Religious justifications for the circumcision of male minors

In mid July we wrote to a small number of senior Jewish and Muslim clerics, as well as a number of Jewish and Muslim organizations, concerning our position on male circumcision. Our blog post on the matter is here. We didn’t get any responses from Muslim clerics or organizations, and the only response we got from Jewish clerics and organizations was one from Milah UK, the body promoting circumcision for male Jewish infants in the UK. Their letter is here.

Traditional Jewish circumcision is known as Brit milah. An increasingly popular alternative does not involve genital cutting – Brit shalom (a naming ceremony).

Milah UK referred to two sources to justify male circumcision – Genesis 17:10-14, and Leviticus 12:3. Genesis and Leviticus are two of the books in the Torah, the central reference of the religious Judaic tradition. There is much in these books – as in most holy books – which we would today find repellent, such as putting to death homosexuals, adulterers etc.

The ‘pick and mix’ approach which advocates for male circumcision, but not other elements in these books, is indefensible. Anyone who circumcised male animals would surely find the criminal justice system falling on them like a ton of bricks – and quite rightly, too. Male cats and dogs have more legal protection than male humans.

The books are also, of course, in the Old Testament of the Bible. My thanks to Don for informing me that it’s possible to obtain a copy of the Bible (English Standard Version) on Kindle at no cost – here. If, like me, you don’t own a Kindle device, you can download Kindle books onto computers and other devices with Amazon’s free software. I invite you to download the book and read for yourself the text that is being used to justify the circumcision of eight-day-old male babies. I’m disinclined to call them ‘Jewish babies’ because the idea of a religious identity from birth offends me, especially in the context of the bodily ‘branding’ that is circumcision. And we shouldn’t forget that the high proportion of male infants in some parts of the world – the United States being a notable example – has been attributed in part to the influence of Christianity.

There is no requirement in the Qur’an for Muslims to be circumcised, but the procedure – Khitan – is very common among Muslims. Islam is currently the largest single religious group in which the practice is widespread.

A final note on Wikipedia, to which most of the links in this piece will take you. If you enter ‘Female genital mutilation’ you’ll reach Female genital mutilation. If you enter ‘Male genital mutilation’ you’ll reach Genital modification and mutilation, where the section on FGM precedes the section on MGM. What are the chances?

3 thoughts on “Religious justifications for the circumcision of male minors

  1. I do wonder if perhaps religion ought not to have a similar legal standing to sexual activity. An ‘age of consent’ to religion, below which any involvement is not only illegal but vilified as a serious damaging assault.

    Above the age of consent? Well, if your mummy and daddy approach you at age eighteen and say that they want you to get your todger out in front all of your friends and relatives while some stranger from their club cuts off your foreskin and then gives the stub a little suck or two then it’s unarguably more of a personal and informed choice than at age eight days. Cut off your left nipple and dance to ABBA in a grass tutu if that’s what you then _agree_ as an _adult_ that your parent’s ‘holy book’ requires, subject only to not bothering other people with your subsequent weirdness.

    Below the age of consent? The discussion of religion, let alone its practise, should be a serious assault on a minor – and religious activity between parents and children, as with sexual activity, should be perhaps the most disgusting assault of all.

    I can’t see a problem with this except, sadly, enforcement! It’s just child protection after all, and eveyone wants that, don’t they? Won’t _somebody_ think of the children, etc?

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