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Questioning Jewish Circumcision

Jewish Associates of CRC

" W h y   a r e   w e   d o i n g   t h i s ? "


Like the American cultural practice of circumcision, Jewish circumcision is dependent on the acceptance of cultural myths. Of all the myths that Jews believe about circumcision, the one that is paramount is the belief that all Jews circumcise. With this belief, we put ourselves under tremendous pressure to conform.

Bound by this burden to comply with social expectations, most Jews do not recognize that circumcision is a choice. Since open communication about circumcision is discouraged, there is virtually no awareness of others who feel similar conflicts around circumcision. Moreover, if a Jew does decide not to circumcise a male child, it is not generally known to the rest of the community. As a result, many parents submit to the pressure and then discover only too late, perhaps after witnessing the circumcision of their son, that they wish they had chosen differently. Some parents report that if they could take back one decision, it would be their son's circumcision.


Because of this general lack of awareness and communication, Jewish Associates of CRC was founded. One purpose of Jewish Associates of CRC is to make known to the Jewish community that there are a growing number of Jews who either have not circumcised their son or would choose not to circumcise a future son. It is an opportunity for Jews who take this position to declare themselves and to be counted. A confidential list of Jews who contact the Circumcision Resource Center for this purpose is maintained. The response has been substantial. We have hundreds of names on file.

It is also important to inform the general public and media sources of the existence of Jews who do not circumcise. Dispelling the myth outside of the Jewish community that all Jews circumcise will help to support and expand the American circumcision debate.

Another purpose of Jewish Associates of CRC is to gather and disseminate information to interested Jews about the experiences of those who choose to keep their children intact and whole. This information will add to the growing understanding and acceptance of alternatives to circumcision in the Jewish community.

Our caring for the Jewish community and Jewish male infants compels us to break the silence that supports circumcision. We trust that the enduring Jewish values of ethics and education will lead more Jews to the realization that circumcision does not serve the best interests of the child or the community of Jews. 

  1. Circumcision of male infants is not universal among American Jews. Some Jews in South America, Europe, and Israel also do not circumcise. 

  3. Jewish circumcision is a topic of debate in the Jewish community and has been questioned in articles and letters appearing in such publications as Moment, Tikkun, Jewish News, The Jewish Advocate, The Jewish Monthly, and The Jewish Times

  5. Jewish circumcision has been challenged in earlier times. In the Hellenistic period (300 B.C.100 A.D.) some Jews chose not to circumcise their sons. In the 1840s during the Reform movement in Germany, circumcision was opposed by Jewish parents, physicians, and leaders. 

  7. Originally only the tip of the foreskin was cut, called milah. This practice lasted about 2000 years. During the Hellenistic period, many young Jews concealed their circumcision by drawing their foreskins forward. The rabbis of the time decided to change the requirements of the procedure so that a circumcised male could not possibly be altered to appear uncircumcised. This was the start of periah, removing the entire foreskin. (more information on changing procedure

  9. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, "any child born of a Jewish mother is a Jew, whether circumcised or not." 

  11. The biggest threat to Jewish survival is assimilation. There is no evidence that circumcision prevents or slows it. 

  13. The religious origin of Jewish circumcision is in the Torah. It says that God told Abraham "every male among you shall be circumcised" (Gen. 17) as part of a covenant between God and the Jewish people. However, most Jews are unaware of this origin, and in a survey of American Jews, the large majority (87%) do not believe that the Torah is the actual word of God. 

  15. Jewish circumcision has never had anything to do with health concerns. 

  17. Based on the national survey of American Jews, "90 percent define being Jewish as being a member of a cultural or ethnic group". Less than half associated their Jewish identity with religion. 

  19. In actual practice, many Jews circumcise because of cultural conformity, not religious reasons. Most circumcisions of male infants of American Jewish parents are done in hospitals without any religious ritual. 

  21. For those who want a ritual, a growing number are turning to alternative equivalent rituals for male and female infants. This is consistent with reforming Judaism to be more egalitarian. 

  23. Jewish boys who are not circumcised have been accepted by others and have had bar mitzvahs. 

  25. Ritual circumcisers (mohelim) usually use the same clamp devices as doctors. In fact, training programs for Reform and Conservative mohelim require a valid medical license for certification. Consequently, there is no reason to believe that circumcisions performed by mohelim are less painful for the infant. 

  27. Some Jewish parents who have observed their son's circumcision have described it as extremely distressing for them and have regretted their decision for years. 

  29. Jewish law acknowledges the remote possibility of death resulting from the surgery and allows for exemptions when other children in the family have died from the effects of circumcision. 

  31. Maimonides, the renowned physician, philosopher, and rabbi, wrote, "Circumcision weakens the power of sexual excitement, and sometimes lessens the natural enjoyment." Contemporary research, and reports from men circumcised as adults, confirm this. 

  33. Circumcision is inconsistent with significant Jewish laws and values. For example, the human body must not be altered or marked. The Torah also prohibits the causing of pain to any living creature. Since circumcision causes extreme pain, some Jews believe that circumcision is not ethical. Jewish values place ethical behavior above doctrine. 



If you agree with what you read here, please contact us and be counted. In addition, you can become a member by filling in the form below, printing it out, and returning it with your check.



I am Jewish and would not circumcise a future son (even though I may not plan on having more children).

I am Jewish and the parent of an intact son.

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Featured article from Jewish Spectator: Circumcision: A Source of Jewish Pain

Would you like to hear the views of other Jewish parents on circumcision?
The 8th Day is a documentary about Jewish mothers and fathers struggling to decide whether or not to circumcise their sons. If you'd like to purchase a copy of the program, send an e-mail to or go to for more information.

©1999 Circumcision Resource Center

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