Circumcision Makes No Sense (And That’s Okay)

Let’s be honest with ourselves. Circumcision is crazy.

We take a baby, 8 days after he left the womb, 8 days after the being born, and we have a person, not even a doctor, mumble some words, and then cut off part of the most sensitive part of the baby’s body.

The problem, you see, is that we try and make it sound logical.

We tell each other, well, it’s healthy. Well, everyone does it now. Well, the baby will be better off for it.

We make these arguments because there is a screeching group of fanatics on the other side that are telling us how wrong what we’re doing is. How we’re horrible people. How it makes no sense!

And so we try to make it all sound smart and logical, and we put out articles about our logical arguments, and we get doctors to sign a petition in our favor, and we argue about it online.

This is a mistake.

Because the truth is, as I said, it doesn’t make sense to do this to a baby at that age. At least, it doesn’t make sense in the paradigm the secular world inhabits.

In secular life, the physical is what matters. Meaning: life, pain, money, comfort. These are the morals of our society, or, at least, they are becoming the morals. A secular society is focused on reducing the negative forms of physicality, and increasing the positive forms.

In many ways, the religious paradigm intersects this philosophy. We also care about reducing pain, increasing life expectancy, and all the rest.

But for different reasons. We want those things because they give us the ability to lead a more spiritual life.

To the secular society, those goals of reducing pain and increasing comfort, those are ends to themselves.

Viewed from the paradigm of secular society, circumcision makes no sense.

And the problem is that, as a religious community, we are trying to make it fit into that paradigm. We make ridiculous arguments about how it’s better for the baby in the long term. While that may be true, it still doesn’t justify doing it. From a totally secular point of view, it makes sense to allow a person to wait until they are sexually active to decide if they want to go forward with such a procedure.

From a religious perspective, of course, circumcision makes complete sense. Because the goal of being religious isn’t necessarily to avoid pain or to increase comfort. No, the goal of a religious person is to come closer to G-d. To live a G-dly life. To bring spirituality into the physical world.

We have a different paradigm, and that’s totally fine. The important thing is to recognize the difference.

Otherwise, we’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It not only effects the way others look at us, but it effects the way we look at ourselves. The more we try to argue for circumcision in the paradigm of secular ideals, the more we define our own religion based on secular society.

Things get even worse when we accuse those who disagree with us of being antisemitic. It may be true for some, even many, but for many others it isn’t. They’re simply living out a different ideal than ours.

The same goes for so many other arguments Jews are beginning to lose in the modern world. Arguments for the existence of Israel and especially settlements, for example. People try to make logical, secular, arguments for these things. The majority of Jews that are pro-Israel try to somehow fit the existence of that bizarre country into a secular worldview.

But how can you justify the existence of Israel? A bunch of Jews decided to plop themselves down on a plot of land they hadn’t controlled in generations. It makes no sense. Not if you define the world based on a paradigm that looks at the world only physically, only based on discomfort, on the fact that Arabs are pissed, that Jews have no right to the land. And then to try to argue for settlements as something positive is even more crazy from such a perspective.

No, the only way to be logical in such a situation is to accept that the paradigm for looking at these things is religious. Is G-dly. That the way of life we’ve chosen isn’t going to make sense to the people around us.

The more we do this, the more people won’t be able to mess with us. Imagine if we told world leaders that there’s no way they can convince us to give up a tract of land because… it’s ours. Or imagine if we told the world we do circumcision because… it’s the way we make the world G-dly.

It may not make sense at the time to the people around us, but it will force people to have to start examining our worldview.

Until then, we’ll continue to be thrown around by the world the way people like Barak in Israel are. We’ll continue to lose arguments to the people around us about circumcision and eventually every other religious act we practice.

But when we proudly stand up for our paradigm, for a worldview that is in a completely different sphere from the rest of the world, we’ll not only be respected (if not understood), we’ll respect ourselves.

