closer and let me show you my pitiful, mutilated genitals up close and say that to me again.

My genitals were cut against my will, I don't need to see yours, and you can shove the condescension up your ass. (with your consent only, of course)
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:32 PM on June 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


What law are you talking about? The German ruling is about what people can or can't do to other people's bodies, not their own.

And I admit that the fact that it's the case of parental consent is a gray area that I have no answer for. However, in the United States, a parent legally can be the one to consent on behalf of a child up to a certain point, and I wouldn't want to completely curtail that either.

Mind you, that's not a perfect answer and I know that. Parental consent standing in for individual consent presents a whole buttload of problems, and I don't know how to answer for any of them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:33 PM on June 27, 2012


saulgoodman: You're right. It's not nothing. But don't just talk up the pros. Don't tell me you've never gotten it caught painfully in a zipper, too. Don't pretend you just spend your whole life getting your foreskin lovingly stroked and that's what's made all the difference in the world.

I have quite literally and honestly never had a problem with my foreskin, including it getting caught in a zipper. (You put you dick in the boxers/underwear before zipping up, yes?) I readily admit that maybe I've just been lucky; I have no way to know that.

I admit that it's not all foreskin stroking over here. I do have to go to work, as well.
posted by gilrain at 1:33 PM on June 27, 2012 [11 favorites]


Um, you know it retracts, right?
Growing up, I knew a guy nicknamed "eightskin" for the very fact that his foreskin was so long it didn't reveal the head of his cock when he had a hard on. I think some kind of circumcision was definitely justified in his case!
posted by Jehan at 1:34 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Off topic

I've been thinking about how Germany's history has made certain issues even more sensitive. Germany may be a different country than the one that committed genocide, but a lot of discomfort remains in and outside of the German borders. I was talking with some friends about the problems of the Euro and countries like Greece. The talk got a little heated and someone said "Europe needs to just accept Germany as its leader" a little to loud. A hush hit the table and people spent a few seconds in full-on fidget mode. We all knew what the speaker meant, but it just sounded wrong.

The point being, if you cannot understand why Germany passing a law that only effects Semitic peoples makes some people a touch uncomfortable, I can't help but think your ignoring the still present stains of recent history.

/off topic
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:34 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


vorfeed: " Also, it's interesting that much of the judge's ruling seems to hinge on religious freedom: to wit, the child's freedom to choose a religion other than his birth religion, or to choose no religion. I'd like to see this discussed, given that people seem opposed to discussing the "harm" angle."

I'd like to point out that being born Jewish is both a cultural and religious identity, and people can be of Jewish heritage and descent without religion ever being a factor in their lives. I have cousins who are atheists, agnostics, Christian and Muslim. They are also Jewish by heritage and culture. One does not preclude the other. So even if we were to remove the religious angle from the equation entirely, there would no doubt still be secular Jews that view the ruling as a bit of an affront, as circumcision is also a Jewish cultural thing, even if it's not done by a mohel in a formal bris.

It seems very likely that (as you mention) Jews will simply go perform their brisim underground, out of view of German authorities. We've been forced to hide our religious practices from government authorities for generations prior to this, and yes ironically, specifically from German authorities during the last century. I suppose at this point we should be good at it.

hincandenza: " Therefore, this should seem pretty non-controversial even to Jewish/Muslim people outside of those who are highly orthodox/fundamentalist. And the latter seem like the ones who'd benefit from fanning the flames of controversy, or framing this as a case of religious persecution."

Hi. Conservative Jew here. I'm neither Orthodox, nor fundamentalist. Nor am I interested in fanning the flames of controversy for controversy's sake.

However, this ruling is incredibly controversial to me personally, and bans on circumcision by state governments are also quite controversial to the American Conservative Jewish community. It's deeply controversial as well to many Reform Jews, because the rejectionist movement mentioned upthread who have opted to only perform a hatafat dam brit instead of a full circumcision on their children is very, very small. The rejectionists that refuse to perform circumcisions altogether is even smaller. (A hatafat dam brit procedure is performed on converts who were already circumcised prior to conversion. A single drop of blood is drawn, by pinprick. Some reform Jews are choosing to do that, symbolic gesture instead of a circumcision. Neither that procedure nor eschewing circumcisions altogether are accepted by most of mainstream Judaism, only Reform outliers.)

The majority of jews don't seem to view circumcision as genital mutilation.

If you can't empathize with our position, that's okay. But characterizing us all as fundamentalists is absolutely wrong. Please don't do that.
posted by zarq at 1:35 PM on June 27, 2012 [14 favorites]


Shit, now people are comparing their foreskinned versus de-foreskinned dicks? What a joke.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:35 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


You said it's medically documented; can you link to that?

Well, okay, more accurately, the results of research in this area have been too mixed for any definitive conclusions to be drawn. I initially came across some of the studies claiming an increase in sensitivity, but there are just as many holding the opposite or objecting to those studies und so weiter.

So fair enough, can't claim that one definitively. But there's no evidence overwhelmingly in either direction.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:36 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is an utterly weak justification for circumcision.

And apparently an even weaker attempt at diffusing tension with humor...
posted by saulgoodman at 1:37 PM on June 27, 2012


I'm not going to dig upthread to find quotes at this point because I don't want to be seen as being all "Aha! Gotcha. Where's my axe and grinder?" But here's what I've seen so far:

A few first person accounts in this comment-stream of circumcised people saying variations of "Meh" to "I don't mind" to"I'm not religious necessarily and I don't mind being circumcised".

Religious people being offended because this is perceived as finger-pointy and as violating their rights.

Medical facts/views/recommendations being presented both for and against this specific type male circumcision.

Crazy comparisons of this type of male circumcision to everything from ear piercings to permanently debilitating female circumcision. Ditto for allusions and 'take-it-as-a-given' phrasing that makes every circumcision "scarring" and "mutilation".

To the point, what I haven't seen is anyone here saying "I'm circumcised, it has affected me negatively." I don't doubt that there are testimonial cases on this site or that site but, honestly, I value the opinions of folks here over EntrenchedViewPointSite.com vs. DugInJustAsDeeply.net and, the thing is... as much as I hate to mention it on the internets since it's kinda private (haha, a pun!)... I'm a person whose parents decided to circumcise me with, I'm absolutely sure, only the best of motives. I've had no problems up to and including... ya'know, never mind. I understand the whole "One person doesn't make data" but I'm just saying that I have yet to see as much first-hand accounts of personal downsides/impacts from commenters here.

I don't know what that means, does it mean American/First World/Non-religious circumcisions are inherently safer/less likely to kill/scar/mutilate (assuming that's where our userbase lies mostly)? Does it mean that people are scared to speak up about their awful messed up genitals? I don't know, really I don't. I'm just calling it how I see it here and now since I really don't have much of a dog in this fight besides the fact that if/when Mrs.Eld and I have kids we'll be researching up to the hilt to decide what we do with our non-Religious based medical decisions and conversations like this are really educational in that regard.

tl;dr - I've seen first hand accounts of the positives/neutral. Any relevant men with negative first hand accounts feel brave enough to speak out? I understand if you don't. Really, I do.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:38 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Circumcision means that identity is inescapable. Good. Some things are bigger than individual choice.

This is really, really disturbing.
posted by odinsdream at 1:38 PM on June 27, 2012 [31 favorites]


Burhanistan: Shit, now people are comparing their foreskinned versus de-foreskinned dicks? What a joke.

Jesus, I hope that's not what I was doing. There was some misinformation that it seemed personal experience could easily refute. I'd hate to be viewed as a dick-waver (out of context, anyway).
posted by gilrain at 1:38 PM on June 27, 2012


[Folks, there's in theory something interesting to discuss about the specifics of this particular legal situation in context. Maybe consider talking about that stuff if you have an interest, or giving the thread a pass if you just feel like having another generic argument about circumcision issues?]
posted by cortex at 1:39 PM on June 27, 2012


saulgoodman: So fair enough, can't claim that one definitively. But there's no evidence overwhelmingly in either direction.

I appreciate the link and the honesty. Thanks!
posted by gilrain at 1:39 PM on June 27, 2012


My genitals were cut against my will, I don't need to see yours, and you can shove the condescension up your ass. (with your consent only, of course)

It's not condescension so much as raw anger at having my genitals held up as an example of man's monstrosity to man largely by people who shouldn't have a damn stake in it (unless all the anti-circumcision hate is coming from the circumcised, victims, which doesn't seem to be the case, yourself excepted, I guess).
posted by saulgoodman at 1:40 PM on June 27, 2012


Shit, now people are comparing their foreskinned versus de-foreskinned dicks? What a joke.

It seems like lots of people turn it into a joke because they're so obviously uncomfortable with the topic. I think it's a welcome remedy to widespread and unfortunate ignorance.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 1:40 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


To the point, what I haven't seen is anyone here saying "I'm circumcised, it has affected me negatively."

Perhaps, like me, they prefer not to share that on the internet. You can count me in your poll, though, if you're counting.
posted by odinsdream at 1:41 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


It seems to me that religious freedom is dwarfed by the possibility of killing or seriously mutilating a newborn. All the other reasons to be opposed fall short of that.

Count me, too.
posted by polyhedron at 1:42 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ditto for allusions and 'take-it-as-a-given' phrasing that makes every circumcision "scarring" and "mutilation".

Well, it is. That's what circumcision is. It's mutilation that causes physical scarring.

The majority of jews don't seem to view circumcision as genital mutilation.

Cite, please. I don't believe for a second that most Jewish people are morons who don't know what words mean.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:43 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Any relevant men with negative first hand accounts feel brave enough to speak out? I understand if you don't. Really, I do.

odinsdream: Perhaps, like me, they prefer not to share that on the internet.

Did you read my whole post? If you did and were offended, I apologize.* Otherwise, thanks.

*I really tried to couch that comment, request in the most understanding way that I could and may be being hypersensitive to your reply's tone.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:45 PM on June 27, 2012


I understand the whole "One person doesn't make data" but I'm just saying that I have yet to see as much first-hand accounts of personal downsides/impacts from commenters here.

Serious question. Would you actually take any such comments at their word? Because what most people do is insist those people are in fact mistaken about their own experiences.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 1:47 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seriously. If you think it's cruel to do it to someone in the first place, how is it not infinitely more cruel to insist that the circumcised view themselves as permanently scarred, mutilated freaks and to tell them that that's how you view them regardless of how they say they think you should view them or how they feel about it?

I don't feel scarred or mutilated in the slightest, and I refuse to accept that way of framing the issue, not to take away from anyone who does see it that way for whatever reason. But why the insistence on oversimplifying it?
posted by saulgoodman at 1:48 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Saulgoodman, here's what you asked for.

I'm circumcized. It's never been a big deal to me. I don't think about it day to day. I don't sit around feeling violated all the time. I don't think my parents were evil people for allowing it... just unaware. Actually, I don't even hold with the concept of "evil people" at all.

It nonetheless meets every reasonable definition of "mutilation", there is absolutely no excuse for doing it to a healthy infant, and, yes, it should be illegal everywhere. I am absolutely a victim, even if it hasn't ruined my life. And I'm not insecure about admitting to it. Oddly enough, accepting or rejecting the label "mutilated" has no effect whatsoever on what I am.

And, no, it is not OK to use babies as your way of proving your devotion to some particular tribe. It's not OK to permanently change a person as a way of binding that person to the allegiances you think they should have. Frankly just about the best thing that could happen in this world would be if people would get over this perverse attachment to "heritage".
posted by Hizonner at 1:48 PM on June 27, 2012 [40 favorites]


Crazy As They Need To Be: Circumcised Women Who Support The Practice: Dr. Ahmadu, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, was raised in America and then went back to Sierra Leone as an adult to undergo the procedure along with fellow members of the Kono ethnic group. She has argued that the critics of the procedure exaggerate the medical dangers, misunderstand the effect on sexual pleasure, and mistakenly view the removal of parts of the clitoris as a practice that oppresses women. She has lamented that her Westernized "feminist sisters insist on denying us this critical aspect of becoming a woman in accordance with our unique and powerful cultural heritage." In another essay, she writes:

It is difficult for me—considering the number of ceremonies I have observed, including my own—to accept that what appears to be expressions of joy and ecstatic celebrations of womanhood in actuality disguise hidden experiences of coercion and subjugation. Indeed, I offer that the bulk of Kono women who uphold these rituals do so because they want to—they relish the supernatural powers of their ritual leaders over against men in society, and they embrace the legitimacy of female authority and particularly the authority of their mothers and grandmothers.

posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:48 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sys Rq: " I don't believe for a second that most Jewish people are morons who don't know what words mean."

Excuse me?

Cite, please.

When you can speak to me respectfully and reasonably, then we can discuss it. Until then, I see no need to try to engage you in good faith when you obviously can't keep your temper or attitude in check long enough to attack people with statements like that.
posted by zarq at 1:49 PM on June 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


The legal question is very interesting. We're facing similar legal issues in the US, where "freedom of religion" is now being used as a cudgel to discriminate against gays, deny employment and health benefits to women who want birth control, and restrict access to medical care.

My personal belief is that if a religion forces a non-believer to do anything or to be prevented from doing something, then that religion fails, in a pretty significant way, to abide by the corollary to freedom of religion: freedom from religion. Legal decisions which support this corollary are rare and I'm curious how this is going to play out.
posted by Revvy at 1:50 PM on June 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


Maybe if we realize that circumcision is a mutilation which produces scarring in the same way that evolution is only a theory: true by the technical definition, but not necessarily in the conventionally understood definition of the term.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:51 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Dixon, please take my comment directly above yours as, what I hope you will accept, a example in good faith that "yes, yes I will". Damn this whole internet you're-not-being-groovy-until-proven-otherwise thing... I'll probably just step away and go back to reading, I'm obviously not dug in or polarized enough to jump in here...
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:51 PM on June 27, 2012


For years, circumcision was strongly encouraged by medical authorities in the US on health and hygenic grounds.

As a "cure" for the "unhealthy" practice of masturbation, for example.


Never stopped me.
posted by philip-random at 1:52 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


mutilate, verb:

1.
to injure, disfigure, or make imperfect by removing or irreparably damaging parts: Vandals mutilated the painting.
2.
to deprive (a person or animal) of a limb or other essential part.


Seems to me like circumcision fits both definitions.
posted by Aizkolari at 1:53 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


It nonetheless meets every reasonable definition of "mutilation"

No it doesn't. Tatooing isn't mutilation, ear piercing isn't mutilation, nor are countless other forms of body modification undertaken for various cultural reasons. Context and intent matter when it comes to the semantic content of language. Many forms of surgery cause permanent scarring that you could easily call mutilation too if you ignore the context and only consider the physical harm done. But surgery isn't mutilation. And circumcision isn't necessarily "mutilation" either, just on the face of it, merely because it causes a permanent modification to the body.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:54 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seems to me like circumcision fits both definitions.

As do tattoos and most forms of major surgery.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:55 PM on June 27, 2012


I don't really care about "mutilation" angle. What circumcision is is a form of social control. Based on both personal experiences living in America and on general research literature, circumcised men are a) rougher during sex and b) uncircumcised men are often looked down upon. This status quo is just wrong.
posted by polymodus at 1:56 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lopping off chunks is mutilation. Intentional scarification is mutilation. Surgery can mutilate you. Get over it.

Tattooing and ear piercing are maybe borderline. They don't change your morphology. But I wouldn't mind including them, too. And I would be perfectly happy forbidding both for infants. By law.
posted by Hizonner at 1:57 PM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


The majority of jews don't seem to view circumcision as genital mutilation.

Cite, please. I don't believe for a second that most Jewish people are morons who don't know what words mean.


The sentence you replied to is not a controversial one. The word "mutilation" carries several aspects of meaning. One aspect is that the form of the mutilated object has been changed (objectively true). Another aspect is that the change is catastrophic or grotesque (a subjective judgment). It should not surprise you at all, or require a cite, that Jews might agree with others about the objective aspects of circumcision (the genitals are changed) without agreeing with others about the subjective aspects (that the result is catastrophic or grotesque).
posted by Jpfed at 1:59 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Are you circumcised and feeling victimized about it? Or is someone close to you? If not, then what the fuck business is it of yours, if you don't mind my asking?
posted by saulgoodman at 1:59 PM on June 27, 2012


And the point I was making was the most Jews don't view it as mutilation. Its a religious requirement for Conservative and Orthodox Jews. They don't view it as mutilation. It's a religious requirement for mainstream Reform Jews, who also don't view it as mutilation. They don't view the foreskin as essential. They don't view its removal as making someone imperfect. Considering the number of American secular Jews who also circumcise their children, one can probably assume they don't think it's mutilation, either.

That's simply what they believe. It's fine to disagree with them, of course.
posted by zarq at 1:59 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can we stop it with the argument about "mutilation"? It's not taking the discussion forward.
posted by Jehan at 2:00 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Are you circumcised and feeling victimized about it? Or is someone close to you? If not, then what the fuck business is it of yours, if you don't mind my asking?

Alright everybody, take and post a dick pic before posting any more.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:01 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's not aimed at you zarq, but everybody in the last few comments. We don't need dictionary definitions to talk about things respectfully.
posted by Jehan at 2:01 PM on June 27, 2012


Jpfed: "The sentence you replied to is not a controversial one. "

He's framing this as "Jews are morons if they don't agree with my personal opinion on the subject." As a reply to a comment where I state that I am Jewish. It's a shitty, asinine way to reply to me and I see no reason to try and be polite when he's not bothering.
posted by zarq at 2:01 PM on June 27, 2012


It would be quite interesting to see what would happen to Germany if four percent of its population bundled up their circumcised cocks and left.
posted by pracowity at 2:02 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Very well, let's taboo the M word.

It should be illegal to make irreversible modifications to the body of an infant unless there is a clearly known, equally irreversible negative effect from not doing so. In general, that means a negative physical consequence that everyone, or nearly everyone, would agree is very bad. That is especially true if the procedure is in any way painful or dangerous.

Examples of adequate reasons to change an infant's body might include avoiding death, avoiding permanent incapacity, avoiding long-term and/or very serious pain, and avoiding significant risks of dangerous diseases

Lack of identification with a culture, ethnicity or religion does not qualify, because not having those things is not necessarily damage, is not nearly universally agreed to even potentially be damage, and is not irreversible,
posted by Hizonner at 2:08 PM on June 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


Roland, I do take your comment in good faith. And I think if more people shared that good faith, you'd see more first person accounts here. I've mentioned elsewhere on this site that I've never orgasmed from intercourse and I have specific reason to believe my circumcision has something to do with that. But to be taken seriously it seems like I first have to prove it's not a psychological hangup, and that I don't use a Dan Savage Death Grip (tm) to masturbate.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 2:08 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Are you circumcised and feeling victimized about it? Or is someone close to you? If not, then what the fuck business is it of yours, if you don't mind my asking?

The point of the thread is to discuss the topic at hand, and that's more-or-less what's happening. Just because I, for example, don't have a penis, it doesn't negate my right to talk about it or care. And you sort of just told people in that scenario that they should shut up about it because it's 'not our business'. If I haven't been victimized by the struggles in, say, Egypt, and I don't know anyone who has, should I really just butt out?

I really mean no offense, but maybe you should think about stepping out for a bit... not that you haven't faced a fair deal of disrespect in this thread, but it seems to me like you are throwing it right back now and it's really not good for discussion.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 2:08 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


However, since this circumcision ruling is nonbinding, I have to hail it as a step forward. People should not make permanent changes to their children’s genitals for no health reason; if the children want to be circumcised, they may do so as adults. After all, what if they don’t want to be members of the religion? What if they’d prefer to keep their genitals unaltered, all things considered? Bodily autonomy is incredibly important; the right to control one’s own body is fundamental.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:09 PM on June 27, 2012


I meant to say as well that, in general, most of us involved could probably stand to take the time for some calm breathing exercises.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 2:11 PM on June 27, 2012


saulgoodman, maybe it would help you not to assume that people are talking about your genitals in particular.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 2:11 PM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Whatever your stance, it is interesting that bodily autonomy is the principle here, (as quoted above) something that has historically been denied to children. Even in the land of John-Wayne-rugged-individualists, there's little legal consideration for bodily autonomy.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:12 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it's often difficult for Americans to grok the extent to which Europeans do not share our culture of routine circumcision, but it really is done almost solely for religious or (emergency) medical reasons in Germany.

This is the case in Britain as well. Why is non-religious circumcision so common in the US?

I've seen people on parenting forums moan about infant ear-piercing - I suspect because it's seen as 'common' as much as abusive. But I've been told it's common in south Asian and West African cultures (I see tons of black and Asian baby girls with pierced ears in pushchairs) - why so?

I had my ears pierced when I was eight and it hurt so much that I had to be strongly convinced that they'd have to do it again on the other one before I could leave. I can believe it wouldn't be much fun for an infant.
posted by mippy at 2:15 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The point being, if you cannot understand why Germany passing a law that only effects Semitic peoples makes some people a touch uncomfortable, I can't help but think your ignoring the still present stains of recent history.

