[The following letter was posted in April 1998 with the author's permission to the newsgroups alt.radio.talk.dr-laura, alt.fan.daphnes-corner, alt.circumcision, misc.kids.pregnancy, and alt.parenting.solutions by the man to whom it is addressed.]

A Jewish mother's awakening

Hello Bernie,

I read your posts and they really did hit home. I am Jewish and a mother and have to admit I was extremely ignorant and unenlightened on the issue. Our street was filled with non-Jews who circumcised their children and the media is filled with images of the circ'd penis as normal and the inact penis as bizarre, ugly and dirty. Every brochure on birth control or anatomy features the circ'd penis. It's like the foreskin was less than even a useless flap of skin. It was a breeding ground for infection. I remember my father once told me a story about the foreskin inspections in the army in his day. They painted them with some chemical and if they proved to be dirty they risked circumcision. So in my mind circumcision not only was mandatory for the covenant but it was actually preferable. Hell, it was great to be circumcised. The foreskin was just awful, who'd ever want to keep it. It had no value.

Don't laugh but the only uncirc'd penises I ever saw were in some ancient issue of Playgirl as a teen which had a feature on "the men of Europe". Weird looking I thought. Where's the glans? They always showed them flacid so I had not one clue that this skin actually retracts! I thought those poor sods, they can't even enjoy sex with that raincoat covering their whole organ. I felt sorry for them. I had no clue that the foreskin was continuous with the shaft skin. I thought the amount removed was fixed like it was an exact science. Of course I didn't know that in a baby the foreskin is fused to the glans.

In America we live in a very sexually repressed society. No one is showing us the pictures of the foreskinned penis and how it becomes erect and all of that stuff that I now am seeing on the net. I wasn't into porn and frankly I've never took such a detailed look at even circ'd penises. I never even could figure out where that circ scar that I now understand is. And I had little reason to hunt down this info because all the famous and sexy movie stars in America are circ'd. Every man I'd ever been with had been circ'd and unlike women who've undergone female mutilation there is one difference. The difference is that a female can reproduce with or without an orgasm. Not true for a male. Circ didn't seem to cause impotence and so there wasn't any reason in my mind to delve into the issue.

Oh yes there were some anti-circ rumblings. I once saw a crackpot man on TV practically crying saying that he remembered screaming during his circumcision. What a nutcase I thought! I never remembered anything prior to kindergarten and I never met a man who remembered his circ. As long as the anti-circ movement was populated with people speaking about remembering screams and talk of being rendered sexual cripples they were totally irrelevant as far as I was concerned. They were like the pro-life folks with their gory photos. Emotional hooey with junk science about encoding the brain with violence and what have you. As if Hitler and Stalin were circ'd. Give me a break! I have to say as long as they continue in that fashion of calling parents who are mostly ignorant, child abusers then they will get nowhere. Offensive people like X.X. who posts in the newsgroups are the worst thing for the anti-circ movement. If I ever encountered this holier than thou smug creep calling me a child abuser and lecturing to me what Judaism should and should not be you can be damned sure I would never have listened to a word they said. In fact it's a miracle I was able to wade through the anti-circ crap to find some kernels of truth.

To continue, yes, I had been to a Brit but I never stared at the penis before or after and I couldn't figure out what the hell was happening with those wacky clamps flying everywhere. Sure the baby did cry but babies are always screeching. I believed the lie that it doesn't hurt or at least it doesn't hurt that much. Or that they cry because they are being restrained. Sure I'd met a couple of non-Jewish mothers who didn't do it. In most cases the dads were from Europe or Hispanic and I thought poor little idiots they just think it's more important to look like Dad than take part in the wonderful health benefits that circ offers.

Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment but I been reading up on the issue and I have been reading the rants in the alt.circ group and I feel very overwhelmed and I am consumed with guilt and horror that I carried out this barbaric ritual on my son out of complete and total ignorance. I'm not trying to let myself off the hook easy but I too feel violated by this ritual cutting. I feel I have been betrayed by being lulled into a false sense of complacency by the tacit approval of Routine Infant Circumcision by the medical community, the media, American culture and of course Judaism. We are influenced by our culture and Doctors are still considered like demi-Gods. They don't seem to be actively opposing circ or at least putting out the information that the foreskin has value and so of course we think nothing of cutting it off. Hell, if cutting off a useless appendage can save you a UTI or an infection then heck why not? It was great health insurance and you'd satisfy the ol' covenant.

Every mother I've ever talked to in the aftermath of circumcision especially non-Jews said it was no big deal. The baby just slept through. Jewish mothers were much the same only they at least witnessed the gory details upon closer inspection. So they were a little less non-chalant but not by much. I had a very good relationship with my mother and she carried out the covenant on my brother who also never had a problem with it. She was a great mom so tell me how could I ever realize it was not what it seemed to be? How dare anyone call my mother a child abuser! How dare anyone accuse Judasim of being barbaric when in America we've decided circumcision is a great health measure on top of that.

So proudly I embarked upon the covenant with my son now nearly three years old. My husband being Jewish never gave it any pause either. I didn't even run crying out of the room during the procedure. Now why in the world did I all of a sudden wake up to this issue you might ask when most people Jew and non-Jew alike don't give a moment's pause?

First off the Brit was more than I bargained for. My baby was supposed to stop crying after it was over and sleep it off until morning and be totally fine. That's what all the other mom's told me would happen. That's what I expected to happen. Well that did not happen. My child continued to cry and awakened every hour until I couldn't stand it. I called the mohel exasperated. By the way I the mohel I chose was highly recommend and he came from 5 generations of mohelim. So I put some effort into choosing him. I told him he keeps crying what should I do?

