Sep 14, 2011 Marked in Your Flesh : Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern America eBook: Leonard B. Glick: Kindle Store


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5.0 out of 5 stars Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision from Ancient Judea to Modern AmericaApril 7, 2006
January 12, 1992, I paid a visit to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva, where I met Dr. Leila Mehra. I was then preparing a paper, which I developed in a book in Arabic, French and English on male and female circumcision. I asked her: "Why the WHO is concerned only with female circumcision and doesn't consider male circumcision?" She responded: "Male circumcision is mentioned in the Bible. Do you want to create problems for us with the Jews?" The same day, I met Mrs. Berhane Ras-Work, president of the Inter-African committee in her office in Geneva. Strangely enough, she gave me the same answer, illustrating that the two of them undoubtedly consulted each other before meeting with me. 

While I am reading this book, UNICEF Switzerland is waging an intensive and aggressive campaign against female excision. UNICEF, as other international and region organisations, refuses to use the term circumcision, because it may produce confusion with male circumcision. Not one single word is said about male circumcision. UNICEF never produced any document on male circumcision, and always refused to open the debate about this subject. Maybe for the same reasons invoked by Leila Mehra and Berhane Ras-Work: "Male circumcision is mentioned in the Bible. Do you want to create problems for us with the Jews?" It is absolutely sure that if UNICEF begins a campaign against male circumcision similar to its campaign against female circumcision, it will be labelled anti-Semitic and many governments will stop financing it. Because of money and fear, UNICEF is violating its mission to protect the children, all the children, regardless of their religion or gender. The same can be said of the United Nations Organization (UNO), which developed many activities and issued many resolutions against female circumcision but refused to take any position against male circumcision, as it has been requested by activists struggling against this practice. Let us remember here a fact that the great majority of people, even intellectuals, ignore: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the rights of the child and other important international texts don't mention the right to physical integrity, most probably to avoid interpreting it as a condemnation of male circumcision. 

Leonard B. Glick's book will not be bought or consulted by UNICEF, WHO or UNO, for two reasons: it does not speak about female circumcision and it is opposed to male circumcision. There are two ways to oppose this practice: pamphlet style or a large documented book covering the subject from different point of view: religion, medicine, sociology, law, art, etc. Such a book may necessitate several hundred pages which people will not read, and which may be consulted by some specialists and sleep on dusty shelves of the libraries. The book of Leonard B. Glick is between the two options. The text itself covers 279 pages, followed with 51 pages of footnotes, 25 pages of bibliography and an index of 10 pages. 

The book is very well documented, pleasantly written and the subject is presented logically and coherently. It is certainly the result of a passionate and patient investigation through the amount of the quoted documents. And without passion and a feeling to fulfil a mission, one cannot write such a book. In the preface, the author explains what his relation with male circumcision was and how his position changed from indifference to opposition after having circumcised his three sons, act he regrets: "Had I known at their births what I know now, they would never have been circumcised" (p. VIII). Here is the recommendation of the author to his readers: begin reading about circumcision before doing it. He offers them what he learned through his researches as an anthropologist and physician. The last paragraph of the book reads: "I've tried to summarize in these few pages the wealth of information that convinced me that male infant circumcision is medically unnecessary, harmful to normal sexuality, and ethically unjustifiable. When all is said and done, I believe we face a single inescapable question: Are we now prepared to accept the principle that, from the moment of birth, every child has all the human rights of any other person - including the inviolable right to freedom from nonconsensual, nontherapeutic bodily alternation?" 

The prologue of the book offers another personal experience that transformed Marilyn Fayre Milos into a major activist against male circumcision. She also circumcised her three sons, but was shocked by what she saw in the hospital as a nurse. Her opposition to male circumcision was the reason for which the hospital dismissed her for insubordination. Then she founded NOCIRC, an international organisation struggling against male (and female) circumcision worldwide. The book itself is dedicated to her. 

These two personal experiences lead the author to investigate the religious reasons behind male circumcision in the Jewish community. He presents in the first chapter the basic texts of the Jewish faith relating to this practice (Old Testament, Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, etc.). Then in chapter 2 he explains what was the position of Jesus' apostles who were circumcised but had the mission to evangelise pagans (Gentiles) opposed to this practice. Pagans did not appreciate circumcision but tolerated it as long as it was practiced by Jews on themselves. They did nothing to eradicate it. The main opposition to male circumcision came from inside the Jewish people, through Apostle Paul, a highly educated Jew. From persecutor of the new faith, he became its major propagator, offering the religious arguments against male circumcision, which were used by the Fathers of the Church and major Christian theologians. Chapter 4 shows how Jewish intellectuals and physicians, mainly in German-speaking countries, but also in Italy and France, began opposing circumcision in the nineteenth century, despite the fierce opposition of the rabbis and conservative Jews. Chapters 5 to 7 explain how suddenly the Christian Western physicians rehabilitated circumcision for medical reasons, giving new arguments to Jewish physicians who helped in spreading this practice, mainly in the Anglo-Saxon countries. Nevertheless, male circumcision continues to question the Jewish community, as indicated in chapters 8 and 9. 

These are some of the elements developed in this book. One thing more is to be mentioned. The author of this book is a Jewish scholar. To tackle male circumcision among Jews, only Jews have the full capacity to do it. A non-Jewish author will not be taken seriously by Jews if he opposes male circumcision, and may be labelled anti-Semitic. Despite the small number of the Jews and the fact that they represent the minority among circumcised people (compared to one billion Muslims and the large percentage of Americans who are circumcised), male circumcision cannot be abolished among Muslims and Christians if it is not first abolished among Jews. Both Christians and Muslims rely on Jewish religious arguments, and as long as Jews consider male circumcision as part of their religion, it would be difficult to oppose it, either on the international or on the national level. Non-Jewish activists opposed to circumcision in the USA agree that they should avoid criticizing the Jewish circumcision, leaving it to Jewish scholars. The same with Muslim male circumcision which should be left to Muslim scholars. This is not the case with female circumcision, mainly African custom. Western intellectuals, activists and politicians do not hesitate to attack the Africans without any restraint or respect for their feelings, probably to show their "moral" superiority. Instead of attacking female circumcision, they should first clean their own house by abolishing male circumcision. They forget one important principle: without abolishing male circumcision, it is impossible to abolish female circumcision. This book is a step in this direction and, for this reason, the author should be congratulated for his courage in writing on this highly sensitive subject. 

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to 
Sami Aldeeb 
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