David Wolpe: Circumcision is ‘far from disfigurement’

AP A bris in San Francisco is celebrated by family members in May 2011. In the wake of the ruling … Continued


A bris in San Francisco is celebrated by family members in May 2011.

In the wake of the ruling by a regional court in Germany banning circumcision on children too young to consent to the procedure, Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles penned the following poem about a decision that some are calling a “frontal attack on Jewish life in Europe.” Those who support the ban agree with the court’s assertion that the “fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents.” The World Health Organization is among groups supporting the practice of circumcision for health reasons.

Writes Wolpe:

In Germany there is a move
To outlaw circumcision.
I take to verse to summarize
This outrage with concision.

The WHO recommends
That no male miss a bris
The snip that saves, WHO raves
Does not diminish bliss.

Far from disfigurement, it is
A sacred, ancient rite.
A covenant crossing untold ages
Father Abraham’s requite.

And yet, today, in Germany
–the ironies abound–
This Jewish practice meets a sanction
Where once indeed was found

Many who were circumcised
And versed in Jewish lore.
Perhaps the Germans have forgotten
For they are there no more.

Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, David Wolpe is the author of seven books including “Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times” and his latest, “Why Faith Matters.” Follow him on Facebook.

David Wolpe
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  • Jeri Tulipan

    Rabbi David, Thank you for using your access to national media to speak out on this important issue.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    It’s interesting how poetry can distract the reader from the fact that the author is writing in defense of the pointless mutilation of infant genitalia. The reference to the holocaust should be repugnant to any thinking person who recognizes that the author is on the wrong side of very simple human rights issue.


    No one is saying that you can’t cut your own weener off.

    They are just saying that you can’t cut someone else’s weener off without their consent. The age of consent is usually 18 or so. Your “eternal, almighty” god can wait that long for his piece of weener, can’t he?

    After all, genital mutilation is genital mutilation – it doesn’t matter whether a moyel in Israel does it on a boy or an Islamic tribal woman does it in Sub-Saharan Africa. They are both cutting up little kids genitals without the kid being able to say yes or no.

    However, Rabbi, if you feel that your god is hungry for weeners, I urge you to supply him with pieces of your own. You CAN say yes or no.

  • KampungHighlander

    This German Court Ruling
    Has Caused Some Consternation
    Is It About Religious Rights
    Or Genital Mutilation?

    The Rabbis plays the Shoah Card
    To Try To Start A Fight
    But The Ruling Is About Children’s Rights
    Not Pro Anti Semite

    Turn Your Backs On Barabarism
    O Sons of Abraham
    You Do Not Have To Mutilate
    To Prove You Are A Man.

  • hugh7

    And the WHO supports only the circumcision of adult male volunteers for the operation in regions of high HIV prevalence. (But the campaign is already backfiring in Zimbabwe, where more of the circumcised men have HIV than the intact.)

  • quiensabe

    At last, Rabbi, there is someone with whom I can agree on the Faith Section of the Washington Post. But I must say God has a sense of humor what with the covenant of circumcision.

  • overthefence

    His body, his choice. Period.

    The rabbi i clearly bending the truth. The WHO does not “rave” about infant genital mutilation. On the contrary and I quote, ” Countries should ensure that male circumcision is undertaken with full adherence to medical ethics and human rights principles, including informed consent, confidentiality and absence of coercion.”

    Informed content and absent of coercion. The WHO is very clear on this issue. What works in sub sarahan Africa does not mean it will be effective in Sandusky, OH. (thanks for the link rabbi. You should have read it too)

    Wake up and respect our son’s bodies. Maybe if we show them their human right to be intact is important, they’ll better understand human rights for all.

    His body, his choice.

  • overthefence

    Give me a break. It’s a human right to decide what happens to our bodies. His body, his choice. Leave your baby boys genitals alone. He’ll make his own decision regarding his genitals when he’s ready. Human rights. Look it up.

  • quiensabe

    At least, overthefence, you’re not on it. And, you know what? God appreciates your stand, too, because you’re not lukewarm. Look it up.

  • susgames

    Does anyone else see a pattern developing here? GERMANY is banning something that isa ritual of Jewish people? Didn’t they do this before? Never forget! This is the way it started with the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party.
    This is absolutely positively scary- NEVER AGAIN!!!

  • susgames

    Til they come for you overthefence and threaten something you believe in. Do you feel the same way about Christian baptism? Does anyone ever ask an infant if they want to be baptized? Get real overthefence- this is yet again another example of anti-semitism and people like you who looked the other way in the 20’s 30’s and 40’s.

