Keeping it in the room: health, happiness and living in Berlin
I was brought up in the jewish faith, and so, at eight days old, I was circumcised.
My circumciser – mohel, or מוהל – happened to be a dentist, although he could have been a rabbi, or solicitor, or telephone sanitiser. Anything, in fact, provided he’d been shown how to hold a knife. He cut off the end of my penis with a sharp knife and no anaesthetic. Women aren’t allowed in the room to watch, although it’s a religious ceremony, usually at the infant’s home. The men present (at least 10 of them) hold or watch the baby while it screams.
The reason it’s done at 8 days old is that they say the child won’t remember it. This is true. I don’t.
They also say that the child usually falls asleep not long after it’s done. This is also true. The reason for this is that the child is exhausted after screaming so much.
I’ll be open and say that I have low penile sensitivity. I think that’s a result of the circumcision, though of course I can’t prove it. I’ve discussed this with a jewish friend of mine, who dismisses me. “It’s traditional,” she says.
Some people (myself included) believe that a baby’s central nervous system isn’t equipped to deal with such a massive amount of pain. It causes a ‘short circuit’ similar to blowing a household fuse – from which it never recovers. I think I suffer from that. It’s irreparable.
The tradition stems from Abraham, who, while wandering in Middle East desert for a hundred years, was ordered by god to kill his son. Just as he was about to knife his son to death, god returned and said not to kill him, but instead to circumcise him.
Jews therefore practise this ‘tradition’ on each of their sons when they’re born – to remind them of a man who was said to have wandered for a hundred years in a desert, and who was probably schizophrenic. After all, anyone who attempts to kill their son today “because god told them to do it” would be locked up.
In the process of circumcision, almost a metre of veins, arteries and capillaries, over 73 metres of nerves and more than 20,000 nerve endings are destroyed. The exposed bell end – the glans penis – becomes hardened and reduces sensitivity further, just as any area of skin exposed to constant touching of clothes and other things does.
There are ways of reintroducing this sensitivity, but it takes perseverance and isn’t ideal.
Before my sister in law had a baby, we discussed my feelings – and that, should they have a boy, I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with any circumcision. They understood my position, but were disappointed, as the child’s uncle is meant to hold the baby.
What would be ideal is for people to think about what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. Is tradition a good thing? Just because it’s been done for thousands of years, does that make it okay?
And is a boy any less jewish if he’s not been circumcised? Ignoring, that is, the question of whether any adult has a right to enforce their religion on their baby.
In the US, around 65% of boys are circumcised. Why?
In the UK, any doctor performing a circumcision for any of these reasons runs the risk of being struck off. That’s because these risks reasons are not recognised as large enough to warrant such an invasive operation.
If it’s easier to clean, so what? Do you teach your child to clean their teeth? UTIs are easily treated; so are broken limbs, but you don’t have those removed, just in case. It seems to me that people don’t think about why they’re doing it. They should learn to think for themselves, and whether they need to permanently scar their child.
While reading about circumcision, I found there’s a branch of jewry where the circumciser has to suck the blood out of the wound, supposedly to promote healing. In Israel, eight babies contracted herpes; in New York, three got it from one man – and one of them died as a result.
Why do people still insist on injuring their baby in the name of tradition?