In defense of circumcision

In defense of circumcision

Following the news that parents of a baby boy severely injured during his bris were suing the Pittsburgh mohel, Rabbi Mordechai Rosenberg, critics of circumcision in general went online posting some very vicious comments. Some even targeted the parents for opting for circumcision.

That was bad enough. What was even worse, though, was the misinformation they spread, including, as one commentator said, “botched circumcisions happen regularly but are rarely mentioned in the mainstream media.”

Wrong on both counts.

One only has to do a Google search to see how frequently the media has reported on circumcisions gone wrong. What’s more important, though, is the vast majority of circumcisions performed each year go off without incident.

But don’t take our word for it. According to the Circumcision Task Force of the American Academy of Pediatrics: “it [circumcision] is one of the most common procedures in the world. In the United States, the procedure is commonly performed during the newborn period.”

Far from the torture its critics care to paint it as, millions of adult circumcised males are leading happy well-adjusted lives with no emotional or physical scars (some may consider circumcision physical scarring, most do not.)

In fact, going back again to the AAP task force report:

“Evaluation of current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks; furthermore, the benefits of newborn male circumcision justify access to this procedure for families who choose it. Specific benefits from male circumcision were identified for the prevention of urinary tract infections, acquisition of HIV, transmission of some sexually transmitted infections, and penile cancer. Male circumcision does not appear to adversely affect penile sexual function/sensitivity or sexual satisfaction.”

The facts are in, and they overwhelmingly favor circumcision.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t risks, as there are with any surgical procedure. Again, quoting the AAP report:

“It is imperative that those providing circumcision are adequately trained and that both sterile techniques and effective pain management are used. Significant acute complications are rare (emphasis ours). In general, untrained providers who perform circumcisions have more complications than well-trained providers who perform the procedure, regardless of whether the former are physicians, nurses or traditional religious providers.”

What the report doesn’t note is that mohels are well trained. We talked to mohels who described in detail the training and apprenticeship work they undertook in Israel — in hospital settings and at the bris. It’s the only procedure they do, and they do it quickly and efficiently.

And for parents who want a slightly different option, the Reform and Conservative movements train physicians to be mohels — something we applaud.

There are no guarantees in life, and as one mohel humbly told us, “we’re human.” The best mohels keep that in mind every time they perform a bris, but parents should ask questions as well when preparing for this very important lifecycle event.    

In the end, though, all parents will do what feels right to them. But if you’re reading this paper, likely you already accept and cherish the age-old covenant of the bris — something that has united our people going back to Abraham himself. So if you choose circumcision, rest easily.