  • JDale_123

    Yes I see a pattern, a very clear one. One where anything that is disliked by a Jew, or by the Israeli state, is automatically labelled as anti-semetism or linked to the Holocaust, as a way of shutting down debate. When you have no rational argument to make its the only tactic left open to you.

  • persiflage

    I suspect the repression is more likely aimed at the growing Muslim population, who have become quite newsworthy in Western Europe, including in Germany and Holland. Muslims also engage in the practice of male circumcision.

    Unfortunately, the situation is complicated by the traditional practice of female circumcision in certain Muslim enclaves, which is truly a form of extreme genital mutilation that is aimed at strictly controlling the sexuality and sexual fidelity of women.

  • haveaheart

    The notion of informed consent is actually quite fluid. Parents are legally enabled to act on their children’s behalf and make decisions about their health care.

    If a child is born with a shortened leg, parents may legally have limb-lengthening treatment/surgery done without waiting for the child to give “informed consent.” The shortened leg may not be a medical condition requiring an immediate solution, but parents understand that, if such treatment is to be elected, it needs to commence early, while the child’s bones are still developing.

    While some may feel that the parents have no right to inflict such pain and mutilation on their child, the parents are doing — legally — what they feel to be in the best interests of their child. Might the child later condemn them for making the choice? Possibly. But it is their choice to make.

    Until research demonstrates that circumcision medically injures children, there is no reason to compromise the parents’ right to make such decisions — within the letter of the law — for their children.

  • Catken1

    No one is cutting ANYONE’s “weener” off. Please. It’s a small flap of skin.

    Comparing circumcision to female genital mutilation is like telling parents that having their little girl’s ear pierced is the same as cutting it off and tearing out her hearing apparatus. FGM is a FAR more dangerous and harmful procedure, resulting in lifelong hygiene issues and probably a lifelong inability to feel sexual pleasure at all.

    I don’t know a single circumcised man who refers to it as “mutilation” or who feels “mutilated” by the procedure, and I know quite a number, including my husband.

    And remember that religious freedom works both ways. If you want your freedoms, you have to respect others’ freedoms to follow their religions, and this is pretty important to at least two major religions. If you’re going to ban a vital religious rite, you need more proof of harm than has ever been provided for male circumcision.

  • DigitalQuaker

    Is it possible to be opposed to a practice of Jewish ritualism, and NOT be anti-semitic?
    If you are not Jewish?

    Could you explain please? Thanks.

  • DigitalQuaker

    Um, wow.
    I am opposed to female circumcisions.
    Let’s try not to use labels, especially something so large and diverse.

  • hugh7

    A foreskin is not a birth defect, nor a medical diagnosis. Cutting off a normal, healthy, functional, non-renewable part of a child’s genitals is not a decision about her or his health care. (The article we are replying to is not by a doctor.)

    Whether this is legal is exactly the point at issue. A court in Cologne, following the Basic Law (~Constitution) put in place in 1949 precisely to ensure that there would never be another Holocaust, has ruled that it is not. Should an exception be put in place now, ruling that Muslim and Jewish children have f

    Research has never (and probably cannot) demonstrated that cutting off an earlobe would medically injure childen (and probably cannot), yet parents have no right to make such a decision. Why should his foreskin (or her clitoral prepuce) be any different?

  • hugh7

    Stopping people from cutting babies’ genitals -> putting people in gas chambers?

    They are following a law that was put in place precisely to prevent there from ever being another Holocaust. They will be very unwilling to chip away at it now.

  • hugh7

    *Should an exception be put in place now, ruling that Muslim and Jewish children have fewer human rights than other children?

  • hugh7

    Yes, female genital cutting is very different from male genital cutting (for obvious reasons). But leaving female genitals alone is exactly the same as leaving male genitals alone. The law requires the first in much of the world.. Now in Germany, it also requires the second, and that’s as it should be everywhere.


    I consider it a mutilation – and yes, I have been sexually mutilated for religious reasons.

    Nowhere did I say “ban”, little hysterical person. I suggested that if the Rabbi thinks that the angry old man in the sky demands hunks of infant boys’ tallywackers hat he substitute pieces of his own.

    Since you’re so much in favor of it, I urge you to have pieces of your genitalia carved off as well.

