Memo to San Francisco

By Rabbi Abraham Cooper, June 17, 2011
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From Emporer Hadrian to Joseph Stalin, Jewish history is tragically littered with moves to ban circumcision - often part of attempts to crush the Jewish people.

And now in San Francisco, 12,000 people have signed a petition which puts the ban to a public vote in November. If passed, it would criminalise brit milah and could jail and fine Jewish parents who have the audacity to practise their faith.

Who is behind it and why? Some of its backers are just antisemites who have published, in the Nazi tradition, caricatures of "monster mohels" in order to make their point.

Others just don't like the idea of making any changes to the human body. They sweep aside the medical evidence that circumcision also reduces the incidence of penile cancer, offers some resistance to STDs and helps protect against Aids.

My colleague, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, says that what some campaigners really detest is the central message of Jewish circumcision: not everything that is "natural" is perfect. We say: humans are supposed to perfect this world, improving upon what God created.

Some activists cannot tolerate such talk. For them, religion is fine if it doesn't bother anyone, but people shouldn't be so stupid as to think that it could be a guide for living. I am not sure what faith, if any, the main sponsors of this initiative follow, or if they even have children. No matter. What needs to be curtailed in San Francisco is not circumcision, but arrogance.

Before you conclude: "Oh well, what do you expect from a place like ultra-liberal San Francisco?", understand that this anti-circumcision drive is not unique. Last year, there was an attempt to ban circumcision in Massachusetts. Earlier this year, a member of the Norwegian parliament was reported saying that male circumcision is a violation of the child.

What's at stake, for Jews, and by the way, for Muslims, is outlined on the MGM (Male Genitalia Mutilation) website. It says it and its allies are pushing for US Congress and the UN to put an end to this 5,000-year-old barbarity.

Memo to San Francisco voters: The world's oldest hatred will only be dead and buried when you stop tolerating it and exact a price for bigotry.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre

    Last updated: 9:50am, June 17 2011