Religious circumcision has suffered an escalation from the original biblical injunction, with tragic consequences.
When most people think of religious circumcision, they think of Muslims and Jews, for whom this is a deeply sensitive topic. Despite their being subject to tremendous emotional stresses and cultural pressures when considering the issue, a courageous reexamination of circumcision is occurring within both the Muslim and Jewish communities.
Traditional Jewish circumcision is performed by a ritual circumciser (mohel) on the eighth day after the baby's birth, at home, and in public, although females may be excluded from observing the actual cutting. For many Jews, the bris milah is seen as a joyous occasion, when friends and family celebrate and welcome the new member of the family. It is difficult for some Jews to consider any information that could appear as critical of their religion. For others, freeing Judaism from circumcision is not about criticism, it is about spiritual renewal and affirmation.
Abraham Geiger, (1810-1874), one of the most distinguished rabbis and scholars of the nineteenth century, disapproved of circumcision, stating:
No matter how much religious sentiment may have clung to it in the past, today it is perpetuated only by custom and fear, to which we surely do not want to erect temples.
During the nineteenth century, the founders of Reform Judaism in Germany and the United States sought to abolish circumcision as part of their task to modernize Judaism. Many prominent Jews disapproved of circumcision: Sigmund Freud and Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism and spiritual father of the state of Israel, protected their own sons from it.
Many Jews defend ritual circumcision because of the deep meaning they see in the bris milah, the ceremony during which the baby is circumcised. In recent years, though, observant Jews in the United States have developed new traditions to replace the circumcision part of the ceremony. Instead of bris milah at eight days, they celebrate bris shalom. Here, the joyous, beautiful, and deeply moving religious and spiritual aspects of the ceremony are retained and enhanced, but no one gets hurt. The boy is named and presented to the community and his penis remains intact. These gentle ceremonies are increasing in popularity. Jews are able to retain the best parts of their traditions, follow their conscience and their hearts in protecting their baby from unnecessary surgery while still affirming the spiritual ties to their community and history —Paul M Fleiss, MD, and Frederick M Hodges, DPhil
A growing number of Muslim organizations have taken a firm stand against circumcision, proclaiming:
God with his infinite grace did not and would not condone such cruel ritual. This act is not found anywhere in the Qur'an. It is only in such man-made innovations such as "hadith and Sunnah" that one can find such cruel laws and rituals. —E. Yuksel, JD
The parental decision to circumcise an infant—regardless of religious faith—is based mainly on emotion and peer pressure, with little comprehension of the disservice done to the newborn. The decision is frequently made with the tacit consent of a doctor.