Share |

Humanistic Judaism Increasingly Critical of Child Circumcision

Peaceful Welcoming Ceremonies Proposed Instead
Rabbi Jeffrey Falick, Vice President of the Humanistic Rabbis Association does not perform circumcisions, and has called for peaceful Jewish covenants to take their place.
Rabbi Jeffrey Falick, Vice President of the Humanistic Rabbis Association does not perform circumcisions, and has called for peaceful Jewish covenants to take their place.

The Humanistic Jewish movement is a quickly growing denomination in Judaism and the furthest from practicing circumcision. The movement contains over 30,000 members and has over 50 active synagogues in the United States and Israel. There are a variety of active Humanistic Jewish journals and a group of thriving associations and communities connected to the movement. The focus of Jewish Humanism is on Judaic culture and society while embracing Humanistic ethics.

Most of the official Humanistic Jewish organizations do not distinguish between bris shalom (welcoming ceremony without circumcision) and hospital circucmcision, but there is a growing tendency to oppose circumcision altogether in favor of the new peaceful welcoming ceremonies. Humanistic Rabbis do not perform ceremonies in conjunction with circumcision. All Humanistic Jewish Rabbis officiate at peaceful welcoming and naming ceremonies such as Brit Shalom, Brit Chyam, and Brit B'lee Milah (covenant without cutting). Many Humanistic Rabbis are listed as celebrants of Brit Shalom and Brit B'lee Milah naming ceremonies that exclude circumcision.

As early as 1975, Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the founder of Humanistic Judaism was one of the earliest in the Chicago area to do Jewish welcoming rituals without circumcision. He also hosted Jewish Intactivist and psychologist Ronald Goldman, Ph.D., for an event to discuss the harms of circumcision at his synnagague. 

Rabbi Binyamin Biber, president of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis is on the board of NotJustSkin.org, an Intacivist Group organized by Professor Ryan McAllister, Ph.D. Rabbi Bieber participated in a Q&A with Eli Ungar Sargon, one of the leading Jewish Intactivists in the United States where he suggested that it was time for Judaism to find alternatives to circumcision surgery. 

 

Statements of Humanistic Jewish Leaders on the Ethical Problems of Child Circumcision

"There is no reason for tying circumcision to a humanistic Jewish birth celebration. Despite its historic importance, it is simply inappropriate in the same way that female segregation is inappropriate." – Rabbi Sherwin Wine, Founder of the Humanistic Jewish movement, who created a peaceful welcoming ceremony.

"We do not engage in circumcision, so that we celebrate all babies being born, girls and boys and the ceremonies are the same for welcoming both girls and boys into a poetic kind of covenantal ideal of love and support. We're all born into the world vulnerable and in need of people who love us and take care of us… we depend upon each other for love and protection and that extends in this case I would say also to creating a covenant without circumcision…. There’s no official place in our movement’s philosophy for circumcision… the welcoming ceremony has no place for it… it’s really unimportant actually… most Jewish people who have any kind of covenant actually focus primarily on how we treat each other… we’re all in this together folks… we all have to live some kind of ideals… not sacrifices of children’s bits - I think that’s completely absurd at this time in history. I will say that I would not circumcise a child. … I think many Rabbis actually if they were going to be honest would say that circumcision is an unimportant part of Jewish life.”
- Rabbi Binyamin Biber, Rabbi at Machar Synnagague, Washington, DC, President of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis
Georgetown University, Q&A with Ryan McAllister & Rabbi Binyamin Biber, September 22, 2011

"Participating in a traditional b’rit milah negates our commitment to treating male and female children equally and also is inconsistent with our human-centered philosophy of life."
- What is the Secular Humanistic Jewish position on b’rit milah and circumcision?, FAQs, Website of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis, 2012

"Our commitment to the autonomy and dignity of every human being raises questions about a non-consensual, painful, and practically irreversible surgery, removing a male infant's foreskin."
- Statement on Jewish Male Infant Circumcision and Brit Milah, The Leadership Conference of Secular and Humanistic Jews, April 2002.

