pageok
pageok
pageok
"Bloodsucking Circumcision,"

as Slate characterizes it; according to this New York Times article,

A circumcision ritual practiced by some Orthodox Jews has alarmed city health officials, who say it may have led to three cases of herpes -- one of them fatal -- in infants. But after months of meetings with Orthodox leaders, city officials have been unable to persuade them to abandon the practice.

The city's intervention has angered many Orthodox leaders, and the issue has left the city struggling to balance its mandate to protect public health with the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. . . .

The practice is known as oral suction, or in Hebrew, metzitzah b'peh: after removing the foreskin of the penis, the practitioner, or mohel, sucks the blood from the wound to clean it.

It became a health issue after a boy in Staten Island and twins in Brooklyn, circumcised by the same mohel in 2003 and 2004, contracted Type-1 herpes. Most adults carry the disease, which causes the common cold sore, but it can be life-threatening for infants. One of the twins died. . . .

The health department, after the meeting, reiterated that it did not intend to ban or regulate oral suction. But Dr. Frieden has said that the city is taking this approach partly because any broad rule would be virtually unenforceable. Circumcision generally takes place in private homes. . . .

If the practice is indeed potentially life-threatening, it seems to me it should indeed be banned. Despite what I at first thought, it seems that "the most traditionalist groups, including many Hasidic sects in New York, consider oral suction integral to God's covenant with the Jews requiring circumcision," and thus religiously obligated. The prohibition therefore substantially burdens their religious beliefs (whether or not we think these beliefs are sensible).

But, first, it's not clear whether New York law generally provides for religious exemptions from generally applicable laws (see In re Miller, 252 A.D.2d 156 (App. 1998)). And, second, even if it did provide for such exemptions, no exemptions would have to be granted if enforcing the law is the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest -- and here it surely is.

Moreover, I would hope that the ban would indeed be enforceable: First, I would think that some mohels would feel some obligation to follow the law (though of course I'd hope that they wouldn't jeopardize children's lives, once they know about the risk). Second, Jewish circumcisions are generally events at which many people, both family and friends, observe. If child gets sick and there's a question about whether the mohel violated the law, I would think that at least some of the witnesses to the ceremony would come forward and be willing to testify in court.

And it seems to me that the ban is perfectly proper, again if the evidence does suggest that there is a material risk here: While people may often risk their lives for the sake of their religions, and should sometimes be allowed to do so, I don't think people should be free to risk their children's lives this way. I realize the risk here isn't vast, but even small risks may be substantial enough to justify a restriction.

According to the Times,

"The Orthodox Jewish community will continue the practice that has been practiced for over 5,000 years," said Rabbi David Niederman of the United Jewish Organization in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, after the meeting with the mayor. "We do not change. And we will not change."

Well, it seems to me that the American community should continue the practice of protecting children from being killed by adults. That may be a younger rule, but it's the right rule, and it should not change. Your views of your obligation to God do not give you the legal right to cause the deaths of others.

Read the rest of the story, which has lots of other important details.

Chris Lansdown (mail) (www):
The thing is, the rate of transmission is, according to the article, very low. It would be very strange if the law of the land was that parents were not allowed to do anything with their children that involved any risk; this would preclude, among other things, teaching them to walk or swim (children die of falling and drowning).

Of course it be absurd to draw the line such that parents had to keep their kids in a skinner box until the kid turned 18 (which reminds me, we force kids to go to school yet we can virtually guarantee that some of them will die in school, e.g. from school shootings, though the rate is very low and the benefit very high). But if there are all sorts of things with some meager risk to children that we force them into, how can you be so confident at drawing the line here? Are you sure that it's not just because you consider circumcision to be valueless whereas other things (walking, swimming, highschool) to have value?
8.29.2005 5:16pm
Clay Hellman (mail):
Aren't there lots of other relevant questions to ask such as how often do children circumcised in hospitals get herpes or other illnesses and die from it and so forth?

Isn't it even more relevant to ask why it's ok for people to go around chopping off parts of other peoples' bodies for no good reason?
8.29.2005 5:46pm
NYCer:
Holy controversy, batman. This one has everything: religion, circumcision, adult oral/child genital contact, blood, diseases....

