June 21, 2011
The great California foreskin fight of 2011
(Page 3 - Previous Page)
• Circumcision advocates say that the rate of circumcision is about 75 or 80 percent in the United States today. Many intactivists say that it is 56 percent, and some even claim that the rate of circumcision has dropped to just 32.5 percent.
• Intactivists assert that sexual pleasure and performance is diminished by circumcision. Some circumcision advocates say there is no difference — and others even claim that sex is better and lasts longer for circumcised men (and their partners).
• When talking about the history of circumcision, advocates look to a doctor in the U.S. Army, John Patton, who wrote that circumcision could have prevented a number of debilitating foreskin-related maladies suffered by soldiers during World War II. Intactivists, meanwhile, point to misguided individuals like the surgeon John Harvey Kellogg, who co-invented corn flakes with his brother and is said to have advocated circumcision as a way to curb masturbation.
• There is no medical reason to circumcise a healthy baby, intactivists say. Advocates for circumcision say that the health benefits outweigh the potential risks.
Agreement is effectively nonexistent — even among doctors, which may help explain why the most recent AAP Task Force on Circumcision report, issued in 1999, concluded that “[e]xisting scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision.”
Of particular relevance to Jews is the summary paragraph’s fourth sentence:
“It is legitimate for parents to take into account cultural, religious, and ethnic traditions, in addition to the medical factors, when making this decision.”
Was the blanket ban a bad idea?
When Troutman ultimately decided to drop her ballot measure, she said that if she ever did something like this in the future, she would focus her attention on the circumcisions done in hospitals and would include a religious exemption in the text of the law.
“If I do something like this in the future, I’ll build a coalition, and I’ll probably have Jews on board,” she said.
And even Jews who oppose circumcision say they wouldn’t go so far as to support a ban. Rebecca Wald, a former lawyer and intactivist who lives near Fort Lauderdale, Fla. is the host of Beyond the Bris, a blog she launched in December 2010 as a way to explain why she, as a Jew, was opposed to circumcision — and to reach out to other Jews like herself.
“I have no interest in telling other people what I think they should do or how I think they should live their lives,” Wald said. “I’m also a pragmatist. I don’t think more Jewish people are going to become interested in questioning circumcision if it’s banned. If anything, I think it would go in the other direction.”
But the organized Jewish community has now mobilized to make sure the situation never goes that far.
“I have never seen another issue unite the Jewish community the way this one has,” said Porth, who has been at San Francisco’s JCRC for more than 10 years. “From the Renewal movement to Chabad, from the secular to the most observant and most traditional quarters of our Jewish community, there is unanimity.”