Question: Recently I was reading a history of a young man who was schooled in a Jewish school and wanted to Bar Mitzvah.  Because his father who was Jewish was married to a Protestant he was told that he had two options.  Either his mother converted or he could convert by allowing the Rabbi to take a drop of blood from his penis. Could you explain the reasoning behind the two options.  If he was not Jewish because his mother was not Jewish from a genealogical standpoint what was he?

Answer: The book you read is not entirely accurate.  Had the mother converted before the child was born, he would have been considered Jewish by birth.  However, if the mother converted after the child was born, his status as a non-Jew would not be affected.  The only solution for the young man in this case to celebrate Bar Mitzvah would be for him to go through a conversion ceremony.

When a boy/man converts, he needs to have a brit milah, a covenantal circumcision.  An uncircumcised boy or man would have a surgical circumcision, while reciting the appropriate blessings.  A boy or man who is already circumcised, but has not had a brit milah would have a hatafat dam brit, a ceremony drawing a drop of blood to turn a regular circumcision into a covenantal circumcision, a brit milah.  This basically painless ritual involves drawing single drop of blood from the site of the

 

Response:  Actually I am a psychotherapist and am reading this as a case study. Apparently the humiliation of having his pants dropped, underwear pulled down and genitalia exposed and handled regardless of how painless this was emotionally devastating to the child as well as unacceptable. To choose between his perception of being sexually molested as an method of being part of a religion he desired apparently created a love hate dynamic. When I saw this I honestly did not believe that any civilized religion in this day and age would request such an obvious excuse for a pedophile to molest under the guise of a God’s will. The child would always be reminded every time he saw the Rabbi that his penis had been touched by the Rabbi, a constant sexual reminder of being touched by another male. If you feel that this is appropriate then why are the girls not asked to raise their dresses and spread their legs, hands enter the labia and drop of blood be taken from the clitoris the female version of the male penis? No wonder the child was traumatized. As a child therapist and ex-child protective service worker I don’t care how you cloak it that is sexual molestation and child abuse. You are using the power of the church and religion to pressure a child into being touched and that is very wrong. I hope you guys get prosecuted to the max.

Answer: I stand by what I wrote, but I am dismayed that you were not honest about the reason for your inquiry.  It would have not changed my answer, but I would have given you a little more information.

First of all, your comments about girls are simply ridiculous.  Judaism does not condone female “circumcision” -- i.e., genital mutilation.  There is no such ritual for babies, so there would be no reason in the world to do this to a girl of any age.  There is a circumcision ritual for infant boys, so it is reasonable to discuss a similar ritual for older boys.  If you intend to compare the circumcision of boys to the genital mutilation of girls, then you are coming into this discussion with a pre-conceived notion of the supposed harm of circumcision that is patently false.  Any further discussion might be pointless, but I would refer you to long term studies of circumcised men which do not show any life long trauma, but rather demonstrate several positive outcomes, such as avoiding penile cancer as well as markedly reduced cervical cancer in the wives of circumcised men.

Second, hatafat dam is never done without the consent and presence of the parents.  If the child does not consent, we don’t do it.

Third, most rabbis do not do this themselves -- I use a medical doctor to perform the ritual.  It is treated just like circumcision, as a medical procedure for a religious reason.  Certainly, you would not argue that it is the case that every time a doctor touches the penis of a child in an exam or procedure, it is a sign that he is a pedophile.

Fourth, as an educated person, you should know the difference between an individual case study, which might have many elements in it contributing to the resulting emotional trauma, and a good clinical study with followup on the long term effects of hatafat dam brit, using a large sample population.  Since I have pointed out that the case as reported was not accurate with respect to Jewish law, it is a good bet that much of what happened was incorrectly reported.  Certainly, if your description of the case is accurate, one might conclude that his feelings about religion may have been affected by a mixed home and parental ambivalence about religious ritual, the rabbi, and the synagogue.

I would be happy to take this discussion further, if you would like.  I ask only one thing -- that we discuss your questions civilly, without exaggeration or sweeping generalizations based on incomplete information.

 

Response:  I will be happy to discuss this issue with you in depth and will  refrain from making sweeping statements if you can similarly refrain from being patronizing.

You wrote:

<<I stand by what I wrote, but I am dismayed that you were not honest about the reason for your inquiry.  It would have not changed my answer, but I would have given you a little more information.  First of all, your comments about girls are simply ridiculous. Judaism does not condone female “circumcision” -- i.e., genital mutilation.>>

Please see the following quote

***

“Both Islam and medicine agree on its benefits. Uncircumcised girls are more liable to infections and cancers.”