This is going to be a messy fight.
8.29.2005 5:55pm
Gordon (mail):
We here lots of attacks on Muslims for the barbaric practice of female circumcision, and the recent Nigerian situation where religious authorities thundered against polio vaccinations.

How is this any different, except perhaps in the magnitude of the danger?
8.29.2005 6:04pm
Chris Lansdown (mail) (www):
Gordon,

The magnitude of the danger can mean all the difference in the world. For example, the main difference between firecrackers and atomic bombs is the magnitude of the danger that they pose.

The main difference between saying to someone, "I disapprove of what you hold to be good" and shooting him is the danger involved in each. Talking to someone poses very little danger, and shooting him poses very grave danger. That's mostly why the two are held to be very distinct.
8.29.2005 6:13pm
akiva eisenberg (mail):
There is one ambiguous phrase, and one misleading one, in the original article. In my experience as an Orthodox Jew, the vast majority of circumcisions involve this procedure; this is hardly the "some", or the "most fundamentalist" Orthodox Jews implied in the article. Indeed, I have not seen a single circumcision, of the hundreds I have attended, were the metzitza b'peh was not performed. This includes the children of "hassidic groups" as well as those of college professors, law school deans, and medical professionals. So much for the misleading impression.

As for the ambiguity, does one death over many years, during which the procedure was performed tens of thousands times annually, truly comprise "material risk?"

Note that the Orthodox Jewish community takes this issue very seriously. Several weeks ago there was a convention of medical and religious professionals to discuss the issue and how to reduce the < 0.001% morbidity/mortality rate even further.

Of course, just breathing the polluted air of New York carries a greater health risk than this procedure. This is why New York has just received, for the umpteenth time, a dispensation from the requirements of the Clean Air Act. Requiring parents of young children to move out of the great Northeast, perhaps to Arizona, would contribute far more to reducing infant mortality than regulating circumcision.
8.29.2005 6:13pm
Chris Lansdown (mail) (www):
"Isn't it even more relevant to ask why it's ok for people to go around chopping off parts of other peoples' bodies for no good reason?"

Do you really want the government to get deeply involved in what people get to consider "good reason" for what they do?

Obviously it must; if there's to be a crime called murder as well as an action called justified homicide, the government has to get involved. But how deeply do you want it involved? Are you sure that you'll always be in every majority?

For example, a lot of people probably think that atheists have no good reason to deny God, and gays have no good reason to have homosexual sex. An awful lot of people think that teenage girls have no good reason to wear revealing clothing. Plenty of people think that children in schools don't have a good reason to express themselves via T-shirts and the like. Loads of people think that there's no good reason for civilians to own guns, or see violent movies, or see movies with sex in them.
8.29.2005 6:19pm
Adam (mail) (www):
Contra Akiva, I've been to a great many brises in the Philadelphia area (and a few in NYC), and I've never seen it done before. My friends tend to be conservative/traditional, FWIW.

This story is Bad For The Jews. I guess my question for Prof. Volokh is this: how do you draft a law banning this practice in such a way that it doesn't seem to be singling out one particular religion for scrutiny? Or should general anti-molestation or other criminal laws just be applied, be it battery or sex crimes law?

Sec 130.50 of the NY Crim Code states: "A person is guilty of criminal sexual act in the first degree when he engages in oral sexual conduct or anal sexual conduct with another person . . . 3. Who is less than eleven years old"
8.29.2005 6:24pm
sir mix a lot:
akiva is wrong. metzitza b'peh is done generally by use of a tube, not direct contact with the penis, and the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) says, "RCA is firmly of the opinion that in light of current realities and medical knowledge it is proper, and preferable, to use a tube."

see, http://www.rabbis.org/news/article.cfm?id=100605

and

http://www.rabbis.org/news/article.cfm?id=100546

having said that, Eugene is wrong, too. parents are and should be allowed to take minor risks to their children's health in order to comply with religious edicts. altho' controversial, many states have religious exemptions to parents' obligations to provide their children with health care. I don't recall all the details, but I believe that in a famous case the MA Supreme Court overturned the convictions of two Christian Scientists who had failed to get medical care for their son and relied instead on a christian science healter.
8.29.2005 6:39pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Sure I consider circumcision -- and especially this particular form of drawing blood from circumcision -- to be less valuable than many other things. But we must draw such distinctions. Would we allow parents to risk their children's lives in some situations? Sure: A house is on fire; a neighbor's baby is in the house; the mother is injured and can't run inside to rescue the baby; the fire department hasn't arrived yet; she tells her 14-year-old son to run inside and try to rescue the child. (Assume running inside means a subtantial risk of death, but not certain or nearly certain death.)

