After a few of my friends decided against circumcising their newborn sons, I began paying attention to the issue. Every year I happen to be walking around the Capitol during the annual anti-circumcision rally held there. The circumcision rate in the U.S. has been on the decline. And there are all those hipster authors loudly proclaiming against the ancient rite. And the dramatic Andrew Sullivan, of course. So I was glad to see Reuters reporter Helen Chernikoff cover the issue. She looked at it from a religious angle:
In most respects, Michelle Chernikoff Anderson is a rabbi's dream congregant. She sings in the choir and takes classes at her synagogue.
But, like an increasing number of Jews in the United States, she has decided not to circumcise her son, rejecting the traditional notion that it is a Biblically prescribed sign of the Jewish relationship with God.
"I see circumcision as a blood ritual that I can let go of," said Anderson, who lives in Southern California.
Chernikoff, who is not related to Chernikoff Anderson, goes on to cite stats about the decline of circumcision and speaks with various Jewish opponents of the practice. She quotes them saying that the benefits of circumcision are questionable and outweighed in any case by the health detractions. She also mentions a debate about whether sex feels better for circumcised versus uncircumcised men.
What's missing from this ostensibly religious story, however, is religion! This issue is not a religious one for me, as a Christian. But it is for Jews. And Chernikoff fails to properly engage the religious arguments for or against the practice. For instance, when Chernikoff Anderson said circumcision was a blood ritual she could let go of, why? What is her reasoning for why this law no longer needs to be practiced? And for Conservative and Orthodox Jews who retain the law, what is their response to folks who toss it aside? Chernikoff speaks with one proponent, but the argument doesn't engage religion but, rather, describes its popularity.
The problem plagues the interesting article to the very end:
Anderson is torn between a desire to protect her son's privacy and what she thinks may be a religious duty to discuss her decision not to circumcise.
"Hey, it's my son's penis, it's not mine to discuss in the same way it's not mine to cut. But at the same time, I feel like maybe I have an obligation to share."
Again, how is this a religious duty? What is the religious significance to this debate? What do Jews who keep this law think about throwing it aside? I think it would be a fascinating way to explore the basis and consequence of Jewish divisions.