Jewish Journal


June 4, 2011

‘Foreskin Man’s’ anti-Semitic slam dunk in circumcision wars?




Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published my op-ed about “The Circumcision Wars.” It was an interesting, if slightly awkward piece to report out, but it’s stirred up some interesting comments over at the WSJ cite.

The long and short of it is there is an movement of anti-circumcisers, “intactivists” who claim that foreskin has gotten a bad rap. They want to ban male circumcision everywhere, starting in San Francisco, and they claim the act is no different than female genital mutilation.

I know. It’s bonkers.

My op-ed focused more on the cultural and religious implications of prohibiting a covenantal act that Jews and Muslims are religiously commanded to perform. (The First Amendment issue is it’s own animal, and I largely left that alone.) Here’s a snippet:

From a Jewish religious perspective, the medical evidence is largely beside the point: Circumcision was ordered by God, so it requires no independent justification. Likewise for Muslims, who also circumcise per religious tradition.

The San Francisco measure would only prevent the circumcision of minors within city limits, and the practice would likely endure even there. “Circumcision is not going to go away because of this small, determined, angry group,” said Dr. Samuel Kunin, a Los Angeles-based urologist who promised that if the ballot measure passes, he’ll travel north to perform the first San Francisco circumcision.

The law also wouldn’t prevent a Jew from being circumcised as an adult, though that’s a much tougher procedure. To be sure, that didn’t stop thousands of Soviet Jews who were circumcised after they escaped persecution and arrived in Israel, the United States and elsewhere.

Still, circumcision doesn’t make a Jew a Jew. Family lineage or conversion (for which only the Orthodox widely require circumcision) do that. But, like baptism for those Christians who believe it is essential, circumcision is a declaration of a man’s covenant with God—a physical seal on that part of the body that passes traits to the next generation. No law, constitutional or not, can change that.

I also mention that some critics of the anti-circumcisers have claimed this movement is at least potentially anti-Semitic. I spoke with Matthew Hess, the guy running the MGM Bill organization, which is leading the legislative fight, and I didn’t get that impression. Instead it just seemed that Hess and others were anti-religious—or at least that they didn’t respect a religious impetus for male circumcision:

“Jewish people are not the only ones who practice circumcision,” Hess said. “In fact, they are a tiny minority. It is also practiced by Muslims; it is practiced culturally in the United States by people of any religion. It is not targeted toward Jewish circumcision, and I am always puzzled to hear the first thing to come out be: Oh, this is anti-Semitic.”

Well, I wish I had seen the Foreskin Man comic before we went to press Thursday. That’s it in the above image; it turns out that Hess wrote and created the comic book. Kind of undercuts his I-can’t-believe-people-think-we-hate-Jews spiel.

I’ll let Debra J. Saunders of the SF Chronicle describe what is going on:

Hmmmmm. Blonde superhero. An evil rabbi before a baby, a glass and a bottle of wine. And there’s a character named “warrior” of the “intactivist underground” who doesn’t care about rules or law and has one goal: “to stop child circumcisers dead in their tracks.”

I spoke with Matthew Hess of Foreskinman.com this morning. I asked him if the comic is anti-Semitic. He answered, “A lot of people have said that, but we’re not trying to be anti-Semitic. We’re trying to be pro-human rights.”

Jonah Lowenfeld has more on Foreskin Man here.

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