Circumcision Debate Draws a Crowd

l-r: Miraim Pollack, Kathryn Bernheimer, Yehudis Fishman, Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon

The subject of circumcision may make some people squeamish, but it proved a hot topic on Tuesday, October 18 as 150 people crammed into the Boulder JCC auditorium for a film screening and panel discussion exploring all sides of the circumcision debate. Students from three separate classes at CU and Front Range Community College made up two-thirds of the audience – surely setting a record for student attendance at a Boulder JCC adult education event. With heavy turnout from the local “no circ” movement, Jews were in the minority – another unusual occurrence at the BJCC.
Director Eli Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon presented his 70-minute documentary “Cut: Slicing through the Myths of Circumcision,” which takes a highly critical look at the practice of male infant circumcision, from religious, scientific, and ethical perspectives. The film follows the filmmaker’s personal journey from Orthodox Jew to anti-circumcision crusader. At the heart of the film is the director’s troubled relationship with his father and with Judaism. The film argues that circumcision has no medical benefits, that it inhibits sexual pleasure and that it is an irreversible procedure performed on a child too young to give his consent.

Following the screening, the audience asked questions directed at panel of experts that included the director, who fielded many of the comments. Miriam Pollack, a passionate national no-circ advocate, also argued against the practice as a violation of human rights. Dr. Karen Susskind, a family physician who has performed hundreds of circumcisions, addressed medical questions. Morah Yehudis Fishman represented the religious position on circumcision, a mitzvah central to Judaism.

For those who missed the spirited and often contentious conversation, the DVD of “Cut” is now available at the HaSifria library.

About Kathryn Bernheimer

Kathryn has spent her professional life writing about, teaching, and presenting the arts. Founding Director of the Boulder Jewish Film Festival, Kathryn was Director of Menorah and ACE at the Boulder JCC from 2003 through August, 2019. The former film and theater critic for the Boulder Daily Camera, Kathryn is the author of "The Fifty Greatest Jewish Movies" and "The Fifty Funniest Films of All Time."

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  1. If a consenting adult wants to get circumcised there is nothing wrong with that. People can practice whatever religion they want. When a baby gets circumcised his religious freedom is being violated. What if the person does not want to be Jewish? A parent does not have to impose a religion on their child for an entire lifetime. Banning circumcision does not violate the first amendment it protects the first amendment. Religious freedom does not mean that a person has a right to run around imposing their religion on others just because it is their religion to do so. A person's right to religious freedom comes to an IMMEDIATE end the moment that another person's rights are infringed upon. If the parents of a 30 year old son converted to Judaism could they force him to get circumcised? I don't see how this is different than circumcision a baby. By the time the person is 40 he is going to be circumcised weather it was done to him at age30 or age 0, so what's the difference? There is no difference except that at least a 30 year old can fight back.

  2. So no-circ film argues three reasons: on medical benefits, I don't know. On sexual pleasure: show me young circumcised Jews without a passion for sex. Better sex? Perhaps, but unpleasurable sex, no. On irreversible procedure, yes, but so is NOT having it according to Jewish law (after 8 days). Will the 18 year old regard the lack of this procedure a denial of his rights? Perhaps. I definitively would have considered it an interference in my life by a bureaucratic authority overstepping the rights of my family and my heritage.

    Underlying this debate, is another one that has little to do with the rights of children or human rights. Perhaps it is just another attack on religiosity, Christian, Jew or Muslim. That is not to say that advocates of no-circ are not sincere about children or human rights, but their thinking on this is just not logical. If the welfare of children and human rights are pivotal here, then there are far more important issues such as famine in Africa.

    The bottom line is that circumcision is a right to be free from over-stepping government, the intrusion of a bureaucracy on the family and an expression of freedom of religion.

    If the no-circ movement wants to argue from the point of view that it is an abomination to do this to a child and they want the religious community to stop it, then that is a better and more sincere argument. But to try to get the public to ban it, which is the essence of their efforts, is an effort of hateful propaganda against religion (and, specifically, Jews).

    • No, your thinking is what is truly illogical here. Not caring about a problem because someone, somewhere, has a completely unrelated problem that happens to be worse? By this same reasoning, let's say you broke an arm. You would have to say: "Oh, don't bother treating this until you care for all cancer patients in the world."

      It is a truly insane argument – yet it is widely used by those trying to find some justification for their archaic blood rituals.

  3. Joscelyn Blumenthal

    Opposing the practice of circumcision is an affront to all practicing Jews. This mitzvah is central to our religion; it's not something to be negotiated because "it's a different day and age" and the "world is more evolved" now. You can't change the Torah. Challenging our right to practice circumcision is challenging Americans' right to freedom of religion.