OK, change the facts: A mother believes that in order to avoid eternal damnation, the 14-year-old son must drink strychnine, an act that has (say) a 1% risk of death. From the mother's perspective, the value of the strychnine drinking -- avoiding damnation -- may be even higher than the value of rescuing the baby. The risk of drinking strychnine to the son's life may be lower than the risk of rescuing the baby. (The strychnine mandate is adapted from the religion discussed in State ex rel. Swann v. Pack,
527 S.W.2d 99, Tenn., Sep 08, 1975

But the legal system shouldn't, I think, just take the mother's perspective. It has to compare the value of one act to the value of the other, and it has to do that without relying on the mother's theology. That means that the mother's religious freedom claim loses; and that the secular judgment prevails over the religious judgment. But I think this is necessary, unless we're willing to give parents broad power to jeopardize their children's lives. And I think this principle applies even when the unnecessary risk (unnecessary from the secular legal system's perspective) is considerably lower than 1%.
8.29.2005 7:13pm
Steve:
Are we failing to consider less restrictive means? For example, we could require that no mohel may perform this procedure unless he first receives a clean bill of health.

I think the point is valid that there are many actions that may result in the deaths of 1 or 2 children, and some of those actions have little social value. But to single out for banning a single religious act out of that great number of minimally dangerous activities does seem to constitute undue hostility towards religion.

If I can find a tragic story about a single baby somehow choking on baptismal water and dying, would that constitute grounds for a ban on all baptisms?
8.29.2005 7:21pm
Adam (mail) (www):
We could require that no mohel may perform this procedure unless he first receives a clean bill of health.

I don't know that we want the state involved in licensing mohels. I know that NY State does keep track of Kosher compliance, but that's a question of fraud and verifying what outside certifiers have done.
8.29.2005 7:36pm
Glenn:
At first blush and after reading the related article, I don't agree with Prof. Volokh that this practice should be banned if it is "potentially life threatening". In the first place, there is no statistical correlaton between the practice and neonatal herpes cited. In the second, the precautions taken (oral antiseptic, using a tube to avoid direct contact) would seem to be sufficient to prevent oral-genital herpes transmission >99% of the time.

Assuming (and we must assume, mustn't we?) that I am right about the percentage of transmission, it seems that many other religious acts (i.e. immersion baptism, religions that require a natural birth in the way of the Amish) would carry at least a similar risk for sudden infant death. I hear no hue and cry to ban these practices.

Even if we think this practice is offensive personally (and I do), I still see the risk of infant death as a result of its practice as far lower than that of other religiously mandated practices related to the young that are allowed without any real question. Therefore, it seems the urge to ban it is based at least as much on revulsion than actual reasoning, perhaps more.

A reasonable position would be to examine infant mortality from type 1 herpes in both populations (those who do and don't perform this ritual) and see if there is a statistically significant correlation between the practice and neonatal herpes. If so, the risk should then be compared to other religious practices which place infants at risk. Then, perhaps, we can reach a conclusion that would be meaningful.
8.29.2005 7:37pm
Cheburashka (mail):
It seems to me that three infections (of a virus nearly every adult has), and one fatality in (isn't it 5 years?) 10,000 is a pretty low rate of risk.

This seems to me another example of the Times' biases; here, the bias of secular reform Jews against religious Jews who they view as backwards and an embarassment.
8.29.2005 7:47pm
Israel (mail):
Eugene -

You discussed whether or not such a law might be enforceable. Consider the case of the Soviet Union where performing a bris was illegal under pain of exile or labor camp. Yes, even under these circumstances they were performed in great numbers. Do you think that in NYC (or any city with a large population of Orthodox Jews) you are going to be able to enforce the law? If the parents feel strongly about doing the bris the traditional way, they will do it that way. They will also, if they must, not invite people that are not going to follow the halachah with respect to a conflict between Torah law and secular law, i.e., they will not report it nor will they testify. The Torah commands us to choose life over following the halachah in a case where there is a danger to life. For example, one can drive on the Shabbat to take a person to the hospital even though this involves many prohibitions. If it were the case that this was deemed truly dangerous, it would no longer be the practice. Given that the cases are so few that there is a problem, there is no reason under Jewish law to change the practice and there are good reasons to preserve it.

