The Reformer: Guilty of inviting hatred? Editor of the Reformer:
On Aug. 27, the Reformer printed an article entitled "Circumcision pluses outweigh risks: Pediatricians." As reported in the article, "The nation’s most influential pediatricians group says the health benefits of circumcision in newborn boys outweigh any risks and insurance companies should pay for it." Yet, in a disturbingly inflammatory editorial of Sept. 20 ("Not all traditions are good traditions"), you make the exact opposite claim: "the American Academy of Pediatrics Šstated that the potential benefits of circumcision are outweighed by the potential dangers."
It is clear that your editorial writer does not carefully read his own paper. Less clear is why he felt the need to wade into this issue or to use such extremely strong language. In a time when in some quarters virulent anti-Semitism still persists, and in other quarters prejudice against Moslems runs high, it verges on the dangerous to describe this ancient religious practice of both the Moslems and the Jews as "cruel, inhumane, shameful and medically unnecessary." While the latter claim is clearly (by the report of your own paper) false, the former three accusations are purely emotional and invite hatred.
A look at the original article from Reuters notes, "scientific evidence that suggests circumcision can reduce the risk of urinary tract infections in infants and cut the risk of penile cancer and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and the human papillomavirus or HPV, which causes cervical and other cancers." The Academy of Pediatrics, indeed, finds the evidence from "more than 1,000 scientific articles" was not only sufficient to cause them to make their statement of support for circumcision (previously they had been neutral on the topic) but also to clarify that "male circumcision does not appear to adversely affect penile sexual function, sensitivity of the penis or sexual satisfaction."
Why, then, does the writer equate circumcision with the truly appalling practice of female genital mutilation, which, far from reducing infection, causes "fatal hemorrhaging, epidermoid cysts, recurrent urinary and vaginal infections, chronic pain, and obstetrical complications."? ("Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation, World Health Organization, 2008) Meanwhile, the WHO reports on its website that "There is compelling evidence that male circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men by approximately 60 percent." WHO therefore recommends circumcision "based on strong and consistent scientific evidence."
I do not like to accuse the editorial writer of being either anti-Jewish or anti-Moslem. I do believe, however, that I can hold him accountable for dangerous and inflammatory rhetoric, and for distorting facts to suit his own agenda. In future, I hope he will confine himself to topics with which he is familiar, and leave the discussion of medical and religious matters to experts in those fields.
Kate Judd, Madrichah Ruchanit,
Interim Spiritual Leader,
Brattleboro Area Jewish Community,
Congregation Shir HeHarim, Sept. 25
Editor of the Reformer:
We read your editorial of Sept. 20 ("Not all traditions are good traditions") speaking out against circumcision with a heavy heart. While non-Jews have been criticizing the practice for centuries, it has remained crucial for Jewish males to be circumcised eight days after birth. The ceremony, called a bris, is a symbol of the sacred covenant between God and the Jewish people.
We could certainly understand your criticism if medical practitioners found circumcision was detrimental, or had reached the conclusion the practice was unethical. To the contrary, medical ethicists have affirmed parents’ freedom to choose infant male circumcision (Journal of Medical Ethics). In a recent meta-analysis of the literature, the authors concluded "male circumcision decreases viral STIs, genital ulcer disease, and penile inflammatory disorders in men, and bacterial vaginosis, T vaginalis infection, and genital ulcer disease in their female partners," (Journal of the American Medical Association).
In light of the medical evidence, your argument that "it’s cruel, inhumane, shameful and medically unnecessary" is subjective and unsound. While it would be appropriate for you to advocate for safe, effective use of anesthesia during infant circumcision, instead you condemn an important religious practice as cruel and inhumane with no evidence to support your claim. For young Jewish males who feel strongly about their religious beliefs, it could cause them ongoing shame if laws prohibited their observance of this commandment.
You indicate that males should opt for the far more painful option of adult circumcision. The procedure is much less painful when performed on infants because the penis is less developed and the foreskin is thinner and less vascular (World Health Organization). Adult circumcision requires that the wound be sutured, and is complicated by the risk of erections and sexual activity before complete healing. In addition, early infant male circumcision has specific medical benefits, greatly reducing the risk of urinary tract infections in the first six months of life.
You mention, un-rebutted, the contention that male circumcision "is just as heinous as the archaic custom of the genital mutilation of little girls ..." Female genital mutilation is a horrific practice that greatly diminishes a woman’s sexual pleasure, and results in numerous life-threatening health risks with no health benefits (World Health Organization). Your implication that male circumcision is comparable to FGM is incorrect and inflammatory.
We are very concerned that undercurrents of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim thinking underlie the current movement to ban ritual circumcision. The recent outcry against circumcision began in Europe, and corresponds with a tremendous growth in the number of anti-Semitic incidents across Europe. For example, over 90 anti-Semitic hate crimes were reported in France during the last two weeks alone (Simon Wiesenthal Center). The lodging of criminal complaints against rabbis who have performed circumcisions must be understood in the context of an alarming increase in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiment across Europe.
Julie Strothman, President,
Michael Knapp, Trustee,
Brattleboro Area Jewish Community,
A coincidence, or a blatant attack?
Editor of the Reformer:
Either the editorial writers of the Reformer do not keep abreast of medical news, chooses to display ignorance, chooses to ignore articles printed in the Reformer, or has decided to embark on a veiled anti-Semitic attack. In providing an editor’s notation to a recent letter, the editor stated categorically that the American Academy of Pediatrics opposed infant circumcision saying the potential dangers outweighed the benefits.
But on page 9 of the Aug. 27 edition, the following appeared: "The nation’s most influential pediatricians group says the health benefits of circumcision in newborn boys outweigh any risks and insurance companies should pay for it." Evidently the writer chooses not to read the paper or chooses to invent statements in the way that has become a habit among politicians.
The writer also chooses to ignore other research or statements regarding support for circumcision as presented by the World Health Organization and the American Urological Association which noted that while there are risks and benefits,minor complications are reported in only 3 percent of cases. This policy report goes on to identify numerous reasons to continue the practice, all appearing to outweigh the risks, based on the number of serious and minor complications.
So it appears that the writer chose: To be selective in citing sources that agreed with the editorial position; to wrongly report the findings of the AAP; and post this editorial attacking the practice of circumcision, highlighting a German lower court decision released over three months ago, during the most significant Jewish holidays of the year.
Coincidence that this is published now? Failure to read the story when it was news? Blatant attack on the essence of Jewish (and Muslim) religious beliefs?
Brattleboro, Sept. 28
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