|Initiative to criminalize circumcision troubling|
|Written by Dr. Michael Blum and Rabbi Julie Adler, Special to The Chronicle|
We know a story of a circumcision scheduled, as is traditional, on the eighth day after a Jewish boy is born. This bris was planned for the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, on the West coast. After the events on the East coast became known to the friends and family members preparing for the bris, the grandmother of the baby called to see whether the circumcision would be delayed or canceled.
“Of course not!” was the resounding response, “circumcision happens in the Jewish tradition on the eighth day. It cannot and must not be delayed.”
The only way to counter an act of hatred, violence, and sadness was to proceed with the welcoming of new life into a sacred covenantal relationship with God. The only way to highlight the gravity of the international loss and devastation was to celebrate a cherished tenant of America: the right to freedom of religious expression.
As the director and the chair of the Berit Mila Program of Reform Judaism, we are deeply troubled by the initiative in San Francisco to criminalize circumcision. If the ballot measure passes, performing a central tenant of our religion will become a misdemeanor, punishable by law.
For thousands of years, Jews around the world have practiced this ritual; circumcision is fundamental to the practice of Judaism. Muslims also consider circumcision central to their faith.
Federal law protects parents’ rights to direct the religious upbringing and education of their children. In Jewish tradition, the eighth day of a boy’s life is when he is welcomed into the covenant of Judaism. A circumcision (or, berit/bris) is performed by a physician or a mohel (a trained expert in performing circumcisions) as a physical sign — a daily reminder upon the body— of this everlasting covenant with God.
As such, the proposed ban against circumcision is an attack on religious freedom. Passing this bill would turn back the clock on a right so fundamental to this country that its paramount valuation dates back to the very roots of colonial America.
Our Constitution does not permit government to restrict the free exercise of religion without a showing of overwhelming compelling social interest, or the saving of life. In this case there is no such justification. Though supporters of the ban claim that circumcision is comparable with female genital mutilation, this is a blatant misrepresentation.
Female genital mutilation is rightfully illegal here, as it is performed for the explicit purpose of preventing female sexual satisfaction, and often impedes the very functioning of the reproductive and urinary systems. Yet the American Medical Association is clear that there is no credible medical evidence that male circumcision is similarly impedimental to proper function of the penis, or that it prevents male satisfaction. Individuals properly trained provide a safe surgical procedure that benefits both the medical and religious purposes for which it was intended.
That said it is also endorsed by many major medical institutions and physicians because of proven health benefits, including reduced risk HIV transmission, reduced chance of urinary tract infection, and diminished risk of penile and other cancers.
People of all religions, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds have sought new lives in San Francisco to advance the very frontiers of liberty — including religious liberty. The proposed ordinance targets a well-established religious practice of Jews and Muslims and denies parents a right to make a fundamental decision about the religious, cultural, and ethnic upbringing of their children. It is not only un-American, it is profoundly un-San Franciscan.