As was already pointed out this is a single case among many thousands where something bad happened. I would suggest that parents subject their children to far more dangerous things without any religious requirement at all.

It isn't a case of saving children from a tremendous public health hazard, it is an attack on a religious ritual that has been practiced this way for a long time. We have done this under many governments that made it very difficult (Babylon, Rome, Russia just to name a few) and we have not changed.

As to the people that say they were there and didn't see the action, an experience mohel can do it in 2 seconds and it would be easy to miss.
8.29.2005 8:09pm
RogerA (mail):
I have come to VC only recently, but I must say it has been an eye-opener for me. As a previous commenter said, this case certainly has all the elements of high drama. For the members of the legal profession: is this the type of case that gets cert and becomes constitutional precedent when SCOTUS rules on it? These kinds of dicussions here are starting to give me concern about our legal system. No offense intended to any participants of this blog, but tell me why tenured judges are better than legislatures in making determinations in a case like this.
8.29.2005 8:11pm
Chris V.:
Would we allow parents to risk their children's lives in some situations? Sure: A house is on fire; a neighbor's baby is in the house; the mother is injured and can't run inside to rescue the baby; the fire department hasn't arrived yet; she tells her 14-year-old son to run inside and try to rescue the child.

I realize it's a little off-topic, but yowza! That's a whopper of a statement to make as if it is self-evidently true. Would we in fact allow that? I don't actually think we do. I'm not a lawyer, but at least in my home state (Virginia), a parent who "creates a substantial risk of death" to their child is guilty of a crime. Do any states actually have exceptions where parents are allowed to disregard their legal obligation to maintain their custodial, protective role in return for helping someone else?
8.29.2005 8:22pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Is parental consent a defense if, upon turning 18, junior sues the mohel for battery? Does that work for female genital mutilation? Cosmetic cutting off of tounges or arms? Prince Albert in a can?
When I was 12, I found the greek vase paintings in the british museum puzzling, and then at 13... circumlocution, circumnavigation, circumcision.. oh my god!.. figured it out.
At 14, I read Marvin Harris's Cows Pigs Wars and Witches, which compared Judaic genital mutilation with some more extreme forms practiced by African tribes. His point was that such rituals are related to passing on cultural information. The trauma of a painful ceremony fixes the information into the person's worldview, that then gets passed to the next generation. Currently we call that sort of thing memetics. Harris was an anthropologist, using economic concepts of costs and benefits to explain cultural variations as adaptations to specific environments.
I had heard about the herpes incident, but did not realize the practice was so widespread. Anything to do with vampire legends? Also, most adults have herpes? What's the cheapest test? I'm also looking info on papilloma virus.
But maybe I'm making a a mountain out of a mohel.
8.29.2005 8:46pm
DanB:
Do you really want the government to get deeply involved in what people get to consider "good reason" for what they do?

It's been illegal to hack body parts off of another person without their permission for most of western history, hasn't it? We only make exceptions when the procedure is medically necessary and consent can't be obtained. Or when the victim is a helpless male child with a previous-unmutilated penis.
8.29.2005 9:18pm
Milhouse (www):
The first point to make is that, from what's been published, it's not at all clear that the practise has ever harmed anyone. In the case of the twins, one of whom died, both the mohel and the parents claim that both babies had a rash before the brit, that the mohel spotted this rash and proposed postponing the brit, and the babies' doctor gave the OK to go ahead. If that is true (and I haven't heard of anyone disputing it) then the babies were almost certainly not infected by the mohel. Further, that happened in 2003; for about a year after that, the same mohel performed hundreds of britot, all of them with oral suction, and none of the babies developed herpes, until the one which brought this whole issue into the public eye. It was only after backtracking all of the mohel's cases that the 2003 case, in which the baby died, came to light. If the mohel really was the vector, more of those babies should have been infected. It seems far more likely that the two incidents are unrelated, and that in neither case was the mohel responsible for the infection.