  • Mikhal-Sarah Gordon

    It isn’t a logical argument on either side. It becomes anti-semitic and crazy on their end though when they draw cartoon books intimating that Jews want everyone to be circumcised, and kidnap infants to do do and that it’s all a plot by Jewish doctors to impose it on the world.
    FACT, Circumcision caught on because Jews had lower rates of STDs and cervical cancers and it was felt to be cleaner, and also because Phimosis (sealing of the foreskin making urination painful or impossible) is not rare and a “circ” was felt to be the best treatment as well as a perfect preventative. Those early STD/Cancer studies were later questioned because it was felt they didn’t control for behavioural differences, ie fewer sexual partners.

    It does get crazy and antisemitic when anti-circumcision activists try to block, discredit or make accusations against doctors who disseminate NEW information suggesting that circumcision does help prevent some STDs, when done before age 15… and what 15 year old would willingly undergo it? Infants heal faster and show less distress, even at 1yr, than older children and adults who undergo it.
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15593753/ns/health-mens_health/t/circumcision-cuts-std-risk-major-study-shows/#.UKE55IfAeSo

    It is also illogical when they compare it to FGM, in which it is not the clitoral hood that is removed, but all or part of the clitoris itself. The only analogy to FGM would be the excision of some or all of the glans penis. This is an emotional appeal that is both intellectually dishonest and a blatant attempt to cash in on the trauma that women of some cultures have had to undergo and make them “morally equivalent”.

    None of those are why circumcision is a mitzvah, true, but telling Jews not to argue from logic because we can’t win is assuming that the other side IS arguing from logical premises, which they are clearly not. They are arguing more from emotion and ideology than Jews are. The people against it are Social Justice “Cuckoos” and Manarchists looking for a way to prove that they have been oppressed as white, gentile, men by the evil axis of Jewish-Feminazism. When their arguments become illogical, hysterical and antisemitic logic should be raised to refute them.

    The LOGICAL premise is that routine infant circumcision is not necessary, but that it is a very low risk procedure which has been done safely for many decades with nobody complaining of trauma in adulthood until this sudden politicization, and there is now evidence that it has some benefits in reducing STD transmission, benefits that can be more than replicated by teaching sexual continence. The logical premise is that families should weigh the benefits and risks along with the difficult of undoing it, and make their best decision, the same way they make other decisions that will impact the rest of their child’s life, like what religion to raise them, where to live, and what schools to send them to.

    Obviously Jews will make that decision based on spiritual benefit, and the benefit of keeping up a cultural tradition of thousands of years duration, considerations that won’t factor into non-Jewish decision making and shouldn’t be expected to.

    • BirdieWaters

      “It is also illogical when they compare it to FGM, in which it is not the
      clitoral hood that is removed, but all or part of the clitoris itself.
      The only analogy to FGM would be the excision of some or all of the
      glans penis. This is an emotional appeal that is both intellectually
      dishonest and a blatant attempt to cash in on the trauma that women of
      some cultures have had to undergo and make them “morally equivalent”.”

      I agree, however activist fighting FGM will call you on this statement. There are four classifications of FGM according to the WHO (http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/fgm/overview/en/index.html) which females in Africa are subjected to, not all of which consist of the complete removal of outer genitalia and at least one of which is indeed a female version of male circ. From a secular standpoint, none of it makes sense and both procedures are no less than needless mutilation of a child, so you’ll never convince them otherwise.

    • I hear what you’re saying. Here are my thoughts:

      1. I’m not arguing there aren’t some people that are antisemitic in the movement. But there are many others that aren’t and are simply doing their best from their point of view. It’s important we respect and understand that or else we risk demonizing and ostracizing people that don’t deserve such treatment. It also hurts from a persuasive point of view.

      2. I’m not arguing there isn’t some “secular logic” to the whole thing. The point is what is our emphasis? Do we ONLY argue based on this logic or does it just happen to be a convenient way to help our case? I think it should be seen as the latter.

  • BirdieWaters

    Great post. One of the best out of all the posts I’ve read on this topic. A little on the naive side though??

