Opinion: Banning Circumcision: The Target Is Religion, Not Jews


bris-milahBy Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein

For centuries, circumcision kept Jews apart from members of other faiths. Jews practiced it as a core religious obligation, but outside of Muslim countries, no one else around them did. More recently, circumcision is emerging as a force to accomplish the opposite. Efforts in San Francisco and Santa Monica to criminalize the circumcision of minors will bring Jews and non-Jews closer together, because the target is not Jews, but religious belief itself.

The almost identical ballot initiatives are badly flawed. They may even be unconstitutional in unduly restricting the religious liberties of Jews and Muslims, both of whom see circumcision as important to their faiths. The measures take decision-making away from parents, who have always had to determine what is best for their children in innumerable ways. They replace parental prerogative with the authoritarian will of society. Parents may think they know what is best for their children, but segments of society knows better, and they are intent on prevailing.

What parental decisions they will seek to criminalize next? Is circumcision the only parental practice that could be objected to as somehow injurious to the well-being of a child? Whatever unwanted consequences result from circumcision, they cannot hold a candle to obesity. Will parents soon be prosecuted for allowing their children to eat snack food rather than broccoli? Will we incarcerate parents who do not make their children exercise sufficiently, and allow them too many hours in front of a computer screen? Should we jail citizens of Santa Monica for failing to move their children to Montana, where children are less likely to be affected by street crime or traffic accidents?

If circumcision was uniformly accepted by medical science as a hazard to minors, there might be room to argue for banning it. Society recognizes its obligation to protect children from parental decisions that are undeniably dangerous, when they offer no value other than the fulfillment of a religious precept.

Supporters of the ban do not argue that circumcision should be banned because it is dangerous, because it isn’t. (Seventy percent of males in the United States are circumcised.)

Any purported cost has to be evaluated against the benefit to the child, and the benefits are considerable, at least in the minds of a significant part of the medical population. The World Health Organization (2007) describes the efficacy of circumcision as “proven beyond reasonable doubt.” The best case that can be made for supporters of the ban is disputed in every argument; it does not remotely resemble the case against behaviors that are banned.

Why circumcision, and why now?

Circumcision was never challenged in 200 years of American history, including times when anti-Semitism was widespread. The proponents of the ban are not anti-Semites, and include many Jews.

What has changed is the antipathy of some people to religion. While the United States is still one of the most religious and religion-friendly countries on earth, people opposed to it are growing more contemptuous and more militant. To them, circumcision can be nothing more than an ancient pagan rite preserved by the superstition of religions that should have died centuries ago. Circumcision is abhorrent because it demonstrates how people can accept and defend what the critics believe to be the darkest nonsense.

People, they feel, ought to be enlightened enough to understand that the Bible may be decent literature, but as a guide to practice, it is a dismal failure. Enlightened people do not believe in G-d, and certainly not the one of the Bible. Those who know better ought to do whatever we can to slowly rid civilization of the evil of religion. (This is reminiscent of the similar campaign of communism to wipe out religion by force. Religious life was banned for the seventy years that Russia suffered under communist rule, but it could not be snuffed out. Today, Russian Orthodoxy and Judaism are blossoming in Russia. In 1958, Chairman Mao reported that China was religion-free. Today, more Chinese attend church on Sunday than are members of the Communist Party.)

In all likelihood, the measures will fail by large margins. If they would pass, Jewish parents would simply drive out of the city limits to fulfill the mandate of the Jewish faith. Passage of the measure, however, would be a blow to the standing and position of faith in those communities. It would declare that extreme anti-religious “enlightenment” must assert itself over and against the repressive forces of worthless religion.

What will suffer is the Judeo-Christian heritage that made this country strong.

{Patheos.com/Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Russia is still a horror for individual liberties and religious liberty. The Russian Orthodox Church, which was always KGB/World Council of Churches/Rockefeller infiltrated, is seeking to be the state church, to the exclusion of the liberties of other Christian churches, which the state and the state church label cults. Russia is still an oligarchy which violates human rights on a mass scale. The same forces in charge under the Soviets are still communists and still in charge. Russia is no friend of Israel or the Jewish people, and it never was, regardless of Tzarist, Bolshevik, or Putinist regimes.