Second: a ban would not be enforceable. Eugene says that "some mohels would feel some obligation to follow the law"; in this case, I doubt it, and those who did feel such an obligation might simply inform the parents, who would engage a mohel without such a feeling. Then Eugene notes that britot usually have many observers, at least some of whom may be persuaded to testify; here he falls for a major logical fallacy. Britot do usually have many observers, here in the USA where they are legal. But back in the USSR, they were secret affairs, with no witnesses, just a parent or grandparent and a mohel. And I can guarantee that if the NY authorities cracked down on this, then that experience would repeat itself here.

Akiva Eisenberg wrote that of the hundreds of britot he's personally observed, not a single one did not involve oral suction. This matches my own experience as well. Adam wrote that his experience is different, but I don't see how that's relevant; his experience doesn't contradict Mr Eisenberg's or mine. We obviously mix in different circles.

Sir Mix A Lot claimed that suction is "generally" done with a tube; all I can say is that I've read a lot about this tube, but I've never seen it used. He also notes that the Rabbinical Council of America approves of the use of tubes; let me just say that among the majority of Orthodox Jews in New York, the RCA's imprimatur doesn't cut a lot of ice. From my observation it seems to me that the RCA is generally well-regarded as an organisation, but it is not looked to for guidance on religious law, and its pronouncements on such matters aren't seen as authoritative.
8.29.2005 9:59pm
Columbienne:
One important fact in this story is that one individual mohel is suspected of transmitting herpes, and the authorities have apparently been reluctant to effectively restrain him. Stopping that mohel in particular is a very different question from stopping the practice all together. I don't really like arguing by analogy, but here's one anyway: we would never ban immersion baptism because of the small statistical risk of water-borne illness; but of course we would close down a particular baptismal font that we knew was actually contaminated.
8.29.2005 10:00pm
Splunge (mail):
Geez, what about parents who have their little girls' ears pierced because it's part of their cultural tradition? Could get an infection and die from that, you know. Or parents who take their kid to the beach in Florida -- could be a shark offshore that'll eat 'em up, chomp chomp. Or Asian parents who feed their kid a lot of sushi -- uh oh, parasites!

Sheesh. It sure sounds like Professor Volokh considers this fertile ground for the heavy hand of the state largely because it sounds icky. That's Meryl Streep logic.
8.29.2005 10:01pm
DanB:
Geez, what about parents who have their little girls' ears pierced because it's part of their cultural tradition?

Parents shouldn't pierce their childrens' ears without permission, either. To kick the question back to you -- is there any form of mutilation you don't think parents should be allowed to perform on children without their permission? Or is it pretty much open season until the kid turns 18?
8.29.2005 10:29pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
the American community should continue the practice of protecting children from being killed by adults.

Parents shouldn't pierce their childrens' ears without permission, either.

I don't think parents should send their children to government schools. I can prove that the risk of damage is much higher than the risks of circumcision and ear piercing. Certainly the risk of spiritual damage approaches unity. But I'm not going to outlaw it.

Eugene. No intentional killing. Only a slightly higher risk of infection. Visiting sick relatives carries some of the same risks. You probably believe in mandatory car seats as well. Have you taken a side on mandatory breast feeding?

Ear piercing (which is also almost universal in young girls these days) is less dangerous than letting your kids dress like slobs but I wouldn't outlaw that either (though such attire will be banned from my PUD/Arcology).

I'm sure the death rate from motorcycle riding (per lifetime of riding) is higher than the death rate of this practice (per lifetime of circumcision). What's the diff?
8.29.2005 10:57pm
Spoons (mail):
I can't believe that pretty much all people are concerned about is the risk of herpes. What's the matter with you people?

How hard do we really have to think about it to realize that any religious practice that requires sucking baby boys' penises is sick and wrong. These mohel's should be jailed, these parents should be jailed, and the children should be taken away and raised by the State.
8.29.2005 11:07pm
Rick Ballard (mail):
I'm with RogerA on this. By all means, if you feel that it is truly a dangerous practice, then petition the legislature. New York probably has one of the higher rates of incidence for the practice, so if you feel that it is truly dangerous and certainly illegal under current statute, then all you have to do is bring it to Spitzer or Morgenthau's attention. I'm sure they'll initiate an investigation and proceed with prosecution.
8.29.2005 11:38pm
Columbienne:
Ummm...Spoons, have you ever changed a baby's diaper? Because that requires quite a bit of contact with a kid's private parts. I guess all parents should go to jail, then.
8.29.2005 11:41pm
John Thacker (mail):
Most adults carry the disease, which causes the common cold sore,