[Dr. Saed Thabet, professor gynecology at Cairo’s Kasr El Aini Teaching Hospital, quoted in “Female Circumcision is Curbed in Egypt,” British Medical Journal, August 3, 1996]

As you note he gives the same reasoning for circumcision or as you pointed i.e.. genital mutilation for girls as you give for boys. Since the female clitoris is approximately three inches at full arousal the above Dr. is making the same argument as you. Apparently he does not find this idea ridiculous. Since the reasoning by Islam for female circumcision is the same as the Jewish for males the question would be why it would be important for one sex over the other to be chosen for circumcision. I would be interested into why men where chosen to be kept medically healthy and not women if the case is to be made by you on pure medical standards.

You wrote:

<<There is no such ritual for babies, so there would be no reason in the world to do this to a girl of any age.  There is a circumcision ritual for infant boys, so it is reasonable to discuss a similar ritual for older boys.  If you intend to compare the circumcision of boys to the genital mutilation of girls, then you are coming into this discussion with a pre-conceived notion of the supposed harm of circumcision that is patently false.  Any further discussion might be pointless, but I would refer you to long term studies of circumcised men which do not show any life long trauma, but rather demonstrate several positive outcomes, such as avoiding penile cancer as well as markedly reduced cervical cancer in the wives of circumcised men.>>

****

Your information is sadly outdated based on 1982 studies. You may need to update yourself with the newest empirical studies and findings that both the Canadian and American Pediatric in separate studies have concurred the following.

Recommendation: Circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed.

Validation: This recommendation is in keeping with previous statements on neonatal circumcision by the Canadian Pediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The statement was reviewed by the Infectious Disease Committee of the Canadian Pediatric Society. The Board of Directors of the Canadian Pediatric Society has reviewed its content and approved it for publication.

Sponsor: This is an official statement of the Canadian Pediatric Society. No external financial support has been received by the Canadian Pediatric Society, or its members, for any portion of the statement’s preparation.

You wrote:

<<Second, hatafat dam is never done without the consent and presence of the parents.  If the child does not consent, we don’t do it.>>

****

Consent from a child is not a valid response as children are not able at the age of 12 to fully understand the consequences of such an action and are often subtly or not so subtly influenced by peer pressure, family pressure, the need to belong to a group entity is a driving force at this age. By asking such a question of a child of that age you are asking themselves to either submit to mutilation or be ostracized from the peer group he seeks admittance. Interestingly enough the timing of this question is posed during the time that a child is the most developmentally in danger of making poor life choices due to their developmental need to belong. That same question four years later would most likely receive a much different response during the age of separation.

This is the reason that in ever state in the US that sex with a minor is against the law even if the child CONSENTS.

You wrote:

<<Third, most rabbis do not do this themselves -- I use a medical doctor to perform the ritual.  It is treated just like circumcision, as a medical procedure for a religious reason.>>

****

What religious reason would someone have for touching a child that has already been circumcised other than for the purpose of fondling. You have tried to make your case with circumcision with outdated information however the case in point of drawing blood from an already circumcised penis cannot be medical. Where is the reason for such a action. You may say it is religious but I say it is a cover for fondling and child abuse.

You wrote:

<<Certainly, you would not argue that it is the case that every time a doctor touches the penis of a child in an exam or procedure, it is a sign that he is a pedophile.>>

***

Again the procedure for drawing blood from a circumcised penis is not for medical reasons therefore your argument on medical grounds does not have any standing. You are arguing apples and oranges.

You wrote:

<<Fourth, as an educated person, you should know the difference between an individual case study, which might have many elements in it contributing to the resulting emotional trauma, and a good clinical study with followup on the long term effects of hatafat dam brit, using a large sample population.>>

***

Actually there have been quite a few studies on the effects of circumcision and there is a growing amount of literature on it’s impact on the individual and the emotional and physical distress that it creates. Just a few of the reasons why the above Pediatric societies are no longer recommending circumcision. There are also growing groups of men who have formed support and education groups to discuss the damaging effects circumcision has had on their lives.

You wrote:

<<Since I have pointed out that the case as reported was not accurate with respect to Jewish law, it is a good bet that much of what happened was incorrectly reported.>>

***

The information may have been wrong in regards to the child’s mother but you verified as to the accuracy of the drawing of blood from the penis.