    “It may not make sense at the time to the people around us, but it will force people to have to start examining our worldview….”

    I love the idea of not placating a secular world which will never see Torah as legitimate. They have already, on the surface, examined our world view from their perspective. They deem it irrational un-evolved and at times barbaric, not that their view should affect our behavior.

    “when we proudly stand up for our paradigm, for a worldview that is in a
    completely different sphere from the rest of the world, we’ll not only
    be respected (if not understood), we’ll respect ourselves.”

    We will respect ourselves, but standing proudly in our paradigm doesn’t garner any more respect amongst the secular world than other religions who stand proudly in theirs. They’ll see you as a proud fool when in fact they are fools. The secular world cannot comprehend the subjective, spiritual world at all. It’s ridiculous and foolish, like explaining color to a world full of completely color blind people. They only understand the objective. Science is catching up though thanks to people like astrophysicist Tom Campbell, Biologist Bruce Lipton and others who are humble enough to admit that they had it wrong all along.

    • I disagree that it’s naive. I think arguing from the perspective of secular logic is naive.

      Look, for example, at the fact that some people tend to criticize Israel non-stop, and ignore the much worse things Hamas and others do. People assume this is because of some inherent hate against Israel and/or Jews. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. The problem is that Israel tries to be secular, and bases its society on democratic values. Thus, people expect “more” out of it. Hamas, on the other hand, is firmly religious and proudly vicious. They don’t try to pretend they’re something they’re not. And thus, no one criticizes them because any argument is useless against them.

      We could do the same thing… without the viciousness. And with truth.

      • BirdieWaters

        “The problem is that Israel tries to be secular, and bases its society on
        democratic values. Thus, people expect “more” out of it. Hamas, on
        the other hand, is firmly religious and proudly vicious. They don’t try
        to pretend they’re something they’re not. And thus, no one criticizes
        them because any argument is useless against them.”

        Has Hamas gained the respect of the secular world though? No. They’re seen as irrational, backward zealots which you wouldn’t be seen with in public. I do see what you’re saying about Israel having more expected of it, but I disagree that it would gain more respect if it were governed by Torah right now. In other words I’d still call it naive to think that if we approach the secular state of Israel in a non democratic way, that we would gain any more respect from the secular world, but that’s just my POV.

        On the subject of hatred directed at Jews in regards to Israel, what boggles my mind is the extent of outright hatred toward Jews by Americans. I see this on social media outlets daily.

        On the one hand, Jews have a connection to the land of Israel – all of it. This is irrefutable and supported by Islamic literature in fact (not that I endorse forcing any peaceful citizen of Israel off their land by any means).

        On the other hand, there was absolutely no connection for Europeans, to the united states. They simply squatted here on prime land for the purpose of acquisition and conquest and here they remain. This means that every American who squawks about Israel’s actions is a hypocrite, as all of them are literally sitting on land stolen from its original owners, the native Indians who are to this day, mistreated.

  • Princess Lea

    Very true. In the end, we do not have to defend ourselves or our religion to anyone. We do have unexplained commandments, and while some claim they know the reasons they kinda sound wimpy to me. I heard Rabbi Becher once explain it like so: Even if we know the reason for a mitzvah (like not eating the gid hanesheh, because that is where Yaakov was injured) that is not why we do the mitzvah. We do the mitzvah because Hashem told us to, not because of any other reason.

    So we do brissim, amongst other things. Simply because we were commanded to do so.

  • I love your blog!

  • Gary Epstein

    I think all the circumcision comment boards have closed. Truth is most of the world’s doctors and populations see no benefits to male circumcision. Sure you could get a tight foreskin, but I also could get ear wax and junk in my naval slots. And these minor issues would justify routine circumcision. The AAP omitted countries where HIV/AID is great in circumcised men such as Nigeria. They accepted badly designed studies that all were stopped when the numbers gave the researchers the data they needed to ask WHO and USAID for circumcision grant money. Its a scam as usual and only a few, outside the US see it for what it is.