That quote from the article is not true, at least from the standard definition of "most" meaning "more than 50%." Most of the cites I've seen state something in the 20-30% range for adults, not 50%.
8.29.2005 11:48pm
bassett (mail):
Eugene has completely missed the target on this one:
>Well, it seems to me that the American community should >continue the practice of protecting children from being >killed by adults. That may be a younger rule, but it's the >right rule, and it should not change. Your views of your >obligation to God do not give you the legal right to cause >the deaths of others.

How about parents who teach their kids "safe sex" instead of abstinence until marriage? Many of the girls/women will get HPV will will turn into cancer and will kill some of the women. So, Eugene, shall we force the parents to teach their children abstinence instead of "safe sex"?

It is not the government's duty to weigh and balance the many risks confronting parents -- that is the parents' job.
8.29.2005 11:54pm
Columbienne:
John Thacker - You're thinking about HSV2, genital herpes. Basically all American adults have HSV1, aka oral herpes, aka cold sores. Both can be deadly to infants.
8.29.2005 11:55pm
TDPerkins (mail):
I have no idea why he is, but I think Prof. Volokh was bored.

Arbitrary aardvark wrote:
"But maybe I'm making a a mountain out of a mohel."
And I am certain he will do a few minutes in hell for it.

Yours, TDP,ml, msl, &pfpp
8.30.2005 12:20am
Spoons (mail):
Columbienne, if you can't see the difference between changing a diaper, and sucking a baby's dick, then remind me never to hire you as a babysitter.
8.30.2005 1:01am
Milhouse (www):
Spoons, like it or not, this is what Jews have been doing for over 3000 years, and until about 100 years ago it was all Jews who did this. When Washington assured the Jewish community in Rhode Island that their liberties were safe and would be protected by the new republic, that included sucking the dicks of week-old infants. And protecting the free exercise of Judaism was very much in the minds of the framers and ratifiers of the 1st amendment, many of whom read Hebrew and were fascinated by Jews (we were quite fashionable for a while, there).

Any attempt to suppress the practise will be resisted, because that's how we've dealt with hostile authorities for most of those 3000+ years, all the way since Egypt. My grandparents knew people who'd been sent away to who-knew-where for arranging or performing britot, and were never heard from again; and they knew many more who'd risked it, as indeed they themselves did when they had my father and uncle done. If the USA turns into the USSR, at least in this respect, then we will begin behaving as we did back there.

8.30.2005 2:03am
Cornellian (mail):
Good Lord, as if circumcision wasn't already sufficiently repulsive, we now have to hear about this.....
8.30.2005 2:07am
Steve:
Wow, the people who blithely compare circumcision to "hacking off limbs" have absolutely no concept of what real mutilation looks like, nor any concept of tact towards others' religious practices, for that matter. Thanks to Prof. Volokh for allowing yet another dark corner of the Internet to crawl into the light and air its grievances.
8.30.2005 3:03am
Gil (mail) (www):
Yes, it's icky. Yes, it involves non-zero risk. Yes, it has no redeeming value (to those of us who don't have faith in its redeeming value). Yes, the state should draw distinctions and protect defenseless children against some dangerous acts by irresponsible parents.

But, as many have pointed out, many parents subject their children to much greater risks, for reasons of their own, and very few of us think it would be a good idea for the state to overrule these decisions.

Lines should be drawn. But, not here.
8.30.2005 3:05am
Joe in Australia (mail):
Speaking as an Orthodox Jew, it is unclear to me whether the metzia b'peh (oral suction of blood after circumcision) is in fact mandated by Jewish tradition. The Talmud says that its medically beneficial, but the Talmud makes other medical claims which we ignore because they are not effective. Even if it were to be effective for something, I can't see why doing it orally would be necessary.