He said take of the dressing that will make him feel better. So I got the go ahead to remove it before 24 hours. I had to remove it myself and it seemed so tight and the proof was that my baby was relieved when it was off. I called the mohel back to rant about this and he said "he was urinating right?" I said yes, the whole time. So it wasn't tight, some babies are just more fussy and bla bla bla. Then I hated the mohel and I could have killed him. Maybe I hated the whole idea that my baby had to endure this and so I was taking it out on the mohel. That incompetent jerk I thought! He made my baby suffer!

Then I read through the healing description and the follow-up care. I was confused. It said the head of the penis will be red and raw and often it will turn yellow and crust over with a film during healing which should resolve by two weeks. I should continue changing the gauze with bactricin at every diaper change until healed. Then as someone who has studied biology I began to question. If he cut of the skin where I saw that circ scar then why is the head so frigging irritated? It didn't sit well with me. But I let it pass. Unlike other babys whose glans healed quicker it took my baby the full two weeks.

Then at about 6 months or so it looked like his penis was disappearing. I showed my husband who thought it looked fine. I took him to the pediatrician and he said no biggie but he's got a foreskin adhesion. He applied some pressure to the base of the penis and the penis popped out and the edge of the glans was now revealed in it was all red and irritated and there where pockets of white stuff in there. I didn't understand, I thought a circ'd penis was supposed to be low maintenance. I'd been following all the care instructions and he got a bath every night. How can he have a foreskin adhesion if he doesn't have a foreskin, I thought? I've since met another mom whose child also had this condition whereby the foreskin wants to reattach to the glans much like a pierced ear would close up without an earring. It's actually not a rare complication as my pediatrician didn't make a big deal out it. Like oh well, no biggie.

By this point I was convinced that bastard mohel did something wrong. I did a little research on circ and I didn't like what I found out about the procedure or the foreskin. I was mortified that I was so ignorant of the mechanics of the foreskin and how it was removed. I didn't know anything at all about the foreskin and now I was discovering the truth of it. It wasn't useless at all. The sexual issue might be subjective but it is truly hard to believe that that much tissue located in the genital region doesn't offer at least some contribution to sexual sensation? How could I have believed otherwise? Because I've always been told about the health benefits of circ, no one ever said that the foreskin itself had any value. The risks where that the procedure could be botched but not that loss of a foreskin was a bad thing. That's what I'd always heard. Of course I'd always been told that our mohels were so skilled that it was only the doctors who were messing up circumcisions. Of course we might be a bit better at performing circumcisions but our mohels have done plenty of damage too.

After my son was about 2 years old I was still at it. Still looking for problems. Was it done right? I'd ask my pediatrician constantly. It looks fine he would say. I noticed a little variation in the skin texture and color from day one. I asked him about it. It's nothing he'd say. I said it's not from the diaper it's always there I said! He said well I never took out a microscope but I think it's minor. Is it from the circ I insisted?! He didn't think so but he wasn't positive. But in any case I should view it as a little freckle or zit it won't have any impact on his sex life etc.

I needed to know! I wanted a referral to a urologist. He gave me one. In the meantime I called up the mohel and he remembered I was the one who was irate about the bandage. I said point blank, you better come clean did you clamp my son's penis with that clamp! He denied it and asked my why after 2 years I now suspect this. I described the marking and he said that it didn't happen because if it did I would have seen lots of blood there not just a marking and he wouldn't have used a standard bandage which was open at the tip like the one he had. He made sense and I felt better but I still wanted that urology appointment.

I met the urologist and talked at length in his office before the exam. I described what I considered the brutal surgery, slow recovery, tight bandage, the adhesions and the odd color at the tip of his penis. He looked saddened like he was prepared to see a botch job. Then he took a look at my son and smiled. He said it's a normal skin variation akin to a birthmark, not pathological and not caused by the circ. In fact he looked the circ over and said it was not only good but excellent and that I should even call up the mohel and compliment him. He'd be proud if his own son had a circ like that. The Dr. was not Jewish either. So I felt better, but I thought to myself if my baby can have all these minor complications from an excellent circ then this was really more brutal than I had anticipated. What of the babies who are truly maimed by circs. And it's not true that only Drs. do the botch jobs. Mohels screw up too. How would I feel about Judaism if I was one of the unlucky ones that lost my penis due to some stupid medically unnecessary intervention. That's what turned the corner for me. Even if death and maiming are rare they are still a price too high to pay certainly for a non-Jew and yes, of course even for a Jew.

I have come full circle. I'm angry and upset too. Of course it's not my penis but he is my son and I feel that rage too. I'm not planning any more children but if an accident should happen, how could I ever do another Brit? I couldn't. Then my two sons will be different. The contrast might be unbearable. It's a totally slap in the face to Judasim. If I had a second son he would be the only one in the preschool bathroom with a foreskin!!

There are lots of questions. Should I bury the issue? Do I really need my son to feel like a sexual cripple when most men don't give it much thought? Ignorance is bliss. I was ignorant. Should I keep him in the dark? Or should I tell both my kids that I hated circumcision and I felt violated and I hope they won't pass on this archaic tradition.

I hope you don't mind that I took the liberty of writing you this long letter, but it sounded like you were angry at your parents so maybe I'm looking for forgiveness or at least understanding. But I just wanted to let you know that finally I can see the light on this issue. It's not an easy journey for a parent especially a Jew. I'm going to be celebrating Passover with my family and I don't feel very positive about it. Just wanted to let you know that there are some Jewish parents who get the message albeit too late.

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