  • Catken1

    Maybe those Muslim and Jewish children would feel cut off from their covenant with their religion and their Deity were they not circumcised?
    All of the men I know who were circumcised for religious reasons are glad to be part of their communities, and to have honored the rites they believe their God requires of them.
    If you’re going to bar acts vitally important to certain religions, in a country based on religious freedom, you need to have vastly more proof of harm than you have.
    Also, comparing circumcision to female genital mutilation is deeply deceptive. The one causes no real permanent harm (I know a lot of circumcised men, including my husband, and none of them report feeling damaged in any way or having any physical problems as a result) – the other damages sexual pleasure for life, makes the woman vastly more vulnerable to infection, and causes lifelong, measurable, physical pain.

  • Catken1

    “I don’t see you Abrahmics condoning the Muslim’s female circumcisions for the same reasons.”

    “But leaving female genitals alone is exactly the same as leaving male genitals alone.”

    That’s like saying, “How DARE you pierce that little girl’s ears! It’s JUST the same as cutting off her ears, digging out her hearing apparatus, and making her permanently deaf! After all, leaving her ears unpierced is EXACTLY the same as not cutting them off!”

    It’s not anywhere close to the same thing, and comparing the two as if they were identical is disingenuous and highly deceptive.

  • Catken1

    “:Since you’re so much in favor of it, I urge you to have pieces of your genitalia carved off as well.”

    And I urge you to give up your freedom of speech, since you’re so much in favor of taking away others’ freedom of religious practice.

    “It’s small on a baby because everything on a baby is small. It’s much bigger on a man.”

    It’s still nowhere near “cutting off his weener”, nor does it cause nearly as much damage as female genital mutilation. Comparing it to castration is a hysterical overreaction.

    “Many circumcised men do refer to it as “mutilation”: ”

    Yes, and I can scream and whine that my ears were pierced and therefore I was “mutilated”, but that doesn’t get me much sympathy from the person whose ears were cut off and their hearing apparatus dug out.

    The vast majority of circumcised men throughout history have remained happy, healthy, productive, sexually able, and most of them, I would bet, do not feel “mutilated”. There is no solid evidence for drastic harm done to circumcised men, not enough to interfere with a major religious rite vitally important to two major religions.


    Only the given male must be the person to have his body circumcised as a legal adult with his full consent and free will period. This religious pratice to boys should be a crime in all nations.

  • longjohns

    Circumcision is basically snipping off a body part. Some think it is G_d who wants this but the old Jewish teachings also want sacrifices of lamb and chicken as well as stoning couples who commit pre-marital sex. As for the new teachings of Christ, superficial adherence to the Sabbath is of no consequence… So lighten up.

  • etrader12

    Yes, boys should be treated the same as girls. Neither should have their genitals cut.

    In fact, that is already stated in the 14th amendment of the US Constitution. The equal protection clause. Since we protect girls from being cut, we should also protect boys from being cut.

  • Secular1

    Catken1, religious freedom or not can’t the boy decide on it when he comes of age? Not that I subscribe to any view that OT is anything but pure vile & filthy fiction, it itself shows that Abraham was anything but a chicken. OT itself states that Abraham never underwent circumcision. In fact Ishmael never was, and even Isaac was circumcised in his late years, instead of being killed. To undertake this brutal tribal procedure when the child is few days or weeks old is not even supported by your own scripture. This is nothing but the priests making up a market for their unnecessary services. These bronze age superstition should be left on teh dust heap of history.

  • Secular1

    Another thing that amuses me is that DW even believe that first several books of OT, including Exodus are just fiction. From there how can he logically support that it is an admonishment to be performed, by the deity, when the origin of this tradition is sourced in fiction.

  • Catken1

    The trouble is, Judaism at least requires that it be done at eight days after birth. Isaac and Abraham, at the beginning of the tradition, were special cases (you may as well say, “Why should we require that the President be a natural-born citizen, when Washington himself was a British citizen at birth?”).

    And no, you can’t base someone else’s religious freedom on whether or not you consider their holy book fiction or even if it is demonstrably fiction according to the balance of the actual evidence, or no one would have any religious freedom at all. Nor can you base their right to adhere to their own religious practices on your opinion of the worth or value of those practices.

    No, it isn’t my scripture. I’m agnostic. We have no religious compulsion to circumcise, ourselves, and have not done it for our own son. But I do think that when you’re going to interfere with someone else’s fulfillment of their religious commitments for themselves and their minor children, you need to have far greater evidence of real harm done by the procedure than the opponents of male circumcision have gathered.