You wrote:

<<Certainly, if your description of the case is accurate, one might conclude that his feelings about religion may have been affected by a mixed home and parental ambivalence about religious ritual, the rabbi, and the synagogue.  I would be happy to take this discussion further, if you would like. I ask only one thing -- that we discuss your questions civilly, without exaggeration or sweeping generalizations based on incomplete information.>>

***

I am not sure what is most distressing to me, the inaccurate information you are giving out particularly sweeping statements of how by mutilating the genitalia i.e. circumcision, you can reduce penile cancer when the incidence of penile cancer is small and studies by the American Cancer Society now indicate there are many other reasons for penile cancer that must be taken into account for a foreskin is just a tiny part of the picture. You can prevent almost any kind of cancer by removing the part of the body sensitive to cancer. Your testicles to prevent testicular cancer, the reasoning my vet gave me for neutering my Lab. Your prostate could be removed at an early age particularly as men have a much higher incidence of cancer of the prostate than penile or testicle. Women having started having their breasts removed to prevent breast cancer is that advocated by you as well. Based on your arguments it would seem a logical conclusion. The fact is you have centered only on the genitalia and no other part of the body for your ritual to convert to the Jewish faith., and only on one sex is required to participate in such a ritual.

No where in your discussion have you shown any empathy for the situation or conflict the child is put in. You simply say that he can choose not to, but it is not that simple. He choose not to and face rejection by his peer group? Do you provide the child with an alternative peer group if they say no? Exclusion has been used for years as a method of Social Control. Funny enough pedophiles use the same rationale, putting the responsibility on the child “he could always have told me no.”

Answer: You misunderstood me -- I do not claim that Judaism circumcises boys because of health reasons, just that this is a positive side effect.  Circumcision is a sign of a covenant between God and the Jewish people, dating back many thousands of years to Abraham.  I believe that circumcision is a mitzvah, an obligation incumbent upon Jews that comes from the Torah.

The idea I found ridiculous is that one might deduce from the fact that male circumcision is a mitzvah, so too female “circumcision” is a mitzvah.  I do not believe that medicine agrees that female circumcision is beneficial.  In addition, the clitoris is not simply extra skin over the female sex organ, as a foreskin is.  There is no real correlation between the male and female circumcision.  The real reason for female genital mutilation is to remove sexual pleasure from woman.  A male circumcision does not destroy sexual pleasure.

The statement from the Pediatric associations does not deny that there is some health benefit, just that it not be done routinely.  Certainly, there are other ways to avoid penile or cervical cancer, which is why I do not claim that one should be circumcised for medical reasons, but rather for religious reasons.

I should have said that hatafat dam brit is never performed without the child’s and the parent’s consent and presence.  By the way, a hatafat dam is not mutilation, based any definition of that word.  It draws a single drop of blood, and is less painful than a needle stick to draw blood from a finger or any kind of injection.

I have given you the religious rationale for turning a circumcision into a brit milah through hatafat dam brit.  Your definition of fondling and mine are very different.  When a doctor does a medical procedure on a penis, it is not fondling.  The procedure for drawing blood is not done for medical reasons, but nonetheless it is done as a medical procedure.

As I suspected, our correspondence has turned into a full scale attack on circumcision.  There is no absolutely conclusive medical study that proves that circumcision of 8 day old infants leads to lifelong trauma.  The men’s groups that claim circumcision as a damaging force in their lives need to be balanced against the millions of men who are circumcised who do not see it as damaging.  If circumcision in and of itself leads to psychological trauma, then every circumcised man should be traumatized.  Since this is clearly not the case, then there must be other, as yet unexplored reasons, for the damage in those men’s lives.

I have only centered on the brit milah/hatafat dam aspects of conversion because that is what you asked about.  Conversion rituals, in addition to a great deal of study, also include immersion in a ritual pool.  Again, I will mention that the covenant of brit milah is an ancient tradition, dating back many thousands of years, and has been observed by Jews faithfully for all that time.  Surely, if it were the case that male Jews for thousands of years have been damaged and traumatized by circumcision is seriously terrible ways, that it would have manifested itself in some terrible way.

Finally, let me reiterate, the conversion of a child is a family decision.  It is normally done when the child is an infant, but when it is done to an older child, it is done with the greatest care and sensitivity.

 

Response:  Dear sir, you are right that it turned into a discussion on circumcision this occurred because you brought the subject up. If you will read my response to your first message I only referred to the drawing of blood of the penis and the psychological damage is does to expect a child of twelve to humiliate himself in such a way to join your religion. I never made any arguments about circumcision at all. My dispute is that there appears to be no concern for the emotional damage it might create to the child and for a child that age even if they want to say no may feel pressured into having their genitals touched so they can become part of the chosen few and not be excluded. If it is even subtle pressure such as Social and Religious it is still pressure. You call it a covenant I call it abuse as there is no relevant reason that you have explained why a religion would require such a covenant to include the use of genitalia when they are many other ways to make a commitment with out using your sexual organs.