/off topic


Not off topic at all.
I've heard that in historic Jewish law, a transgression of a father can be laid across six generations of his prodigy (ie: 100-120 years).
So yeah, I can see an argument why Germany must tread lightly in regard to those of Jewish faith until say 2050.
posted by philip-random at 2:21 PM on June 27, 2012


Piercing babies' ears is largely a non-white signifier in the States (I know it is popular in Latino families. In fact, my baby ear piercings had to go because I kept getting them caught in things with painful results. I had them re-done by choice when I was about 11 or so). I think it is in part to distinguish females from males before kids have any gender-signalling characteristics.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:21 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is the case in Britain as well. Why is non-religious circumcision so common in the US?

Purely anecdotal, but in my lifetime as a Canadian I've mostly heard cosmetic justifications consisting either of "so he looks like his father" or "so he doesn't get embarrassed in the locker room."
posted by ODiV at 2:25 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why is non-religious circumcision so common in the US?

I mentioned that upthread: It first became prevalent in North America as a (laughably futile) means of preventing masturbation.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:27 PM on June 27, 2012


No it doesn't. Tatooing isn't mutilation, ear piercing isn't mutilation, nor are countless other forms of body modification undertaken for various cultural reasons. Context and intent matter when it comes to the semantic content of language. Many forms of surgery cause permanent scarring that you could easily call mutilation too if you ignore the context and only consider the physical harm done. But surgery isn't mutilation. And circumcision isn't necessarily "mutilation" either, just on the face of it, merely because it causes a permanent modification to the body.

It's ironic that you say that, because you keep skipping over that giant problem with your argument. There is no consent. It's impossible for a baby to consent. Even if, like you, they might think it's nifty later. That's great! But you can't guarantee that will happen, and in the meantime, an infant is having part of their body sliced off to show their membership in their parents' tribe.
posted by emjaybee at 2:31 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think that induced permanent physical changes made for no medically necessary reason on children under a reasonable age of consent should probably be illegal.

I'm Jewish, if it matters.
posted by kyrademon at 2:32 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


> Why is non-religious circumcision so common in the US?

Because people will go to great lengths to rationalize away the shame of being a victim, even to the point that they will victimize their own sons to perpetuate those rationalizations.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 2:32 PM on June 27, 2012 [16 favorites]


Whatever your stance, it is interesting that bodily autonomy is the principle here, (as quoted above) something that has historically been denied to children. Even in the land of John-Wayne-rugged-individualists, there's little legal consideration for bodily autonomy.
I think this is something which I do not understand for those arguing for the rightness of circumcision. That in other areas, such as women's rights, they may well believe in bodily autonomy and integrity. Why not here?

I suppose it is an open question for anybody to respond if they would like.
posted by Jehan at 2:34 PM on June 27, 2012


mippy: "Why is non-religious circumcision so common in the US? "

There's an extensive history to this, and it's not so easily summarized. I'll try to give you the basics.

Part of it was an anti-masturbation effort. It was believed that children who were circumcised would masturbate less.

During and after WWI, the US military promoted circumcision of teen and adult sailors and soldiers, because doctors believed it would reduce the risk of venereal disease. When those soldiers returned home and became fathers, many of them apparently opted to have their children circumcised. There are a number of theories why, but no real polls were ever conducted so all we can do is speculate.

1946: Doctor Spock's book Baby and Child Care, is published, and it promoted circumcision. It was a virtual child-rearing medical bible for many new parents (including mine!) and many people took it as gospel, so to speak. Baby and Child Care was literally the second bestselling book for many years in the US, right after the Bible. Spock's advice was that not only was circumcision medically necessary, but it would reduce feelings of ostracism for uncircumcised males, knowing that they were in the minority.

Doctor Spock recanted later in his career (in the 90's, I think?) and said circumcision was not medically necessary. But no one seemed to pay much attention. At that point, a very high percentage of American males were being circumcised.

In the 1950's, many companies began offering medical insurance to employees. Those policies usually included coverage of circumcision in a hospital. Parents opted for the procedure, more often than not, because it was still considered common knowledge that circumcision could reduce the risk of syphillis and other venereal diseases. It was also thought to reduce the risk of cancer.

So there was an extensive boom in circumcisions, mostly fueled by the medical establishment.
posted by zarq at 2:35 PM on June 27, 2012 [21 favorites]


That's simply what they believe. It's fine to disagree with them, of course.

It goes a little bit further than that, though, because it's an situation in which people who, by virtue of their membership in a group, have certain beliefs about what does and does not cause mutilation are imposing those beliefs on a person whose beliefs on the subject are more or less unknowable.

A belief's traditional pedigree doesn't excuse it from moral and intellectual scrutiny, and a democratic society is based on the notion that we're each indivividually entitled to (and, I'd even say, obligated to) subject the rules and norms and values of our culture to moral and intellectual scrutiny to whatever extent we please; individual conscience trumps tradition. Imposing tradition, especially in a physically permanent way, on someone with extremely limited opportunity to form their own judgement about that tradition is coercive in a way that that's not really compatible with the free exercise of individual conscience. I think the German legal system contains some protection of freedom of thought, of some kind (correct me if I am wrong), and if so, this ruling seems consistent with that.

Also, I don't think this comment, or the decision in Germany, are the least bit Islamophobic or anti-semitic. They're just criticisms of specific beliefs, not expressions of hatred of specific people because of their cultural affiliation. Criticisms of specific beliefs, made in good faith, are not a form of hatred. It's unreasonable to consider one's own beliefs to be above criticism, or to assume that such criticism is secret prejudice.

For my own part, I literally do not understand why anyone would want to be part of a complex, ancient tradition governing many aspects of one's life with no concrete justification, but I don't think any less of people who have such a desire. However, I don't think it's quite right to make that kind of decision for someone else, even if it's often not particularly damaging. I even think it's not okay if that person, upon growing up and reflecting on the matter, thanks you.
posted by kengraham at 2:37 PM on June 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


Hey, can someone link to or (even better!) summarize the ethno/cultural history of male circumcision as a ritual? I feel like I know very little about this, because I can't really wrap my head around why it is important to some people. Clearly it is, but I mean, what is the personal/spiritual significance of the ritual? What does it mean?

File under: Things I feel guilty about outright asking because I don't have the time or energy to research myself.
posted by byanyothername at 2:40 PM on June 27, 2012


byanyothername: Hey, can someone link to or (even better!) summarize the ethno/cultural history of male circumcision as a ritual?

That's a big topic to summarize in thread, but the Wikipedia article is pretty readable.
posted by gilrain at 2:45 PM on June 27, 2012


I'm still haunted by that book about the twin boy whose penis was burned off in a botched circumcision and was subsequently raised as a girl. The title escapes me.

That was As Nature Made Him about David Reimer.


Wow. What a shocking story. Worth a FPP on its own.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:47 PM on June 27, 2012


And yes it did leave me scarred.
Physically? You're being ridiculous.


My own feelings on circumcision are not particularly strong (we did not circumcise my son), but yes, a circumcision does cause a wound and does leave a literal physical scar. It can be seen on most penises when erect; at least on most penises of my experience.
posted by KathrynT at 2:48 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's interesting, zarq - there were campaigns warning servicemen to avoid sources of VD in the UK but circumcision either wasn't proscribed or never caught on.

I wonder whether UK males who have been circumcised, and who aren't Muslim or Jewish and so are able to explain it that way (though I'm not 100% sure that Muslim men don't have the same restrictions on public nudity that Muslim women do - the girls at my school wore leggings rather than the uniform knee socks to avoid showing the legs in public) get teased, then?
posted by mippy at 2:48 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think KathrynT that was in reference to the squash derail not whether circumcision scars.
posted by Carillon at 2:51 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


New book (available July 3): Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That? by Jesse Bering
posted by ericb at 3:00 PM on June 27, 2012


kengraham: " Also, I don't think this comment, or the decision in Germany, are the least bit Islamophobic or anti-semitic. They're just criticisms of specific beliefs, not expressions of hatred of specific people because of their cultural affiliation. Criticisms of specific beliefs, made in good faith, are not a form of hatred. It's unreasonable to consider one's own beliefs to be above criticism, or to assume that such criticism is secret prejudice."

I don't necessarily disagree with anything else you before this paragraph, but this is where your argument falls apart to me. Because this belief and ritual are an inherent part of mainstream religious Judaism.

Leaving the small number of religious Jewish outliers who don't believe in circumcision aside for a moment:

Circumcision isn't optional for religious Jews. It's a requirement.

You can't be Jewish and uncircumcised. It's not optional, even in a religious tradition as flexible as Judaism*. That means, if you're not circumcised, you can't partake in most Jewish rituals, including having a bar mitzvah when you're 13, or be married to another in a Jewish religious ceremony. You can't be buried with Jewish rituals if you die. You can't be considered part of a minyan, either, which means you can't be a contributing member of a Jewish religious community. There's more to it than this, but you probably get the idea.

Banning people from circumcision... an act that literally defines us as Jews... well, from a religious Jewish perspective, Germany has essentially just outlawed Jews by preventing us from performing a ritual that makes us Jewish. I realize that this probably sounds hyperbolic and alarmist. But I can't really think of any other way to describe it.

I think open discussions about circumcision are good. Especially in Jewish communities (in some communities, this is a discussion that's already happening.) We should embrace them and discuss them without hiding behind fear of criticism.

But this isn't a discussion. It's a ban. So it's not really about criticism, is it? It's about the German government making a unilateral decision, and the ramifications to Jews that will be arising from it. So I disagree with arguments that this decision is not prejudicial.

*There's probably a medical exception on the books somewhere, perhaps for hemophiliacs? But I'm not sure about that.
posted by zarq at 3:03 PM on June 27, 2012 [17 favorites]


I'm one of those who were snipped (my family is non-religious, btw) who always felt like he was missing something and felt extremely betrayed when he figured out exactly what had happened.
posted by hermitosis at 3:09 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Decreased risk of certain forms of HIV transmission unless you consider a single blog post a more authoritative source for objective medical science than the AAP, WHO, and basically, every other formally recognized authority on medical science.

That blog post is mostly reporting on a peer-reviewed article published in the Journal of Law and Medicine. That paper includes an appendix listing 13 papers showing no relationship between circumcision status and HIV infection rates and another 4 showing a higher risk of HIV infection in circumcised men.

So it's far from "a single blog post." Also, you listed the AAP despite the fact that, as linked above, the AAP only describes "potential medical benefits" and does not recommend routine neonatal circumcision.

If you want to make the argument that circumcision is beneficial, that's fine, but don't use distorted or incorrect claims to support it.
posted by jedicus at 3:11 PM on June 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


As a straight woman I approve of this ruling for purely selfish reasons. Having sex with an uncut dick is about ten times more pleasurable.
posted by timsneezed at 3:11 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


mippy: "That's interesting, zarq - there were campaigns warning servicemen to avoid sources of VD in the UK but circumcision either wasn't proscribed or never caught on.

There was a similar pro-prophyactic / anti-VD campaign here too. :)
posted by zarq at 3:11 PM on June 27, 2012


a ritual that makes us Jewish

It's circumcision that makes people Jewish? I must be Jewish, then. Learn something every day.
posted by Revvy at 3:12 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Male circumcision is almost universal in my country. However since I've seen it done, and seen the aftercare process while the baby is healing, there was NO WAY ON EARTH I was ever going to have my son circumcised.

And if, when grown, girls think his penis is weird, or unhygenic-looking or whatever, guess what? The world's a big place and he can go live somewhere else where the girls have more sense. He has beautiful eyes anyway and that should trump what his dick looks like.

Really I think anyone who imagines babies don't suffer through this process hasn't seen the aftermath. They (babies) just don't have language, so they can't tell us explicitly what they're thinking. I think parents in general would have a lot more to feel ashamed about if it were any different.
posted by glasseyes at 3:15 PM on June 27, 2012 [12 favorites]


Banning people from circumcision... an act that literally defines us as Jews... well, from a religious Jewish perspective, Germany has essentially just outlawed Jews by preventing us from performing a ritual that makes us Jewish.

This decision does not ban circumcision. It bans infant circumcision. Presumably, a child who wishes to be Jewish could choose to be circumcised prior to his bar mitzvah; therefore, Germany has not "outlawed Jews".
posted by vorfeed at 3:16 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


But zarq, obviously the government has some right to outlaw religious practices, right? There's plenty in the bible, let alone in non-Judeo-Christian traditions traditions that would be patently illegal in any country today.

Obviously circumcision is an edge case. But if you believe that infants shouldn't be modified for non-medical reasons, it's a pretty direct line of logic to outlawing circumcision without taking a detour through anti-semitism or prejudice.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 3:17 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


vorfeed: " This decision does not ban circumcision. It bans infant circumcision. Presumably, a child who wishes to be Jewish could choose to be circumcised prior to his bar mitzvah; therefore, Germany has not "outlawed Jews"."

You are unfamiliar with the Jewish laws regarding circumcision, then?

The obligation is to perform the ritual on a male child on the the 8th day after it is born. There is a medical exception in the Talmud which allows delay of the bris of a male child. However, even then Jews are required to have a bris as soon as a doctor judges it wouldn't be life-threatening. Jewish law does not say, "the kid can wait until it grows up." It says, "your kid isn't Jewish until you do this."

Worth noting that circumcisions still take place on the Sabbath, even though the "no work" rule is typically strictly enforced. It's my understanding that this is because enforcing the covenant between G-d and Abraham (and the first commandment we were given about it) is taken extremely seriously, and takes precedence over the injunction to observe Shabbat. But you'd have to ask someone more knowledgeable than me to be sure about that. ;)

Anyway, the ban prevents all of this from happening. And yes, it's very, very probable that religious Jews will view that as an attack on their existence.
posted by zarq at 3:30 PM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


If nobody in Germany gets circumcised except people of religion, why are they doing this? It makes no fucking sense at all.

I'm totally against ritual cutting of infants, BUT I'm also very against criminalizing religious rites that are proven to only have problems every once in a great fucking while.
posted by snsranch at 3:30 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


why are they doing this? It makes no fucking sense at all.

They're prioritizing the two concerns in a different order than you do. Is that so bizarre?
posted by cdward at 3:33 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Circumcision isn't optional for religious Jews. It's a requirement.

Absolutely. But an infant doesn't have the capacity to be "religious", and so is by definition not a religious Jew.
posted by kengraham at 3:42 PM on June 27, 2012 [9 favorites]


Bodily integrity is a nice bright line. No permanent medically-unnecessary body modification until you're old enough to be consulted on it. Doesn't matter if it's scarification, circumcision or tattoos.

Otherwise (a) there's a morass of traditional religious practices to sort through and determine the precise amount of harm that is permissible for the sake of religious tolerance, and (b) you have at least one government sanctioned body mod which can be done without consent, and that's a door I'd love to see jammed firmly shut.

People who are pro-infant-circumcision: where/how do you draw the line on what is permissible? Is religion a permanent special case exception? How do you respond to people who are saying "I was cut, and I'm not happy about it" - is it just that the numbers are small enough to disregard?

This isn't a simple issue, but why not start from the most cautious position of "don't do anything that someone else might regret later"?
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 3:42 PM on June 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


no regrets, coyote: "But zarq, obviously the government has some right to outlaw religious practices, right?

Sure.

There's plenty in the bible, let alone in non-Judeo-Christian traditions traditions that would be patently illegal in any country today.

Sure.

Obviously circumcision is an edge case.

I have spoken about this on Mefi before (I apologize for not linking, but those threads were... difficult and I'd rather not rehash them too much): I'm personally uncomfortable with the idea of circumcisions, even though I am circumcised and my son had a bris. However, I remain unconvinced that circumcisions are harmful. I've read quite a bit of literature and research on the topic and still haven't been able to draw a definitive, objective conclusion.

So I'm not really comfortable agreeing with you that it's an edge case. Nor am I convinced that this should be considered solely a religious practice to be banned or allowed. After all, are Jewish/Muslim traditions the only justification for why people are circumcised in Germany? Are we exclusively the only group that circumcises there? Or anywhere else, for that matter? No.

But if you believe that infants shouldn't be modified for non-medical reasons, it's a pretty direct line of logic to outlawing circumcision without taking a detour through anti-semitism or prejudice.

I'd like to note that I haven't characterized this as antisemitism. I'm not sure it qualifies.

Even the best-intentioned act can have prejudicial consequences inadvertently.
posted by zarq at 3:43 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's pretty xenophobic, you're right. Do you have any rational reason for feeling that way, or just, like, ignorance?

A lot of jewish people are more wary of germany than other parts of the world, and I don't think xenophobia is a fair descriptive - perhaps it is a bit paranoid, but paranoia is a common component of post-traumatic states of mind, and the scars germany inflicted are very real. It is not surprising that some people would cringe a little and wonder what is going on (especially at a time when europe is kind of a mess and extremist parties have been voted into various parliaments)

I can easily believe that germany is not intending to be anti-semitic here, but it still seems incredibly stupid. This is such a minor point of interest - it basically hardly matters to most men which way they are, and life and sex go on just fine - but with such major connotations for the jewish community. The german government must know that this is poking at a sore wound. Why would they do it? I mean, okay, your penises are important, but surely the strength of a respectful relationship with minority/non-aryan religious groups is more important.
posted by mdn at 3:49 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Now that I think more on the issue, I don't know if making circumcision illegal is the wisest idea.

In the event that a circumcision does occur I would hope it's done in a proper setting by a proper doctor.

With that in mind, perhaps it would be best to simply require parents to attend a class listing the arguments against circumcision. Information from religious figures providing justifications for not having your infant circumcised could also be useful.

The practice of circumcision will most likely die out eventually. The question is how we conduct ourselves as it is ushered out of existence.
posted by rcdc at 3:55 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can easily believe that germany is not intending to be anti-semitic here, but it still seems incredibly stupid. This is such a minor point of interest - it basically hardly matters to most men which way they are, and life and sex go on just fine - but with such major connotations for the jewish community. The german government must know that this is poking at a sore wound. Why would they do it? I mean, okay, your penises are important, but surely the strength of a respectful relationship with minority/non-aryan religious groups is more important.
It is important to bear in mind that this is a court ruling and not a government law.
posted by Jehan at 3:56 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


kengraham: "Absolutely. But an infant doesn't have the capacity to be "religious", and so is by definition not a religious Jew."

I'm a parent of two four year old kids, and I make decisions for them on a regular basis that are beyond their control or ability to decide for themselves. That's one of my roles as their parent. In a previous thread on this topic, I mentioned that my son has asthma. He was taking a medication that we were warned might stunt his growth (and could have another side effect or two,) but also helped him to breathe and be like most other children. As a parent you have to make the best decision you can, and hope for the best.

I don't think circumcision is mutilation. I'm circumcised and everything works just fine. I don't think my foreskin was essential and certainly don't miss it. I was and at times still am conflicted about my son's bris. But I honestly don't believe he'll be worse for wear because of it.

As far as the religious issue is concerned, when my son grows up, he'll have the option of becoming a religious Jew, without any concern that he wouldn't be considered Jewish because I didn't have him circumcised on schedule. That was important to me, as his parent. I don't want him to be excluded from marrying someone he loves in a religious ceremony, for example. So I judged that it might be important to him, and acted accordingly.

But that wasn't the only reason I had him circumcised. And it wasn't the top reason, either.

If when he grows up he has a problem with the decisions I make on his behalf, then I'll face that head on. But until then, he's my wife's and my responsibility.
posted by zarq at 3:59 PM on June 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


You are unfamiliar with the Jewish laws regarding circumcision, then?

No, I'm not. I just don't believe that the law can't -- or won't, given sufficient time and reason -- change. One thing I've learned from these discussions is that Jewish law is not set in stone.

As I said above, I don't think that a ban on infant circumcision is the best idea, but I also don't think it's fair to characterize it as an attack on the very possibility of being Jewish. For one thing, some people who consider themselves to be religious Jews are already choosing not to circumcise, as has been pointed out above.
posted by vorfeed at 3:59 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a difficult topic for me to be objective about. My parents, it turns out, told the hospital to circumcise me and they didn't do it. I've never wished they'd succeeded. This is the US, where at the time, it was the common practice (more so than today, anyway). I don't have kids and don't plan to, so I really don't have any skin in this game.

From one side, I can easily understand the position that it's infant genital mutilation, and the bar would have to be pretty high to consider it acceptable. I'd prefer it if the practice died out like stoning people for adultery.

From the other side, if you prohibit a procedure that some consider necessary, you'll get back alley mohelim and lots of weekends in Poland with the 6 day old. We know that when Northern African countries banned infant genital mutilation of girls, the practice did not immediately stop.
posted by Mad_Carew at 3:59 PM on June 27, 2012


Thank you for bringing up the necessity for the circumcision to happen on the 8th day by Jewish tradition. It's important to note and I wish it had been mentioned earlier in the discussion (I could have missed it as well). Yay, a new nuance to the discussion (oh god)!

Genuine question for the masses: are there any other religious practices that are tenets of/absolutely vital to the identity of a particular religious group which have been outlawed (in the US or elsewhere)? Either ones that can be consented to (by adults) or not. And if so, how was this generally perceived?

I ask because a lot of religions (a lot) have been forced one way or another to move on from some traditions. And not necessarily that these traditions are considered to define a person as a member of that group, but all the same.

I'm just interested in exploring the idea.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 4:00 PM on June 27, 2012


Whatever your stance, it is interesting that bodily autonomy is the principle here, (as quoted above) something that has historically been denied to children. Even in the land of John-Wayne-rugged-individualists, there's little legal consideration for bodily autonomy.