"We're seeing [circumcision's] decline, and we're seeing Rabbi's like me and others in other communities saying these practices are not warranted and we're seeing a generational shift away from them. One of the things that I think that's also critical is the growing popularity, and I think a rightful popularity of natural medicine and natural childbirth ideas. And I think that this is clearly seen as inconsistent - circumcision, male infant circumcision, female infant circumcision or genital mutilation - not consistent with natural childbirth, natural health. To the extent we see within nature patterns of evolved health and wellness. This is clearly not one of them. Inflicting a wound on an infant is clearly not one of those... If circumcision is ever wanted, it's not warranted at this point. “
- Rabbi Binyamin Biber, Rabbi at Machar Synnagague, Washington, DC, President of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis
Georgetown University, Washington DC Q&A with Ryan McAllister & Rabbi Binyamin Biber, September 22, 2011

"I have already written about my opposition to infant circumcision. Now, with the release of a new film and a new website, there is finally some momentum building among Jews to do away with this antiquated and barbaric custom.... I cannot imagine why any sane person would put their baby boy through an unnecessary and painful surgery without even the benefit of anesthesia. Yet, until recently, no one in Jewish leadership has challenged this obsolete and primitive ritual."
- Rabbi Jeffrey Falick, Rabbinic Advisor, Congregation Beth Adam, Boca Raton, Florida
Eliminating The Cruelest Cut, October 4, 2011

(Rabbi Jeffrey Falick, Vice President of the Humanistic Rabbis Association does not perform circumcisions, and has called for peaceful Jewish covenants to take their place.)

"A cover-page article which appeared in the National Post on August 20th, written by Kathryn Blaze Carlson, examined young Jewish parents’ changing attitudes toward circumcision, and how there is a growing number of Jewish parents opting not to do it. However, Jewish families who choose not to circumcise their newborn sons still want some kind of a ceremony to welcome him into the Jewish community. An alternative ritual to the traditional bris, a Brit Shalom, or ‘covenant of peace,’ which is similar to the baby-naming for infant girls, is becoming very popular.
Our Rabbis - Eva Goldfinger, Oraynu’s Director of Life Cycle, and Karen Levy - perform these welcoming rituals for both boys and girls.
In the article, secular humanist Rabbi Binyamin (Ben) Biber, from our sister congregation Machar in Washington DC, says “he has never been busier with alternative ceremonies for newborn boys” and adds: “There is a growing number of people who have a cultural sense of Jewish identity,” and “… also a growing movement to focus on the body as something good and natural, and therefore not in need of alteration."
- Circumcision: An act of mutilation or love? (PDF), The Shofar, A Publication of the Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, September — October 2011

“That just raises one of the ethical problems that I think is so central. There’s not a huge number of medical accidents, but the fact is that this is an unnecessary surgery. And so the fact that there would be any medical accidents whatsoever raises an enormous ethical question. Why should there be a procedure that is unnecessary… that there'd be any medical risk at all, and that there'd be pain afflicted at all. And no anesthetic given in 50% of the cases. What the hell's going on there?... If you look at the Hebrew Bible text you’ll see a place where circumcision is actually compared with the act of sacrificing animals.“
- Rabbi Binyamin Biber, Rabbi at Machar Synnagague, Washington, DC, President of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis
Georgetown University, Washington DC Q&A with Ryan McAllister & Rabbi Binyamin Biber, September 22, 2011

"Humanistic Rabbi Binyamin Biber, the rabbi of SHJ affiliate Machar, the Washington Congregation for Secular Humanistic Judaism, was recently interviewed about circumcision by National Public Radio’s religion correspondent... Biber, the newly elected president of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis (AHR), during the interview noted that a growing number of secular and progressive Jews are approaching AHR members asking them to conduct such alternative ceremonies that welcome and celebrate with the same ceremonial language the arrival of all children: whether female, male, or intersex; whether adopted or biological offspring; whether circumcised or not. “Humanistic Jews uphold and advocate the full equality of all people,” he stated, “and so oppose the sexism and ethnocentrism entailed in the b’rit milah / “covenant of circumcision” (also often called a bris), which recognizes and admits only male Jews as full participants in its biblical “covenant” ideal. We also embrace the Humanistic rather than theological ideal of the b’rit shalom / “covenant of peace” ceremonies, in which we all acknowledge our common humanity, our shared responsibilities toward each other – young & old alike – and our hope for the human family to cease from causing one another pain and suffering by together creating a compassionate, just, and peaceful world. Such is a covenant of human love and mutual aid into which we hope to welcome all people some day.”
Finally, Biber observed that the b’rit shalom is becoming more widely practiced and now accounts for approximately 1/3 of all the ceremonies that he conducts to welcome infant boys, though that may change given the dozens of expectant parents and grandparents who eagerly contacted him after hearing the NPR report.
- CHJ, News from our Society, Congregation for Humanistic Judaism of Morris County.