    And I think there’s a great deal of nasty anti-Semitism and anti-Islam sentiment among a lot of the anti-circ movement – not all of it, but a lot – which seriously troubles me.

  • Catken1

    “Since we protect girls from being cut, we should also protect boys from being cut.”

    “Since we protect boys from having their ears cut off and their hearing apparatus ripped out, we should also protect girls from having their ears pierced.”

    “Since we protect children from being forcefed alcohol until they die of it, we should bar any child from taking Communion with actual wine until they reach 21.”

    “Since we don’t allow parents to starve a child, children should be prohibited from adhering to restrictive diets, like kosher, halal, Lenten, vegetarian, or vegan diets, and may not, even after the age of 13, participate in religious fasts, even for a day.”

    “Since we would prevent a boy from being castrated, we ought to also forbid parents from having their daughter’s hymen removed surgically to spare her pain later.”

    “Because we protect children from having their heads cut off, we should also protect them from having tonsils or appendices removed, regardless of infection risks.”

    Ridiculous. The harm being done is NOT comparable, just because you assert that it is. Again, you are confusing a minor action, causing no serious or lasting harm, and even conferring some positive benefits, with major damage to a person’s sexual and excretory functioning. You are attempting to make male circumcision look as bad, and as damaging, as female castration – and in so doing, you are trivializing the real harm done by female genital mutilation, which is not in the least comparable.

  • Doctoroh

    This sounds like the start of a frightening trend. If not stopped, I am afraid it will spread through Europe as a way of destroying us. Why not? They have tried all other types of methods.

  • Sadetec

    There is a simple solution to this: allow parents to circumcise their young boys, but when the child grows up, if they should object to the procedure, they get to nominate a body part of their parents to have snipped off.

    Not quite an eye for an eye, but biologically very close

  • persiflage

    ‘The ONLY person with the moral right to decide to amputate the healthy and most erogenous nerve endings on a body is the person who inhabits that body.’

    A completely subjective point of view – countless millions of men have been circumcised as infants without a single problem. Uncircumcised men tend to have many more health-related problems and some are life-threatening. HPV and HIV are two such deadly viral complications.

    I’ve never heard a circumcised man complain of a ‘lack of sensation’. This is complete nonsenes. And then, many women prefer circumcised men for their own reasons……. statistics are against you. But of course, you don’t have to engage in the practice yourself.

  • Sadetec

    But these traditions are not unchanging, and tradition alone should never make them off limits for discussion. These cultural traditions have their time, then they die out once they are no longer useful or no longer fit with the sensibilities of the age. In the case of infant mutilation, I suspect its time is limited. The world moves on, and as freedom and individual rights are valued ever more in the modern age, it becomes harder to justify non-consensual actions like infant circumcisions.

  • persiflage

    ‘These cultural traditions have their time, then they die out once they are no longer useful or no longer fit with the sensibilities of the age.’

    The fact is, there are medically sound reasons that will continue to justify male circumcision long after it has died out as a religous ritual – if that should ever happen.

    It’s curious that certain pediatricians these days refuse to circumcise male infants in the same way that religiously driven physicians and pharmacists refuse to accomodate a woman’s reproductive rights, morning after pills, and even contraception. Ideology apparently comes from virtually any direction!

    Many would like to banish the abundant superstitions of religion from places where they doesn’t belong, but we see very mixed progress in that regard – at least here in the USA.

    Separation of church and state has probably never been more violated as a secular principle that in the ‘here and now’ of national politics and political discourse.

    Indoctrinating children in bizarre religoius traditions is about as non-consenusal as one can get………


    Catken1, I disagree with you. Only the given male at age 18 or older should make that choice with a free will and full consent unless it was a REAL HEALTH ISSUE only, not a foolish religious issue. What do you think males are born with it for?

  • Sairis

    so in having my son circumcised for health reasons, you would have some portion of my body removed at a later date…you’re an idiot, hopefuly you don’t breed.

  • Sairis

    innoculations should be done with informed consent too, however how many children do you think would voluteer for their MMR innoculation, even though if they don’t get it there is a possibility that the virus will make a resurgance and they might possibly die…A parents informed consent IS informed consent for their child. I will not make a decision for anyone else’s child, but I will make sure my child is properly protected. And yes my children have been circumcised.

  • Sairis

    “unless it was a REAL HEALTH ISSUE”

    then you have no issue what so ever with ANY circumcision that has ever taken place. Because it does provide health benefits. Such as lowers risk of infection, lowers risk of spreading infection, etc.