This may be a moot point if the *parents* think it's religiously necessary. Moot or substantial, though, I agree with those people who believe that banning it would strengthen the tradition: attacks on circumcision (which seems to be the undercurrent driving this debate) have historically been inefective.
8.30.2005 3:24am
Spoons (mail):
We have religious denominations in this country that believe in marriage to very young children. We have others that prefer polygamy. Those things are outlawed. This can and should be outlawed, too.
8.30.2005 9:33am
Milhouse (www):
Joe, this whole issue was had out ~100 years ago, when there was a very real danger of mohalim becoming vectors for spreading syphillis. Some important authorities held that oral suction was not a necessary part of the ritual, or that it could be done with a tube; but many more authorities, of equal or greater stature, insisted that it was indeed an essential part of the ritual, to the extent that if, on the 8th day, it was impossible to find a mohel who would do it, then the circumcision should be postponed until it could be done properly.

Pretty much everything that there is to be written on the subject was written then, and nothing that anyone says now is going to change anyone's mind. Some Orthodox Jews accept that suction is unnecessary, or can be done with a tube, and some don't. At least in NY, which is the state where this is taking place, my estimate is that most O Jews do believe it is necessary, and will continue doing it regardless of what the state or city authorities say.

8.30.2005 9:47am
Tom Perkins (mail):
Gil, as a matter of fact, I have always heard that penile cancer does not occur in circumsized males. If that's true, it isn't true that there is zero benefit to the procedure.

Given the understated yet sensationalized nature of how his first post was phrased, I'm certain, absolutely, the Mr. VOlokh left out the part about the tube because he is bored...

Come on Eugene, admit it. Who isn't a friend here doesn't signify. You posted this and the "gay" series of posts 'cause you're bored.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
8.30.2005 10:22am
Tom Perkins (mail):
Milhouse says:
"At least in NY, which is the state where this is taking place, my estimate is that most O Jews do believe it is necessary, and will continue doing it regardless of what the state or city authorities say."

And if this is true and I think it likely is, it would be a greater injustice to attempt to stamp out the practice than to let it continue un, er, molested (back at you aardvark).

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
8.30.2005 10:27am
J:
It may be traditional, but is it a part of the Law of God? If it's not, it is optional.
8.30.2005 10:49am
TheCuriousKitten (mail) (www):
Bassett;

How about we prosecute my grandparents for keeping my mother ignorant about the "facts of life" and simply preaching abstinence, for putting their daughter at a higher risk for child molestation?

Or my aunt for keeping her children ignorant of birth control and condoms, and having her teenage daughter give birth to a child infected with STDs?

I would argue that you can show greater harm from keeping children ignorant about condoms or feeding them blatant misinformation.


ALL:

We all seem to be overlooking the fact that circumcision is still available to an adult. What the heck is wrong with making them wait until adulthood to do it?! The risk taken on only by consenting adults with a stronger immune system and a detached foreskin so there is less cutting. It's not like the penis falls off after infancy, so you can't do it to an adult. If a grown woman decides she wants her genitals mutilated, then so be it! But doing it to a small child should be illegal. Circumcision should be treated the same way.

I don't think a child "belongs" to its parents. A parent can make medical decisions during cases of emergency, but you don't get full control over a child's body! We'd be furious if a parent took their infant to be tattooed, right? I fail to see how this is any different.
8.30.2005 11:46am
Sparky:
I thought all Jewish religious obligations (except the bans on idolatry, murder, and incest/adultery) gave way before a threat to life. Surely that would include this particular obligation?

Not, of course, that I want the state telling people what their religion does or does not require.

It just seems to me like the mohels involved are forcing an issue that doesn't need to be forced.
8.30.2005 12:06pm
DanB:
Wow, the people who blithely compare circumcision to "hacking off limbs" have absolutely no concept of what real mutilation looks like

Circumcision is real mutiliation. Is it as bad a hacking off a limb? Of course not. But hacking off the tip of a child's nose isn't as bad as hacking off a limb, either, and we wouldn't allow that -- even though hacking off the foreskin of the child's penis is far, far worse.

Look, it is simple. How would you feel if somebody restrained you and, without asking your permission, carved off part of your body with a knife? Would you accept "oh, his religion told him it was ok to do that without your permission" as an excuse? Of course you wouldn't. You'd want him to go to prison.

nor any concept of tact towards others' religious practices, for that matter.

I can't think of a tactful way to say "mutilating helpless children is wrong".
8.30.2005 4:55pm
Fern:
"What the heck is wrong with making them wait until adulthood to do it?!"
Jewish Law requires that a father have his son circumcised 8 days after birth. Forcing a Jew to wait until adulthood would be forcing him to violate a very explicit (as in, not up for debate even in the most liberal Jewish communities) commandment in the Torah.