  2. As I am from the SF metropolitan area (not the SF city itself, but from its neighboring cities), events there have a special interest to me. Especially with this new especially bizzare issue of (trying to ban) circumcision, there is a thought about the whole picture that, B’Ezras HaShem, should be presented.

    In 1978-79, for about a year and a half, I was privileged to work at the head office of Agudas Yisroel in NYC (at that time, it was located at 5 Beekman Street in Lower Manhattan). The job was to assist with the setting up of the organization’s archives. The archives is directed by a Rav Moshe Kolodny, Sh’lita, who, I quickly saw, is a person with a great knack for good sarcastic humor. During that period of the late 1970’s, there was the emergance of the Toeiva (so-called) “rights” business, with one of the spearheads of the movement being the wicked Mayor of — right where we were — New York City, Edward Moore Koch.

    Remarking about the Toeiva thingy, and specifically, about how it was being called “G A Y,” with his sarcasm, Rav Kolodny, over and over and over again exclaimed:

    “How could they do it?? How could they take an innocent little word?? ‘Gay,’ is a GOOD word! It means ‘to be happy’! How could they take such a good word, and use it for such a — horrible — thing????”

    Along with “gay,” there is another word that the Toeiva people took; for it, like Rav Kolodny, I too, in complete horror, will exclaim: “How could they do it??”

    Which word is it? To answer that, B’Ezras HaShem, we will first have to have a little lesson in some geography and history.

  3. (continuation of previous comment)

    Most of the western coast of North America is formed of rugged little mountains jutting down right into the Pacific Ocean. At one point in the middle of this coastal “wall” though, there is a small opening, which leads into a moderate size lake — called a “bay” — which is fed by a major local river. The land that is on the south side of this opening — with the ocean on its west, the opening on its north, the bay on its east — is thus at the tip of a peninsula and is thus a perfect place to build a port.

    In the late 1840’s, deposits of gold were discovered in the inland mountains of this region, which was called “California.” Thus began the “California Gold Rush”: a massive immigration of people to the area with delusions of getting instant riches. Many of the people came by boat; as their ships reached the land, they went into this opening in the coast and docked at the harbor on the inner bay side of this tip of the peninsula. This place on the tip of this peninsula was thus the end point of the immigrants’ long ocean journey, AND it was also the jumping off starting point of the next part of their journey, the trek north-east to the gold fields in the inner mountains. With the huge influx of people through this point, the tiny village here — which had been named “San Francisco” — rapidly turned into a large major important city.

    Hitherto, this region had been an almost completely rural, sparely populated area, but this Gold Rush quickly turned it into a modern bustling cosmopolitan province; in 1850, California became a state of the US. As it was the Gold Rush that had made California into what it is, California became known as the “Golden State,” and this phrase “The Golden State” became the state’s official nickname.

    As related above, a major portion of those who came to California by boat arrived at the port of San Francisco. As the docks of the SF harbor are located on the “inner” north-east sides of the city, to reach the docks, the ships had to go through that opening (in the California coast described above) and after that turn right to where the docks are. So this opening is like the “entrance” to the city of San Francisco. In a wider sense, it is like the “entrance” to the whole State of California. As this State of California is “The Golden State,” this entrance is thus the “entrance” to the “Golden State.”

    To those travelers of the Gold Rush, whose thoughts were on finding gold, this opening was to them directly and literally about gold: the “entrance,” the “gateway,” to “(where there is) ‘the gold.’” Therefore, this opening in the California coast, this small straight of water that connects the (outside) Pacific Ocean with the (inland) San Francisco Bay, was officially named “The Golden Gate.” When, almost ninety years latter in 1937, a bridge was built across this straight, it was called “The Golden Gate Bridge.”

    (To further highlight the Inyan of gold with the bridge, the following was done. Most bridges are painted with two kinds of paint. The first layer is an ugly looking reddish-orange color paint, which is applied to keep the metal from rusting. Then, that layer is covered with a nice looking silver or pale green color paint. For the GGB though, the reddish-brownish-orange-similar-to-gold-color itself was deemed to be quite fitting. So the bridge and its railings and its toll facilities and its offices are all continually painted with just the rust protecting reddish-brownish-orange color paint.)