Just some complications to think about:

1. The ruling isn't just (or even mostly) about autonomy, it's about bodily integrity.

2. The child isn't in a position to waive that right to bodily integrity. (In what sense, then is the ruling a defense of autonomy? Does the child even have such a thing?)

3. The child cannot waive the right retroactively. No one has a time machine that would let a child become circumcised at eight days based on a decision made at 18 years. Retroactive waiving of rights is denied in such a case just as much as it is currently denied to people who retroactively want not to have been circumcised. (The relevant difference is not autonomy, it is bodily integrity.)

4. The autonomy of children is denied all the time. In fact, if I understand the ruling (and the discussion here so far), supposing a five-year-old child says, "I want to be circumcised," the autonomy of the child would be denied. The right to bodily integrity cannot be waived by a five year old under the law.

5. Potentiality arguments are dangerous. The argument is something like, "If uncircumcised now, this child might become an adult who would want to remain uncircumcised; therefore, circumcising now is wrong." But think about the parallel to abortion: "If not killed, this fetus might become an adult who would want to remain un-killed; therefore, killing now is wrong." If the first argument is good, why isn't the second one good? If the second one is bad, why isn't the first one bad?
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 4:01 PM on June 27, 2012


If the first argument is good, why isn't the second one good? If the second one is bad, why isn't the first one bad?

Because infants are persons and fetuses are not.
posted by jedicus at 4:03 PM on June 27, 2012 [8 favorites]


so I really don't have any skin in this game

Oh man, I know that idiom didn't originate from a long online discussion about circumcision, but it really should have.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 4:03 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Because infants are persons and fetuses are not.

Come on. That's just silly. An eight day old is not significantly more of a person than a fetus at 24 weeks. Being born is a nice bright line for many legal and medical purposes, but it does not mark personhood.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 4:06 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


six-or-six-thirty: Genuine question for the masses: are there any other religious practices that are tenets of/absolutely vital to the identity of a particular religious group which have been outlawed (in the US or elsewhere)? Either ones that can be consented to (by adults) or not. And if so, how was this generally perceived?

Polygamy and the Mormons is almost textbook what you're looking for, here. The Mormons went underground for a while and then just changed the rules. All religions adapt over time. In that case, they were able to adapt to a new law relatively quickly.

Naturally, you could argue that it'd be harder for a much older religion to adapt so quickly.
posted by gilrain at 4:06 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Genuine question for the masses: are there any other religious practices that are tenets of/absolutely vital to the identity of a particular religious group which have been outlawed (in the US or elsewhere)? Either ones that can be consented to (by adults) or not. And if so, how was this generally perceived?

The use of marijuana as a sacrament would be an ongoing example.
posted by vorfeed at 4:07 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


vorfeed: "No, I'm not. I just don't believe that the law can't -- or won't, given sufficient time and reason -- change. One thing I've learned from these discussions is that Jewish law is not set in stone.

True! But there are a couple of issues here.

1) As I mentioned above, this truly is a very clear commandment in the Torah. There's little to no wiggle room. It's not like keeping kosher, which is barely mentioned in the Torah, but has been blown completely out of proportion into a Thing by Jewish neuroticism. ;)

Doesn't mean we wouldn't be able to wiggle out of it. Just that it would be more difficult than other rituals -- especially since it's an ingrained commandment.

2) By and large we Jews do prefer to be the ones to modify our laws and rituals, not have modifications or bans imposed by non-Jewish authorities.

As I said above, I don't think that a ban on infant circumcision is the best idea, but I also don't think it's fair to characterize it as an attack on the very possibility of being Jewish. For one thing, some people who consider themselves to be religious Jews are already choosing not to circumcise, as has been pointed out above."

Tiny minority. If it's even a ten thousandth of one percent of Reform Jews in this country who are doing it, I'd be pretty surprised. Note that their children won't be accepted as Jewish by any(?) mainstream Reform, Conservative or Orthodox rabbi.

I agree with you that it's perfectly possible for that to change over time. I'd like to see that, personally. But one of the reasons I was harping on what Jews believe about circumcision upthread was I wanted to emphasize that it is very much a part of Jewish identity. It would take a tremendous shift to alter.
posted by zarq at 4:11 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


six-or-six-thirty: "Thank you for bringing up the necessity for the circumcision to happen on the 8th day by Jewish tradition. It's important to note and I wish it had been mentioned earlier in the discussion (I could have missed it as well). Yay, a new nuance to the discussion (oh god)!

LOL. You're welcome. :D

Jonathan Livengood: " Come on. That's just silly. An eight day old is not significantly more of a person than a fetus at 24 weeks.

From a viability standpoint, perhaps it is. A 24 week fetus is far less likely to survive compared to a baby who is carried to term.

Being born is a nice bright line for many legal and medical purposes, but it does not mark personhood."

Since we're framing this around Jewish beliefs, most Jewish teachings say a fetus is not a person until it is born. It is a potential, not actualized person. This is not just a viability issue -- in cases where the life of a mother is threatened, Jewish law sides with the mother every time.
posted by zarq at 4:19 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Genuine question for the masses: are there any other religious practices that are tenets of/absolutely vital to the identity of a particular religious group which have been outlawed (in the US or elsewhere)? Either ones that can be consented to (by adults) or not.

I've heard that there was something involving Jehovah's Witnesses and blood transfusions, but I don't recall any details....anyone else know about this?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:19 PM on June 27, 2012


Abraham circumcised himself as an adult, didn't he? Does the bible/torah specifically state that it must be done as a child?
Yes; in fact it goes further: It must be done as an eight day old. First in Genesis 17, where the big guy is talking to Abraham:
10 This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.

11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.

12 And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.

13 He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.

14 And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.
And also in Leviticus 12:
1 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

2 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean.

3 And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
posted by Flunkie at 4:23 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I agree with you that it's perfectly possible for that to change over time. I'd like to see that, personally. But one of the reasons I was harping on what Jews believe about circumcision upthread was I wanted to emphasize that it is very much a part of Jewish identity. It would take a tremendous shift to alter.

This is true, but it's my understanding that Jewish law already allows for symbolic circumcision (involving a drop of blood drawn from the area) in certain circumstances, including medical necessity. It'd be interesting to see whether this might eventually become acceptable as a circumcision-without-circumcision until the bar mitzvah, rather than a circumcision-without-circumcision until the closest possible date, for instance.
posted by vorfeed at 4:24 PM on June 27, 2012


Come on. That's just silly. An eight day old is not significantly more of a person than a fetus at 24 weeks. Being born is a nice bright line for many legal and medical purposes, but it does not mark personhood.

There are lots of ethical reasons marking the difference as well. I recommend Mary Anne Warren's writing on the subject, particularly the book Moral Status.

I've heard that there was something involving Jehovah's Witnesses and blood transfusions, but I don't recall any details

JW's don't allow blood transfusions (except autologous ones I think) and will refuse to allow them for their children. The legal situation in the US is complicated. Self-plagiarizing a bit:
See, e.g., Matter of McCauley, 409 Mass. 134 (1991) (holding that hospital could administer life-saving blood transfusion to an eight year old girl over her parents’ religious objections); In re Duran, 769 A.2d 497 (Sup. Ct. Pa. 2001) (holding that adult had right to refuse life-saving blood transfusion).

Especially relevant is Lundman v. McKown, 530 N.W.2d 807 (Ct. App. Minn. 1995), in which the court held “A parent may exercise genuinely held religious beliefs. But the resulting conduct, though motivated by religious belief, must yield when—judged by accepted medical practice—it jeopardizes the life of a child. Religious practices must bend to the state’s interest in protecting the welfare of a child whenever the child might die without the intervention of conventional medicine.”
Similar problems are found with Christian Science, which (mostly) prohibits all medical intervention.
posted by jedicus at 4:28 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Meta.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:35 PM on June 27, 2012


5. Potentiality arguments are dangerous. The argument is something like, "If uncircumcised now, this child might become an adult who would want to remain uncircumcised; therefore, circumcising now is wrong." But think about the parallel to abortion: "If not killed, this fetus might become an adult who would want to remain un-killed; therefore, killing now is wrong." If the first argument is good, why isn't the second one good? If the second one is bad, why isn't the first one bad?
The rights of the woman to bodily autonomy trump those of the unborn fetus. I'm comfortable with that, moreso as the selfhood of the fetus is highly questionable and the woman's is not. I'm not comfortable with the idea that religious belief trumps an individual's bodily autonomy (and integrity). Outside of multiculturalism* groups don't have rights, only individuals do, and groups attain rights only in the sense that individuals belong to them (that is, Buddhism has a right to exist because those who have chosen such a belief have a right to hold beliefs), and all rights that attach to individuals are universal and not particular based on any group membership. Until an individual attains the capability to choose for themselves, to consider them a member of a particular religion is a convenient fiction, but not really true in a reasonable sense. I don't see how any decision to circumcise a child is not an abridgment of their rights, unless clear objective benefit can be shown, even if they later express a wish to become circumcised.

I must say again that I'm against a ban for very practical reasons, but also don't feel the argument for circumcision is otherwise so strong.

*In its original sense, not the common meaning.
posted by Jehan at 4:40 PM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


Vorfeed, the term for a symbolic ciircumcision is hatafat dam brit. I mentioned it briefly upthread. Am no longer on a computer and can't link easily to sources but if you're interested in learning more that's the term to search for.

Non Jewish males who have already been circumcised but are converting have to go through a symbolic bris ceremony. That's what the hatafat dam brit is. It's not intended to be a replacement for circumcision. And again, folks who use it that way are an extremely tiny minority and their beliefs are not accepted by anyone but them.
posted by zarq at 4:48 PM on June 27, 2012


I will admit to a certain amount of self reflection upon reading that it is Germany that is doing this.

Good for them. Genital mutilation is NEVER a good idea; it doesn't matter how many years you've been doing it - that doesn't make it right. If the child wants to have it done at the age of consent in the jurisdiction that he lives in - then he can get it done.

Period. No religious freedom argument you can pose will ever make it right.
posted by mikehipp at 4:50 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Since we're framing this around Jewish beliefs, most Jewish teachings say a fetus is not a person until it is born. It is a potential, not actualized person. This is not just a viability issue -- in cases where the life of a mother is threatened, Jewish law sides with the mother every time.

I certainly didn't intend to frame my discussion around Jewish beliefs. I think those beliefs are relevant and important insofar as the issue touches on religious freedom. But I'm much more interested in the purely ethical and legal issues.

That said, one might think that being born is a necessary condition on personhood but deny that it is sufficient. One might think that a child is not a person until three months or six months or a year, for example, perhaps because the child does not have sufficient cognitive capacity until that time. That was the position from which I was raising the issue.

There are lots of ethical reasons marking the difference as well.

Marking which difference? There are lots of good reasons to think that abortion is acceptable, and there are good arguments for thinking that fetuses are not persons. There are even good arguments that deny moral status to fetuses altogether. (I think the best such arguments end up applying to infants as well, for which, see the classic paper by Michael Tooley. Whether we should accept Tooley's arguments, I'm not sure. I am not entirely sold on any of the arguments in the abortion literature, frankly.)

However, there are no good arguments that make being born a criterion of personhood. Note that Warren does not make being born a criterion of personhood. She denies personhood to fetuses because she thinks they lack consciousness (and possibly the ability to feel pain of the right sort), they lack the ability to reason about and solve complex problems, they lack self-motivated activity, they lack capacity to communicate, and they lack self-awareness. At least, that is what Warren says about them. You can see her argument in detail here. But at no time does she argue that being born makes a fetus/baby a person.

In fact, in her 1982 post-script, she argues (with a lot of special pleading, I think) that infanticide is morally wrong despite her claim that infants are not persons. After offering those arguments, she writes:
It remains true that according to my argument neither abortion nor the killing of neonates is properly considered a form of murder. Perhaps it is understandable that the law should classify infanticide as murder or homicide, since there is no other existing legal category which adequately or conveniently expresses the force of our society's disapproval of this action. But the moral distinction remains, and it has several important consequences.
I am arguing this from, I think, the opposite side that you think I am arguing from. If one does not recognize a serious right to life for fetuses or infants, I'm not sure why one should recognize a serious claim to bodily integrity for fetuses or infants. In particular, I think potentiality arguments are terrible in the abortion context, so I don't see why I should regard them as anything other than terrible in the circumcision context.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 5:30 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


We did infant personhood not so long ago. I suggest reading those four threads (2 fpps, a MeTa, and another fpp) and the links within.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:36 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jonathan Livengood, you raise a fair point that the line between fetus and newborn is not so bright, and it could be that at eight days old there is still no person present whose rights are abridged. But I don't know if any such bright line exists at any point in their development, and so maybe a fictional line (that is, birth) is reasonable?
posted by Jehan at 5:47 PM on June 27, 2012


A link and a couple of remarks.

Spiegel article.

Remark one. The suggestion to delay circumcision until age eighteen is not a compromise. No guy would do this except a tiny tiny tiny minority. So that would be almost precisely the same as the ban.

Remark two.

Apropos Jehan's comment to defend it on the grounds that religion trumps rights is going into some pretty murky territory.

Religious communities get a number of exemptions. Many churches practice sex discrimination in hiring all over the freaking place to cite only one obvious example. In America it is explicitly in the Bill of rights with separation of church and state. (I am not a constitutional lawyer.)
posted by bukvich at 6:28 PM on June 27, 2012


Jehan,

Sure, one might embrace an arbitrary line. Just say that birth flags who is a member of the legal community. I worry that arbitrariness is not the best basis for law, but maybe there is no alternative.

Also, I'm a little worried by the following sorts of case. My very first reaction to the OP was something like, "Oh, just do the circumcision in utero. Problem solved!" (In Germany, that probably wouldn't work, actually, since German law makes abortions illegal after the first trimester.) But I can't imagine that opponents of circumcision would be happier with that. So, a more principled basis seems like a good idea.

Maybe there is a principled basis, but I don't think it is personhood.

Anyway, I was mostly interested in (a) the difference between autonomy and bodily integrity and (b) the roll of potentiality arguments in this thread. For the latter, I wanted an example of a potentiality argument that would be rejected by most of the people reading the thread. That seems to have worked ... but I don't think I really accomplished my goal with the example, so it was probably not a good choice.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 6:33 PM on June 27, 2012


Would it be okay for the founder and sole member of the Cult of van Gogh to cut off their infant's earlobe as a religious identifier?
Probably. Under the circumstances you might want a court to evaluate whether the belief is sincere and the practitioner is sane. But, given what you've said, sure.


Wait, what?
You would support parents cutting off their childrens earlobes, if it was a sincere religious belief?

Ok.
I think we are coming down to the fundamental opinion divide:
Parents are responsible for their children, they do not own them.

I come down on the side of 'true' on that statement.

It means that tattooing a baby, or removing their earlobe, foreskin, little toe etc, is not ok.
Refusing standard medical treatment that would lead to their mutilation or death, also not ok. Binding their feet, applying neck rings? Not ok.
It crosses right over the cultural divide, because they babies cannot choose their culture.

At the point they can choose it for themselves, and have the support of their parents, say 10-12 years old?
Sure.

At the point they can choose it for themselves solely, say 16-18 years old? (This includes tattooing, all of the above)
Sure.

Frankly, this also includes any non-medically necessary bodypart-removal or mutilation (I honestly can't think of a more accurate, less charged word - is there one?), including non-medically necessary gender reassignment surgery.
Currently, many intersex children's parents get surgery for them, before establishing their sexual and gender preferences. Again, I find that unethical.
Raise them as the gender you want, but don't get the surgery until they can consent for themselves.

The more examples I think of, the clearer I get on this issue. Circumcision isn't the issue I can make an exception for. I really can't think of any issue here that I could in good conscience, make an exception for.

It would be far, far more disturbing to be making an exception due to tradition - it is ok to cut off the foreskin, but not tattoo it? Clearly ridiculous.


Do I feel bad about this? Yes. It's hinging really close to a lot of peoples cultural identity.
But it fails ethically and logically.

There are many, many things in various religious and cultural traditions that we do not do today. If they don't hurt anyone else, cool, go for it.
It's a small line - but if it hurts someone else, even your child, that's not ok.
posted by Elysum at 6:37 PM on June 27, 2012 [16 favorites]


Potentiality arguments are dangerous. The argument is something like, "If uncircumcised now, this child might become an adult who would want to remain uncircumcised; therefore, circumcising now is wrong." But think about the parallel to abortion: "If not killed, this fetus might become an adult who would want to remain un-killed; therefore, killing now is wrong." If the first argument is good, why isn't the second one good? If the second one is bad, why isn't the first one bad?

There is no "potentiality argument".

The argument is "this child will become an adult who deserves the ability to make the choice for themself". There is no parallel with abortion, because that fetus will never become an adult.
posted by cdward at 6:41 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Folks - this thread is now in MetaTalk which means we're going to ask you to be civil to each other or go there if you can't be.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:50 PM on June 27, 2012


Not to throw any Grar back into the topic, but I do think it's on topic and worth noting in this thread that slightly more than 50% of all boys born in the US are circumsized in infancy. This is not an obscure religious rite we are discussing here, despite the monomaniacal fixation on that theme on display. (Cite: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-02-16/a-z/sc-health-0216-circumcision-20110216_1_circumcised-men-john-geisheker-health-benefits)
posted by saulgoodman at 7:12 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Umm ... "will become" indicates potentiality. "The child is not now but will become ..." => "The child is potentially ..."

In both cases, a medical procedure deprives something of some potential. In the circumcision case, the lost potential is an uncircumcised penis. In the abortion case, the lost potential is life.

You might think that there is an important difference between arguing (i) that since a child might grow up to complain about being circumcised, circumcising now is wrong, and (ii) that since a child might grow up to want to be uncircumcised, circumcising now is wrong. I don't see it, but maybe I'm missing something. In any event, both of those arguments depend on potentiality in that it is the interests of the foreseen adult, not the interests of the child right now that are at stake. It is not, I think, the autonomy of the child but the autonomy of a foreseen adult that is being protected. That is why I contrasted autonomy and bodily integrity earlier. I don't know if bodily integrity as such ought to be regarded as a basic right, but at least it is something that the child has now. Autonomy is not.

Direct arguments against circumcision based on pain (which some people have offered in this thread) are better arguments, I think, in that they make appeal only to features the child has right now and depend on what seem to me pretty unassailable moral principles, like "It is wrong to cause unnecessary pain." (The debate would then turn on whether the pain was necessary for some good that outweighed it. The lower court thought the answer to that question was yes; the higher court thought the answer was no; some people in this thread think yes; some think no.)
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:28 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not to throw any Grar back into the topic, but I do think it's on topic and worth noting in this thread that slightly more than 50% of all boys born in the US are circumsized in infancy. This is not an obscure religious rite we are discussing here, despite the monomaniacal fixation on that theme on display. (Cite: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-02-16/a-z/sc-health-0216-circumcision-20110216_1_circumcised-men-john-geisheker-health-benefits)

Yeah, um, we're talking about Germany, remember?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:32 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oh, God, I'm going to jump in:

"Banning people from circumcision... an act that literally defines us as Jews... well, from a religious Jewish perspective, Germany has essentially just outlawed Jews by preventing us from performing a ritual that makes us Jewish. I realize that this probably sounds hyperbolic and alarmist. But I can't really think of any other way to describe it."

Yes -- it's one thing to outlaw kosher/halal slaughter; you can be a vegetarian Jew. Or a bacon-eating Jew. (Bacon is the gateway treyf.) But outlawing circumcision is outlawing Jewishness.

But what I really came in to say was about individual and cultural/tribal identity. One of my good friends has two sons the same ages as my two sons (3 and 1). And I am Catholic and she is Jewish, and I went to her boys' brises and she came to my boys' baptisms. No mohel was available in her tiny Jewish community, so an alternative method where a rabbi "directs" a doctor to do it was done, so this little Hindu doctor actually performed the circumcision in the nursery at the hospital. It was an "only in America" moment. The second one they got the same Hindu doctor, who this time studied his chants in advance so knew the Dayenu, and the rabbi attended by Skype. Anyway, I didn't see much difference liturgically between their brises and my son's baptisms; in both cases, children far too young to make a decision were being invited into a community, a community their family is a member of, and the community is promising to love and raise and support them, in this particular ethical or religious tradition that belongs to the family and provides an important part of its heritage.

It's not so much about "Baby, you are my property and must conform to my rules." but "Baby, this is the community that belongs to you and loves you and cares for you." They're little pockets of communitarian culture within an individualist world. Maybe it would help to see these community-joining rituals as a different way of being -- not necessarily a worse one -- but a different understanding of the individual's relationship to society.

I find the claim about "rights of the child" a little strange, I guess because it's invoked in some cases but not all. I'll speak of my local granola parenting group, whom I know the best: you hear a lot of "rights of the child" when it comes to circumcision, but when it comes to delivery of the child, saying that the child has a right to a safe delivery that they live through is rejected in favor of the mother's right to deliver how she wants, even in the face of overwhelming medical evidence that she's putting herself and the baby at risk. Both sides in the vaccination debate insist they're protecting the "rights of the child." (one from serious illness from vaccine-prevetable disease; the other from serious illness caused by vaccines and from the "unnecessary pain" of an "unnecessary procedure")

I know "rights of the child" has more meaning in Europe, but in U.S. law, it's a little more a rhetorical bludgeon for beating your rivals with than an actual legal principle.

