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QUESTIONING CIRCUMCISION
A Jewish Perspective

Ronald Goldman, Ph.D.
Foreword by Rabbi Raymond Singer, Ph.D.

144 pages • illustrated • bibliography • index VANGUARD PUBLICATIONS, trade paper ISBN 0964489562

 

QUESTIONING CIRCUMCISION: A JEWISH PERSPECTIVE is the first critical examination of the growing controversy of male infant circumcision with special attention to contemporary concerns of the Jewish community. Endorsed by five rabbis, this extraordinary book examines the origins, assumed benefits, risks, and unrecognized consequences of the Jewish practice with thorough documentation and moving personal experiences.
Consider these facts:

  • Circumcision is not universal among Jews.
  • Jewish press articles have questioned circumcision.
  • A male child born of a Jewish mother is a Jew, whether he is circumcised or not.
  • Jewish circumcision has never had anything to do with health concerns.
  • Circumcision conflicts with significant Jewish laws and values.
  • An Israeli organization publicly opposes circumcision.
 
“Dr. Goldman has written a thoughtful, provocative book on a difficult subject. He challenges us to reexamine long-held assumptions and to reconsider the practice of milah (ritual circumcision) in light of contemporary evidence. By giving us an insightful and carefully documented exploration of a controversial perspective, Dr. Goldman helps to foster a healthy and valuable dialogue within the Jewish community.”
—Rabbi Jonathan Kraus, 
Beth El Temple Center
“If you are a liberal Jew, whether you see circumcision as the sanctification of the covenant, as a ceremony marking you as a Jew, or otherwise, this book stimulates deeper reflection about the practice. As an aware, concerned, and introspective people, Jews must examine whether our rites are right. We must determine if our ceremonies, traditions, and practices reflect our innermost beliefs. Asking ourselves and each other the question 'Why?' is one of the most sacred tasks to which a modern Jew can dedicate himself or herself.”
—Rabbi Donald Pollock, 
pastoral psychotherapist, writer, and lecturer

 
 
 
 
Ronald Goldman, Ph.D., is a researcher, educator, and executive director of the Circumcision Resource Center in Boston, a nonprofit educational organization. He gives lectures and seminars on circumcision and provides consultation to expectant parents and circumcised men. As the author of Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma, Dr. Goldman has been a featured guest on local and national radio and television shows and has been cited in numerous newspapers and periodicals.
 
 

Foreword

Generally, we circumcise our sons without really knowing the effects of what we are doing. We prefer to think of circumcision as a trivial matter. We believe that because it has been done for so many years by so many, that it must be harmless. This book eloquently and effectively questions these assumptions. For the first time, Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective provides the Jewish community with a clear, rational, and sensitive examination of this practice. Dr. Goldman discusses all the aspects of Jewish circumcision that would be of interest to most Jews.

I learned a lot from reading this book. In recent years researchers have discovered much about infants and the effects of surgical procedures on them. (Whether there is a religious ritual or not, circumcision is a surgical procedure.) There is also evidence that infant circumcision can have long-term effects lasting even into adulthood. Dr. Goldman presents this new information in a lucid, well-documented discussion. 

Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective is not just the view of one person. It contains the words of dozens of Jews, including rabbis past and present, who question circumcision. There are many compelling statements made by those who have witnessed circumcisions and have been circumcised. Their words and feelings give us reason to pause and reflect. 

The author's psychological approach to the topic is especially valuable. It is exactly what we need to take a close look not only at ritual circumcision, but also at ourselves. With insight, understanding, and compassion, this book answers questions we have been afraid to ask, and asks questions that have not yet occurred to us.

For some readers, the contents of this book will confirm what you have felt for decades. For others, this book will challenge much of what you believe. Whatever your feelings are regarding circumcision, this book can affect you profoundly.

Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective speaks for many more of us than we are willing to admit. It performs a great service to Jews because it opens a long overdue discussion. I agree with Dr. Goldman that questioning circumcision will ultimately benefit and strengthen the Jewish community.

I highly recommend Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective particularly to expectant mothers and fathers early in their pregnancy so that they may have ample time to ponder its contents. I also recommend it to rabbis who counsel on the merits of circumcision, so they can offer a more informed perspective on this ritual.

