Over the years that I have been writing Notes From a Barking Shaman, I have written about my firm opposition to the barbaric practice of genital mutilation on multiple occasions:
- POTD 1/12/12 Same Old Story 1/12/12
- Issue Fatigue 4/17/07
I also have written about my personal experiences around my milk religion (Judaism) and my departure from it:
- Honor Through Absence 8/19/11
- Ambiguity: Home For Someone Else’s Holiday 4/3/07
And one post that details my feelings on the intersection of the two topics:
There were many factors that went into my departure from my milk religion, but the practice and celebration of genital mutilation within it was one of the two biggest; as big perhaps even as the whole “one god” thing (I recognize that many other pagan oriented Jews have done the mental gymnastics needed to “reconcile” those two identities, but I could not have).
I grew up in a household that cherished the spiritual nature of Reform Judaism, and embraced the teaching that Judaism is a dynamic and “living” religion; one which must evolve with the changing nature of our world to foster and nurture the relationship between people and their god, rather than become an obstacle. Both at home and in synagog I was taught that many of the Talmudic and Biblical laws are at their core about devotion, rather than blind obedience. And that Jews must study Torah, not in the pursuit of memorization, but of understanding, and beyond that, that they must ask themselves “what does this mean to me?” not simply “what did this mean to my ancestors?”
That modern Reform Jewry continues to place the mutilation of their male children’s genitals on a pedestal, while discarding other outmoded biblical proscriptions has long puzzled me. In a tradition that believes strongly in equality saying “women may hold equal place with men in Judaism, and require no cutting of their genitals, but only surgical altered men are Jews” seems to me to be terribly hypocritical. Either genital cutting is a fundamental part of Judaism, in which case women are not truly equal to men, or it isn’t required to be a Jew, in which case men are mutilated needlessly. Mixing the two ideas seems inconsistent in the extreme.
It should be noted of course, that in the United States the damage or alteration of a girl’s genitals, no matter how minor (perhaps extending even to bloodletting via a diabetic lancet), is legally forbidden, whether for religious purposes or not. Modern Judaism has no choice but to allow their girls to remain unaltered, so perhaps we will never know if some form of female genital cutting might not have been embraced as part of Jewish sexual equality had the option existed.
Now however, there is a cadre of Jewish scholars, rabbis, and parents, who are beginning to gain momentum in their quest for Jewish parents to embrace brit shalom – a covenant of peace, rather than the traditional brit milah – covenant of circumcision. There are excellent books on the topic, both scholarly and personal, including:
- Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective by Dr. Ronald Goldman PhD
- Covenant of Blood: Circumcision & Gender in Rabbinic Judaism by Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman
- Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America by Dr. Leonard Glick MD PhD
And their are some amazing resources on the web, including:
- Beyond The Bris
- Jews Against Circumcision
- Israeli Association Against Genital Mutilation (Hebrew)
- The Whole Network’s Judaism & Circumcision page
This is not going to be an easy road for these dedicated and outspoken activists to travel down. Judaism is an extremely tribal culture. I know many people who only allow fellow Jews into positions of importance in their lives. Their doctor, accountant, realtor, even their car salesman, all must be Jewish. And it is impossible to convey to someone who did not grow up within that tribal community how fundamental genital mutilation is to the cultural identities of many Jews. Samara Cole, in her excellent essay “Refusing to Circumcise: A Mom’s Difficult Demand” eloquently conveys the frustration she experiences with her husband, who cares not at all for the biblical or spiritual meaning of the practice, yet steadfastly insists that his sons have their foreskins amputated, even after he has come to believe that the procedure has no redeeming value.
Jewish Intactivism is an exciting and challenging development in the growing and changing nature of modern Jewry. There is a part of me that is sad that this is a cultural revolution that I have to watch as a well-informed outsider. I truly believe, as someone raised steeped in Jewish thought and belief, that intactivism is incredibly consistent with Jewish values and spirituality. I believe with all my heart that in discarding the barbaric mutilation of innocent children, modern Jews can reclaim and embrace the deeper purpose of the covenant ritual.
I pray to my gods and theirs that these dedicated activists can transform pain, blood, and terror, into peace.