I think -- In "The Philosophical Baby," Alison Gopnik talks about, in the first few pages, how there are like 400 citations in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy for major "angels dancing on the head of a pin" arguments. (Actual ones, not metaphorical ones.) There are THREE citations that discuss the philosophical or moral status of babies. And I think we end up in this weird back hallway of moral philosophy, where you've got two little mobs screaming "CHILDREN ARE PROPERTY" and, opposing, "CHILDREN ARE AUTONOMOUS." And it seems quite clear that children are neither, that children are a special and very interesting case, with many states and developments, that clearly aren't autonomous beings but quite obviously are not property either, and it's hard for moral discussions about the status of children to go forward because we don't really know what children ARE, morally. Children MUST be in a community -- a tiny one of just a single parent, or a huge extended family, or a strong ethnic identity, or a community of misplaced children in an orphanage, or SOMETHING. I mean, children are literally incapable of being autonomous. But that doesn't make them property either. There have to be between bits, and those between bits necessarily involved community, so I don't think you can leave community out of the discussion.

Anyway, that's rambling, sorry, but I feel like it'll be the same arguments between the same entrenched positions with the same level of unhappy until someone smarter than me starts to figure out what children actually ARE, and how their necessarily community fits that, and THEN start talking about how decisions about children's lives (physical, emotional, spiritual, etc. -- all of it) are appropriately made.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:34 PM on June 27, 2012 [26 favorites]


It bans infant circumcision. Presumably, a child who wishes to be Jewish could choose to be circumcised prior to his bar mitzvah; therefore, Germany has not "outlawed Jews".

Much as I can see the rationale in many of the arguments against infant circumcision, I find the idea of imposing it on twelve/thirteen-year-old boys far more barbaric.
posted by philip-random at 7:44 PM on June 27, 2012


The point is Germany can't pretend this is some obscure religious rite. Many non-religious persons engage in the practice for non-religious reasons. The fact that the focus is so exclusively on the religious issues at all betrays this as less compassionately motivated than advertised, among otherobvious clues.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:50 PM on June 27, 2012


That was in response to sys req back there.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:51 PM on June 27, 2012


saulgoodman, it's been established a number of times in this thread that non-religious circumcision is really, really rare in Europe, or basically outside of the US and Canada. That part may be kind of important to bear in mind.
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:08 PM on June 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


I think an unknown number of angels are in serious trouble, as Mr. McGee just hit the nail on the head.
posted by cacofonie at 8:12 PM on June 27, 2012


McGee is a lady.
posted by jessamyn at 8:13 PM on June 27, 2012


(Ms. McGee)
posted by cacofonie at 8:14 PM on June 27, 2012


and McGee sees "very little difference" between sprinkling water on a forehead and slicing a penis with a knife, as long as the two acts are being performed for similar reasons.
posted by moorooka at 8:18 PM on June 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Please consider re-reading her comment; that is not what she said.
posted by jessamyn at 8:22 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


I know "rights of the child" has more meaning in Europe, but in U.S. law, it's a little more a rhetorical bludgeon for beating your rivals with than an actual legal principle.

And the U.S. situation is preferable because...???

I think -- In "The Philosophical Baby," Alison Gopnik talks about, in the first few pages, how there are like 400 citations in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy for major "angels dancing on the head of a pin" arguments. (Actual ones, not metaphorical ones.) There are THREE citations that discuss the philosophical or moral status of babies. And I think we end up in this weird back hallway of moral philosophy, where you've got two little mobs screaming "CHILDREN ARE PROPERTY" and, opposing, "CHILDREN ARE AUTONOMOUS." And it seems quite clear that children are neither, that children are a special and very interesting case, with many states and developments, that clearly aren't autonomous beings but quite obviously are not property either, and it's hard for moral discussions about the status of children to go forward because we don't really know what children ARE, morally.

"DEFENSELESS"
posted by Sys Rq at 8:25 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


The international context isn't irrelevant when it comes to evaluating how much sense this decision does or doesn't make. My roots are nearly as deeply planted in Germany as in the US ( half my family being natives who still live there), and yet, I find this decision bizarre and inexplicable.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:25 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


tl;dr but until there's a significant cohort of grown men who are unhappy about the fact that they were circumcised as infants, this seems like a stupid issue to be arguing about. I say that a circumcised man of Jewish heritage who chose not to have my son circumcised. I made that decision, but it really doesn't seem like such a big deal. It seems like the people who get really bent out of shape about it are mostly (a) women, and (b) uncircumcised men, and (c) the very rare grown man with OCD about the fact he was circumcised. But just because one or two men exist in category c doesn't mean this is really anything for society to be fretting about.
posted by alms at 8:35 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


My mistake - not much difference "liturgically".

But what's the relevance of such "liturgical" similarities to this discussion? A religious ritual can either involve consent-free irreversible physical modification or not.
posted by moorooka at 8:36 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think I might be almost as far as it's possible to be from having a personal stake in this argument, as I am an atheist, childless woman with a mixed-christian-traditions parentage.

I find zarq's arguments compelling.

For both Islam and Judaism, this is the initial male rite of identity. It's alarming to me that this comes to pass in a nation that within one human lifetime in the past explicitly pursued multiple strategies to expel and then annihilate everyone who was ethnically, culturally, or religiously associated with Judaism. As to modern liberal democracy - there was anti-Muslim rioting in Cologne last month, and two days ago, UEFA fined the German football association €25,000 because its fans chanted "Sieg, Sieg," flew the Reich flag, and threw Hitler salutes at matches in Ukraine. Extreme right-wing scariness is alive and well and just as horrible in Germany as it is in the rest of Europe.
posted by gingerest at 8:41 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


When a rite involves irreversible physical modification then it only seems fair that an individual gets to choose whether they undergo the rite or not.

If a religion has a rule that says that this body-modifying rite can only be performed before the individual in question knows what's going on, then this aspect of the religion should change or be changed.
posted by moorooka at 8:55 PM on June 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Maybe it would help to see these community-joining rituals as a different way of being -- not necessarily a worse one -- but a different understanding of the individual's relationship to society.

But who has a problem with community-joining rituals? I only have a problem with non-consensual amputation of healthy flesh. Honestly, I think it's kind of like abortion. I might disagree with pro-life people, I might despise their many hypocrisies, and I might think that, no matter what they believe, their priorities need some major adjustments - but I don't expect them to be able to move from their premises to the idea that abortion itself isn't wrong. They can't. And maybe I can be convinced stopping circumcision isn't the most important thing in this situation, but for me to be convinced it was an OK way to treat a child would require a rather fundamental shift in my morality.

you hear a lot of "rights of the child" when it comes to circumcision, but when it comes to delivery of the child, saying that the child has a right to a safe delivery that they live through is rejected in favor of the mother's right to deliver how she wants, even in the face of overwhelming medical evidence that she's putting herself and the baby at risk.

Though there is an element of objecting to the risk of harm in the body of anti-circumcision argument, that's not the important part. The argument against circumcision really centres around the right of the child to bodily integrity, not to an existence free of physical risk, or even an existence free of unnecessary risk. I suspect your crunchy associates believe children are entitled to the former, while the latter isn't morally necessary or even possible. There's still a lot of room for ironing out what "bodily integrity" means (can you make them wear braces?), how much of it children are entitled to (they get to keep their limbs - but their hair?), and when they can have it. But healthy, functional flesh is probably going to be a bright line for a lot of people.

It seems like the people who get really bent out of shape about it are mostly (a) women, and (b) uncircumcised men

I don't know if that's true. But if it is, maybe it's because these are the people who know what a foreskin is good for. Seriously, it's like taking a lip or something. The kid could live that way, but it doesn't seem right, does it?
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 9:20 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Urgh. I have wanted to ask whether circumcision is really only central to *male* Jewishness, since Jewish women are not circumcised, and what that means for defending the practice in general. (Which feels sort of like stepping over a third-, fourth- and fifth-rail in the context of this thread.) And I thought I should try and see on my own what people say elsewhere about that. I found some interesting ideas in this book review of Why Aren't Jewish Women Circumcised? I didn't know that Christian scholars in antiquity used this very fact to argue that Christian men didn't need to be circumcised, and that medieval Jewish scholars felt compelled to defend the practice in response to Christian attacks along these lines. I hope these quotes aren't too inflammatory-- I found them interesting and relevant:
How did the rabbis, from the medieval period to the early Jewish Reform movements in Europe, respond to the Christian charge that the non-circumcision of Jewish women made the ritual cutting of the foreskin obsolete? Cohen presents four distinct Jewish responses: circumcision indicates that the normative way of being Jewish rests with Jewish men, thus relegating women to a lower status (Chapter 5); circumcision signals a moral (and ontological) defect in men, namely an excess of lust, for which the cutting of the foreskin is a cure (Chapter 6); faith, not circumcision, is the determining sign for Judaism—a position advanced by Maimonides—and hence women and men can be equally Jewish (Chapter 7); finally, Jewish women possess a bodily quality analogous to the male rite of circumcision: the blood of menstruation and of circumcision are both interpreted as covenantal blood (Chapter 8)....

... It is especially intriguing to read Chapter 5 and 6 side-by-side, since the positions introduced here cannot be reconciled. Whereas the former demonstrates a Jewish view that declares only men to be "real" Jews, thus celebrating Jewish manhood, the latter argues the opposite, namely that circumcision remedies "some defect that inheres in Jewish men" (p. 143). Philo of Alexandria, the famous first-century Jewish philosopher, identified the male "defect" as an excess of lust and pride; circumcision, he reasoned, would decrease and suppress these impulses. In the twelfth century, Maimonides picked up on the same theme, and later commentators developed such thinking further into theories about sexual pleasure: Circumcised men, they argued, were less capable of sexually pleasuring women....
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 9:30 PM on June 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


If the child wants to have it done at the age of consent in the jurisdiction that he lives in - then he can get it done.

This is not a realistic argument.

(puts on boots, wades into thread)

Adult circumcision is horrific. I know, I did it.

I only did so for medical reasons -- if anyone else had spent the following six weeks seeing me bedridden, in constant agony, and about a hairs-breadth from being addicted to codeine, they would not choose to follow that path, their religion be damned. (The four months after weren't much fun, either.)

I will put forth that I don't feel in any sense 'mutilated'. Nor do I feel like I'm missing out on anything I experienced before.

The vast majority of opinions from people who've only seen one side or the other are completely uninformed. Frankly the whole issue is blown out of proportion.
posted by zvs at 10:07 PM on June 27, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'm circumcised. I'm not Jewish. I do not feel I was harmed by this process and have in fact always been grateful I don't have to deal with dick smegma

``I'm circumcised. I'm not Jewish. I do not feel I was harmed by my parents pulling out all my teeth and have in fact always been grateful I don't have to deal with brushing teeth.''

There, I fixed it for you :)


I will put forth that I don't feel in any sense 'mutilated'. Nor do I feel like I'm missing out on anything I experienced before.

Actually, me too. I did not have a bad post-surgery as you, only about 3 days of pain, and 2 weeks of serious over-sensitivity. I would say sex is definitely dampened after.

So all it taught me was it is different for each one. Some argued it was better after (usually 'because I can last longer' which is ludicrous) and some argued 'about same', and some like myself, preferred the-before with more "combinations" of fun.
posted by lundman at 10:14 PM on June 27, 2012


Two questions, with regard to religious practices:

1) As mentioned upthread, Germany has a large and growing Muslim population, which far outnumbers its Jewish population. I know next to nothing about the importance of circumcision within Islam. Does anyone know if it is generally considered as essential in Islam as it is in Judaism? Do most mainstream sects consider it as a fundamental practice, or does its importance vary widely?

2) Within Judaism, is any consideration given to adults who are circumcised? Presumably, if there are rituals in place to deal with men converting to Judaism, there are practices in place to deal with Jewish-by-heritage men who were not circumcised as children?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:34 PM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I do not feel I was harmed by this process and have in fact always been grateful I don't have to deal with dick smegma..."

The most insidious type of smegma!
posted by horsewithnoname at 10:48 PM on June 27, 2012


As a German, I'm not sure whether I'm more appalled by the anti-german sentiment in this thread or the fact that stopping people from chopping bits off their children without medical necessity is a controversial idea here.
posted by snownoid at 11:29 PM on June 27, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm not sure whether I'm more appalled by...the fact that stopping people from chopping bits off their children without medical necessity is a controversial idea here.

Next step: banning haircuts and toenail clippers for minors.
posted by The Gooch at 11:46 PM on June 27, 2012


Toenails and hair grow back...

(sorry, I mean, I presume you realise this and youre just doing an ironic impression of a dumb pro-slicer, but some of the stuff on this thread has been so clueless it's hard to tell)
posted by moorooka at 12:42 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Bunny Ultramod: "That's pretty xenophobic, you're right. Do you have any rational reason for feeling that way, or just, like, ignorance?

There's one big historic answer that you may be overlooking.
"

Certainly, and all Right-Minded(tm) people must forever link the current residents of the land legally known as Germany with the crimes of the people who lived there in the 1930s and early 1940s. This sort of bigotry is both natural, and justifiable!
posted by IAmBroom at 12:52 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know that categorising all Americans as genocidal puritans is the correct and prudent thing to do. Is this like that?
posted by zoo at 1:41 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


saulgoodman: This is an act whose purpose is solely religious.

That's not what US doctors have been saying for years. It's interesting that there's this cultural gap between Europe and the US, but it's absolutely not the case that male circumcision in the US is seen as a purely religious practice.


Great. However, this ruling was in Europe, so European cultural mores are perhaps more relevant, and it is absolutely seen as a solely religious thing here.

oneironaut: I'm Jewish, I was born Jewish, and I have an obligation to all my fellow Jews to acknowledge my identity, even if I never practice my religion. Circumcision means that identity is inescapable. Good. Some things are bigger than individual choice.

I find this attitude deeply disturbing. If an individual wants to abandon an aspect of their (or their parents') identity, they should be able to. The way you're putting it sounds like a justification for branding kids at birth with the family crest... If I want nothing whatever to do with my parents or family or community, I should be able to forge my own identity. Insisting that a nagging reminder that might well make it much harder to effectively pass in one's new identity seems mocking and cruel to me.

darsasami: My case never got to the point of in-depth research, as I determined eventually that I was mentally male, but I have been told that circumcision can seriously complicate or outright prevent a successful sexual reassignment surgery.

If this is indeed true, that's a pretty big reason right there.


But maybe, oneironaut, that's just another obligation I ought to have to my "fellow" men, to be unable to ever deny being born with a dick?
posted by Dysk at 2:11 AM on June 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


...thanks, German judge, for protecting victims like me from shit I never asked to be protected from.

The point is that it's being done before people are old enough to be asked if they want to be protected from it. The fact that you're fine with it doesn't change that others might not be. Also - cutting is a removal of choice, not cutting leaves the choice until the individual is old enough to decide for themselves.
posted by lith at 3:11 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


My family is German and Jewish. My grandmother grew up in the US because she couldn't have grown up Jewish and German in 1938. That's just... an undeniable fact.

So, where I'm coming from here is from a place where my own family was directly affected by Germany's troublesome history with Anti-Semitism. And I very much don't like seeing Germany coming anywhere near touching the rights of Jews to religious practice. It feels very viscerally uncomfortable to me. Sure, it would also feel squidgy to me to see France or Guatemala pass a similar ruling - but I will absolutely admit that for me personally, that Germany is doing so feels... skin-crawly.

(I've also lived in Germany myself as a teenager, so I don't have a beef with the entire nation of Germany and am very well aware of how they deal with their own history.)

On the subject of circumcision - I chose not to circumcise my son because while I am of Jewish heritage, it's from the "wrong" side. My father is Jewish, not my mother. Unless I formally converted, I am not considered a full-blooded Jew - and I'm ok with that. I wasn't raised in a Jewish community, though I was raised fully aware of my family's heritage and it's always been very important to me. In any case, since I did not covert and join a Jewish community, my children would not be considered Jewish, meaning that circumcised or not - should they desire to join a Jewish community later in life, they'll have to convert.

Being that any sons of mine would need to convert to become full, um, members of a Jewish community I figured that it was just as well to skip the circumcision since my husband is himself from a country (Portugal) where circumcision is only done for religious reasons.

In any case, I can see that I'm an outlier here in that I didn't circumcise my child and very much don't like the idea of this being legally mandated. I'm glad that this was my choice to make. I'm glad that in the US, if I chose to circumcise my son and raise him in a Jewish/Muslim community, I would be legally able to do so.

(Also: one of my quoted reasons to one of the nurses when asked for the 16th time [seriously, write this shit down on a chart somewhere people because I was asked over and over and over again about circumcision] about circumcising was "Hey, I didn't grow this thing for 40 weeks for you to start taking pieces *off.*")
posted by sonika at 6:44 AM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


We had a big discussion about this, my wife and I, and also with our Rabbi. We finally decided to go ahead with the circumcision. I'm circumcised. I realize there are some people who later are really upset about it, but I don't consider it a trauma that I no longer have my foreskin. And honestly I'm really glad that it happened when I was young rather than having to make that decision in my teens. This was a consideration we made when we decided to go ahead with it. It helped that mohel we chose was wonderful.*

As I see it, this ruling is highly problematic. While I can see the rationale behind it, at the same time it puts all observant Jews and Muslims into a serious quandary. It's not like this is some one-time optional ritual that they can just skip. So it's not like this is going to reduce circumcision among the population most likely to circumcise for religious purposes. In all likelihood, they will simply leave the country in order to fulfill the circumcision.

In all honesty, who this will work for is people like me, who are casually but not intensely observant. If I were faced with the prospect of traveling up to Canada in order to perform the circumcision, I probably would put it on hold. I'd resent the hell out of it, though. And if my son chose to be religiously observant at a later age, he would have to go through the procedure as an adult (which, I'm told, is much more painful).



* If you choose circumcise your son, never ever have an ordinary doctor do it, always choose a mohel, for two reasons:
  1. Mohels, because they are fulfilling a religious duty, are unable to deny the procedure to anyone based on income
  2. They have done it many more times than an ordinary doctor
If anyone in the Philly area is planning a circumcision, I know a wonderful mohel who is extremely gently, compassionate, and clearly cares deeply about the health, well-being, and comfort of the child. MeMail me.

posted by Deathalicious at 7:08 AM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


As mentioned upthread, Germany has a large and growing Muslim population, which far outnumbers its Jewish population. I know next to nothing about the importance of circumcision within Islam. Does anyone know if it is generally considered as essential in Islam as it is in Judaism? Do most mainstream sects consider it as a fundamental practice, or does its importance vary widely?

I know that in Turkey, boys are circumcised around age 11. When we visited one famous mosque in Istanbul / Eyup, a group of boys dressed up in fancy silk sultan costumes were proudly waiting in the courtyard with their families for their ceremonies to begin. I'm not sure what the practice is in Arab Muslim cultures, however; I get the impression that it's an option but not required, as it is in Judaism. After a quick search, Wikipedia seems to suggest it's more widespread in Shiia than Sunni cultures, and the topic is not specifically addressed one way or the other in the Qu'ran.
posted by aught at 7:10 AM on June 28, 2012


Fritz Langwedge: "Circumcision is a 6,000+/- year old tradition that never caused much harm

If you're proof of that, then any of the hundreds of kids that die from botched circumcisions every year can be counted as proof of the contrary.
"

Looks like nearly all of these circumcisions were non-religious/secular. I'm not denying that it's a medical procedure with inherent risks, but it sounds like in most of these cases the circumcisions were performed immediately after birth. One of the main reasons that Jews circumcise at 8 days is to give the child time to recover and build their strength. It's also frankly insane to administer anesthesia or strong painkillers to a small baby. I'm absolutely opposed to circumcision for non-religious purposes and particularly having it done in the hospital immediately after birth.

I kind of think it has more to say about how birth is handled in the US -- it's way more medicalized than in other countries and as a result we actually have a much worse rate in terms of births compared to other developed countries.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:20 AM on June 28, 2012


Certainly, and all Right-Minded(tm) people must forever link the current residents of the land legally known as Germany with the crimes of the people who lived there in the 1930s and early 1940s. This sort of bigotry is both natural, and justifiable!

"Right-minded (tm) people"? WTF? This wasn't the Crusades or some ancient time of yore. I know people who are only a couple years older than my parents who spent their childhood in concentration camps. The rest of their folks died there. It's a little early to tell people to "just get over it, already."

For all practical purposes in Germany, this law only applies to Jews and Muslims. It's reasonable to question its motivations, after such a short amount of time, and less than a lifetime IS a short amount of time.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:27 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wonder how much of this is clueless cultural hegemony. For instance, I doubt many of the people who are happy to have saggy pants literally outlawed here in the US would view themselves as racist, but what it comes down to is that "people are doing things in ways we, in our culture, find icky." At its worst, it's stealing Native American kids from their parents to raise them white, for their own good, of course.
posted by small_ruminant at 7:31 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Certainly, and all Right-Minded(tm) people must forever link the current residents of the land legally known as Germany with the crimes of the people who lived there in the 1930s and early 1940s. This sort of bigotry is both natural, and justifiable!

