GLBT Activist And Alt-Judaism Scholar Proposes Circumcision Compromise

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I firmly support the right of all parents — be they Muslim, Jewish or otherwise — to circumcise their boys. And I’m pretty skeptical of the idea that this ancient religious practice that has been done for thousands upon thousands of years should be banned by the government. But I have been interested in the debate ever since I first came across small crowds of “intactivists” protesting at the U.S. Capitol time to time.

Over at the Forward, GLBT activist and alt-Judaism theorist Jay Michaelson writes that if he weren’t Jewish, he probably would not support circumcision. On the other hand, he points out that circumcision is nothing less than “the physical making of a Jewish male body.” So he proposes a compromise. He writes that modern Jewish circumcisions has three parts: milah (circumcising), periah (tearing) and metzizah (blood removal).

His compromise is that circumcisions should only consist of milah, or removing the tip of the foreskin:

The fact that circumcision consists of multiple elements is explicitly recognized in the Talmud. Mishna Shabbat 19:2 states that “one performs all the necessary steps for the milah on Shabbat: circumcising (milah), tearing (periah) sucking out the blood (metzizah), and bandaging the wound.” Rabbis seeking to discontinue the practice of metzizah, which many see as both unseemly and dangerous, note that this Mishna clearly distinguishes the different components of the overall process, raising the possibility that not all of them are essential to the mitzvah. Rabbis have taken this view despite BT Shabbat 133b, which states that a mohel who does not perform metzizah loses his license to practice circumcision. So why not use it to discontinue periah, as well?

He concedes that this wouldn’t fly with Orthodox Jews due to their understanding of what’s required in a circumcision.

And the other big issue is that the anti-circumcision campaign — found to have unseemly ties to some pretty gross anti-Semitism — wouldn’t be assuaged by this change in any case. He notes that the only place he’s seen this discussed by intactivists is from the same fringe that ran those anti-Semitic “Monster Mohel” cartoons.

In any case, it is an interesting analysis of Biblical and rabbinical law for those interested in this debate.