A proposal to ban circumcision in San Francisco is only the latest sign of conflict growing over this traditionally Jewish practice.
The proposal will appear on the November 2011 ballot in San Francisco, after enough signatures were collected from city residents. If it passes, it would make the circumcising of males under the age of 18 a misdemeanor offense, and there would be no religious exemptions (International Business Times, May 20). Despite a decline in the circumcision rates in recent year (apparently down to 33 percent currently), a majority of American males are circumcised (Boston Globe, May 25).
Advocates of circumcision claim it has health benefits (lesser risks of infection, easier genital hygiene), although not compelling enough to make it a routine; they claim that to equate it with female genital mutilation (which has no known health benefits) is dishonest. Opponents say it is a mutilation imposed on newborn boys without their consent and evokes possible health risks as well as an alleged lesser level of sexual enjoyment.The proposal will no doubt generate heated debates, with issues of religious freedom playing a central role (both Jews and many Muslims practice circumcision for religious reasons).
The debate is not only a Californian one: if one pays attention, there are people in other parts of the U.S.A. and in various parts of the Western world calling the practice into question. Many anti-circumcision activists are themselves of Jewish descent, observes Jan Jaben-Elion (Jerusalem Report, April 25). One of the leading U.S. activists, Matthew Hess, president of MGMbill.org, says that social networks such as Facebook have helped support for the ban to explode: he intends to make it a top civil rights issue for this decade. Jewish community leaders say that the increasing number of American Jews not circumcising their sons is related to the high degree of assimilation of the Jewish community. Increasing numbers of Jews in Israel are making the same choice—another sign of the rift between religious and secular people in that country.