As far as the past and history neither you nor I have any data as to how much harm was created by these covenants. You are assuming none I am assuming there is. New data however is indicating emotional scaring and harm in some, not all but some. However any harm is too much. Still I did not seek to convert the unconvertible for you to admit your belief was wrong could require more courage than most have. Perhaps God will take his own hands in things. The case I was referring to happened to our current secretary of defense. He did choose to not let himself be abused and as a result had to give up his dream of being Jewish, being accepted along side of his peers. He did attend Jewish private schools so he felt he belonged.

The pagans have a saying do no evil as it will come back to you thrice. I think what you are doing is evil but it is not up to me to decide. God will do that himself. However remember the lesson you taught this man that he can always “refuse” I think he must have learned his lesson well because he recently chastised Israel for using American weapons against the Palestinians and when Israel asked just a couple of weeks ago for more weapons “He just refused” Perhaps God is trying to send you a message about you’re the wrongness of what you do in his name. Perhaps not, time will tell.

You can choose to stick your head the sand and continue your abusive practices. Payment for such behavior is always exacted either by the courts or by God.

I will leave it with these higher powers.

P.S. the reason I never gave you more information about myself originally was I never really believed that such a practice within your religion existed and simply expected it to be confirmed the whole question was absurd. I am sorry to say I have encouraged those who wanted to convert in the past to follow their hearts. This has truly opened my eyes to the fallacy of such an occurrence. 

Answer: Our current Secretary of Defense?  The story you are telling me just keeps getting stranger, as you reveal more and more elements.  I am very skeptical of the veracity of a story when the person with whom I am corresponding seems to choose to hide elements of his or her question or story.  By the way, I never asked for information about you personally.  I simply stated that had you come right out and asked your question directly, I could have answered it better.

My volunteer time for AskaRabbi is limited, and I’m afraid that I cannot continue to deal with the various issues that you bring up.  As I explained, the Torah -- reflective of God’s words, I believe -- instructs Jews to circumcise.  So I trust God will judge me correctly.  It appears from your note that you are not Jewish, and thus you have no obligation to circumcise your son, if you have one.  So God will judge each of us according to the religious path we have chosen.

 

Question:  Thank you for your time,

Before you dismiss my story so summarily you might want to take the time to verify what I am saying. His biography is open information and easily obtained. I did the case study as a favor to someone who wanted to understand if there was any psychological background that might explain the Sec of Defenses conflicting messages of support to Israel.

However Israel is not my concern but yours. There is a lesson that could be learned but I am the one who learned it, there is a group of people more hardheaded than us Scotch Irish :-) Time will prove one of us right. Whether God responds by punishing Israel and the Jews for their choices. Or whether he rewards them and punishes other faiths.

By the way you are really hung up on circumcision that was never the topic. Your responses remind me of what Mark Twain once said to his wife, “you hear the words but not the music. Again thank you for your time as you said you are busy and it was appreciated.

 

Some time later . . .

Dear Rabbi Krishef, I realize you are very busy and do-not want to take up your time. I simply wanted to say I am sorry for my poor behavior in communicating with you. I do want you know to know your communication was helpful to me. Religion is very fearful to me and I shy away from it so as recent events pulled my life into it’s midst and with friends who are Jewish I was reacting to my own fear of becoming involved and wanting to find ways and reasons to walk away from spiritual growth. I am sorry I was rude normally I am a sane and kind person.

I did want to let you know that I realized I was inappropriate and appreciated you communicating with me.  I am becoming more resigned to the fact there are some spiritual paths you can’t avoid. Even if G-d pulls you in like a reluctant donkey ?

Thank you, and again, my apologies.

Answer: I was sincerely moved by your note.  I accept your apology unconditionally and totally.  Thank you so much for writing me back.  Our dialogue has weighed heavily on my mind for these past several weeks, and I am so relieved to know that the manner in which I replied to your questions did not further alienate you from Judaism.

I encourage you to find a local Rabbi you can trust and begin to gently explore your own spiritual growth.  There is so much richness in our tradition -- even if there are some mitzvot or beliefs you may never accept, you know that there will be many more that will add great meaning to your life.

Shalom, and good luck on this path.

 

Response:  Thank you for accepting my apology.  You sound like you are dedicated to

being a good messenger and guide.

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