    In a much wider sense, this coastal opening of The Golden Gate is not just the entrance into the city of San Francisco, it is not just the entrance into the state of California, and it is not just the entrance into the gold fields of 1849. For those people coming from the Pacific realm, it is the entrance to the whole country of the United States! And its uniquely colored bridge is thus one of the most famous prominent bridges in the world.

  4. (continuation of previous comment)

    Obviously though, it is not just the waterway of the Golden Gate with its bridge that is the entrance way into California and the United States. This city right here of San Francisco is certainly the key component of this “entrance” into this very major province of this very major country of the world. As related above, starting with the Gold Rush, with its crucial location, SF became the hub and the center point of the extensive business and commerce that developed in this region. Today, it ranks among the top twenty financial centers of the world, with hosting the home offices of over thirty international business institutions. The city’s second tallest building is the world headquarters of one of the world’s largest banks: Bank of America. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco.)

    San Francisco also hosted the headquarters of the Pacific Stock Exchange, which, until very recently, was the western counterpart to the world renown New York Stock Exchange. [About a decade ago though, the PSE began changing its structure and in 2006 was merged in with the NYSE; today, all Pacific trading is done through the NYSE. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Exchange)]

    In a general sense, San Francisco is like the western counterpart to New York City. Just like NY was the gateway entrance to the “New World” of America for those people coming from the east, as related above, SF was the gateway entrance to the “New World” of America for those people coming from the west. Just like NY thus developed into the business hub of the eastern US, as described above, SF developed into the business hub of the western US.

    Physically too, San Francisco is a little bit like a “miniature New York,” specifically like the section of New York City called “Manhattan”; it is like a “miniature Manhattan.” Manhattan is an island surrounded by water with an excellent large harbor at its southern tip and several major bridges and tunnels connecting it to the adjacent lands. As it is thus a geographically confined area, the city that developed there became extremely densely populated. As there is limited space to grow and expand “outwards,” much of the growth was done “upwards.” It thus became a city with numerous very tall buildings; especially its two downtown districts (called “Midtown” and “Lower Manhattan”) became packed with skyscraper towers, some of which are of the tallest structures in the world. Right at Lower Manhattan’s waterfront harbor begins the skyscraper maize.

    Similarly, San Francisco, as described above, is located at the tip of a penninsula surrounded by water on three sides with an excellent large harbor on its eastern side and two major bridges connecting it to the adjacent lands. (As described above, the Golden Gate Bridge is on the northern side of the city, connecting it with the land north of the Golden Gate. On the eastern side of the city is a large, very long structure called the “San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge,” which connects SF with Oakland and the other small cities on the east side of the bay.) As it is thus pretty much a geographically confined area, the city that developed there became very densely populated; after NY, SF is the next most densely populated large city in the country. As there is limited space to grow and expand “outwards,” much of the growth was done “upwards.” It thus became a city with numerous tall buildings; especially its downtown became packed with skyscraper towers. Right at its waterfront harbor begins the skyscraper maize.

  5. (continuation of previous comment)

    There is much about SF that gives it a “classical” allure. When a person stands at the splendid Civic Center Plaza, he can easily imagine that he is at the town square of one of Europe’s cities, for the government buildings and the adjacent War Memorial Opera House there have an architecture that is distinctly European. The shape and style of the large city hall is strikingly similar to, yes, the world renown Buckingham Palace! The biggest difference is that the SF City Hall, like a typical American capitol building, has a large dome, which is actually a little higher than the dome of the world renown national capitol in Washington!

    One of the distinctive features of SF is that it is a city that is built on hills. Instead of leveling the rocky terrain, the original city builders simply laid the straight lines of the streets right over the hills. There are thus countless blocks where, on each side of the street, a row of attached houses — many of them are of quaint Victorian architecture — is built up on the steep almost 45 degree angled grade. For a further piece of quaint amusing shtick, the city builders did the following. On one of these steep blocks, they did not have the street go straight down the hill. Instead, they laid out the street — at this point it was paved with bricks (instead of the usual asphalt) — to zigzag back and forth down the hill. Thus forming a wavy shaped path, it is nicknamed: “The Crookediest Street in the World”!

