One Rabbis’ Thoughts on Circumcision
By Rabbi Natan Segal
Greetings and Blessings in your Birthing, Blessed Baby Boy! May your life be full of love, wonder and joy! You are perfect as you are, a bright and shining Radiant Star. Welcome to this world Holy Child – we love you – may you grow in strength, gentleness, compassion, and PEACE. Boys and girls, your creator has made you as you are meant to be. May you be Happy, Healthy, Holy, and Free – to live.. to love.. to receive and give the love of your Creator in loving one another, in blessing the life you live.
The birth of a child is indeed a wonder-full event. Full of the magic and mystery of all creation.
We have some idea on how it happens, but our knowledge is vastly limited. The mystery and magnificence of the event brings us to the space of ‘Awe”.
Our tradition teaches us: “The beginning of wisdom is Awe of the heavens”.
Each child brings a new vision, a new light a new awareness into our world.
In the baby naming ceremony, the infant is placed on an empty chair. the chair is called the chair of Elijah, or the chair of the Messiah, it is a recognition that each child brings a spirit of redemption and a new light into our world.
As a Rabbi (rabbi means teacher), and a naturopathic physician, i am continually looking at the natural world and beholding in wonder and awe the glory of all creation.
All is with a purpose, all spaces have their time.. life is meditation..the all is one..Divine..
There is a natural progression to our sexual development.
We are sexual beings in utero. Erections are common from five months in the womb to just before the tomb! And vaginal fluids and tissue swelling and stages of excitement are continually in flux.
We are sexual beings throughout our lifetime, a continual fountain of pleasure, awareness, communion, healing and mystery.
Rumi (1207-1273)..the 13 century Persian poet said: “They try to say, what we are, spiritual or sexual. They talk about Solomon and all his wives. In the body of the world, they say there is a soul and you are that. But we have ways within each other that will never be said by anyone.”(translation: Coleman Barks)
As i view sexuality from a nature perspective: We are given the first decade of our lives to explore and play, learn and enjoy.(self-centered sexuality). Then pro-creation gets added to this mystery and hence, more responsibility,consciousness,awareness of another, and nurturing.
If we miss out on early childhood sexual development, our sexual maturity is stunted.
And we become immature sexual beings in adult bodies..This is quite obvious from viewing our own culture and the world at large.
It is normal and natural for a two year old boy to run around pulling himself by his penis..stretching his foreskin and making people around him smile..like he has himself on a leash!
A two year old girl will likewise rub her clitoris..and get some pleasure..and then move on to other things, and then return to rubbing..
We are born with the capacity for orgasm..but young children are not always motivated to stimulate themselves to climax..but they do enjoy foreplay! (a major lesson for all of us!)
They are great teachers of ‘outercourse’, sensual play without a specific goal. Just being in the ‘here and now’…and being in joy pleasure and delight.
And there are cultures, such as in the Philippines that will masturbate their crying infants..bring them to orgasm..and they go to sleep..
In Bali the infant is not put down for the first 9 months.( But, they live in extended families, with uncles and aunts and cousins and siblings and friends all over the place with grandparents and assorted elders who have the patience and delight to sit and hold these holy new beings of God’s light.) He/she is held with a cloth under their bottom, people come to greet them and ‘gently’ touch his/her genitalia..which produces a smile..on both the infant and the one who touches!
In our current American culture any notion of childhood sexuality is labeled as ‘abuse’.
We will sooner our children watch violence on tv, play with toy guns and soldiers..we will spank them, verbally abuse them, keep them bound in diapers and clothes, so they cannot have access to touch or pleasure themselves.
When a child reaches down to touch himself..the parent usually gives a ‘NO message’, and places a toy or a thing in the childs hands. the message is..NO!, do not look for pleasure in your ownself..pleasure is ‘outside’ yourself…and if you get the right ‘things’ you will be happy..
Hence, our obsession with material consumption and continually looking outside of ourselves for the right ‘toy’ to bring our happiness and peace.
In the Trobriand islands children are having sexual intercourse before the age of 5! (Of course they don’t have movies or malls,video-games or t.v)
Is this perverted? Well, what do you want them to do?..sit in school houses..read books..play video games..and take medication for attention deficit disorder?
Is it possible that the real deficit is what we are asking our children to pay attention to?
Loving and delight is the greatest dance there is..and the more we are away from this dance the greater our frustration loneliness and despair.
The early Egyptians gifted us with circumcision. The patriarch Abraham was 99 years old when he made the covenant (hebrew: Brit’) with Yahweh. He circumcised himself. And we know that it was a small symbolic cut..the removal of the tip of the foreskin that hung over the glans.
In the second century , the Jews at this time were wanting to participate in the Greek and Roman olympics..they competed in the nude. The Greeks and Romans only allowed ‘intact’ males..as they celebrated the human form in its wholeness and completeness.