This is an incredibly ungenerous reading of this viewpoint.

Within the past generation of so, Germany systematically rounded up Jews for the intended purpose of torturing and killing them.

This of course doesn't mean that individual, modern German citizens are necessarily any more likely to be anti-Semetic, nor do I think this was suggested by anyone here. It means that it is shockingly tone-deaf for the German court system, of all places, to pass a ruling that specifically outlaws a long-standing Jewish religious ritual.

My ancestors didn't come to American until long after slavery ended, but I don't know that means I get to wipe my hands of any discussion of systematic racism prevalent in the US.
posted by The Gooch at 7:48 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder how much of this is clueless cultural hegemony.

That's how I read it. It's a lot easier to see the flaws in what the foreigners-among-you are doing in their foreign foreignness than it is to think about what cultural practices you might have that harm your children.

(and the history of German laws and attitudes about Turkish immigrants are a lot more relevant than the Holocaust here -- it was not long ago that some people born in Germany were not German citizens because they had the wrong ethnic background)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:04 AM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Lack of smegma is a reason ? I was taught from a very early age to clean my dick - not that hard a job. If lack of smeg is o e of the reasons your hanging on then your lazy, no dick cleanin' ass doesn't deserve a foreskin
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 8:04 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Certainly, and all Right-Minded(tm) people must forever link the current residents of the land legally known as Germany with the crimes of the people who lived there in the 1930s and early 1940s. This sort of bigotry is both natural, and justifiable!

Not forever but for a good while.

I highly doubt that there's even a hint of state-sponsored anti-Semitism behind this ruling, but that doesn't change the fact that this entirely rational/reasonable ruling could well go a long way toward effectively criminalizing the Jewish faith in Germany ... which is a far greater wrong than circumcision, because it is Germany. Because history does have a voice, and it must be heard.

There are still people alive who suffered under the policies of the German government in 1933-45. It's too soon for this kind of law. Way too soon.
posted by philip-random at 8:37 AM on June 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


which is a far greater wrong than circumcision, because it is Germany

No, criminalizing someone's faith is wrong irrespective of where it's done, the same way that ascribing any faith to an infant is wrong irrespective of which faith it is.
posted by kengraham at 11:25 AM on June 28, 2012


I think we need really good evidence that we're preventing actual serious harm before we intervene in and ban other people's cultural practices. That we think it's weird and we don't do it is not sufficient justification.

If the courts' ruling was based on the idea that people are "irreparably and permanently" harmed by it because circumcision marks them as Muslim or having grown up in the Muslim community, as some of these articles suggest, even if it does so in a really private way, then I think that's a problem. I would be really surprised if this didn't get overruled.

It's interesting that most comments here have changed the subject to loss of sensitivity, which is probably true to some extent, and to supposed medical benefits. Apparently the judge in this case did not rule on those issues, even though the case involved complications from circumcision, but ruled that parents should not be allowed do this because doing the procedure would harm their children by making them even more irreparably Turkish than they would by just having them.* (German parents already can't, I think, by law, give their children Turkish or any other foreign or made up names.)

*In Germany, Muslim pretty much equals Turkish.
posted by nangar at 11:26 AM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd like to say that I am pro-foreskin but nobody will pay me for having it. Yet.
posted by srboisvert at 11:32 AM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think we need really good evidence that we're preventing actual serious harm before we intervene in and ban other people's cultural practices. That we think it's weird and we don't do it is not sufficient justification.

Let's be honest here, the only reason the onus is being placed on those who do not support circumcision to "prove" that it's harmful is because of the overwhelming cultural and religious push to have circumcisions performed, and the whole reason they're being performed is because, literally, some person long ago wrote down a rule in a book, and claimed it was God's rule.

Why is that not bizarre on its face? That somehow avoiding the procedure needs to be justified, that the default of leaving a child untouched needs to be defended?

As saulgoodman has so kindly provided over a dozen times, there are quite a few post-hoc rationalizations that have grown up around this cultural and religious tradition, but taking a step back just a bit to the original justification seems warranted. Someone long ago claimed God told them to write down a rule.

It's ridiculous on its face.
posted by odinsdream at 11:45 AM on June 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


"This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later about his own religious affiliation"

This is such a weird reason to me. Are there religions you AREN'T allowed to be if you're circumsized? Maybe everyone should be circumsized on the 8th day just in case they decide to become Jewish. Might as well leave their options open, right?
posted by small_ruminant at 11:51 AM on June 28, 2012


This of course doesn't mean that individual, modern German citizens are necessarily any more likely to be anti-Semetic, nor do I think this was suggested by anyone here. It means that it is shockingly tone-deaf for the German court system, of all places, to pass a ruling that specifically outlaws a long-standing Jewish religious ritual.

The judge did not outlaw a Jewish ritual, he ruled that removing someone's foreskin without their consent constitutes assault and thus violates the constitution. I find the suggestion that we should allow little boys' constitutional rights to be violated because it might make us look bad to be completely absurd.





Apparently the judge in this case did not rule on those issues, even though the case involved complications from circumcision, but ruled that parents should not be allowed do this because doing the procedure would harm their children by making them even more irreparably Turkish than they would by just having them.

Bullshit

German parents already can't, I think, by law, give their children Turkish or any other foreign or made up names.

Think again.
posted by snownoid at 11:53 AM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems to me that because we can mostly agree that the baby, at 8 days or whatever, does not have the ability to make a choice about this matter one way or another, we're left with the question of whether the baby's parents or the state (on behalf of the baby's human rights, I suppose you would say) should be able to make the choice.

Thinking just about the religious aspects of this, I think people who argue in favor of banning circumcision on the grounds that the child is not able to make the choice to join the religion or not haven't really thought it all the way through. Let's leave aside for the moment the facts zarq brought up about the religious injunction to perform the circumcision 8 days after birth, and pretend that the operation can take place at 18 years old and be equivalent. Now consider the fate of young men who do choose to join Judaism.

In order to practice their religion they are now required to undergo an operation which is going to be extremely painful and debilitating as an adult, as people in this thread have personally testified to. If I were in that position, I would far rather have had the operation performed at 8 days old. I don't deny that the operation causes pain to the infant, but out of the cited 50% or so of Americans and Canadians who have had the procedure done, I doubt you'll find any who remember it, and very few who find it a source of significant trauma, if they even think about it at all.

Maybe everyone should be circumsized on the 8th day just in case they decide to become Jewish

I see where you're going with this, but I'd say that given the explicitly matrilineal nature of (most) Judaism, families of Jewish people could reasonably expect or hope that their children specifically would join or continue to practice the religion once they reach the age of consent, and in my mind that would give more weight to arguments in favor of circumcision in these specific cases.
posted by whir at 12:07 PM on June 28, 2012


The Gooch: Within the past generation of so, Germany systematically rounded up Jews for the intended purpose of torturing and killing them.
A generation is about 20 years. The Holocaust was over well over 3 generations ago.
small_ruminant: It's a little early to tell people to "just get over it, already."
No one is saying that. I only pointed out that it's racist to presume that Germans are acting antisemitically, simply because they are German.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:25 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not just about the immediate pain and whether or not it is consciously remembered. There is a lot of research which suggests that our experience of pain as adults is partially dependent on pain we experience as infants. I saw this in an episode of BBC Horizon, and it impacted me enough to learn more.

Unfortunately, I don't remember the specific studies or researchers mentioned in the episode, but here's two that are at least related. Here is one specifically showing that this does relate to circumcisions. I hope that anyone who has seen that episode, or looked into the research, would be extremely cautious of purposefully inducing great pain in an infant. The science is becoming clear that it really can, and does, have subtle long-term effects.
posted by gilrain at 12:28 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


"This change contravenes the interests of the child to decide later about his own religious affiliation"

This is such a weird reason to me. Are there religions you AREN'T allowed to be if you're circumsized?


Makes sense to me. Part of the deal with "communitarian culture" religions is exactly this kind of pressure: if you're X then you must Y and your children must Y and if not, you're not X. Growing up religious-with-a-religious-circumcision probably does make it harder to leave the religion later, psychologically speaking, and it's a likely point of resentment for those who have left. I mean, it's intended as a permanent mark of religious affiliation -- I find it pretty easy to see how that might contravene the interests of the child to decide later about his own religious affiliation, including which religious marks he wishes to bear.
posted by vorfeed at 12:56 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


(German parents already can't, I think, by law, give their children Turkish or any other foreign or made up names.)

Mesut Özil, born in Gelsenkirchen, says hello.
posted by modernnomad at 2:33 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


gilrain raises an excellent point. I did a very little bit of digging around and came up with the following relevant materials:

For starters, pain in neonates is different than pain in adults, it is more difficult to measure, and it is more difficult to manage pharmacologically.

That said, several studies have looked at the effect of repeated painful procedures on subsequent pain responses of infants: for examples, see here, here, and here.

All of these studies found (consistent with animal models) that pain sensitivity was generally increased as a result of early, repeated painful procedures, and the increased sensitivity was most pronounced at the site of the original procedure(s).

One study found that repeated painful procedures performed on neonates caused increased sensitivity to heat (but not mechanical) pain in school-aged children. (In the last case, the level of pain is large: we're talking about extended hospitalization in a NICU.)

The study gilrain linked above looked specifically at the effect of circumcision on pain response to vaccinations at four and six months (pdf). That study found that pain due to circumcision caused increases in facial action, cry duration, and VAS pain scores due to vaccinations at four and six months. Those increases were statistically significant, but the effect size was not reported. Just eyeballing it, I wonder if the effect is large enough to be interesting. For example, the pain scores went from 3 (plus or minus 1) to 5 (plus or minus 1.5) -- at 95% confidence -- making the result just barely significant at p=0.02. The other two measures were not much different. The same study also found that effects due to pain from circumcision are reduced (but not quite eliminated) by pre-treatment with lidocaine-prilocaine cream.

As far as I can tell, the studies leave open how large is the effect on later pain sensitivity of neonatal circumcision, and how long-lived is the effect on pain sensitivity due to neonatal circumcision.

Also worth noting is an interesting study on "Optimal time for neonatal circumcision," which concludes that "painless circumcision is possible in almost all newborns if it is performed during the first week after birth."
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 2:44 PM on June 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


vorfeed: " Makes sense to me. Part of the deal with "communitarian culture" religions is exactly this kind of pressure: if you're X then you must Y and your children must Y and if not, you're not X. Growing up religious-with-a-religious-circumcision probably does make it harder to leave the religion later, psychologically speaking

Are you speaking about Judaism? Because it would seem to me that there's ample evidence that owning a circumcised penis hasn't been any sort of an obstacle for Jews to convert to other religions or declare themselves atheist or agnostic. Intermarriage rates are quite high and climbing, and have been for decades.
posted by zarq at 2:45 PM on June 28, 2012


Jonathon, thank you very much for taking the time to summarize that research! And I do recommend finding and watching that episode of Horizon; this research was only one facet, and the entire episode was fascinating.
posted by gilrain at 2:56 PM on June 28, 2012


No problem! I'm glad to contribute.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 3:00 PM on June 28, 2012


Are you speaking about Judaism? Because it would seem to me that there's ample evidence that owning a circumcised penis hasn't been any sort of an obstacle for Jews to convert to other religions or declare themselves atheist or agnostic. Intermarriage rates are quite high and climbing, and have been for decades.

I didn't say that circumcised men were incapable of leaving their religion. I said that rituals like circumcision probably make it harder to leave, psychologically speaking, and I stand by that. I'd argue that this is the primary point of in-group/out-group marks like this: they're meant to strengthen membership in the group.

Besides, you yourself dismissed religious Jews who choose not to circumcise with words like "tiny minority". I think it's obvious that circumcision is an obstacle for religious Jews who are ambivalent toward the practice or who don't wish to circumcise their kids... and that, too, is religious choice.
posted by vorfeed at 3:04 PM on June 28, 2012


A generation is about 20 years. The Holocaust was over well over 3 generations ago.

A generation is 20 years in a culture where people have children at about the age of 20. It is easily 30 or 35 years in contemporary european culture. There are plenty of people whose own parents and grandparents were there who are alive in germany now.
posted by mdn at 3:08 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


vorfeed: " I said that rituals like circumcision probably make it harder to leave, psychologically speaking, and I stand by that. I'd argue that this is the primary point of in-group/out-group marks like this: they're meant to strengthen membership in the group. "

Circumcision is an in-group mark for Jews. However, being circumcised is not strictly a Jewish custom. So just because someone is circumcised, that doesn't mean they're Jewish. Throughout the 1970's and early 80's, it was estimated that over 90% of all American males born were being circumcised -- if you're a certain age, being circumcised is completely normative in American culture. Hard to be both an "in-group" and an "out-group" mark if virtually everyone has it, no?

" Besides, you yourself dismissed religious Jews who choose not to circumcise with words like "tiny minority".

Is is simply a fact. They are a tiny minority. More to the point, they are not accepted as Jewish by mainstream Judaism. In the future that may change. But for now, they're a very small, vocal group. Until attitudes and rulings change in mainstream Judaism, and it seems unlikely that's going to happen quickly if at all, uncircumcised Jews who try to be observant will probably remain marginalized.

However, all of this notwithstanding, it still does not logically follow that being circumcised is a psychological barrier for Jews who wish to convert, since no other religion that I'm aware of views being circumcised as a stigma. Can you cite any studies or research that shows being circumcised makes it psychologically harder for Jews to break away from their religion?

I think it's obvious that circumcision is an obstacle for religious Jews who are ambivalent toward the practice or who don't wish to circumcise their kids... and that, too, is religious choice."

I am a religious Jew for whom circumcising my son was a much-deliberated choice. I would not characterize that choice as an "obstacle." Nor for that matter, coercion.
posted by zarq at 3:36 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


A generation is about 20 years. The Holocaust was over well over 3 generations ago.

My family emigrated from Germany in '38. My grandmother was 14 at the time. She's still alive. Now, she's had kids - grandkids - and even a great-grandkid, but the point being that there are still living witnesses to the Holocaust and it does them a great disservice to claim that we should collectively be "over it" by now.
posted by sonika at 4:00 PM on June 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hard to be both an "in-group" and an "out-group" mark if virtually everyone has it, no?

In Germany, virtually no one has it unless they're in a circumcising religious in-group. And we are talking about a German ruling.

However, all of this notwithstanding, it still does not logically follow that being circumcised is a psychological barrier for Jews who wish to convert, since no other religion that I'm aware of views being circumcised as a stigma. Can you cite any studies or research that shows being circumcised makes it psychologically harder for Jews to break away from their religion?

No, I can't. I just don't see how circumcision can be "an act that literally defines us as Jews" and "an inherent part of mainstream religious Judaism" on the one hand, and have zero psychological bearing on Jewish religious identity on the other. People don't work that way. I've also known too many Jews for whom circumcise-or-not was a big, big question to believe that it never has anything to do with the decision to stay or go, especially when kids are involved.

I am a religious Jew for whom circumcising my son was a much-deliberated choice. I would not characterize that choice as an "obstacle." Nor for that matter, coercion.

My point was that not all religious Jews agree with you. Some of them aren't even considered religious Jews "by anyone but them", due to nothing but this one issue, which would certainly seem to make it an obstacle for them.
posted by vorfeed at 4:00 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whether the majority of Jews are right or wrong to believe that circumcision of baby boys is a definitive and standard part of their religion is beside the point. Germany is going from having religious freedom to not having it, and from allowing families basic freedom to raise their children in their own cultural value system to taking that away.

As the owner of a circumcised penis, I have no issues with pain tolerance. Disallowing circumcision for that kind of reason (a statistical association in some study) makes about as much sense as enforcing it to control AIDS.
posted by knoyers at 5:14 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


(German parents already can't, I think, by law, give their children Turkish or any other foreign or made up names.)

> Mesut Özil, born in Gelsenkirchen, says hello.


I thought it was illegal for people to give their kids odd names, or at least that it was in West Germany in the early 80s, I guess that's not the case. (It has to sound totally ignorant if this was never the case, and it probably is totally ignorant. de.wikipedia lists some regulations on given names, but they don't actually restrict foreign names.)
posted by nangar at 5:35 PM on June 28, 2012


Regardless of the intent of the law, its effect will be to kick Jews out of Germany and/or have them arrested for practicing their religion. I fail to see how a rational lawmaker could fail to see this, or see it and think, "Well, I guess rounding up the Jews is preferable to allowing the scandal of circumcision to continue."
posted by GIFtheory at 5:50 PM on June 28, 2012


> I fail to see how a rational lawmaker could fail to see this ...

This was a local court decision that's likely to be overturned.
posted by nangar at 5:58 PM on June 28, 2012


Zarq, you are mistaken. An uncircumcised male Jew is still a Jew. When he turns 13, the obligation that he be circumcised passes from his father to him. I have never seen a source that prevents an uncircumcised man from counting in minyan. The community had to deal with this because many Russian Jewish immigrants to the USA and Israel were uncircumcised because circumcision was forbidden by the USSR.

That said, the fact that you are so sure is representative of the emotional impact of the practice, and I'm sure you're not alone in your belief.

It would be hard to overstate the cultural importance of circumcision in Jewish culture. And you know what? I think that cultural importance is a direct result of generation after generation, regime after regime, outlawing it in the context of rampant anti-Jewish feeling. In that context, it becomes a defiance, a willful expression of commitment to an identity that other people disdain, and a commitment to your child accepting the shared destiny of Jews, even when that is a dangerous one in many contexts, because in many past cultures, circumcision was an identifier for Jews.

Even in the USSR, many Jews continued to circumcise their children, and I imagine they will continue to circumcise them in Germany. They may be more likely to circumcise now. I am both deeply secular and deeply Jewish and I have my qualms about the practice, but my reaction to seeing it outlawed does not, to put it mildly, propel me away from the practice.

I imagine that if you looked at the rate of Jewish circumcision around the world, the American community would have the lowest rate of circumcision (though it would still be quite high). I think that is a direct consequence of the relative lack of antisemitism here and the freedom of religion here, which have created a Jewish community and identity large enough and diverse enough to include people who do not practice circumcision.

If your goal is to reduce Jewish practice of circumcision, this is an absolutely backwards way to do it.

And you know, I am also deeply a feminist. If there were a female-dominated matriarchal culture that developed a tradition of female genital cutting that was comparable in effect to this form of male genital cutting, I would not condemn it. The fact is that as far as we know, that is far from the cultures in which the practice is common.

Also, the clear consequence of the theorizing about circumcision to pain tolerance or other consequences in adulthood would be that you should be able to find consistent physiological commonalities among Jewish and Muslim adults in Europe that they did not share with Christian and Christian-descended men. I have heard plenty of generalizations about how Jews are essentially different from non-Jews, but none that didn't stink of antisemitism more or less faintly.

Anyway, trying to eradicate Jewish circumcision by banning it (especially in historically persecuted communities) is like trying to eradicate abortion by banning birth control and sex ed. It may feel morally comfortable but if you truly believe in the harm of circumcision, it is far from a practical harm-reduction strategy. (I don't feel I know enough about the various Muslim communities in Europe to make a similar generalization).
posted by Salamandrous at 6:12 PM on June 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, the clear consequence of the theorizing about circumcision to pain tolerance or other consequences in adulthood would be that you should be able to find consistent physiological commonalities among Jewish and Muslim adults in Europe that they did not share with Christian and Christian-descended men. I have heard plenty of generalizations about how Jews are essentially different from non-Jews, but none that didn't stink of antisemitism more or less faintly.

Wait ... are you saying that if there were a measurable difference in the pain sensitivity or pain response between circumcised and uncircumcised men, that would be anti-semitic? How?
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 6:55 PM on June 28, 2012


I'm saying that until or unless you actually find a difference (and there have been many many generations of many people trying very very hard but failing to find measurable differences between Jews and non-Jews), speculating about it is extremely dicey territory - especially when the difference you are looking for is one that would reflect well on the physiology of male non-Jews and poorly on the physiology of male Jews. This is especially so because the trope of inadequate manliness is a near constant in various cultural manifestations of antisemitism.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:02 PM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Agree with Salamandrous tho I have heard that there aren't many great Jewish baseball players.
posted by philip-random at 7:23 PM on June 28, 2012


But the claim is not that there is a difference between Jews and non-Jews. The claim is that there is a difference between people who experienced trauma as neonates and those who did not. Most of the studies linked above were about pre-mature children, children with diabetes (who have to have lots of blood draws), and children with serious illnesses at birth that require surgical interventions. Those children have measurable differences in pain response later in life.

Only one study even says anything about circumcision, and that study isn't comparing Jews with non-Jews, it's comparing circumcised children with non-circumcised children.

I don't understand how you are getting the anti-semitism in here.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 7:24 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


vorfeed: "In Germany, virtually no one has it unless they're in a circumcising religious in-group. And we are talking about a German ruling.

True! I was speaking only about the US. But yes, you're right.

I cannot speak to the German Jewish experience. But I can speak to being an American religious Jew from personal experience. Being a circumcised American is still normative, and does not set one apart as Jewish to the general population.

No, I can't. I just don't see how circumcision can be "an act that literally defines us as Jews" and "an inherent part of mainstream religious Judaism" on the one hand, and have zero psychological bearing on Jewish religious identity on the other.

