R.F., a proud mother of 2 intact boys, is the first and only parent in her large Jewish family to keep her sons intact. The following is a letter she wrote to her cousins who were expecting a boy and had recently been persuaded by a mohel to go forward with the circumcision (despite their exposure to intactivism). “The pressure to stay silent in a Jewish family is massive and intimidating,” R.F. says. “But I will continue to use my voice to advocate for these infant boys.”
I am writing today because I need to do everything I can to convince you not to let your son’s penis be permanently mutilated. I purposely did not use the word “circumcised” because that word hides and trivializes what it really is. It’s a word we are used to as American Jews. But we are not used to looking deeply at the truth of it.
Yes, I am putting pressure on you, because I know infant genital cutting is wrong. Your mohel is wrong. Whatever she said to make you feel this is a good idea — it’s wrong. If she said the baby won’t feel pain — she is wrong. If she said that it’s just a “little snip” — she is wrong. If she said there are medical benefits — she is wrong. If she said the risks for infection or complications are low — she is wrong. If she said the baby will just “go to sleep” afterwards — she is wrong (babies often go into shock and “pass out” in a traumatized state). If she said you need to do this to participate in the Jewish community—she is wrong.
She has to believe these things because this is the life she has chosen for herself. But you do not have to buy into her mindset.
If she said this will make you part of a long-standing tradition — she is right. But that long-standing tradition is one of abuse. You are too good for this. You have access to too much information to do this. Our parents (and theirs) did not have the Intact America and Your Whole Baby websites. They were much more insulated in a Jewish/American world without easy access to different ideas and different voices. When they find out and understand the truth, they can say “We didn’t know better.” But you are different. You have the internet and the book about Brit Shalom, and articles and YouTube. You have me! You DO know better.
Female genital mutilation is condemned worldwide, and I am sure this makes sense to you. The baffling thing is how, at the same time, male genital mutilation is normalized and encouraged in America and in certain religions. It is the pinnacle of hypocrisy to look down on FGM but endorse MGM.
Imagine your daughter being strapped down by her wrists and ankles, and then someone taking a knife and cutting off her labia or clitoral hood. Take a moment and really picture it in your mind. What could possibly be the benefit of such a violent act? This is what you are considering doing to your eight-day-old son. It’s not different because he is smaller or younger or because he is a boy. The clitoral hood is her foreskin. Its purpose is to protect her clitoris and maintain its sensitivity. The male foreskin is there to protect the glans of the penis, maintain its sensitivity— and more. The male foreskin is live, sensory tissue that has a role in sexual function.
It might feel stressful to change the bris into a Brit Shalom so late in the process. People have expectations; maybe you even made a payment. But this is nothing compared to what it means for your baby to keep his foreskin and avoid a profound, painful, irreversible trauma. If you decide to cancel the genital cutting and change plans, I will drop everything to help you. I will make all the calls for you. You don’t have to rush. You can cancel everything now and do a Brit Shalom when he is 1 month or 3 months or 5 months or 1 year. The well-being of your baby is all that matters.
You might be thinking, “We are the parents, and it is our choice.” But it is not parents’ prerogative to sacrifice their child’s bodily integrity, to injure their children. They are not allowed to tattoo their children, or remove the foreskin of their daughters. The legality of infant boy genital cutting is a tragic loophole in our culture. What would you say if a religious leader or doctor suggested that you cut off your son’s pinky finger on the 8th or 1st day of his life? It would be the most absurd thing you ever heard. This is the same. A child has a right to his whole body.
You might think that the event will be “quick” and then over. But it is not quick. It is forever. You will see your child’s penis every single day for years. You will be reminded of what you allowed to be done to him. Or you can keep him whole, and you will see that his penis, with foreskin, is perfect and beautiful, as God and Nature made him. You will be so grateful that no one took a knife to it. And when he comes to know the sexual functions of his foreskin, he will thank you.
If you allow someone to cut your son’s penis, what will you say to your son when he asks you why you chose to do this to him? What will you say when he finds out that a natural human penis has a foreskin, but his was removed? What if he feels it should have been his choice? This will affect your relationship with your son forever. It will affect his sex life forever. Yes, “circumcised” penises are also beautiful, as are all people and bodies no matter what we have been through. But cut men are survivors of unnecessary violence and loss. And our bodies remember even when our conscious brains do not.
You do not want to become regret parents. It is such a horrific thing to realize what you have done to your child but it’s too late. You are here now! You can make the right choice — the fair and loving choice for your child, for your sweet boy, whose body is absolutely perfect just as it is.
I love you.
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Thanks for sharing this incredibly succinct and powerful message for all.