Of course, there have been anti-circumcision movements before, but most Jews historically have continued the religious practice of circumcision even under the threat of death. The leader of this current initiative, Matthew Hess, president of the group called the Bill to End Male Genital Mutilation, was quoted in the Boston Herald (February 21, 2010) as saying “circumcision is painful and unnecessary, violates a baby’s human rights and decreases sexual sensation in mature males.”
Because we see the proposed ban as a violation of religious freedom, we feel it will undoubtedly not pass into law. But these types of claims need to be answered.
Jews have circumcised tens of millions of their infant sons for over 3,000 years with few complications and without the dire pain, trauma, and other horrible effects claimed by opponents of circumcision.
Medical research has proven neonatal circumcision provides a lifetime of medical benefits, yet the anti-cirumcisionists claim the medical benefits of circumcision are unproven. The American Academy of Pediatrics published reports on circumcision from 1971-1989 questioning the medical benefits, but as research advanced, their latest report in 1999 documented that neo-natal circumcision offered protection against six medical problems: urinary tract infection, penile cancer, STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) and HIV/AIDS infection, Balanoposthisis (infections of the glans), Phimosis (failure of the foreskin to retract) and genital hygiene.
Since then, the scientific data has only strengthened the case for these benefits. Most dramatic is the growing evidence that circumcision helps prevent HIV/AIDS. Recent studies have confirmed circumcision has the ability to reduce transmission of HIV/AIDS by 50-60 percent or more.
The same mechanism that helps protect men from infection with the HIV virus causing AIDS also helps prevent infection with Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which causes penile cancer in men and cervical cancer in women. As a result, Jewish women have a very low rate of cervical cancer. Long before Gardasil, a vaccine that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to prevent cervical cancer in females between the ages of 9 and 26 years of age, the Torah prescribed a proven vaccine for cervical cancer.
What parent wouldn’t want their child to receive these benefits?
But what about the claims of “horrible” pain? Anyone attending a traditional Jewish circumcision (bris milah) will note that the baby begins to cry when the diaper is opened to the cooler air. The baby is comforted in the sandek’s (G-dfather’s) lap and given gauze with wine to suck on. The circumcision usually takes only 20-30 seconds, and the baby is shortly asleep.
Admittedly, the procedure used in most hospitals is more traumatic, but severe pain is neither a religious nor medical necessity. Many doctors and hospitals have begun adopting the traditional Jewish techniques, although they are still not as quick as an experienced mohel.
An infant’s vaccination shots are also painful and might cause more crying than a circumcision. Would the proponents of this ban also ban parents’ rights to have their children vaccinated or treated with other painful procedures they deem necessary until the child is 18?
The claim of reduced sexual sensitivity is also not supported by data. The claims are purely anecdotal, and the few discredited studies that claimed to show this were also only anecdotal and badly structured. Both physical testing before and after analysis of adult circumcisions have shown no reduction of sexual sensitivity from circumcision.
The evidence is clear that neonatal circumcision offers positive medical benefits to males, both as infants and in later adult life. The data is also clear that there is no physiological reduction of sexual sensation or performance associated with neonatal circumcision.
The medical benefit of circumcision is not of religious significance to a believing Jew’s decision to have a bris for a newborn son, but obviously, a parent would be concerned if the net effect were negative. Fortunately, G-d created a benevolent universe.
Throughout history, skeptics and opponents of Torah have made claims like these only to have researchers demonstrate a medical or other type benefit resulting from the performance of a mitzvah – a commandment of G-d. This coincides with a traditional phrase used by our sages that “only good and no harm can come of doing a mitzvah.”
For a Jew, the question shouldn’t be “What is the medical benefit of circumcision?” Rather, circumcision should be performed as a commandment of G-d and as a sign of G-d, affecting the family for generations to come.
But it’s nice to know it is actually good for you.