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July 26, 2017 4:14 pm

Phony New York Times Trend Story Touts ‘Jewish Parents’ Avoiding Circumcision

avatar by Ira Stoll

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The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times, which last memorably touched on the topic of circumcision with an unfortunate illustration involving a pencil sharpener, is, alas, at it again, this time with a 1,500-word article headlined “When Jewish Parents Decide Not To Circumcise.”

It’s not at all clear why the Times finds this newsworthy to such an extent, or even at all. The story provides no statistics or data indicating that circumcision is on the decline among “Jewish parents.” In fact, the Times concedes, “Rabbis and public health experts interviewed said that the great majority of Jewish parents still circumcise.” That raises the question of why those who do not do so are worthy of a long and respectful Times treatment, or whether it’s just another phony Times trend story, like “women who dye their armpit hair” or “modern people who wear monocles.”

There are only two anecdotes in the Times article, and not a single one involves a child that has two “Jewish parents” on the scene.

The lead anecdote involves the child of Dana Edell, 41, who “is raising her son as a single mother” and “decided not to circumcise.” The Times story doesn’t say anything about the father of this child. It doesn’t report whether he is or was Jewish, or whether he had any part in the decision on circumcision. This is relevant, because under Jewish law, it’s the father’s obligation, not the mother’s, to circumcise the child. If the father doesn’t do it, the responsibility devolves to the local Jewish court of law.

The second anecdote is anonymous. It involves:

A 46-year-old father who asked to be identified only as Aaron because he was discussing intimate details about his son said he was surprised by how powerfully he felt about circumcising….

Aaron’s wife, who is not Jewish and grew up in a country where circumcision was not the norm, was opposed to it. She did not want to inflict pain on her newborn baby. The decision became “the hardest thing my wife and I have ever had to deal with,” Aaron said.

Ultimately, eight months into his wife’s pregnancy, Aaron agreed not to circumcise their son.

“I didn’t want it to end our marriage and tear apart our family,” he said.

A more accurate Times headline, in other words, would have been, “When a Non-Jewish Mother Decides Not To Circumcise” or “When a Single Mother Decides Not to Circumcise.”

The Times acknowledges that the “practice is rooted in Genesis, when God instructs Abraham to circumcise himself and all of his descendants as a sign of their contract with God.”

That doesn’t quite do the biblical passage full justice. Genesis 17:14 also states of those descendants of Abraham who are not circumcised that their souls will be cut off from their people, and their covenant invalidated. The Mishnah lists failing to circumcise a son as one of 36 offenses that merit the biblical punishment of karet, or being cut off from the people.

Nor does the Times quite capture — or even mention — the emphatic nature of other Jewish sources in favor of the commandment, or mitzvah, of circumcision. The Babylonian Talmud discusses it in the book of Nedarim, pages 31b to 32a — “So great is the mitzvah of circumcision that if not for it the Holy One, Blessed be He, would not have created His world… Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korḥa says: So great is the mitzvah of circumcision that all the merits that Moses our teacher accrued when he performed mitzvot did not protect him when he was negligent about performing the mitzvah of circumcision, as it is stated: ‘And the Lord met him and sought to kill him’ (Exodus 4:24)… so great is the mitzvah of circumcision that it is equal to all the mitzvot of the Torah.”

The Babylonian Talmud also addresses the matter in Shabbat 137b: “Were it not for the covenant of circumcision … the world would cease to exist.”

Whatever the source of the Times’ apparent hostility to Jewish ritual circumcision — whether it stems from a general hostility to religious ritual overall, or from a particular animus directed specifically at traditional Judaism — it’s unseemly. One might hope the Times would simply “cut it out,” but that would risk veering into a category of humor better avoided.

The hostility to the Jewish ritual, by the way, is shared by a substantial number of Times readers, at least to judge by the comments accompanying the online version of the article. One comment describing circumcision as “a cruel bronze-age practice to inflict upon an unwitting child” was up-voted with a thumbs-up recommendation by at least 59 Times readers. The second-most-popular reader comment, recommended by at least 34 Times readers, opined, “It is preposterous that, in this day and age, it is even an open question — for Jews or anyone else — whether it is appropriate for a parent to lop off part of her or his son’s body as an expression of the parent’s belief system.”

