I’m not a big fan of genital mutilation. Male or female. I doubt most people are either. Circumcision, or the act of chopping off my son’s foreskin, was, as a result, one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. After all the Rabbinical authority in the State of Israel doesn’t recognize me as Jewish. I have no connection to Judaism, other than the strong emotions I experience when discussing the Holocaust or the pogroms (but I would feel equally empathetic to Armenians, Rwandans or any other people that have been the victims of senseless genocide) I haven’t been to synagogue in er… well, it’s been a few decades. I don’t fast on Yom Kippur. I ride my bike, right after I finish frying up some bacon. I eat bread during Passover. Lots of it. I don’t believe in God. Matter of fact the only lasting symbol I have of my Judaism is my lack of foreskin. Therefore, it would seem wildly absurd, nay barbaric, to have a genital mutilation party in the name of a religion that didn’t really accept me and to which I didn’t really want to belong, all for the sake of tradition.
We both cried when the doctor told us that we would be having a boy. I couldn’t understand why M. was crying. Everything was fine with the baby. He had five fingers on each hand. Five toes on each foot. That was important because M.’s sister had been born with six. He was developing in a perfectly healthy manner and I couldn’t see any reason for her to be upset. She wanted a girl. OK. That’s reasonable.
I was crying (yeah, I’m man enough to admit it) because I knew that I would be faced with a tremendously difficult decision when the time came. It was, like few decisions in life, irreversible. Making a mistake was not an option. It would impact him, not me, for the rest of his life and as most of my friends and acquaintances know, if I have two choices, I almost always make the wrong one.
So this one would require a lot of research. It would not be made haphazardly and certainly not under pressure. My first stop was to discuss it with M. She regards organized religion with same cynicism that I do. She rides her bike with me on Yom Kippur. She loves seafood. Loves it. Shrimps, mussels… you name it. She is hooked on bacon and eats ham and cheese sandwiches (on gluten free bread of course) whenever we have the chance to shop at Tiv Taam. She doesn’t go to synagogue, doesn’t really believe in a religion that forces women to pray separately at holy places and certainly doesn’t believe in religiously sanctioned genital mutilation of any kind. I was therefore shocked – shocked – when she insisted that not only was our son going to have a brit mila, a circumcision, but that the entire discussion was a moot one. Her foot was firmly down on this one. The only compromise she was willing to make was that we could have the wiener-snipping event at a hospital and under the auspices of a medical professional. After all, she admitted, the last thing she wanted was some dreck mohel botching the whole mutilation up and scarring our child for life. Or worse. Chopping off too much or too little, causing an infection or possibly (though highly unlikely) killing him in the process (It happens, people)
So I did my due diligence and mustered up the courage to bring my findings to “she who must be obeyed”. I showed her that there wasn’t any scientific evidence anywhere to support the fact that circumcision had any major medical benefits. None of the major medical organizations in the world require universal circumcision. It’s a practice that is extremely rare in Europe, Latin America and Asia. Yes, I did find some evidence that in Sub Saharan Africa, in high risk areas, circumcision did help reduce HIV rates. Even those studies were inconclusive. Besides, as far as I could tell, Ramat Gan wasn’t Sub Saharan Africa nor was it a high risk area.
More importantly, it was never wise to reduce a man’s penis size. Especially a Jewish man’s. There are like 20,000 nerve endings in that area. Just on a hedonistic level, did she fully realize how much pleasure she’d be depriving her son of in the future?
She had never seen an uncircumcised penis. When I showed her a picture she almost barfed. Granted, it takes a little getting used to, coming from a place like Israel. I had seen my fair share (gym locker rooms, porn etc.) I then went on to tell her that some of the greatest men of all time, Elvis, James Dean, John Lenon, Sean Connery and Frank Sinatra, to name a few, were uncut. Leo DiCaprio too. Just ask Bar.
She refused to hear any of my many, many valid reasons why it was unwise to slice and dice our son’s foreskin (did I mention that it’s his penis?). For M. it came down to one thing; the society in which we live. All of his friends, family members and, most importantly, his father, are all circumcised. How will that make him feel? It will make him feel different. It will make him feel like an outsider.
We argued more about this than we have about any other issue. The closer we got to the date the more heated and charged the debates became. What started out innocently enough, snowballed into screaming matches and tears. For both of us.
We got a short reprieve when D. was born with a slight case of jaundice. The pediatrician recommended that we wait a week or so until performing the circumcision. I asked the doctor why we should do a circumcision anyway. Without batting an eye he says: Well, it’s more aesthetic of course! I then asked the doctor whether or not that was his medical opinion.
I ended up losing the battle. We let a doctor-mohel chop off the foreskin at Ichilov hospital with M’s. great-grandmother kulululing in the background. It was almost impossible to watch. Any parent will tell you that watching someone else mangle your baby, local anesthetic notwithstanding, while you stand by helplessly, is probably the hardest thing you will ever have to endure.
M. confided in me today that she was wrong. I immediately noted the date and checked for any signs that hell might have frozen over. It hadn’t. She said that she regretted that we had caused D. so much needless pain. As comforting as it was to hear that I was right (it doesn’t happen very often) our son is doomed to live with our cruel mistake for the rest of his life.
I hope one day he forgives us.