  4. Infant circumcision outcomes are very haphazard.

    Foreskin feels REALLY good.

    Nobody has the moral right to impose tattoos, piercings, boob jobs, genital reduction surgery, or anything else on a child just because some adults might be happy to have such body modifications.

  5. We've seen this movie before: mounting restrictions on Jews by morally outraged "good" Germans leading up to the Holocaust.

    From WorldNetDaily:

    The comic is called "Foreskin Man" by MGMBill Comics. Its first edition was launched last year by Matthew Hess, who is president of the campaign lobbying for a vote that would end "male genital mutilation."

    A vote is scheduled on that proposal is San Francisco in the fall, and in support of that effort, Hess released a second edition of the comic.

    According to the Anti-Defamation League, the comic book's "Monster Mohel" and its "grotesque anti-Semitic imagery and themes" are "disrespectful and deeply offensive."

    Read more: Oy vay! Foreskin Man sparks cutting-edge scandal

  6. Great turnout – the more awareness people have about the brutal and unnecessary act of forced genital cutting, the sooner this barbaric tradition will go away.


    “According to the Anti-Defamation League, the comic book’s “Monster Mohel” and its “grotesque anti-Semitic imagery and themes” are “disrespectful and deeply offensive.””

    Some people are so backwards in their thinking on this issue sometimes. It never crosses their minds that cutting off part of a baby’s penis might be the true offense here. Sad.

  7. “Opposing the practice of circumcision is an affront to all practicing Jews.”

    Forced genital cutting is an affront to humanity. If someone can recognize the wrongness of doing something like this to a baby girl, there’s no rational explanation for excusing what happens to boys. Shame on us for allowing this practice to continue in a country that’s *supposed* to value human rights and protecting the innocent.

  8. >>Opposing the practice of circumcision is an affront to all practicing Jews. This mitzvah is central to our religion; it's not something to be negotiated because "it's a different day and age" and the "world is more evolved" now. You can't change the Torah. Challenging our right to practice circumcision is challenging Americans' right to freedom of religion.

    My Response: Except cutting a baby's genitals isn't your freedom of religion being practiced; it's your religion being forced onto another human being in the most physical of manners, on the most sacred of personal body parts: one that *defines* gender and sexuality, all in a purely am putative removal. There is no positive, no addition; only removal, destruction, censorship, and blatant disregard. Being one's own child makes no difference. My father is a Jew, and cut me as a baby. It's driven a spike between myself and him, and guaranteed that I die an agnostic.

  9. Out of all the arguments, I find the religion argument to be the most idiotic. The US has freedom of religion, yes, but with limitations. Female genital mutilation has been banned for years although some religions (primarily in Africa) practice it. Males should be given the same protection. To permenantely altar his body is to force your religion upon him, hence, it is unconstitutional. Also, who's to say he will or will not grow up to practice the same religion as his parents? Personally I come from a very conservative, Christian family, I do not practice Christianity, however. Just something to think about.
    In the end, it ammounts to "It's his body, it's his choice." (And I don't think any year old guy would want their foreskin removed, it feels amazing :D)

  10. I suppose Jewish business owners need to circumcise their workers or fire them, since that too is in the bible.

    "He that is born in your house and he that is bought with your money (slave) must be circumcised."

    It is in the Jewish faith to cut all of its workers, yet freedom of religion prohibits them from doing so. Why can't it go one step further and protect the 8 day old child? If you are going to cut, you can't marry outside of your religion for that matter. You can't pick and choose what laws to keep and which ones to break, can you?

    • Adam, there is NOTHING in the written bible that can be interpreted without an oral commentary. (which includes a teaching that Adam was born circumcized) For example, the written Torah repeats, 'Do not boil a kid in its mother's milk.' This is the only biblical reference to the Jewish prohibition of eating meat and milk together, yet the verse mentions only cooking. We need an oral Torah to provide us with 'the rest of the story.'
      If you do not believe the Torah, both written and oral, are divinely revealed, then of course you are free, as you put it, 'to pick and chose what laws to keep and which ones to break.'

      The verse you sited was ONLY to Abraham. The Torah does not derive any obligations from that which occurred in Genesis. The only directives to which the Jews are mandated are those given at Sinai, with both written and oral tradition, as passed down by knowledgeable and observant scholars, not opinions of unqualified lay persons.
      In matters of life and death, would you chose your friendly neighbor's diagnosis, or that of a qualified expert?