Circumcision Ballot Question Makes the Cut


parents and eight day old son at the brisA proposal to ban circumcision in San Francisco will appear on the November ballot in that city.  This will be the nation’s  first public vote on what has long been considered a private religious matter.  If passed, it would undoubtedly be challenged in the courts as a blatant violation of the constitutional rights of Jews and Muslims, yet this ballot initiative received more than 7,700 signatures.

If the measure passes, circumcision would be prohibited, with no religious exemptions.  The bris — the sacred rite that launches the partnership between Jews and God —  would become a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000; or up to one year in jail.  In a city that’s renowned for being open-minded, such an intolerant proposition seems bizaare.

Muslims are similarly affected, for circumcision also is widely practiced by Muslims (but at age thirteen);  and while circumcision does not appear in the Koran, it is mentioned in the Sunnah, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.

This attack upon Judaism and Islam is even more striking when one considers that international health organizations have promoted circumcision as an important strategy for reducing the spread of the AIDS virus, based on studies that showed it can prevent AIDS among heterosexual men in Africa.  Circumcision also reduces the incidence of other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as penile cancer and urinary tract infections.

Here in the USA, our own national health organizations haven’t pushed hard for circumcision, because HIV spreads mainly among gay men in the U.S., and research indicates that circumcision doesn’t protect gay men from HIV.  Also, there is less ground to be gained, since nearly eighty percent of American men are already circumcised, a much higher proportion than the worldwide average of thirty percent.

Of course this is all irrelevant to practicing Jews and Muslims.  We don’t do it for our health.  Entering into the Covenant is a communally-celebrated major life-cycle event, as significant as entering into marriage, and receiving a proper burial.  A bris is a religious procedure, not a medical procedure.

Theologically speaking, this ban would be even more evil than the French laws banning Muslim clothing and Jewish head coverings.  Throughout our long Jewish history there have been rulers who have opposed God’s commandments, or tried to break our connection with God, by trying to prevent us from circumcising our sons.  These laws have always been violated by us, and these rulers have always been brought low by God.

As Jewish parents, we will do what’s in the best interests of our children, based on trust in God, as we have always done; therefore no practicing Jew would comply with such a law.  We were circumcised even in Egypt.  The Egyptians would say, “Why do you bother to circumcise them? In a moment we will drown them in the Nile!”  And we would respond, “We are commanded by God, and so we will circumcise them. After that you will do what you will.”   The ancient Greeks also banned circumcision.  It took the Maccabees a quarter of a century to defeat the empire.

It will take far less time for the courts to defeat this measure; if the voters themselves don’t do it first.  In the meantime, most of us will be civilly disobedient and the rest of us can go to a nearby town for the bris.

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