    Of the city’s public transportation vehicles, there is a special type of a trolley bus, called a “cable car,” which was especially designed and suited for traversing the streets of these steep hills. A cable car does not move on its own power; instead, along a track embedded in the street runs a heavy wire cable, which is continually being pulled by motors positioned at the end of the line. The cable car is placed on the track above the cable; in the car are levers that reach down and grab and hold onto the moving cable, which thus pulls the car along. In the late 1800’s, such cable driven transportation devices were employed by many cities throughout the world, but were eventually supplanted by newer various motorized driven vehicles. Currently, they are extant only in SF, where there are three lines, which service parts of the downtown area.

    The SF cable car mini buses have a very distinctive quaint design and are one of the major famous tourist attractions of the city. Almost every set of SF pictures will have scenes of cable cars. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cable_car_(railway) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_cable_car_system.)

    Just like New York City has a huge rectangular shaped plot of forested land that forms the famous “Central Park,” so San Francisco has a huge rectangular shaped plot of forested land that forms the famous “Golden Gate Park.” There is another large park area called the “Presidio,” which formerly was a military base. Connecting the two parks is a wide parkway, called “Park Presidio Boulevard,” which is (part of) the route of the major State Highway #1. One of my favorite drives is, especially on a day of a heavy gray overcast with a thick misty rain, to drive north on the boulevard toward the Presidio and the GG Bridge. The view, of, shrouded in misty fog, the rows of trees and the tree covered hill of the Presidio and (in the further distance) the hills past the Golden Gate, is certainly a scene straight out of a fantasy story book!

    Yes, there definitely is a certain mystique of San Francisco. One of its nicknames is “The Paris of the West.” My mother related to me that, L’Havdil Bein Chaim L’Chaim, her mother, A’H, (who was from eastern Poland and latter emigrated to the US, and who obviously never took a class in California Geography) told her that SF actually reminded her of Paris!

  6. (continuation of previous comment)

    So, like Rav Kolodny, I cry out, and I scream, and I exclaim:




    Furthermore, the problem is not just that SF has a lot of Toeiva. The problem is not just that the fanatically extreme leftest SF government is rabidly pro-Toeiva. The further issue is that the Toeiva district there, called the “Castro,” is located right in the middle — right in the heart — of the city!! The main street of Downtown San Francisco, yes, the “5th Avenue” of San Francisco, called “Market Street,” is also the main street of the Castro Toeiva district!! On the west side of the city, branching off from the lower part of the route of State Highway #1 (mentioned above), is another main road. It curves over in a north-east direction, and eventually goes through the Castro as the neighborhood’s center street. As it emerges from the Castro, it passes near the Civic Center Plaza at the edge of the downtown area, where it now becomes Market Street.

  7. (continuation of previous comment)

    Now, there has been in SF (and their cousins in Santa Monica) this concentrated effort to ban circumcision, and this proposed ban is now legally an offical measure on this coming November’s election ballot. While, of course, this is extremely, extremely severely terrible, it should come as no surprise to us at all. It was just in the Parsha of Bechukosai that we read two weeks ago, that the commentary of Rashi teaches us a key lesson in human behavior and corruption. When people become bad and continually do terrible things, they eventually reach a stage where they are no longer satisfied with themselves being bad. Rather, they want to get other people to also be bad. The understandable first step of such an effort is to somehow prevent people from doing those things which would make them become good and hold them back from slipping into becoming bad.

  8. (continuation of previous comment)

    So “San Francisco,” is — very good!!

    Yes, San Francisco, is certainly, very, very good!!

    The problem though is:


    That is exactly right!!


    Instead, what there now is, (similar to what the SF based talk show host, Michael Savage, has pointed out):

    “SAN SHAM-SICKO”!!!!!!!!!


    Oh yes, many of the old fine decent residents and old fine decent business commuters and old fine decent Bnei Torah are still there, along with many faint echos of the old San Francisco. But, very tragically, for the most part, most of the good has been eclipsed by the very bad.

    We certainly need the Y’shuas HaShem – the Salvation of G-D to rectify this tragic situation.