So, if a Jewish man wanted to compete..he would hang some weights from his existing foreskin and ‘restore’ himself. The Rabbis of this era did not take kindly to this practice of physical assimilation so they instituted two new rituals into the circumcision procedure.
1.Periah..the complete removal of the foreskin, exposing the glans, and in some cases, the removal of the frenulum (the extra-sensitive band of tissue on the underside of the penis.)
2.Metzitzah..the sucking of the blood from the cut penis
These two procedures are still performed among Orthodox Jews world wide.
So, from a simple snip at the time of Abraham, we now have a major blood-letting ceremony, complete with blood sucking.
Our task as Jews is to be a “light unto the nations”, and to be a holy people.
Circumcision does not contribute to either of these principles.
More and more Jews are choosing to not circumcise their boys.. (Thank God!) And just as we accept Jews who do not keep kosher or observe as we do, We recognize the amazing diversity of practice and belief that is part and parcel of our astounding heritage.
We have a good history of ‘live and let live’..we are not known for killing each other over belief and ideology…screaming ..yelling..yes!..killing ..no!
Genital cutting does not create a ‘mensch’ (a conscious-caring individual). Indeed it is more of an obstacle to our natural development and source of anger and confusion.
Coming from an Orthodox background and having lived in Jerusalem, i am very aware that the problems of domestic violence and sexual pathology are just as prevalent in the observant communities as in the secular.
Deuteronomy 10:16 says: “Circumcise the foreskin of your heart,”
In Hebrew, the word foreskin is ‘orlah’.. there is an ‘orlah’ covering the ear..and the heart..
What is preventing us from ‘hearing the word of God and opening our hearts in love and compassion.. This is the real circumcision that needs to occur. and it is a life-time learning ceremony.
According to most Jewish teachings there are 613 commandments in the Torah (Bible-Old Testament). 248 positive commandments (Mitzvot Aseh), and 365 negative commandments(Mitzvot Taaseh). Although not all rabbis are in agreement about this..actually, not all rabbis are in agreement about anything…there is no ‘Jewish universal field theory.'(Humanistic Judaism does not even believe in God.) And the same is true for all the religions..not all Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, believe the same way.(more often than not they will fight and war with each other re: belief..sad but true)..
So, i find it fascinating (and disturbing) that young bright couples, who practice very little of the 613 commandments..will have major surgery performed on their baby boys in the name of a tradition that they know little about and are not even practicing..
Well, how Orthodox do you want to be…is it the more foreskin that is removed…the more Jewish your child will be?
Will you include the blood sucking ceremony?
Circumcision is not a guarantee of Jewishness.
And yes, you can be Jewish with a foreskin.
It was introduced into our American culture by Dr. John Kellogg (yes, the Kellog cereal man) ..(he also favored female circumcision and putting carbolic acid on young girls clitoris’s to curb their enthusiasm.)
He said that it was a cure for masturbation!..(it’s not)..and likewise it is not a procedure that guarantees holiness, compassion or wisdom in our sex.
Infancy is a most sacred and special time. At no time in life is physical tissue more sensitive and responsive to touch,taste, sound, temperature etc.
Infancy is also the period of greatest transparency. An infant does not fake pleasure or pretend pain.
It is true to its feelings a hundred percent of the time. Our sacred tasks as caretakers of this sensual-spirit being is to help it maintain its comfort and presence, delight and peace. He/she will inform us immediately if we are not doing something right.
I have witnessed hundreds of circumcisions, the baby boy usually lies in bliss and blessing and as soon as his penis is touched it gets erect…and then he is held down..either with a restraining unit or by an elder, and then he is cut…and he screams, and cries..
How is this event stored in memory? What are we doing to our children?…and why?
Young Moslem men get circumcised between the ages of 12 and 15..can this be cited as a partial explanation for their anger?
I don’t know..You don’t know..We don’t know..and that’s the truth of it..Forgive us dear Lord ..for we know not what we do.
We have so much pathology (sickness/disease) around our sexuality that it makes no sense to cut off parts of our anatomy because some second century rabbis thought it was a good idea.(these are the same rabbis that said we can pray to determine the gender of a baby up until the third month of pregnancy.) (and yes, they prayed for boys!) (The Talmud is a vast sea of discussion, learning and response..full of good information and misinformation..in my humble opinion i find a lot of their health information sorely lacking.)
Boys are born with foreskins and girls with hymens (the sheath-like covering over the entrance to the vagina). They both have a reason and purpose. It is their own surprise package..for them to open..a special present from their Creator. We have no right to open their private packages. (to cut or fully retract the male penis, or penetrate the girls vagina.)