I have been to all of my cousins and both of my brother's brit milot and I have never witnessed "oral suction." I live in Southern California if that makes a difference.
8.30.2005 7:45pm
DanB:
Forcing a Jew to wait until adulthood would be forcing him to violate a very explicit (as in, not up for debate even in the most liberal Jewish communities) commandment in the Torah

The Torah also explictly commands that adulterers and homosexuals shall be put to death. The Torah commands a lot of barbaric things. Jews and Christians have figured out appropriate rationalizations for not following most of those commandments. They can darn well figure out one for child mutilation, too.

Heck, the same passage that orders circumcision also orders that a burnt offering of a year-old lamb must be made shortly after a child's birth. That doesn't happen anymore. Are some explicit commands from God more explicit than other explicit commands from God? :)
8.30.2005 9:40pm
TheCuriousKitten (mail) (www):
Tom;

There is no reliable evidence to show that penile cancer does not occur in circumcised males. It might show a correlation, but it has yet to prove causation. As is with the tenuous links between easier HIV transference and circumcision. I've looked, hoping to find a reason that circumcision had benefits, but as a biologist, I cannot condone it.

And even if an experiment did prove this, it doesn't change my fundamental argument: Why must it be done to children? Why can't it be done to adults? We don't take out children's appendixes and tonsils at birth even though they might get infected and cause problems later. We take them out when there is an actual problem. I fail to see why we should remove a part of the body with a *definite* purpose before the child can consent.
8.30.2005 10:30pm
Fern:
"Heck, the same passage that orders circumcision also orders that a burnt offering of a year-old lamb must be made shortly after a child's birth. That doesn't happen anymore. Are some explicit commands from God more explicit than other explicit commands from God? :)"
Burnt offerings aren't offered any more because the correct location for such offerings (the Temple in Jerusalem) is no longer available for such uses (Muslims built a mosque on the site). As to the rest of your post, I don't think it really merits a response. Religious intolerance is alive and well in America and your post is a perfect example of it.
8.31.2005 12:33am
DanB:
Burnt offerings aren't offered any more because the correct location for such offerings (the Temple in Jerusalem) is no longer available for such uses

I'm sorry, but that doesn't wash. There are numerous parts of the Torah which use the same language to refer to other rituals and observances which are, today, carried out in synagogues. But of course that was just an aside; my main point was that Jews refrain from obeying God's explicit command to kill homosexuals and adulterers, so it is absurd to hide behind "God told us to do it" as an excuse for genital multilation. It is obvious that you can find reasons not to obey the millennia-old word of God when modern sensibilities contradict it strongly enough.

Religious intolerance is alive and well in America and your post is a perfect example of it.

I think that it is wrong to mutilate the genitalia of innocent, unwilling children while they scream in agony. You are welcome to perceive that as "intolerance" if you wish to do so.
8.31.2005 1:40am
TheCuriousKitten (mail) (www):
Is objecting to a Fundamentalism Mormon family to marry off their twelve year old daughter to her forty year old uncle Religious intolerance? No. As I would object no matter *what* the justification for it is.

Immoral behavior is immoral behavior. It doesn't matter why. In order to get into heaven, I think I need to kill a person. Does that make me any better than a person who kills another in order to steal their belongings? No. Killing an unconsenting person is immoral. Just because it is done in the name of religion does not make it moral.

I think there is much beauty in Judaism. But it would be prejudiced of me to not judge practices by the same moral standards that I judge non-Jewish practices by. It is a permanent, painful, and potentially harmful alteration to the body of a person who does not consent. If I were to say it was suddenly okay because religion is involved then I would be a hypocrite.
8.31.2005 12:21pm
Tom Perkins (mail):
Hello TheCuriousKitten,

In response to your question, "Why must it be done to children?", I will repeat the post below.

Milhouse says:
"At least in NY, which is the state where this is taking place, my estimate is that most O Jews do believe it is necessary, and will continue doing it regardless of what the state or city authorities say."

And if this is true and I think it likely is, it would be a greater injustice to attempt to stamp out the practice than to let it continue un, er, molested (back at you aardvark).

So. Your mileage may differ.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
8.31.2005 7:46pm