Wait, I didn't say or try to imply that it had "zero psychological bearing." I said that I didn't think it was an obstacle (your term) to conversion. Or walking away from the Jewish faith. I know more Jewish atheists and agnostics than theists. Very few of them have expressed any sort of emotional conflict at letting go of theism, and none of the males have ever expressed a concern that their circumcised penis would mean they would bear an unwanted, stigmatic mark of a religion they were no longer a part of.

So, that said, three things do occur to me:

1) I'm not in the habit of asking my friends about their genitals! So it's perfectly possible they've had conflicts that I'm not privy to.
2) "My friends" are not necessarily statistically significant proof or refutation of anything.
3) You don't have any studies to support your conclusions. Neither do I. So we can only talk about this through the lens of our own experiences and understanding, based on what we believe to be logical conclusions. So... perhaps we both can be right. ;)

Anyway... the ritual is an inherent part of mainstream Judaism. It is one of our primary commandments, laid out early in the Torah and then expanded upon defined that has a great deal to do with Jewish religious identity, yes. However, it is not the only thing that defines a Jew.

My point was that not all religious Jews agree with you.

Oh, definitely. I cannot claim to speak for all religious Jews because it's very hard to define us in any but the most general terms. If I gave you the impression that I was trying to speak for everyone, that wasn't my intention.

My point was just that we should keep them in perspective when looking at Judaism as a whole. Not to say they're not valid, religious Jews. I don't think it's my place to cast that sort of judgment about another Jew.

Some of them aren't even considered religious Jews "by anyone but them", due to nothing but this one issue, which would certainly seem to make it an obstacle for them."

OK. I understand. That makes sense.

This problem of not being recognized as properly Jewish isn't exactly uncommon between sects and subsects, by the way. This is a complex topic, but the most common complaint the Orthodox have about Reform and to a lesser extent Conservative Jews is that we "pick and choose" what rules and regulations to follow, and therefore aren't "properly" Jewish by Orthodox standards. I've heard it described as non-Orthodox denominations are offering a "faulty product" to their followers. I've also heard Orthodox rabbis say Reform Jews aren't Jews at all. It runs the gamut.
posted by zarq at 7:28 PM on June 28, 2012


Salamandrous: "Zarq, you are mistaken. An uncircumcised male Jew is still a Jew. When he turns 13, the obligation that he be circumcised passes from his father to him. I have never seen a source that prevents an uncircumcised man from counting in minyan. The community had to deal with this because many Russian Jewish immigrants to the USA and Israel were uncircumcised because circumcision was forbidden by the USSR.

OK, can I just say I'm really, really glad you said this? It especially bothers me that I was misinforming people here. So, thank you!

So what is the point, then, of circumcising at eight days? It's not just traditional, because Genesis 17 clearly lays out the requirement parameters. I was under the impression that it was absolutely obligatory. Is there any religious ramification to a Jew who has not had a brit milah?

That said, the fact that you are so sure is representative of the emotional impact of the practice, and I'm sure you're not alone in your belief.

Probably not.

I imagine that if you looked at the rate of Jewish circumcision around the world, the American community would have the lowest rate of circumcision (though it would still be quite high). I think that is a direct consequence of the relative lack of antisemitism here and the freedom of religion here, which have created a Jewish community and identity large enough and diverse enough to include people who do not practice circumcision.

Hrm. You're right. I've never thought of it in those terms before.
posted by zarq at 7:38 PM on June 28, 2012


These are my understandings, for what they're worth:

Circumcision is absolutely obligatory. The obligation is on the father, and if he doesn't fulfill it, it passes to the son when he turns 13, and remains incumbent upon him until it is done (except in exceptional health-related circumstances). That obligation is halachic ('legal', sort of), like the obligations of keeping kosher, keeping shabbat, keeping niddah, etc.

But from a broad cultural perspective, it has taken on extraordinary significance (and perhaps even to a greater extent, at least by contrast to other practices, in less traditionally observant communities). It is one thing that communities have maintained, even when for a variety of other reasons, Jewish observance became dangerous or difficult.

I think it's kind of comparable to the way that technically, observing the festival of Shavuot is no less important than Passover, but culturally, there's no question that Passover predominates. It's not crazy that, in the context of, on the one hand, omnipresent oppression, and on the other, Easter and its accompanying blood libels, Passover (and its celebration of freedom and liberation) would take on greater cultural importance. It's not crazy to think that if we had a thousand years of peace (or at least of different problems), Shavuot or Sukkot could become more prominent.

That's why I think the idea that the practice of circumcision could, if not completely dissipate, at least evolve, is not inherently implausible - it's only implausible in the current historical context in which it's become such an important signifier (to which banning has only ever, and I believe still does, contribute).

Another point of comparison is the issue of tattoos. If you ask any Jew of the post war generation, they will almost uniformly tell you that tattoos are absolutely forbidden, you cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery if you have a tattoo, etc etc. Well, that's not true. There is a strong (but not conclusive) argument that they are forbidden, but there is definitely no effect on burial. But it's easy to see how, in the aftermath of Auschwitz, the issue of tattooing could pick up immense emotional significance. I think that circumcision is sort of like that, and/but with the weight of millenia of baggage.

So when you combine that with the religious obligation, not being circumcised/choosing not to circumcise your child is a pretty stark marker of being somehow alienated from the community. I think this is something that has been written about by Russian Jewish emigrants. In certain historical contexts, it would have meant wanting your child to be able to pass as gentile, and to be able to escape antisemitism in a way that I can easily imagine would feel like a betrayal to your fellow Jews, as well as an abandonment.

There is some scholarship that indicates that the current Jewish practice of circumcision is not exactly the same as biblical circumcision, that it is more drastic - and that this changed as a result of cultural pressures that resulted in Jewish men attempting to 'reverse' circumcisions, or at least to try to create the appearance of being uncircumcised in order to better fit into Greco-Roman society. If there is any truth in this at all, it very much goes to show that stigmatizing Jewish practices and Jews is unlikely to *decrease* the practice of circumcision.

The thing is that while your assertions about circumcision were technically untrue, I think they are very much emotionally true for many Jews. And in many contexts, that matters more than the technical halachic details. So even if an Orthodox rabbi might say that it's not impossible for an uncircumcised male to be Jewish and to have an active role in communal Jewish life (though he should still be circumcised as soon as possible), ultimately, Judaism is not defined (in my humble opinion) by rabbis, no matter how great they are. If circumcision is outlawed, Jews - male and female - *are* likely to feel that they themselves are being outlawed and what that says about what Judaism 'is' is at least as important, practically, as a rabbinic ruling. I think it is fair to say that it is a core identity practice.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:49 PM on June 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


Is there any religious ramification to a Jew who has not had a brit milah?

Nowadays, not so much. But he can't, e.g., consume the Passover sacrifice, presuming the Temple has been rebuilt and there actually is a Passover sacrifice. I should point out that there are or were thoroughly Orthodox male Jews who were uncircumcised because of hemophilia or whatever.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:22 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want to add, to my above post, that I expect this ruling to be overturned, and to have absolutely no real-world effect.

Circumcision of babies is ethically, and logically wrong, but we live in such an illogical and unethical society, that I expect it to be right down the bottom of the list of things that will be 'fixed'.

It's far less likely than, say, Drug laws actually being based on harm to the individual and society.
For example, I really don't care where they draw the line there, as long as they are actually logical and consistent about it - ban both alcohol and pot?
Sure. Imagine that. Actually banning substances according to where they come on a clearly defined risk scale.


Back to the tiny german court ruling on circumcision:
Now? Now, culturally, it is too early.
We have too much illogical barbarism we live with already, it'd just add to the confusion.

If anything, it'll be at the end of a series of step, where we actually have consistent set of guidelines about not being commit anything that could be construed as mutilation to children, initially with a bunch of exceptions (such as circumcision) for cultural reasons, and then certain exceptions allowed under medical advisement, and then progress to a smaller list of exceptions under medical advisement if parents show strong cultural beliefs etc. And only then, when it is this huge, glaring, exception, will anything happen about it.
Possibly it'll be banned within my lifetime, but it won't be within the next 20 years.
posted by Elysum at 10:07 PM on June 28, 2012


Well, the MeTa got closed, so it looks like we're back over here.

@zarq: The moment I see "crazy sky god" in a comment, you lose me.

I'm not trying to convince you. I don't have to.

The courts - which aren't a democracy, and like me, couldn't give a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut about your feelings when defenceless kids' rights are on the line - will eventually rule that it's illegal. Same as owning slaves, beating my wife, discriminating against gays, torturing animals, throwing acid on my daughter, or any other utterly bullshit activity carried out on less privileged beings in the name of religion, culture or vanity.

This is the tip of the foreskin. Definitely not my kids, maybe not their kids, but almost certainly their kids will look back on this the same way we look at segregated schools and exorcism to cure mental illness. 'What the fuck were they thinking? Why did it take so long to stop it?'
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:25 AM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


knoyers: Whether the majority of Jews are right or wrong to believe that circumcision of baby boys is a definitive and standard part of their religion is beside the point. Germany is going from having religious freedom to not having it, and from allowing families basic freedom to raise their children in their own cultural value system to taking that away.

If that's your definition of religious freedom, Germany has not had it in modern times. An awful lot of religious practices considered to be an 'essential' part of religions practised by many groups, members of which can be found in Germany, are illegal. Arranged marriage, polygamy, particular death/funeral ceremonies (no longer legal to leave the body out in the open to rot, for example), the list goes on. While you're perfectly entitled to turn down essential blood transfusions for religious reasons, you can't do so on behalf of your child. There are all sorts of religious practices banned by law in Germany (and indeed most other places in Western Europe) when they disagree with some civil right or secular logic.
posted by Dysk at 1:16 AM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


obiwanwasabi: " I'm not trying to convince you. I don't have to."

I'm sorry you feel that way.
posted by zarq at 4:41 AM on June 29, 2012


I'm in the Southwest and there are families here that do this. I've asked about it before, and that's the only reason I've ever been told it was done. If it has a religious significance, feel free to explain, but my argument still stands; it introduces pain and an infection risk for no medical reason on a person incapable of consent.

Yes, my family is partially Hispanic from the Southwest; I never said it was religious, I said it was cultural. If religion is the only cultural thing you think is worth any relativism, then we can't even have a conversation about this because I profoundly disagree.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:48 AM on June 29, 2012


The courts - which aren't a democracy, and like me, couldn't give a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut about your feelings when defenceless kids' rights are on the line - will eventually rule that it's illegal. Same as owning slaves, beating my wife, discriminating against gays, torturing animals, throwing acid on my daughter, or any other utterly bullshit activity carried out on less privileged beings in the name of religion, culture or vanity.

And, same as a lot of these things, even when it's illegal, people will go right on doing them if they truly, deep down, believe that it isn't wrong. There are countless examples where making something illegal wasn't enough to stop it (from prohibition to FGM to wife-beating). Some people even dig in their heels and become more committed to a practice when they're insulted and put on the defensive. You may not feel that you have to convince anybody to stop circumcision, but somebody is going to have to do that work if it's ever going to truly stop.

'What the fuck were they thinking? Why did it take so long to stop it?'

One thing that took so long to stop it? Not trying to meet people on their own terms. Outrage is easy and satisfying. There are people working to educate others about all sorts of horrific cultural and religious practices and beliefs, like FGM and homophobia. This shouldn't be any different.
posted by Mavri at 8:30 AM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


One thing that took so long to stop it? Not trying to meet people on their own terms. Outrage is easy and satisfying. There are people working to educate others about all sorts of horrific cultural and religious practices and beliefs, like FGM and homophobia. This shouldn't be any different.

Yeah, maybe I'm leaping to stereotype here but it seems to me that per capita, those of Jewish faith are a pretty smart bunch, more likely to be University educated and all that. Which means there's got to be a lot of critical thinking going on with regard to this issue on their side, including a thorough examination of the medical/scientific evidence. And I've encountered some pretty damned smart Muslims as well.

So, like I suggested in the other thread, I'm coming to think that if male infant circumcision is ultimately found to be a very wrong (criminally wrong) thing to do (and I'm not remotely convinced that it is) then the people to lead the fight for its elimination should be from the affected faiths.
posted by philip-random at 9:20 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


> ... the only reason the onus is being placed on those who do not support circumcision to "prove" that it's harmful is because of the overwhelming cultural and religious push to have circumcisions performed ...

Nope. If you're proposing to punish people for doing something, the onus is on you to convince other people that what you want to prohibit is harmful enough to justify the harm the you want to inflict on others in the name of deterrence.

It doesn't matter whether the thing you're proposing sanctions against is a religious practice or just something people do that you think is dumb; you still have to justify the sanctions you want to impose on people if you want other people to go along with imposing them.

I'm not in favor of circumcision. I'm also opposed to punishing people for it.
posted by nangar at 9:23 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nope. If you're proposing to punish people for doing something, the onus is on you to convince other people that what you want to prohibit is harmful enough to justify the harm the you want to inflict on others in the name of deterrence.

This is fairly circular. You're again asking for me to prove that it's "harmful enough" when the default of not cutting pieces of penises off* seems to work just fine.

There's a certain element of the sexual here that simply cannot be denied, that we're even open to the idea of this procedure as a normative kind of thing points to some very odd psychology about gender, virility, and sexuality. I'm not willing to skip critical examination of the reasons the procedure may be performed because it flies under the banner of cultural necessity.

*Seriously, I don't know how I can put this in any clearer, matter-of-fact way to describe the event in a non-judgemental manner.
posted by odinsdream at 9:43 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not willing to skip critical examination of the reasons the procedure may be performed

You are free to critically examine the reasons the procedures may be performed. Nangar isn't arguing against your right to do that. He's arguing that you don't have the right to stop people from performing the procedure without producing evidence that it is harmful.
posted by alms at 10:26 AM on June 29, 2012


There are a few responses to this:
  1. The precautionary principle: it might be harmful, therefore don't allow it. That is a very paternalistic attitude, and laws in a civil society don't generally operate that way.
  2. It is intuitively obvious that it is harmful; no evidence needed. That is an appeal to faith which also doesn't hold much weight when making a serious argument
  3. Here is evidence that it is harmful. No one has been able to come up with this yet. To the contrary, there are billions of grown men who were circumcised as infants who are overwhelmingly very pleased with their penises.
Note that this doesn't make me pro-circumcision. I chose not to circumcise my son, despite the fact that I am circumcised. But similarly, I don't think there is any justification for making the procedure illegal, any more than there is justification to make it legally required.
posted by alms at 10:31 AM on June 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Here is evidence that it is harmful. No one has been able to come up with this yet. To the contrary, there are billions of grown men who were circumcised as infants who are overwhelmingly very pleased with their penises.

It is trivially easy to point to instances in which circumcision has been catastrophically harmful to individual children, up to and including death or total loss of sexual function. Likewise, the idea that there's absolutely no harm done in the average case is disputed, and there are many men who were circumcised as infants who are not very pleased with their penises. Many people have pointed this out above, so the idea that there is "no evidence" of the procedure's harm is ridiculous. The question is whether the risk of harm should be considered acceptable or is outweighed by other considerations, not whether harm exists. There are billions of grown men who are overwhelmingly very pleased with smoking, drinking, and drug use, after all -- and millions if not billions of them will never be significantly harmed by it! -- but this does not make these practices non-harmful.

Personally, I think bans on drug use and circumcision are harmful in and of themselves, but I also think harm reduction is essential; we need to have an honest, ongoing dialogue about the risks and tradeoffs of all our cultural practices, not a series of conversations which begin and end with "well it never hurt me and my billion friends, so it can't be hurtful".
posted by vorfeed at 11:01 AM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


1. The precautionary principle: it might be harmful, therefore don't allow it. That is a very paternalistic attitude, and laws in a civil society don't generally operate that way.
2. It is intuitively obvious that it is harmful; no evidence needed. That is an appeal to faith which also doesn't hold much weight when making a serious argument
3. Here is evidence that it is harmful. No one has been able to come up with this yet. To the contrary, there are billions of grown men who were circumcised as infants who are overwhelmingly very pleased with their penises.


All of the above depends on an unnecessarily extreme definition of harm. The generally accepted definitions involve injury, wounding, damage, and/or pain. Circumcision is undeniably four for four.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:04 AM on June 29, 2012


. I chose not to circumcise my son, despite the fact that I am circumcised. But similarly, I don't think there is any justification for making the procedure illegal, any more than there is justification to make it legally required.

Agreed with this, completely.

I can't speak to what goes on in Germany, but I do know that circumcision is on the decline in the US over the past five years. Two things in tandem are probably driving this: #1) fewer pediatricians are performing the procedure - my son's pediatrician doesn't do circumcisions at all and I would have had to find a different doctor had I been interested in circumcising him. Not that hard to do, but it is a small barrier for otherwise neutral parents who might equally decide "Oh, I have to hunt down another doctor? Eh, not worth it." #2) Insurance doesn't always cover it. If you're religiously observant and having your son circumcised at home by a mohel, this isn't an issue. Again, it'd be parents who are otherwise neutral who would be most affected by this and decide "Eh, I really don't feel like paying for it." In any case - the US does circumcise more often than not, but the rates are starting to go down.

I will say though that not once during my pregnancy did anyone talk to me about circumcision. I knew I was having a boy from the 20wk ultrasound (halfway through, for those unfamiliar with gestational ages) and never, ever did it come up. I knew I didn't want to circumcise from the get-go and made sure that it was in my chart - and still I was asked sixteen times - but that was all me being pro-active. My midwife never mentioned it. The pediatrician talked to me briefly only to let me know that their office didn't perform circumcisions and that I'd have to make arrangements in the hospital if I wanted one. That was it. No talk of the pros/cons. Nothing.

This isn't directly related to the FPP or the ruling in Germany, but truly, if we want to lower the circumcision rate in the US, talking about the procedure and what's involved before the baby is born would be a damn good start. A lot of moms know the sex of the baby from 20wks, and even those who choose to find out at birth can be educated about circumcision. I had approximately fifteen doctors' visits from the point of finding out the sex until birth - at any one of those, the midwife could have taken five minutes to chat about circumcision. Truly, I believe a lot more parents would opt out if given better information - as is, around here it's what you do... so people keep doing it.

This is clearly not the case in Germany, however, and so making an already very rare procedure flat out illegal definitely starts taking on an icky vibe. If the only people performing circumcisions are doing so religiously... it truly is a kick in the (proverbial) pants of religious freedom to ban the practice entirely.
posted by sonika at 11:05 AM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, also:

3. Here is evidence that it is harmful. No one has been able to come up with this yet. To the contrary, there are billions of grown men who were circumcised as infants who are overwhelmingly very pleased with their penises.

You understand that the specific case we are currently discussing is about a child whose circumcision led to medical complications and severe bleeding, all of which could have been avoided by simply not being circumcised, yes? The harm seems pretty self-evident.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:14 AM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


3. Here is evidence that it is harmful. No one has been able to come up with this yet. To the contrary, there are billions of grown men who were circumcised as infants who are overwhelmingly very pleased with their penises.

This is not a logical construction. I will preface the upcoming comparison with a caveat: I am not comparing the results of circumcision with my example, merely the sociological context in which these procedures exist, insofar as it relates to the recipient of said procedure's reaction to claims that they have been harmed:

Consider a cultural identifier that included removal of the last pinky joint on an infant's hand. In a culture where the necessity of this procedure was not questioned, the practice was culturally acceptable and routine, most individuals who grew up without this last joint would most likely consider their lives to be perfectly normal, and their hand function to be perfectly normal as well. It does not therefore follow that the procedure was not harmful. It does not therefore follow that the procedure was medically necessary.
posted by odinsdream at 11:45 AM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the only people performing circumcisions are doing so religiously... it truly is a kick in the (proverbial) pants of religious freedom to ban the practice entirely.

Again, part of the judge's reasoning was that banning infant circumcision protects the religious freedom of the child, because it's a permanent religious mark he can't consent to. As Dysk pointed out, there are plenty of limits on religious freedom, including things religious people may want to do to/for their children, so I don't think the issue is quite this simple.
posted by vorfeed at 11:46 AM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Reminding people once again that I have no dog in the circumcision fight (I'm female, I have no kids I'm planning to circumcise, and I have had personal dealings with both kinds of wang and found both equally delightful).

So I'm coming from a place of intellectual-debate-tactic to state that "it should be completely banned outright because I found this group of examples where it went wrong" isn't overwhelmingly compelling, because -- well, look, I could come up with an equal-sized percentage of car crash victims who could have avoided their medical complications by simply not being in a car, and yet the number of people who are calling for the elimination of cars is vanishingly small.

No disrespect is meant to those who indeed thus suffer, and it is indeed horrific. However, their existence doesn't negate the much larger set of infant boys who don't have such an experience.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:46 AM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


...and I have had personal dealings with both kinds of wang and found both equally delightful

Yes, but what about the double stuffed?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:55 AM on June 29, 2012


Well, since I practice safe sex, they're all stuffed into some kind of casing...
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:57 AM on June 29, 2012


Again, it's a question of tradeoffs. Cars have great benefits, even though they kill or injure a not-insignificant percentage of the population. And they are not solely killing/injuring infants who cannot possibly consent to ride in a car and may wish to choose never to do so as adults, either. Infants cannot "have avoided their medical complications by simply not being circumcised", and that's the point.

