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How to Make the Choice to Circumcise in Judaism

Most Jews never question whether to perform a circumcision — it’s simply part of being Jewish. In fact, for an increasing number of Jews, it’s one of the most spiritual and joyful community events. However, for some Jews who have not been brought up connected to their tradition, circumcision becomes a question rather than a certainty.

Here are a few ideas to think about when considering circumcision:

  • In the 1960s, about 98 percent of all boys born in the United States were circumcised because of research that said circumcised boys have fewer medical problems, such as a slightly lower rate of urinary tract infections and a lower chance of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

    However, many of these health risks can be avoided by careful daily cleaning, and by 2009, fewer than 40 percent of all boys were being circumcised (though almost all Jews still were).

  • In 2007, the World Health Organization endorsed circumcision of boys, calling it, “an important intervention to reduce the risk of heterosexually acquired H.I.V.” Researchers also have strong evidence to suggest that circumcision protects against penile cancer and sexually transmitted diseases, and helps reduce the risk of cervical cancer for female partners.

  • Complications from this procedure are extremely rare and, when they happen, are usually mild.

  • Any pain the boy experiences almost certainly goes away relatively quickly. The child may cry at this event, but it appears that much of this unhappiness comes from being restrained and being surrounded by a bunch of nervous relatives.

  • No parents want their child to suffer, but there is no way to raise a child without pain. You can argue that the baby has no choice in the matter of being circumcised, but sometimes babies don’t get choices — parents must choose the right course for their children, not necessarily the least painful one.

  • If you’re considering not having your boy circumcised, think about this: Suppose that your son happens to grow up to really identify as being Jewish and happens to fall in love with a Jewish woman. Very few rabbis will perform a Bar Mitzvah or a Jewish wedding unless the male is circumcised.

Some rabbis teach that the bris is a symbol of taking control over people's animal nature — an obvious reminder that men can control sexual urges and lustful appetites. But ultimately, it’s important to remember that the brit milah connects a boy to hundreds of generations of men before him, each of whom had a bris on the eighth day of his life.

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