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Rabbi Admits: Circumcision Abusive, Mutilating, Violates Human Rights

Eli Ungar-Sargon's video documentary, Cut: Slicing through the Myths, offers an intimate look at circumcision in the Jewish community. As well as exploring the anatomy, functions and benefits of the foreskin, Ungar-Sargon poses direct and challenging questions to his father and others about genital cutting of unconsenting boys. He uncovers the rationalizations offered for what is increasingly regarded by many Jewish men as a human rights violation.

In a particularly revealing conversation, Rabbi Hershy Worch admits that genital cutting of boys is, on the one hand, abusive, mutilating and a human rights violation, but on the other hand, claims it can be excused simply by being "in a covenant". 

Beginning at 50:50 in the video, this is a transcript of Rabbi Worch's statements in the context of a larger discussion about the anatomical, physiological and neurological damage caused by circumcision. Immediately preceding this scene the filmmaker interviews his father, a rabbi, who posed the question: "What is the reason one does ritual activities, even some that inflict pain on others?"

Rabbi Worch: "It's painful. It's abusive. It's traumatic. And if anybody who is not in a covenant does it, I think they should be put in prison. I don't think anybody has an excuse for mutilating a child, depriving them of their glans penis. We don't have rights to other people's bodies and a baby needs to have it's rights protected. I think anybody who circumcises a baby is an abuser, unless it's absolutely medically advised because of some complication that a urologist says 'this baby has to be circumcised.' Otherwise, what for?"

Eliyahu-Ungar-Sargon: So how does this covenant alleviate your ethical responsibility that you just so articulately posed? How is it that being in this covenant somehow exempts you from that term. How can you not call yourself an abuser?

Rabbi Worch: "I'm an abuser.I do abusive things because I'm in covenant with God. And ultimately God owns my morals. He owns my body. And he owns my past and my future and that's the meaning of this covenant; that I agreed to ignore the pain and the rights and the trauma of my child to be in this covenant."

[ Audio (.wav) or Audio (.aif) ]









We know from the Global Survey of Circumcision Harm that circumcision poses immediate dangers to children and has long-term adverse physical, sexual and emotional/psychological consequences to men. But the bottom line according to Rabbi Worch is: The recitation of prayers, invocation of 'religious tradition', and claims of religious freedom somehow exempt Jews from universal laws and human rights considerations that would otherwise be imposed on other adults who don't have a 'license to mutilate'.

The idea that any abuse, mutilation or human rights violation can be excused simply by claiming religious freedom has never been found to be acceptable by a court of law. Specifically, the legality of circumcising a normal, healthy male child, whether for religious reasons or not, has to our knowledge NEVER been examined in ANY court of law. Update (2012 June 26: German Court Rules Circumcising an Infant is Physical Assault - Business Insider International)

The widespread belief that circumcision is an untouchable "right of religious freedom" is so pervasive that it often prevents such cases from reaching the courts. Example: On July 28, 2011 Judge Loretta Giorgi of San Francisco's Civil Court removed an initiative from the San Francisco city ballot that would have allowed a public vote to protect the genital integrity of males under the age of 18 from genital cutting (the genital integrity of females is already protected by Federal law). Giorgi's hastily ordered judgment was based on the presumption that male circumcision is a Constitutionally protected form of religious freedom.

Yet the U.S. Supreme Court and the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Bioethics both agreed that:

"Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves." 
[U.S. Supreme Court (1944)  Prince v. Massachusetts]

"Constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion do not permit children to be harmed through religious practices, nor do they allow religion to be a valid legal defense when an individual harms or neglects a child." 
[American Academy of Pediatrics (1997)  Religious Objections to Medical Care]

At this point readers may be asking the question: If, like the rest of humanity, Jews who practice circumcision are to be accorded the same protections of international human rights treaties and conventions, should they also be expected to uphold those same standards when it comes to the universal human right to bodily integrity? If the answer is "Yes", then we all need to listen closer to the voices of Jewish men like Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon, who are advocating for an end to genital cutting and the adoption of a non-cutting Bris Shalom ceremony to welcome future generations of males into the community of Jews.

Jewish Bris.jpg (20 KB) Jewish Infant.jpg (13 KB)

Photo: Allan Tannenbaum/Sygma
Image: Life Magazine, p. 18, October, 1991

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