Soft touches, gentle cleaning, massage, awareness of pleasure in holiness and thanksgiving..Yes. Forceful manipulation, retraction, penetration..No.
Let the children explore their own sexual organs all they want. It is their body, they must learn how to pleasure themselves, nurture, and grow, and explore others with permission. If they want a circumcision at the age of thirteen or 99 that is their choice.
Allow him access to it…he will stretch and open it..
Boys who are not given access to their genitalia, can develop ‘phimosis’ a condition where the foreskin does not retract. The medical solution for this problem is ‘circumcision’.
Likewise, a common procedure with virgin brides,(young women who did not have any clitoral stimulation during childhood) is removal of clitoral adhesions, and these women are much more apt to have difficulty with sexual pleasure especially orgasm.
It’s their body ..allow them to feel themselves… the entire body is an erogenous zone full of pleasure and delight . a learning laboratory for sensations , and awareness. We’re here to learn and grow and the more we are able to be in touch with ourselves, the greater our capacity to be present with others.
” If I am not for myself … who will be for me ? If I am only for myself .. what am i ?
And if not now … when ?
As parents and caretakers of children it is not our task to make them into copies of ourselves but to allow them to be the unique and beautiful spirits that they are.
Sex in Hebrew is called ‘beah’ or ‘knowing..and adam ‘knew’ eve and she conceived.
One must first learn and ‘know’ oneself..in order to be able to ‘know’ another.
Marriage in Hebrew is “Kiddushin” ..”Holiness”..wholeness and holiness sound the same and are closely related. When we see or sense the wholeness and inter-connectedness of all creation..this leads us into paths and directions of holiness.
In the middle of 2006, a study was published concerning HIV transmission and circumcision among African males. The conclusion of this study, recommended circumcision as a form of prevention for HIV.
I was not surprised at the results. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”..and if the foreskin is gone…then viruses and bacteria have less places to hide..
In the same vein, we can remove our childrens’ teeth ..and there will be little possibility for tooth decay!
Another factor in HIV transmission in Africa is that many African men prefer ‘dry sex’, which increases the possibility of tissue abrasion and viral transmission.
In a Culture that performs clitorectomies and other variant forms of female genital mutilation..because it is not deemed ‘proper’ for a woman to have too much pleasure in sex,
it is not surprising that there is an enormous amount of dis-ease and dysfunction in sex and sense.
Most people in western cultures view female genital mutilation as primitive and barbaric; but hold male circumcision in a totally different light. Our cultural bias obviously creates blinders from which we cannot see clearly.
The removal of the clitoris /clitoral hood, is in fact, composed of the same cellular structure as the male foreskin, and the lips. The most sensitive tissue in our body.
If it were only the cutting of a small little piece of skin (male foreskin or clitoris) that had no function or purpose it would not be such a ‘big’ deal. But this small little piece of skin, grows along with the rest of the body, to become a 3 by 5 inch sheet of foreskin composed of the most sensitive tissue, with function and purpose.
The code of the Jewish law is called “halacha” (the way). Within the Code, there is a provision that if a mother looses a son because of circumcision, she is NOT obligated to circumcise her next son. I extrapolate from this, the inter-connection of my human family, that enough deaths and maiming have occurred because of circumcision. Therefore – circumcision is no longer a requisite.
Brit Milah’ is the hebrew for the covenant of ‘circumcision’. ‘Mila’ also means ‘word’.. We can welcome the child with songs and praises and holy words..gentle tones, and soft touches and smiles.
Infants are great teachers of gentleness,tenderness, softness, quietness, forgiveness, and peace. We can use a drop of wine instead of blood, and give Praise to our Creator for the gift of life..and celebrate together in joy holiness and thanksgiving.
If you feel that you must do some ritual ‘blood-letting’..less is better..return to the original concept, a small snip off the tip ..or a drop of blood from a needle prick. Indeed, as we are currently in the debate: to ‘circumcise’, or not..the real question that needs to be asked is: How much foreskin removal is enough” ? And as we are currently witnessing, most Jews are avoiding the Metzitzah (blood sucking portion of the circumcision ceremony), so they are already deviating from the ‘Halacha’..so best to choose less cutting..more loving..kindness, caring and holiness, wholeness..and peace.. Amen!
Just as we no longer practice the animal sacrifices in the traditional temple, so let us not sacrifice an important piece of our mammal in the temple of tradition. Let us be holy beings in our sex and spirit – they are connected beyond our imaginings, and let us start with bright beginnings, wonder, prayer, gratitude, and grace. Spare the pain, nature will provide plenty of ‘owie’ opportunities. Let us comfort, console, love, and caress, and yes – Bless each other in holy love. Listen, Yah is One.
What really matters? Love – water – food – shelter! I choose life that I might live, to love Yah with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my might. And, I will love my neighbor as myself.