Circumcision Under The Knife
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The largest-ever study of circumcisions in the United States has found the largest-ever drop in the circumcision rate: from 56 percent to 33 percent over the last four years, according to a report released at the recent 18th International AIDS Conference in Vienna.
The Jewish Week asked Philip Sherman, a veteran mohel who is also associate cantor at Congregation Shearith Israel, about the report.

Q: Do the new figures, which indicate a drop in the circumcision rate in the U.S., surprise you?

A: No. The anti-circumcision movement is very active and very vocal. The only problem for them is that it seems circumcision significantly reduces, by 50 to 60 percent, the transmission of the HIV virus. I’m not sure how one could be opposed to that.

If medical studies show the health benefits of doing circumcisions, why do you think fewer families are doing it?

Medical studies show that eating healthfully and exercising will have tremendous health benefits, yet many people are extremely overweight and sedentary. Part of the answer is human nature; the other part of the answer is that there are rarely pro-bris/circumcision stories being written showing the benefits of a properly performed, spiritual and meaningful bris by a traditional mohel.

Do non-Jewish families ever ask you or other mohelim to circumcise their sons?

Yes. When I trained as a mohel in Jerusalem in 1976-1977, the Italian ambassador came to my teacher, Rabbi Yosef Hakohen Halperin (z’l) and asked him to circumcise his son. He didn’t want a doctor; he wanted the super-specialist.

There are often reports of liberal Jewish families objecting to doing a bris on their sons. Barbaric, they say. How do you persuade them to still do it?

The problem is that word is not getting out that a traditional bris performed by a religiously observant, certified rabbi or cantor-mohel takes under 20 seconds with no advance preparations needed. The baby being held by the warm, loving hands of, usually, his grandfather and not strapped down to a board. Also, it is a mitzvah; it is not a medical procedure. It is a profoundly significant lifecycle event connecting the child to the ancient covenant between God and Abraham and the Torah and its commandments.

Do you notice a drop in non-traditional Jewish families having their sons circumcised? Does it mean a, pardon the expression, cut in your business?

Yes, but it is no different than previous yearly cycles. I’ve been a mohel for 33 years and have performed more than 20,000 brisses. Some years there are more babies born, other years, less. More girls, less boys and so on.

We’ve reported on a few controversies involving incorrectly done brisses. How has the training of and procedures used by mohelim changed since you entered the field?

The proper training [in the Orthodox world] for a mohel really hasn’t changed. It is an apprenticeship ... It includes at least a minimum of one year following the mohel around, which involves learning all of the laws as they relate to brisses, observing and practicing to the point where the teacher is confident that the student is qualified in all aspects of the bris, not just saying a blessing and removing the foreskin.


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08/21/2014 - 09:19

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interested in San Antonio,Texas !
Please call if you are still doing Jewish circumcisions .
helena @ 210 4104141
Thank You

A child's human RIGHTS are infinitely more precious than parental religious RITES. In the absence of a medical diagnosis of disease or pathology, genital cutting of infants is wrong. I do not see a difference between the atrocities Warren Jeffs perpetrates on children and the atrocities mohels perpetrate on children.
BTW- I am Jewish and was bar mitzvah'd in an orthodox synagogue.

