It's a simple procedure, it causes minimal blood loss and has potential health benefits. Despite all these features, male infant circumcision continues to be a controversial practice amongst many and the efforts to stamp it out in all but medically necessary cases have a strength that bely the relative insignificance of the issue.
As Jeff Jacoby notes, the latest battleground between pro and anti-circumcision forces is taking place in San Francisco:
The circumcising of newborn boys is perhaps the most familiar type of surgery in the United States. According to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, US hospitals perform the procedure more than 1.2 million times each year. While there are wide variations by ethnicity and region, and while circumcision rates have declined in recent years, the great majority of American men are circumcised. And in nearly every case, the decision was made for them in their infancy by their parents -- just like the decision to breastfeed or bottle-feed, or to use cloth or disposable diapers. Even in the most childless major city in America, it's hard to see voters approving what would be an egregious infringement on parental rights.
The health benefits of circumcision are clear, if modest. The Mayo Clinic website reflects the medical consensus, noting that circumcised men and boys generally have a lower risk of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and sexually transmitted diseases; and that circumcision makes genital hygiene easier. At the same time, Mayo endorses the view of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which doesn't consider the advantages of circumcision compelling enough to recommend that infant boys be circumcised as a matter of routine. The academy's bottom line is commonsensical: "Because circumcision is not essential to a child's health, parents should choose what is best for their child by looking at the benefits and risks."
In short, circumcision is something about which reasonable people can and do disagree. But there is nothing reasonable about the fanatics trying to make it a crime.
Jacoby then points out that the current tactic by the anti-circumcision crowd is to lable the procedure Male Genital Mutilation, as if circumcision and genuine female genital mutilation had anything in common. One has a mostly neutral outcome, the other leads to a life of pain and sexual dysfunction. Trying to compare the two is laughable except for those whose mental faculties are so twisted by hate.
"Twisted by hate" is the only way to explain the proponents of this campaign. As one example, several years ago a Montreal pediatrician published a study in which he claimed that circumcised boys were more timid and risk-averse than uncircumcised boys. His methods? Casual observation of boys in his waiting room. He noticed that, on average, circumcised boys were less active and chance-taknig when playing. He used no objective measures, no standardized scales and no actual protocol, yet his paper was published and since then has been quoted as authoritative. How bizarre is that?
It is interesting to note that when the outside world wants to attack the Jewish nation, it doesn't waste time banning bagels and lox. It goes right to the guy and attacks circumcision. Perhaps this is because, consciously or not, it knows that circumcision sits at the centre of a man's identity as a Jew. Time and time again this central feature of our nation's religious life has been attacked, so often that even when positive attempts are made to improve the process, like doing indirect metzitzah b'peh to reduce the transmission of herpes virus, are suggested there is a vociferous pushback.
As Jacoby notes, this measure will probably fail but it does serve as a reminder that there is movement out there that has, as its target, our identity as Jews and our ability to practice the central tenets of our faith. We are best to remain wary of such attempts to pervert our oldest covenant.