Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rites of Tribal Initiation: 2011

Jews, have for millennia, circumcised their male offspring as a ticket to entry into the
Tribe.  Hitler’s minions, as a means of identification of male Jews, caused men to drop their pants in order to determine who should live and who should be gassed, tortured, or otherwise exterminated.Under those circumstances, it became more difficult for male Jews to escape doom and certainly argued against the procedure.

A friend of mine, a Rabbi, recently wrote an incensed article about what he termed an anti-Semitic tract, “Foreskin Man,” (www.kurtstone.typepad.com) which condemned circumcision and seeks to introduce a law criminalizing the practice. Aside from all the medical controversy, the differentiation between male circumcision and female genital mutilation seems, for me, a difficult distinction to make.   Both procedures attack the genitalia of the victim.


Arguments that males benefit from the procedure and are less susceptible to sexually
transmitted diseases do not really address the moral issues of the rights of an infant who is unable to consent to the procedure and must suffer the consequences of the decision of his parents who are usually religiously, not medically, motivated. On the other hand, waiting until one is 16 or even 18 renders the procedure painful and usually not done. This even though there is evidence that there is a reduction in urinary tract infections as well as a reduction in the incidence in penile cancer.


Recently the British Medical Association pointed to medical and psychological risks of
the procedure, including anxieties, anger and even attempts of those circumcised to restore their foreskins.  Some courts in Europe have declared the procedure illegal.


There has also been evidence that sexual sensation is diminished because the glans of
the penis is desensitized.  However, there is evidence to the contrary that no loss of sexual sensation occurs.  There is no doubt, however, that there can be medical complications, including, among other consequences, fistulas, cysts, necrosis, and ulceration.


One thing is sure: there is little doubt that circumcision arose as a tribal rite and a methodology, according to Maimonides, to control male sexuality.   There seems to be an increasing consensus among medical societies that male circumcision “should not be routinely performed.”


What is clear is that it is a primitive practice, and rationales by religious people
have been carefully crafted to justify its perpetuation.  Many Jewish parents decide to do it so that their children are not singled out for having a “different penis” in the locker
room. (With no disrespect intended to recently tweeting Jewish congressmen.)


I have no answer to this conundrum.  On the one hand, it is an accepted and routinely practiced custom.  On the other, it is a form of genital mutilation, and when practiced on females, universally and rightly abhorred.


Whether the group currently promoting Elders of Zion caricatures of Jews who circumcise and Aryan looking anti circumcision claques who oppose it are evilly motivated are marginal to the issues of whether the practice remains morally or medically justifiable.  The growing professional opinion seems to be against it.


And, if one is religious, even devoutly so, and believes that Man is created in God’s
image, why the necessity to improve on God’s creation?  If one is not religious, would not Darwinian natural selection have eliminated foreskins by now anyway?