I agree that a ban on circumcision is not the best way to address the harm of circumcision, just as a ban on cars is not the best way to address the harm of cars... but there are other ways to address these problems, and only if we admit that harm is actually happening.
posted by vorfeed at 11:58 AM on June 29, 2012


Okay, well, then I could probably find a number of cases where makeup was harmful, or car seats, or bouncy castles or just about anything. It is just appearing to me, an outsider, that this isn't making quite as compelling a case as you may think, is all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:01 PM on June 29, 2012


Again, I am not calling for a ban. I'm calling for an honest dialogue about the harm this procedure does, and what we can do to minimize it. I don't get how "some children's genitals have been destroyed" doesn't make an extraordinarily "compelling case" for what amounts to talking about things in public!
posted by vorfeed at 12:08 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Please don't make an analogy between the dangers of driving in a car and being uncircumcised, and I won't make the analogy between a circumcised penis and a cold unfeeling missile with no fail/safe that only understands the emotional equivalent of 0 (Zero) and 1 (One).
posted by Skygazer at 12:14 PM on June 29, 2012


...I'd read that short-story.
posted by vorfeed at 12:15 PM on June 29, 2012


part of the judge's reasoning was that banning infant circumcision protects the religious freedom of the child, because it's a permanent religious mark he can't consent to. As Dysk pointed out, there are plenty of limits on religious freedom, including things religious people may want to do to/for their children, so I don't think the issue is quite this simple.

My point was that religious freedom is what at's stake when a circumcision ban is placed in a country where the procedure is only performed for religious reasons - not that I'm saying that all religious ceremonies are good or that all religious freedoms need to be protected.

Also: in the matter of infant consent - sure, perhaps the child will grow up and decide to eschew the religious practices of his parents. That's reasonable. But - there are currently no religious groups that require a man to be un circumcised whereas the inverse is not true. So, to say that you're *protecting* a child's future religious preferences by dis-allowing circumcision just doesn't make sense. If he's uncircumcised from birth, he's not only hindered from entering his parents' faith, but he would have a more complicated conversion process to Judaism/Islam (whichever one he wasn't raised in) should he choose to do so. Whereas, if he's circumcised and converts later - he doesn't ever have to re-grow a foreskin to join a religious community.

I'm not saying that I'm advocating *for* circumcision. I'm saying that to me, the justification of not circumcising the son of Jewish/Muslim parents to preserve his religious freedom *later* in life doesn't hold water.
posted by sonika at 12:16 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey Now!

That. Was unnecessary.

(I think I got your analogy backwards, though so um..carry on..)
posted by Skygazer at 12:16 PM on June 29, 2012


Okay, well, then I could probably find a number of cases where makeup was harmful, or car seats, or bouncy castles or just about anything.

Yes, but all circumcision is harmful. In some rare cases, the harm is especially severe (complications, psychological trauma, etc.), and in some rare cases the harm is medically necessary, but in every case, skin is broken, blood is spilled, tissue is damaged, physical injury is inflicted, a wound is caused, and pain is felt--all of which amounts to harm, which is deliberately inflicted (usually without consent) and entirely avoidable.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:16 PM on June 29, 2012


I don't normally do this, but I thought I'd mention that I'm bowing out of this conversation and removing it from my recent activity. For a while I thought this thread was turning into a decent, give-and-take conversation on the topic and I was happy to participate. But it seems to once again be filled with too many angry, hyperbolic people who are talking past and vilifying each other, unwilling to give any quarter, for my tastes.

Many thanks to Salamandrous, vorfeed and Joe in Australia for your clarifications. I found them quite helpful and edifying.
posted by zarq at 12:17 PM on June 29, 2012


IE., Re: Vorfeed's: I've read that short-story...
posted by Skygazer at 12:18 PM on June 29, 2012


I'm taking my penis and going home. Take that...
posted by Skygazer at 12:19 PM on June 29, 2012


In some rare cases, the harm is especially severe (complications, psychological trauma, etc.), and in some rare cases the harm is medically necessary, but in every case, skin is broken, blood is spilled, tissue is damaged, physical injury is inflicted, a wound is caused, and pain is felt--all of which amounts to harm, which is deliberately inflicted (usually without consent) and entirely avoidable.

...Yeah, but a paper cut also breaks skin, spills blood, and damages tissue, and is also often avoidable. I personally wouldn't equate a paper cut to circumcision, but you may not be aware that you kind of just did.

But - like I said, I got no dog in this fight, I was just trying to point out some holes in your argument you may not have noticed. If they're not helpful, no worries.

I think I'll be following zarq out too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:23 PM on June 29, 2012



...Yeah, but a paper cut also breaks skin, spills blood, and damages tissue, and is also often avoidable.


And it's deliberate?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:23 PM on June 29, 2012


> I was just trying to point out some holes in your argument you may not have noticed.

Actually, and I'm not in favor of banning circumcisions, but you really didn't. You offered up some comparisons to circumcision that were superficial but weren't really addressing anything other than the gross physical effect of bodily trauma rather than the intent behind such a thing.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:26 PM on June 29, 2012


This is all pointing to an inevitable PR and marketing campaign by the Penis Surgeons of America, to that tries to make being circumcised "cool" again, so as to counter the fall-off in income streams.

Before it's all over Jesus in the NEW AND IMPROVED GOTP bible is going to recommend circumcision and transvaginal probes. Perhaps, sometimes, both procedures simultaneously.
posted by Skygazer at 12:27 PM on June 29, 2012


Well, since I practice safe sex, they're all stuffed into some kind of casing...

What
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:37 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the other side, of course will be the counter-campaign by the Save the Penises Foundation, who's Save the Penises agents/mascots (dressed as happy uncut penises), will be outside stores ringing there handheld bell penises during the holiday season.

Won't you please give to Save the Penises?
posted by Skygazer at 12:38 PM on June 29, 2012


That. Was unnecessary.

Er, I just meant that a short story about "an analogy between a circumcised penis and a cold unfeeling missile with no fail/safe that only understands the emotional equivalent of 0 (Zero) and 1 (One)" would be pretty cool, that's all.
posted by vorfeed at 12:39 PM on June 29, 2012


You know, it's possible to be circumcised without being violated. That seems to be one thrust of the arguments going on here- someone cut off a piece of your penis and you're okay with that. Some cultures scar or tattoo their members from a young age and I doubt all of those people are or were in a state of trauma.

It's fine. Nobody is saying your parents are monsters or retroactively arresting them for child abuse. The jury is still out on whether circumcision protects against AIDs, it most certainly does not increase sexual sensitivity, rather the reverse (but you don't need my lady boner report) and above that, smegma, despite the name, is no more the devil than ball sweat. We like to claim a lot of Abrahamic customs promoted purity in the literal as well as spiritual sense, including dietary restrictions, while people in the same habitat did not obey them without evidence they were unduly effected- see ancient Romans in Judea versus the locals, note that historically going through life with all your dick appears not to to unduly harm you as a person. Neither does losing a piece of your penis, though cultural cross comparisons of results also need to take into account differences in policing and treating STIs, and I'd expect the US to have a higher rate than Germany for unrelated reasons, like per-capita poverty and medical care access.

Basically there's no reason other than failure to retract or injunction from a god to remove part of a baby's penis, and freedom to practice one's religion runs up against secular standards all the time- see the creationism-in-public-schools nonsense we can't seem to get rid of.
posted by Phalene at 12:39 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, since I practice safe sex, they're all stuffed into some kind of casing...

I object to the flippant tone of that comment.
posted by Skygazer at 12:41 PM on June 29, 2012


Whereas, if he's circumcised and converts later - he doesn't ever have to re-grow a foreskin to join a religious community.

Religious freedom goes much deeper than a simple, binary "can I join a religious community". It also involves the freedom to choose which religious marks you want to bear, for example.
posted by vorfeed at 12:44 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


If that's your definition of religious freedom, Germany has not had it in modern times. An awful lot of religious practices considered to be an 'essential' part of religions practised by many groups, members of which can be found in Germany, are illegal. Arranged marriage, polygamy, particular death/funeral ceremonies (no longer legal to leave the body out in the open to rot, for example), the list goes on. While you're perfectly entitled to turn down essential blood transfusions for religious reasons, you can't do so on behalf of your child. There are all sorts of religious practices banned by law in Germany (and indeed most other places in Western Europe) when they disagree with some civil right or secular logic.
posted by Dysk at 1:16 AM on June 29


If arranged marriage, as opposed to nonconsensual marriage, is banned, that would be a spiteful attempt to persecute culture and religion. Laws against polygamy in countries that don't legally acknowledge bigamous marriages and which don't otherwise outlaw cohabitation between multiple partners are at once persecuting religion and denying freedom of speech. On the other hand, laws regarding the proper disposal of corpses are very necessary for public health. The same cannot be said for outlawing infant circumcision. Some consider infant circumcision harmful or unjust in theory, but very few of those who have undergone it accept the "harm" dramatized by this little movement. There is no reason to think that infant circumcision is significantly harmful enough to justify any government intrusions between parents and their children, or the persecution of and denial of freedom to cultures and religions that practice it.

This is fairly circular. You're again asking for me to prove that it's "harmful enough" when the default of not cutting pieces of penises off* seems to work just fine.

So basically, you think it's OK to deny people the right to freely practice their ancient religion, along with many millions of others around the world, based on the mere assumption by outsiders that what they do is harmful. If we were talking about an indigenous people being culturally oppressed by colonists who consider their ways uncivilized, how would you feel about it? It's the same thing.

Religious freedom goes much deeper than a simple, binary "can I join a religious community". It also involves the freedom to choose which religious marks you want to bear, for example.
posted by vorfeed at 12:44 PM on June 29


One doesn't choose the culture of one's birth. Everyone bears "marks" left by those who raised them, by decisions with lifelong ramifications. Circumcision isn't exceptional in this respect. People grow into their freedom.
posted by knoyers at 1:50 PM on June 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Religious freedom goes much deeper than a simple, binary "can I join a religious community". It also involves the freedom to choose which religious marks you want to bear, for example.

While I don't disagree - there's a hell of a lot in life we have absolutely no control over, and "what religion our parents practice" is right up there on the top of the list after "who our parents are in the first place." Our future religious identities are all based on the ones we learn in our families of origin - and I do believe that parents have the right to raise their children in their own religious traditions.
posted by sonika at 2:03 PM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


So basically, you think it's OK to deny people the right to freely practice their ancient religion, along with many millions of others around the world, based on the mere assumption by outsiders that what they do is harmful.

No, the question is actually whether it's OK to deny the right to practice their ancient religion on other people without their consent. Based on all the reasons that have already been articulated in this thread, if you're interested in reading it.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 2:04 PM on June 29, 2012


A small synagogue was being audited by the IRS. The auditor was young and conniving; the Rabbi, old and wise.

"I've noticed you use a lot of candles," said the auditor. "What do you do with all of the wax drippings?"

"Oh," replied the Rabbi, "We collect all of the drippings and send them to the candle makers. Every so often, they send us a complete box of candles for free."

The auditor thought for a moment, unwilling to accept defeat. "I've noticed you use a lot of matzo here. What do you do with all of the crumbs?" he asks.

The Rabbi patiently replies, "We collect all of the crumbs, and send them back to the maker. Every so often, they send us a complete box for free."

The auditor becomes visibly agitated by the Rabbi's answers for everything. Finally, he thinks he has something. "I've noticed you perform a lot of circumcisions here. What do you do with all of the left over foreskins?"

The Rabbi pauses, then says, "We collect all of the foreskins from the circumcisions. We send them to the IRS and, every so often, they send us a complete Prick."
posted by yoyo_nyc at 2:55 PM on June 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


is actually whether it's OK to deny the right to practice their ancient religion on other people without their consent.

Except that it's whether it's OK to deny people the right to raise their children in their religious practices. This "consent" issue is definitely a tricky one, for sure, but most people who raise their children in a religious faith aren't doing so to push the religion on an unwitting bystander, but rather because not only is it usually an imperative to raise children in your faith (should you have one), but because the parents are doing what they believe is best for the child.

This is not proselytizing. This isn't evangelism. This is raising a family. Perhaps most MeFites think it would be best for parents to never mention their own religious beliefs to their children who can all grow up to be atheists, but... in reality... community is a huge part of raising a kid and for a lot of people, a religious community is a big piece of that.

Again, I'm not Muslim or Jewish and I didn't circumcise my son, but I absolutely defend the rights of those who are and those who do to parent their children how they see fit. If someone came to my house and told me that I *had* to circumcise my son and couldn't expose him to my own religious beliefs, you'd best believe that I'd raise one hell of a stink.

Yes, the rights of the infant are paramount - but this isn't about strangers pushing religion around on innocent bystanders - it's also about the rights of parents.
posted by sonika at 3:38 PM on June 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


If you are successful in raising them in your beliefs they will make the decision to be circumcised themselves.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:45 PM on June 29, 2012


If you are successful in raising them in your beliefs they will make the decision to be circumcised themselves.

Yeah, and if Jewish/Muslim communities decide to view it that way, that'll be great and problem solved.

However, right now - as zarq has written about quite well - the onus is on the parent (I believe specifically the father) to circumcise the son. It's as much an obligation for him to do it as it is for the son to have it done. So, in that regard, changes would have to come from a community wide level to say "It's ok to wait on this" before a lot of religious parents would do so, since as is, it's a pretty big part of their bringing a child into the community to have it done. If another ritual could be adopted or a waiting period extended, that'd be ideal for everyone, but the fact is that this is a specific ritual that must be done at a specific time for the *parent* to fulfill their religious obligation.

I agree that it would be better to wait for the child to make the decision, but that's a decision that needs to be made within the Jewish/Muslim communities - not one that anyone on the outside can make for them.
posted by sonika at 3:54 PM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


If arranged marriage, as opposed to nonconsensual marriage, is banned, that would be a spiteful attempt to persecute culture and religion.

An arranged married which is consensual is for all intents and purposes not in the category we normally call 'arranged marriage' as it is at this point also consensual. It's not really much of an arranged marriage if it's conditional on the participants enthusiastic consent - then it's more like a suggestion...
posted by Dysk at 4:09 PM on June 29, 2012


An arranged married which is consensual is for all intents and purposes not in the category we normally call 'arranged marriage' as it is at this point also consensual. It's not really much of an arranged marriage if it's conditional on the participants enthusiastic consent - then it's more like a suggestion...

Who's this "we"? I know people that have had arranged marriages and I live in a part of the world where they are very common and that is certainly how everyone I know sees them.
posted by atrazine at 4:17 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was going to write a long post, but Sonika said most of what I want to say. Judaism is a very old religion and a very old culture. It has enriched the world immeasurably, and continues to do so. A ban on circumcision strikes at the heart of the religion and is effectively a ban on Judaism itself - it has certainly had that effect every other time it has been opposed, and there have been many such times. People arguing against it on the purported grounds of health have the burden of explaining why there are still Jews today; why Jews have historically enjoyed lower infant and adult mortality; why this allegedly barbarous practice (that is practiced by people who are notoriously at the front of every civil rights movement) has not died out long ago.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:19 PM on June 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


I agree that it would be better to wait for the child to make the decision, but that's a decision that needs to be made within the Jewish/Muslim communities - not one that anyone on the outside can make for them.

True, but this is a decision which is never going to be made unless there's open discussion of the harm circumcision may do. "This is our practice and it's vitally important" generally precludes "hey, maybe we shouldn't be doing this" -- the early impetus for major change almost always arrives from "outside", whether that means literal outsiders or black sheep within a group.

Like I said before, I don't think banning circumcision is the best way to address the harm it's causing, but I also don't think society should take "it's our ancient practice" as the be-all and end-all of the discussion. A sea change in the way secular society views circumcision is quite likely to help lead to Muslim-led and Jewish-led change, just as sea changes in the the way secular society views divorce and gay rights have helped to frame the debate within many religious groups. "The Jewish/Muslim communities" do not exist in a vacuum.
posted by vorfeed at 4:20 PM on June 29, 2012


True, but this is a decision which is never going to be made unless there's open discussion of the harm circumcision may do.

I agree completely, and earlier in the thread I advocated for more education w/r/t circumcision. If all parents are getting more information - especially from their health care providers - about circumcision, the effect will trickle down to less observant/more liberal religious parents who might be on the fence on the issue.

Beyond that, it's not my place to say "Hey, Jews! You need to educate your people!" That's a different discussion that I don't feel like those of us outside the religious community have any place in, no matter how good our intentions.
posted by sonika at 7:08 PM on June 29, 2012


Yes, the rights of the infant are paramount - but this isn't about strangers pushing religion around on innocent bystanders - it's also about the rights of parents.

You can't say "the rights of the infant are paramount" only to go on to say that actually, they are subordinate to those of his parents if that's what they want. Anyway, it's not like I think parents don't have rights (or that they aren't really doing what they think is best or they might as well be random strangers or people shouldn't be able to expose their children to their religion or anything you apparently think I might think). I just recognise that parents' rights over their children aren't limitless, legally or otherwise, and dispute the idea that this particular right is one they are morally entitled to, any more than if it were a chunk of healthy finger or nose we were talking about instead of penis.

Judaism is a very old religion and a very old culture. It has enriched the world immeasurably, and continues to do so. [... Jewish] people are notoriously at the front of every civil rights movement

I object to the implication in this (and quite a few other comments, whenever this comes up) that people who oppose circumcision are overlooking - if not disrespecting - all the wonderful and important things about Judaism and Jewish culture. I agree that those things are really awesome. I would never oppose Jewish traditions, if I felt like I had a choice.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 7:45 PM on June 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


So basically, you think it's OK to deny people the right to freely practice their ancient religion,

Who's saying that?

From what I can tell, the only people denying the right of anyone to practice Judaism are people within that tradition turning away anyone with a foreskin.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:58 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I presume you are not Jewish.

You seem to be critical of a minority group's right to self-determination. You obviously have something against circumcision, which you're entitled to, but you step over a significant line when you suggest there is something wrong with a minority group deciding for themselves who is and who is not a member. It's not a great position for somebody who is not in a minority to suggest that the group is somehow denying other people their rights by denying them membership. It reeks of privilege -- how dare these people somebody else can't be part of their club? How dare they make rules to delineate who is a Jew and who isn't?

Well, people can just choose to claim to be Jewish. People just up and decide they are Jewish all the time. You might be aware of this, but it seems unlikely, as you don't actually seem to have that much knowledge about Judaism. There are, as an example, black Hebrews, many of whom are essentially Christians, but decided that they are descended from a tribe of Israel. To a large extent, the Mormons identify themselves as "regathered" Israelites, and there is a full-blown belief system in Christianity, called supersessionism, that argues that Christians are, in fact, the true Jews.

These folks can believe whatever they want. They can circumcise themselves, or not, and say they are Jews. But the group I am part of is under no obligation to accept them as part of our group. Ethnic groups and religions always have the right to self-determination, which means, to a very large extent, deciding who is and who is not part of their group.

You might also learn a little bit about history of conversion. Jews do not proselytize, and discourage conversion. It is, in part, because it is not a religion that believes you must be Jewish to be saved, and so the only compelling reason for somebody to become Jewish is because they really want to be. But it is also because Jews who converted gentiles once risked being executed for it.

Have your opinion about circumcision, and express it however you want. But if you choose to criticize Jews for choosing who is and who is not a Jew, for fuck's sake, educate yourself.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:02 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


there are a lot of completely valid, non-racist reasons to consider criminalizing routine circumcision, among them a desire to respect the child's right to bodily integrity, and the right of the state to protect its citizens from medical-related harm. it essentially becomes a part of medical law/ethics, and so becomes part of a very large body of generally-applicable rules that just happen to disproportionately affect Muslims and Jews. Or so goes the argument.

In my personal rather than policy-based opinion, I see lots of reasons that circumcision is a really bad idea, and I'd never have a child of mine circumcised.

however, you've got to look at as many sides of the story as you can. even though at this point the score stands 10-0 against circumcision, the fact that it's of vital importance to Jews and Muslims turns the game around and wins it 100-10. especially in germany of all places, you simply have to say, "it's circumcision, it's a big deal religiously, these kids are not dying and they don't seem to be traumatized, we're done here." and then go off to handle the 1,000 societal issues that are more important. of course you're not going to want to go so far in the other direction as to immunize doctors from civil liability (however Germany's system works) for negligent performance of the procedure (although perhaps Mohels are a separate case).

so it's possible to think that circumcision is a bad idea, and that ideally it would join a lot of other old-fashioned practices in the dustbin of history, but at the exact same time to think that this criminalization is an even worse idea, and that to the extent possible, religious minorities in europe should essentially be left the heck alone, and religious exemptions to generally-applicable rules should be construed broadly. if we're talking about parents preventing their children from receiving blood transfusions, then we're in different territory and the calculus changes. but here, it's a slam dunk.
posted by facetious at 3:19 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I would never oppose Jewish traditions, if I felt like I had a choice.