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • Lewis Malarki

    Circumcision isn’t a man-made farce? Specifically, the invention of a Jewish priestly caste seeking consolidation of its political power.

  • Greg Pearson

    Well, men who were circumcised later on usually show that they are not missing anything special and they can actually speak on it. Hence why studies usually done on this topic study men who can tell the difference. It’s seems insulting for you to suggest you are a better judge on what THEY feel. Are you serious? It’s like someone with a different skin tone or different body type than me telling me I don’t know what I am missing. It’s condescending and just plain incorrect thinking. Not everyone is happy, of course, you can’t find everyone to be happy and satisfied. This is a given but to say circumcised men who are happy are lying to themselves is so wrong in so many ways.

    The risks during infancy are much lower hence why it usually done when they are infants as well as it is a much shorter procedure.

  • Derek Jacob

    Circumcision is not amputation and no medical journal considers it to be amputation, even in Europe. Removing wisdom teeth also does not make it grow back so that is also amputation? You are removing something that contains a lot of nerve endings. What about appendix, is that also amputation? People without an appendix or wisdom teeth are amputees? No.

    Nope, you are cherry picking the same studies from Sorrells and Taylor. Their studies have not been replicated, they are basically anecdotes. You can only speak for yourself, but you can’t speak for other men. I basically have asked men who wee circumcised later and they said there is no loss in sensations and they can actually speak on it.

    But why are you ignoring the many men who are happy that they were circumcised as infants? That seems odd on your part. 99% of men? You are making up a random percentage.

  • Derek Jacob

    Many large scale studies with different men have come up with the same results, it’s not just one study but many different ones. When a study is replicated and there is a similar result, it erases bias. Just because they agree to circumcision does not mean they are biased, if something went wrong then they would most likely be vocal about it.

    So you go based on look? That makes very little sense. Vaccines alter the body permanently and it is done without consent, this much aligns with circumcision. Circumcision is not amputation, removing wisdom teeth also does not make it grow back so that is also amputation? Amputation has nothing to do with markings and some vaccines do actually leave permanent marks.

  • Greg Pearson

    Jewish parents and many parents who circumcised their children welcome their child with love too, lifelong love that lasts a lifetime.

  • Greg Pearson

    I know plenty of uncircumcised men who need lube.

  • Jhon Murdock

    Brit Shalom is as Jewish as Moses under whose command the ceremony was initiated when the Israelites began their 40 year travels in the desert.

  • Yeoman Roman

    Genital mutilation of children is simply not ethical. This is true whether they are female, male or intersex in appearance. It is simply not the parent’s body, nor is it the family penis or clitoris.
    Making this choice [about one’s own genitals] as an informed aware consenting adult, is both ethical and vastly more meaningful.

    The sexual organs, the labia, the foreskin, etc. their erogenous tissue is not extraneous or disposable. 13 century Jews ( such as Rabbi Jedaiah, and Maimonides) knew that genital mutilation changes sex profoundly. Today’s Jews and their fellow Americans are profoundly ignorant of this.”

  • Greg Hartley

    All children, regardless of gender, culture or parental religion, have a fundamental right to keep all their healthy, functional genitalia. Since an infant is incapable of religious beliefs, imposing an irreversible body alteration on him violates the freedom to choose his own religion as an adult. It differs from education, which can be changed. My body belongs to me!

  • Naomi Smith

    Your Jew-hate is palpable.

  • Moe Love

    I feel like it’s hard to understand what happened during WWII without seeing the lengths Christians go to even today to distance from the Old Testament when the topic of circumcision comes up

  • hoptoit27

    Pain, what pain? I didn’t feel a thing when I was 8 days old. In fact everyone present had a grand time including me. What really scared me was my bar mitzvah, joining the navy at 18, getting married, my 50th wedding anniversary. I know Mr. Stoll reads the NYT but does anyone else?

    • Derek Jacob


    • Jhon Murdock

      You should be writing for Amy Schumer.