(NEW YORK, NY) — Celebrity Rabbi Shmuley Boteach debated the issue of circumcision with Jewish filmmaker Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon, creator of CUT: Slicing through the myths of circumcision, this past Monday at the Manhattan Jewish Experience in the Upper West Side section of Manhattan. Rabbi Boteach is the author of "Kosher Sex" and has appeared alongside celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jackson, and Christopher Hitchens.
The event marked a milestone in the ongoing controversy surrounding circumcision, raising the issue of Jewish ritual circumcision for the first time in front of a live audience for a full-length debate.
The 90 minute-long debate began with 15-minute presentations, followed by five-minute rebuttals, and a Q&A session afterwards. The debate touched upon the medical, ethical, social, sexual, and religious aspects of circumcision. Mr. Ungar-Sargon kicked off the discussion by explaining the dangers of performing circumcision, the functions of the foreskin, and the negative sexual effects of circumcision. Mr. Sargon ended his opening statements by concluding that "circumcision is physically harmful, medically irresponsible, and morally wrong," and that Judaism should try to move forward.
Rabbi Boteach focused on the purported medical benefits of circumcision, the motivations behind the proposed age restrictions on circumcision in San Francisco, and greater problems in society, such as high divorce rates and public sex scandals. The covenant of circumcision, Rabbi Boteach argued, controls sexuality by sanctifying marriage and sexual relations, and that by focusing on the medical aspects only, circumcision detractors are ignoring the reasons for the Jewish religious circumcision ritual.
The debate marked a shift in Rabbi Boteach's understanding of the current movement to ban circumcision on minors. While Rabbi Boteach asked why no one had complained to him about circumcision affecting their marriage, Mr. Ungar-Sargon affirmed that there are indeed numerous men who feel they have been sexually harmed by circumcision, including many who are undergoing the lengthy process of foreskin restoration in order to reverse some of the damage.
One audience member asked Rabbi Boteach how he reconciles the ethics of infant circumcision with the known cases of severe botched circumcisions and circumcision-related deaths that occur annually, referring to a recent $4.6 million settlement in Los Angeles for a botched circumcision that had been announced earlier that day. Other audience members disputed Rabbi Boteach's claims of the health benefits to circumcision.
Although Mr. Ungar-Sargon had written permission to film the 90 minute-long debate, the MJE changed their agreement only a few hours before the event, blocking him from filming. A Youtube video of the event was later posted by an MJE affiliate.
Please visit our resources page for a list of Jewish organizations against circumcision and other general information.