But you DO have a choice. No one is forcing you to have an opinion on this. You absolutely have the choice to say "I don't agree with circumcision and I would never circumcise a child of mine" and leave it at that without telling Jews that their traditions are wrong. This is one hell of a high horse that you've put yourself on here - claiming that you don't have a *choice* in your religious opposition. Of course you do. You can absolutely say "I am against circumcision" and still say that it's not your place to change someone else's traditions.
posted by sonika at 5:42 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's my moral response I don't have a choice about, not whether and to what degree I lie about it here to meet somebody's personal standard of etiquette. I'm not against circumcision because it has too many c's in it. I'm against it because I think it's wrong, and for no other reason. If you consider that an unacceptable opinion, you might as well be aware that I hold it, because, though I've tried to be polite in this thread, I'm not interested in pretending I don't. As for changing other people's traditions, this is only Metafilter, so that's not even on the table. Having said all that, this seems a bit meta for the blue, so since the actual MeTa was closed, this is the last I'll be saying about it.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:17 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


You seem to be critical of a minority group's right to self-determination.

Nope. Just pointing out that it's a thing.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:54 AM on June 30, 2012


And the relevance is?
posted by Snyder at 11:08 AM on June 30, 2012


You know, "I'm just saying" is sort of trollish. If you have a point to make, make it. But insinuating something and then backing off with your hands extended like you didn't really say anything at all?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:09 AM on June 30, 2012


Okay, here you go then: A blanket ban on circumcision is not a ban on Judaism. It's not like they're boarding up synagogues or anything.

Any fallout viz religious participation that may arise from a ban on circumcision is not the German government's concern. Who is and isn't allowed to practice Judaism is not the German government's concern. What differentiates a Real Jew from a Pretend Jew is not the German government's concern.

The safety of children is the German government's concern. That is what this ruling addresses, and that is all it addresses.

If a blanket ban on some questionable practice happens to apply to a cultural group, it is the sole responsibility of that group to find a solution to the problem from within. There are many, many, many cultural practices that are not allowed under many, many, many governments. Facial scarring. Polygamy. Child marriage. Stoning. Slavery. That feeding-semen-to-kids thing Papuans do. The list goes on and on.

Bluntly, if the entirety of Judaism can't survive a ban on just this one thing, it's suicide, not murder.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:49 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, "I'm just saying" is sort of trollish.

So is calling casually accusing people of racism.

Just saying.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:55 AM on June 30, 2012


So the relevance is thet you, a non Jew, gets to tell Jewish people what is and isn't important about our culture and/or religion, and that you would dictate changes to it based on your personal preferences, and then say if Jews don't like it, it's their fault.

Maybe if you're gonna get all hurt about being hurt by accusations, of anti-Semetism, then don't say ani-Semetic shit and expecct to distance yourself from it by saying "Just saying."
posted by Snyder at 12:33 PM on June 30, 2012


So the relevance is thet you, a non Jew, gets to tell Jewish people what is and isn't important about our culture and/or religion, and that you would dictate changes to it based on your personal preferences, and then say if Jews don't like it, it's their fault.

No. The "relevance" is the stuff I actually said. Nothing you seem to be responding to -- my last couple of comments? -- even has anything at all to do with my "personal preferences." Indeed, not much I've written in this whole thread -- and I've written entirely too much -- has to do with my "personal preferences." (For the record, I'm not the judge who handed down the ruling in the case we're discussing here.)

Maybe if you're gonna get all hurt about being hurt by accusations, of anti-Semetism, then don't say ani-Semetic shit and expecct to distance yourself from it by saying "Just saying."

Please, by all means, point to any single thing I've said in this thread that was antisemitic. Bonus points for finding something antisemitic that I've said followed by "just saying." I would be genuinely very surprised if you could.

If you're going to accuse people of trolling, you could at least try not to troll while you're doing it.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:44 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, here you go then: A blanket ban on circumcision is not a ban on Judaism.

Like saying, "A blanket ban on taking communion is not a ban on Catholicism." Yes, it is.
posted by knoyers at 3:55 PM on June 30, 2012


If communion was potentially harmful, sure.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:59 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whether or not taking communion were potentially harmful, of course a blanket ban on communion would be a ban on Catholicism. It's a fundamental part of that religion.

Incidentally, where does this "right to bodily integrity" idea come from? When was this first described as a right, and by whom? A bit of Googling makes me think that it's a conflation of rights against torture, and rape, and illegal medical experiments, and so forth, but I have the feeling that it's the sort of abstraction that obscures the actual principles.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:08 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The If applies to the like. Some things have a rational basis to ban, some don't.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:27 PM on June 30, 2012


Oh, but there is a rational reason to ban communion! It involves alcohol, which is a grave social problem. In fact the USA attempted to ban the consumption of alcohol altogether, although I understand it gave Catholics a pass because of the Establishment clause. I'm sure some people will say that the two things are not comparable; that they were wrong then but we are right now, but how would they actually know?
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:54 PM on June 30, 2012


I'm a Catholic. I never drank the communion wine in my life.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:12 PM on June 30, 2012


That's an interesting comparison. I'm pretty sure providing alcohol to a minor is illegal, even for religious purposes, in a some areas (though likely not the majority). I haven't really heard much fuss about it though. I imagine that it's just not legally pursued by the authorities, for the most part?
posted by ODiV at 11:13 PM on June 30, 2012


So is calling casually accusing people of racism.

As it happens, nobody accused you of that.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:31 AM on July 1, 2012


Incidentally, where does this "right to bodily integrity" idea come from? When was this first described as a right, and by whom? A bit of Googling makes me think that it's a conflation of rights against torture, and rape, and illegal medical experiments, and so forth, but I have the feeling that it's the sort of abstraction that obscures the actual principles.

In this particular case, it comes directly from Article 2.2 of the German Constitution's list of Fundamental Rights:

Everyone has the right to life and physical integrity. Personal liberty is inviolable. These rights may be interfered with only pursuant to a law. (via Google Translate)

As for whether this right is "a conflation of rights against torture, and rape, and illegal medical experiments, and so forth, but I have the feeling that it's the sort of abstraction that obscures the actual principles", I invite you to think about that a bit more, especially in light of 20th century history. There may be a reason why Germany is particularly wary of "reasonable" violations of physical integrity...
posted by vorfeed at 12:31 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sys Rq, it's when you consider yourself more an authority on what is important to Judiaism then actual Jews.
posted by Snyder at 6:54 AM on July 2, 2012


knoyers: Okay, here you go then: A blanket ban on circumcision is not a ban on Judaism.

Like saying, "A blanket ban on taking communion is not a ban on Catholicism." Yes, it is.
There isn't a blanket ban on circumcision. It is a blanket ban on circumcision of minors.

The worst than can be accurately claimed is that Germany is forbidding a Jewish ritual until an individual reaches an age of informed consent. Since it involves permanent change to the body, in a way that might affect their lives somewhat (sexual sensitivity), that doesn't seem unreasonable to me.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:41 AM on July 2, 2012


Conversion as an infant is a trivial thing. It is over in seconds. Conversion as an adult is a significant operation. They're simply not comparable. If someone is going to be circumcised then it's much, much better for them to be circumcised as an infant.

As for the issue of Jewish law: it actually stipulates that boys are to circumcised at the age of eight days. You might think that your intrusion is warranted, but you really need to acknowledge that it's not a trivial change. Infant circumcision is a tremendously symbolic act that reaches back to very start of Jewish culture. As I said earlier, this is not the first time this sort of thing has been imposed. It took generations to mostly eliminate religious circumcision in the Soviet Union, in an environment where the authorities could and would ship people to Siberia for promoting Judaism. And yet it persisted.

Finally, I must say that your health arguments are pretty weak, particularly given the fact that WHO is actually promoting circumcision. Here's the conclusion of the American Academy of Pediatrics - made in 1999, before the protective nature of circumcision was fully appreciated. Highlights are my own:
Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision. In the case of circumcision, in which there are potential benefits and risks, yet the procedure is not essential to the child's current well-being, parents should determine what is in the best interest of the child. To make an informed choice, parents of all male infants should be given accurate and unbiased information and be provided the opportunity to discuss this decision. It is legitimate for parents to take into account cultural, religious, and ethnic traditions, in addition to the medical factors, when making this decision. Analgesia is safe and effective in reducing the procedural pain associated with circumcision; therefore, if a decision for circumcision is made, procedural analgesia should be provided. If circumcision is performed in the newborn period, it should only be done on infants who are stable and healthy.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:26 PM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Oddly, I have yet to see anyone explain why it's so important to circumcise in Jewish tradition, except by appeal to what an unknown person claims God to have told them to do.

As I mentioned earlier, there is an undeniable sexual aspect that points to some very odd psychology about virility, gender and manhood, which I'd offer is a much more compelling angle to explore, yet no proponent thus far has seemed to touch on these matters.
posted by odinsdream at 8:53 AM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, yeah, I mean the reason it's so important in Judaism, if you look strictly at the Biblical story and ignore the added weight of 6,000 years of more or less unbroken tradition, is that God told Abraham to do so. It's the first covenant, where God agrees not to destroy the world with another flood and Abraham agrees that he and his sons will be circumcised and worship God. Obviously atheists and others who don't believe in the Bible will not see this as a legitimate argument, but that's rather beside the point. The issue is religious freedom for those who do believe in the Bible.
posted by whir at 12:40 PM on July 3, 2012


(Sorry, in the context of Judaism I should have just said the covenant, not the first covenant.)
posted by whir at 12:42 PM on July 3, 2012


Obviously atheists and others who don't believe in the Bible will not see this as a legitimate argument, but that's rather beside the point. The issue is religious freedom for those who do believe in the Bible.

It's not beside the point. Eight-day-old infants don't "believe in the Bible", and this decision points out that their religious freedom must also be taken into account.
posted by vorfeed at 1:04 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Saying that babies don't have a religion is like saying that they don't have a language or a culture. It's technically true, but it is obtuse. Part of being human is that you are necessarily raised by other humans and that you are shaped by the environment they create. Removing religion specifically from this whole complicated melange of culture and language and identity is impossible; any attempt to define particular elements as being somehow more genuine than others can only be a reflection of your own biases. Of course these babies have a religion. They are circumcised (if they're boys); they are participants in religious rituals at home and elsewhere; other people relate to them as participants in the religion. You don't need to profess a religion to "have" it, any more than you need to speak Spanish to be Hispanic.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:32 PM on July 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


To be clear, I was speaking religious freedom in the context of the parents having the freedom to make this religious decision on the behalf of their children. In my opinion, the religious rights of the child aren't at issue here (rather the issue is the "bodily integrity" of the child, to use the term that's been used up to now in this thread). The child is free to choose whatever religion he or she pleases, or no religion at all, regardless of the circumcision.
posted by whir at 1:45 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oddly, I have yet to see anyone explain why it's so important to circumcise in Jewish tradition, except by appeal to what an unknown person claims God to have told them to do.

You may have yet to see it but that's down to your reading rather than other people's writing.

People have explained why it's an important practice in Judaism culturally (history of suppression and oppression, marker of pride and defiance), sociologically (fitting in with your community), historically (practice going back to ancient times) and religiously (commandment). Possibly in other ways too.

As I mentioned earlier, there is an undeniable sexual aspect that points to some very odd psychology about virility, gender and manhood, which I'd offer is a much more compelling angle to explore, yet no proponent thus far has seemed to touch on these matters.

It may seem like "odd psychology" to you in the present, but all historical markers point to the fact that circumcision was a widespread custom in ancient middle eastern cultures. As far as I know, it is theorized that it may actually have been especially adaptive and healthy in that particular climate (similarly to how people have speculated that the prohibition of pork may have been a religiously dressed up health practice).

Perhaps you would argue that all these communities 'odd,' but at the very least Judaism, in that particular aspect, seems to have been in harmony rather than 'at odds' with the surrounding cultures of that time.
posted by Salamandrous at 1:53 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Removing religion specifically from this whole complicated melange of culture and language and identity is impossible; any attempt to define particular elements as being somehow more genuine than others can only be a reflection of your own biases.

I agree that this issue is complex, but that very complexity is what the judge in this case is acknowledging when he says that circumcision may contravene the interests of the child to decide later about his own religious affiliation. My point was simply that there are competing religious-freedom interests in this case, which makes it more complicated than a binary "religious freedom"/"anti religious freedom" framework.

If you want to say "of course these babies have a religion", that's fine, but then you've got to acknowledge that many religious practices are already disallowed with respect to children (refusing medical care, for one). I don't see how it's fair to say that Jewish or Muslim people cannot be Jewish or Muslim without circumcision, while Christian Scientists are forced to be Christian Scientists at the ER... and that's not even getting into the many religious practices society doesn't approve of, some of which are illegal even for consenting adults.

The question is whether circumcision should join other practices in disapproval (and for the record, I don't think a ban is the best idea), not whether "the issue is religious freedom", as if "religious freedom" are magic words which allow parents to make every possible religious choice for their kids.
posted by vorfeed at 2:17 PM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


My point was simply that there are competing religious-freedom interests in this case

As I said, I don't agree that both sides of this issue involve issues of religious freedom. In my view there are two distinct, non-orthogonal rights at play here. The issue is tricky because the child itself is not capable of making the decision, so we have two interested parties, the parents and the state; the question is who should prevail in making this decision on the child's behalf.

In the case of the parents, the argument is that they should have the right to perform the operation because they have the right to raise the child according to the custom and practice of their religion.

Opposed to this you have the rights of the child (as represented by the state) not to undergo an irreversible procedure ("physical integrity," as you quoted), and the right of the child not to endure pain. I don't see any specifically religious arguments on the anti-circumcision side; again, being circumcised doesn't limit the child's ability to choose and practice religion in any way, although not being circumcised does affect that; indeed, most of the scientific evidence

In this case it would appear that the court judged that under German law, the right of the child to bodily integrity trumps the right of the parents to raise the child according to their religion. This is what I disagree with.

many religious practices are already disallowed with respect to children (refusing medical care, for one).

I'm definitely OK with the state disallowing religious practices on medical grounds in the interests of children, particularly if demonstrable harm follows from the practice as in refusing medical treatment, or for that matter with respect to female circumcision. But in the specific case of male circumcision, I have not seen any convincing evidence of lasting harm to the child that outweighs in my mind the religious aspects to the issue I've outlined above.
posted by whir at 3:15 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I said, I don't agree that both sides of this issue involve issues of religious freedom.

The judge disagrees with you, as do I. Being circumcised in a religious ceremony does permanently limit the child's ability to choose what religious marks he will bear for the rest of his life, and that's clearly a question of religious freedom.

I mean, on the one hand you're arguing that limiting infant circumcision is necessarily a deep violation of the religious rights of all Jewish and Muslim people, and on the other you're arguing that the same practice has absolutely no bearing on any infant's eventual religious choices and practices -- sorry, but I don't see how you can have it both ways. Either circumcision is a permanent religious mark with deep and abiding meaning, or it's not. If the former, then it is absolutely reasonable to question whether parents may apply this mark to infants who cannot consent to it, and who may eventually choose religious positions in stark opposition to it.
posted by vorfeed at 3:46 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Either circumcision is a permanent religious mark with deep and abiding meaning, or it's not.

It's both. I'm circumcised. If I were Jewish, it would have deep and abiding meaning. As I'm not, it's just a decision my parents made for what seemed at the time to be rational medical reasons.

then it is absolutely reasonable to question whether parents may apply this mark to infants who cannot consent to it, and who may eventually choose religious positions in stark opposition to it.

Are there seriously any religions out there that won't take you if you're circumcised?
posted by philip-random at 4:14 PM on July 3, 2012


Well, circumcision does have a deep and abiding meaning for Jewish people (I don't know anything about its status for Muslims, apart from what I read in this thread, so I'd just as soon limit my argument to Jewish people). For all of the non-Jewish men born circumcised in the US and Canada throughout the 70s and early 80's, it does not have that status, nor does it limit their ability to practice Catholicism, atheism, Islam or Zoroastrianism. If a child was born to Jewish parents and circumcised, he may subsequently convert to a different religion, or choose not to practice any religion at all. I'm not seeing how his freedom to worship in whatever manner he pleases is curtailed by the operation.

In any case, I'm not arguing based on the rights of the child, I'm arguing based on the rights of the parents, whom we normally expect to make a very large number of decisions both religious and secular on behalf of their children. In the case of parents who do not have a specific religious interest in having the circumcision performed, I could probably be persuaded that outlawing the practice is a reasonable thing to do (although the evidence I've read so far hasn't convinced me of that). However, in the specific case of children born to Jewish parents, my feeling is that the rights of the parents to practice their religion should outweigh the rights of the child to bodily integrity, and of the state to limit their ability to perform the operation.
posted by whir at 4:16 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Conversion as an adult is a significant operation. They're simply not comparable. If someone is going to be circumcised then it's much, much better for them to be circumcised as an infant.

How do the dangers of the foreskin reattachment surgery for those who want part of their dick back compare to adult circumcision?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:23 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


For all of the non-Jewish men born circumcised

Now that is a neat trick.

But seriously, religious freedom includes freedom from religion and can surely include freedom from the marks imposed to signify membership. I also tend to oppose a ban on circumcision, but I don't think it's sensible to argue that an act so laden with symbolism loses all such weight as soon as an individual chooses to leave the faith. Our personal histories are no less important or indelible than our shared cultural histories, perhaps particularly so when they are written on our flesh.
posted by howfar at 4:35 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


If a child was born to Jewish parents and circumcised, he may subsequently convert to a different religion, or choose not to practice any religion at all. I'm not seeing how his freedom to worship in whatever manner he pleases is curtailed by the operation.

Again, the mere ability to convert to other religions is not the only question which determines whether something is a violation of religious freedom. If the vast majority of religious expressions were banned by the state, most people could (and did, historically speaking!) still "subsequently convert to a different religion, or choose not to practice any religion at all", so using this as the sole metric for whether something is a violation of religious freedom is ridiculous.

Others pointed out above that some Jewish people make a choice not to circumcise, for instance, a choice with serious religious repercussions for their children. Can a circumcised child ever choose this path? No? Then his religious choices, as a Jewish person, have been curtailed. An uncircumcised Jewish boy can decide for himself whether he wants to fulfil this religious obligation, but a circumcised boy simply cannot; the choice has been made for him, forever, and this choice has deep religious meaning.

Religious circumcision clearly limits the religious choices of children, even if they never even consider leaving their parents' faith.

then it is absolutely reasonable to question whether parents may apply this mark to infants who cannot consent to it, and who may eventually choose religious positions in stark opposition to it.

Are there seriously any religions out there that won't take you if you're circumcised?


Some people are very strongly opposed to the practice of religious circumcision. Obviously, these people might view the fact that part of their genitals were permanently removed by that same practice as a violation of their right to make their own religious choices. The fact that some other religion might still "take them" doesn't even begin to speak to this issue.
posted by vorfeed at 4:58 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, I think the tricky thing is that we can't really know how the child will feel once, in the future, it reaches the age when we consider it an adult and allow it to choose for itself. This goes back to the discussion of potentiality earlier in the thread. Some adults may feel violated, and some may feel that their right to choose a religion, or no religion, has been taken away. Some may choose to follow the Judaism of their parents, or a different variety, or not to follow it at all; of those who decide against joining the religion some may feel positive about their circumcision and some may feel profoundly negative about it. In the absence of any foreknowledge we must decide on a course of action and hope it's the right one. I'm sure vorfeed is correct that some people are strongly opposed to religious circumcision, but I think I'm also on solid ground when I claim that no 8-day old baby is. So we must rely on either the parents or the state to make the decision for the child.

Now that is a neat trick.

Oops. I'm sure there's a terrible mohel joke in there somewhere, but I'm going to stay far away from it.
posted by whir at 6:54 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Saying that babies don't have a religion is like saying that they don't have a language or a culture. It's technically true, but it is obtuse. Part of being human is that you are necessarily raised by other humans and that you are shaped by the environment they create.

The point of saying that babies don't have a religion isn't to suggest that they must never be exposed to whatever religion/language/culture they're born into. It's to remind ourselves that their powerlessness over their circumstances, their apparent resemblance to their parents' most treasured personal property, is only a temporary state - and that they are, as gradually maturing human beings, not only entitled to their own choice about the religion/language/culture they will ultimately practise/speak/identify with, but (with the exception of very tragic cases) actually destined to it. Physically altering a child's body, such that the adult is permanently marked as belonging to the religion his parents have chosen, is disrespectful to the adult's freedom to determine his own relationship to that religion, or religion in general. It is a decision made for him at a time when he indeed did not have religion - not in the sense of not existing within a religious community, which would be a stupid thing to assert, but in the sense of not yet being capable of knowingly, voluntarily committing to a religious identity or its particular expression.

As for language, why not - let's say it's the same thing. French-speaking parents generally teach their children French, a language that, among other things, doesn't make use of a /θ/ (th) sound. This is basically an unavoidable choice for them, and it has consequences that are also probably unavoidable: these children will know French, even if they one day wish they didn't, and will probably have a hard time learning other languages as adults, even if they prefer them. But we can accept these factual limits on human possibility, and like them, and think they're right, without believing French parents are therefore also entitled to have a dentist sedate their children and pluck their th-making front teeth out.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:07 PM on July 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting radio report on AIDS prevention efforts in Kenya here. They are attempting to get more than 1 million men between the ages of 15 and 49 circumcised by the end of 2013. It says that studies have shown that circumcisions can significantly reduce the chances of men contracting aids. Some interesting stuff about tribal divides and patriotism as well.
posted by Winnemac at 3:24 PM on July 5, 2012


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