—Rabbi Raymond Singer, Ph.D. 
Neuropsychologist



QUESTIONING CIRCUMCISION: A JEWISH PERSPECTIVE is of particular interest to

  • parents and children's advocates
  • Jews who want to resolve internal and external conflicts about circumcision
  • childbirth educators and allied professionals
  • Jewish educators, rabbis, and writers
 


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What people are saying about

QUESTIONING CIRCUMCISION:
A JEWISH PERSPECTIVE

 

“Thorough, moving, convincing, and of staggering importance. I believe this book will change Judaism for the better.” 
—Michael Koran,  Jewish educator
“Jewish circumcision has traditionally been the province of males. This groundbreaking book sheds new light on the issue by also including women's views and feelings about circumcision.”
—Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, 
Nahalat Shalom Congregation
“For thousands of years we have ceremoniously circumcised our sons without knowing or honestly considering how this practice affects the child. In this book, Ronald Goldman presents us with compelling new information that we can't ignore.” 
—Rabbi Beverly Lerner, 
psychotherapist
“Goldman's analysis of Jewish reluctance to discuss circumcision is right on the mark. The collective Jewish psyche will benefit from confronting circumcision anxieties and myths. This book will facilitate that process and should lead to more than a few changes of heart and mind.”
—Dr. Richard Schwartzman, 
psychiatrist
“A bold, compassionate, and powerful critique of Jewish circumcision. With revealing new research, Goldman calls attention to the unrecognized physical and psychological effects connected with this procedure.”
—Myron Sharaf, Ph.D., lecturer and author, 
Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
“The information in this book was the most comprehensive we found. It was very useful in our decision not to circumcise. And after my father read it, he said he could really understand our feelings. I am certain that we made the right decision.” 
—Aviva Furman, 
mother of uncircumcised son

 
Off-Site Review 
 

Reader's Comments

Voices from QUESTIONING CIRCUMCISION:

A JEWISH PERSPECTIVE
“If a woman is made to distrust her most basic instinct to protect her newborn child, what feelings can she ever trust?” 
—Miriam Pollack, 
mother of two circumcised sons
“My son screamed. Unmistakable screams of pain. Sounds I'd never heard from him before. . . . I was in a state of shock.” 
—Victor Schonfeld, 
father of circumcised son
“I experienced my doubts privately and without comfort. . . . Thus, a rite intended to inspire feelings of Jewish unity evoked in me a sense of loss and alienation.” 
—Lisa Braver Moss, 
mother of circumcised son
“I fell in love with my son the first seven days. There was no way we were going to hurt him. . . . We got respect for putting our values into practice.” 
—Moshe Rothenberg, 
father of uncircumcised son
“Every time I change his diaper, I feel so good that we didn't do it.”
—Dana Parmes-Katz, 
mother of uncircumcised son
“Although uncircumcised, I am a very proud Jew, with a very strong sense of Jewish identity, and never hesitate to affirm my Jewish identity to Jew and non-Jew alike.” 
—Alan Altmann, 
uncircumcised Jew
“When I explained circumcision to him, his face took on a frightened expression as he cupped his hands over his genitals and loudly declared, 'That is never going to happen to me!'”
—Rosemary Romberg, 
relating the response of her seven-year-old uncircumcised son


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Foreword 
Introduction 
1. Origins and Background 

History; Anthropological and Psychological Explanations; Circumcision Has Not Always Been Practiced; Changing the Circumcision Procedure
2. Assumed Benefits 

Jewish Survival and Identity; Conformity; Health Claims
3. Risks: Opinion versus Research 

Pain; Behavioral Changes Following Circumcision; Trauma; Complications
4. Unrecognized Consequences 

Sexual Impact; Psychological Effects
5. Personal Experiences 

Parents Who Circumcised Their Son; Parents Who Did Not Circumcise; “Something Just Came Over Me”; Childhood Memories of Being at a Bris
6. Conflicts and Questions 

Reason, Knowledge, and Understanding; Ethics and Human Rights Considerations; Jewish Culture and Male-Female Relationships
7. Preventing More Pain 

Breaking the Silence; Circumcision in Perspective; Exploring Thoughts and Feelings; Next Steps; Potential Benefits of Forgoing Circumcision
Appendix A   My Experience with Circumcision 
Appendix B   One Woman’s Learning Process 
Appendix C   Discussion following “The Circumcision Debate” 
Appendix D   A Response to Traditionalists 
Appendix E   Circumcision and Anti-Semitism 
Appendix F   Precautions for Parents of Intact Boys 
Appendix G   Alternative Rituals 
Notes 
Bibliography 
Index 
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