In reply to Qrypt's comments on Jewish tradition:
First off let me say that I understand and respect the difficult decision you (and TF, and countless others) made regarding your sons. The concerns you mention regarding growing up Jewish and uncircumcised are quite valid. In Jewish tradition, brit milah is a foundational element of the Covenant with G_d. It is both more important symbolically and more ubiquitous among different branches of Judaism than most other Jewish traditions, including laws about diet, ritual observances, etc. It's a big deal. I get that, and I appreciate the dilemmas it creates.
Having said that, I think it's worth pointing out some of what anti-circumcision Jews have to say on the subject (http://www.jewsagainstcircumcision.org/
) and the alternative ceremony they endorse, brit shalom
. I don't think their arguments necessarily diminish the validity of Qrypt's concerns, but they are worth a look.
Some of their arguments include:
1. Much like Christian Baptists, they question the meaningfulness of a covenant with God established in infancy before the child has even had the opportunity to learn what God is. If circumcision is to be a mark of an individual's dedication to God's covenant, then shouldn't it be entered into knowingly and willingly by men who understand what it means? (I realize that some would argue that brit milah marks the people's covenant with God, not an individual's - and of course God's commandment to circumcise Isaac at eight days old is pretty explicit - but this is an interesting argument nonetheless).
2. There are lots of Jews around the world in countries where circumcision is rare who do not practice it themselves, and are nonetheless still considered Jews (they report that 60% of Jewish boys in Sweden are uncut).
3. Exactly what circumcision entailed, historically, is in question. Some assert that prior to 200CE or so, brit milah involved severing only the tip of the foreskin, rather than the entire thing. While not something I myself would endorse, this milder form of circumcision would leave most of the foreskin's anatomical functions and nerve endings intact, while still creating the permanent mark on the male body mandated in Genesis.
They also offer some choice quotations from Maimonides's explanation of circumcision that suggest he would have gotten along quite well with American physicians of the Victorian era:
Similarly with regard to circumcision, one of the reasons for it is, in my opinion, the wish to bring about a decrease in sexual intercourse and a weakening of the organ in question, so that this activity be diminished and the organ be in as quiet a state as possible. It has been thought that circumcision perfects what is defective congenitally. This gave the possibility to everyone to raise an objection and to say: How can natural things be defective so that they need to be perfected from outside, all the more because we know how useful the foreskin is for that member? In fact this commandment has not been prescribed with a view to perfecting what is defective congenitally, but to perfecting what is defective morally.
The bodily pain caused to that member is the real purpose of circumcision. None of the activities necessary for the preservation of the individual is harmed thereby, nor is procreation rendered impossible, but violent concupiscence and lust that goes beyond what is needed are diminished. The fact that circumcision weakens the faculty of sexual excitement and sometimes perhaps diminishes the pleasure is indubitable. For if at birth this member has been made to bleed and has had its covering taken away from it, it must indubitably be weakened. The Sages, may their memory be blessed, have explicitly stated: It is hard for a woman with whom an uncircumcised man has had sexual intercourse to separate from him. In my opinion this is the strongest of the reasons for circumcision.
It's all about getting those pesky sexual impulses under control. Left intact, our bodies must surely lead us straight to moral degeneration. Plus, women enjoy uncircumcised penises too much, and we can't let women experience too much sexual pleasure, oh no.
Is that really an aspect of Jewish tradition that twenty-first-century Jews want to perpetuate?
A cite, or two, would be nice. Especially if it, or they, demonstrate the Victorian link. We do so love to blame the Victorians, almost as much as the Puritans.
David L. Gollaher, Circumcision: A history of the world's most controversial surgery, New York, Basic Books, 2000
Robert J. L. Darby. A surgical temptation: The demonization of the foreskin and the rise of circumcision in Britain. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
Leonard B. Glick. Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
All of the above comment on the role of Victorian medical thought and fears of masturbation and other kinds of "aberrant" sexuality.
And callouses, really? Bit of a brag I think, you old swordsman; take a break from time to time if only for a ciggy else you wear good johnny out before his time.
On the contrary. Circumcision necessarily leads to the callousing of the glans (i.e., the skin of the glans becomes dry and rough) simply because it deprives the glans of protection and lubrication. Overuse has nothing to do with it (except to the degree that the calloused and unlubricated glans is prone to chafing).