I endorse Glass's remarks and wish to add one point: * Standard local anesthetics, properly administered, can make bris painless. But they have yet to become a standard part of the brit milah protocol. For that matter, last century about 100 million baby boys were medically circumcised in Egnlish speaking countries, almost never with anesthesia. Even now, many perhaps most American hospital circumcisions are performed without anesthesia. This is barbaric and should be criminalised forthwith. @Bob: I fully share your scepticism about the data underlying the CDC's recent claim that the secular circ rate in the USA declined in a mere 4 years from 56% to 33%. That said, leaving baby boys intact is definitely the norm in other medically advanced societies, and is on the march in the USA, especially west of the Rocky Mountains and when the mother has been influenced by the "crunchy" lifestyle. Internet forums reveal a growing distaste for circumcision among younger parents. @Everyone: the African clinical trials are a scientific scandal waiting to explode. They were not conducted properly, and the data they produced was not analysed correctly. For starters, subjects were followed for only 6 months. Trials whose subjects were African young men tell us nothing about whether it is useful or appropriate to circumcise baby boys in North America. Most Africans do not have access to running water and have difficulty affording soap and condoms. Circumcision does not "prevent" AIDS; it is not akin in any way to a "vaccine." If the African clinical trials are correct, being circumcised merely delays the consequences of irresponsible sexual behaviour. Contracting HIV is NOT a consequence of having foreskin, but of bad sexual behaviour. Circumcision in Africa also encourages the vulgar misunderstanding that "circumcised men can't come down with AIDS and so can have all the uncommitted sex they want." When a baby's penis is circumcised, his future adult penis enters a lottery. Most circumcised men are doing fine, but not all. I like the rule of thumb of the Australian medical society, namely that 1% of infant circs result in a damaged adult penis. We have no good idea of what the death rate from North American routine circumcision is, in good part because hospitals code such deaths in ways which conceal the fact that routine circumcision was ultimately at fault. I strongly suspect that all that circumcision accomplishes is to trade in one set of health problems for another of equal or greater severity. American urological and sexual research has not been honest about possible connections between circumcision and ED and PE in adult men, about a gradual decline in penis sensation in middle age, and about possible adverse effects of circumcision on male and female pleasure and on sexual functionality. It is now clear that the moving bits circumcision removes are highly erogenous by virtue of being intensely ennervated. While the connection with female pleasure is less obvious, it is not hard for a young American woman to experience both styles before her marriage. (Recall here that many Jewish parents tend to accept that their young adult children will sow some wild oats before marriage.) All universities now have Latino and foreign students. A number of such women have testified on the internet that they prefer intact, confirming what Maimonides conjectured 8 centuries ago. We moderns tend to forget that there is a long history of circumcision being promoted because it was believed to reduce male lechery and to make masturbation less exciting. We should never forget that Judaism, unlike the other Abrahamic religions, warmly embraces sexual pleasure. Jewish intellectuals have contributed much to the rising sophistication about human sexuality that began about 100 years ago. It does not surprise me at all that Freud and Dr Ruth are Jewish, and that many gay rights activists have Jewish surnames. This Jewish sexual sophistication, an important aspect of Jewish secular culture, is on a collision course with the tradition of brit milah. Do you believe in a personal G-d? Do you believe that this personal G-d has designated the Jews has his Chosen People? Do you believe that there exists a Covenant linking this G-d and the Chosen People? If you answer No to any of these questions, then to have your son undergo a bris is just a form of cattle branding done to humans. All it will do is reduce the likelihood that your son will be stared at in the locker room of the YMHA, and reduce his embarrassment the first time in bed with a frum Jewish woman. We intactivists are not opposed to bris per se, but to bris done to a minor incapable of informed consent and of understanding the existential and historical implications of bris.
The trouble with arguing either for and against circumcision is that it tends to obscure a number of troubling problems: *One is the forced circumcision of men during ethnic and religious conflicts. Notorious examples occurred in Ambon, Indonesia in 2001, to Mandean men in Fallujia, Iraq in 2003, and to Luo tribesmen in Kenya in 2008. Such events should receive universal condemnation. * A second problem is with dangerous traditional practices. For instance, in South Africa, traditional rites surrounding circumcision lead to the deaths of dozens of youths and the mutilation of even more young men every year. Such practices should not be defended. * A third problem is with metzitzah b'peh. This practice can infect infants with herpes and has been associated with several deaths. The very least that can be done is for the Jewish press to publicize the dangers of metzitzah b'peh so that parents have the information they need to protect their sons. * A fourth problem, fortunately rare, is disputes between parents over the circumcision of their child. If parents cannot or will not agree about circumcision then the best person to decide this question is the owner of the foreskin. And he should not have to make this decision until he has grown to manhood. * A fifth problem is with zealots, who take it upon themselves to circumcise their own children even though they have no medical training. The full force of the law should come down on unqualified people doing this to others, whatever their motivation might be. * A final problem is that of incompetent operators, whether medical or ritual. For everyone's sake they should be weeded out, pronto. Whatever might be said about circumcision, it is still an operation, and there is always a risk of hemorrhage or infection. These risks must be minimized, and any abuses must be condemned.
Driving is dangerous as 50,000 people die on the road a year but I choose to drive because it is convenient and fast. The fact that circumcision fights AIDs does not make the negative side-effect, loss of foreskin, disappear. The uncircumcised can fight the risk of getting AIDs by using a condom. The benefits of intactness outweigh the risks that can be managed in other ways that don't involve a permanent and irreversible mutilation.
I think many people - Jews and non Jews alike are waking up to the human rights violation that is circumcision. I am all about religious freedom. Your religious freedom ends where someone else's body begins. Give the poor baby his religious freedom and let him decide if he wants to loose the best part of his penis to HIS G-d.

oh just take it at face value that circumcision somehow fights AIDS? AIDS can only be transmitted if you are having sex with someone with AIDS without protection, or through blood. How is it that shape of penis has anything to do with it? The only logical thing to say is that circumcised people may not engage in sex with people that have AIDS, possibly because Jews are smarter? That doesn't prove though anything other than because they circumcise, they keep laws of keeping promiscuity to a minimum, and therefore God's rules, wins, not the act of circumcision itself.

Oh, just decide that because you don't see how circumcision could lower the rate of AIDS, it can't be true? Why don't you do a little research first into the many proven scientific studies that show the rate of AIDS significantly dropping among circumcised men.

This is less of an interview and more of an advertisement for his services. He deflects questions and says what he wants, which makes it rubbish reporting in my opinion. Just like FOX News.
A "properly performed" circumcision is still wrong. It is a completely barbaric and unnecessary procedure.

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