Volume C no. 31,101
Published at New York, NY 10016
October 11, 1996

CIRP note: Forward was founded in 1897 by Abraham Cahan.
Published originally in Yiddish, Forward once had a circulation
of 250,000. The English language edition was launched in 1990,
and a Russian language edition was started in 1995.  Forward has
a distinguished literary tradition, having published the works of
Nobel prize winners, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Elie Weisel.  In
recent years Forward has published the works of distinguished
Jewish writers such as Saul Bellow, Chaim Potok, Philip Roth and
Joseph Heller.  Today Forward is published weekly and reaches a
nationwide audience.


Claim Practice Violates `Human Rights'

By E. J. Kessler, Forward staff

NEW YORK  -  Encouraged by the growing uproar over female genital
mutilation in Africa, anti-circumcision activists, many of them
Jewish, are mounting a major drive aimed at curtailing, if not
outlawing, circumcision - including bris milah - in the United

   The latest sally in what is emerging as an extended battle
took place last week in Cambridge, Mass., at a Harvard University
conference on health and human rights., where one anti-
circumcision activist delivered a presentation on the "human
rights implications" of routine circumcision of male minors.  The
activist, Tim Hammond, is the producer of an anti-circumcision
documentary, "Whose Body, Whose Rights?" that actually argues
that children who have been circumcised have standing to sue
their parents or doctors.

   Later in the conference at the posh Inn at Harvard, Mr.
Hammond, director of the National Organization to Halt the Abuse
and Routine Mutilation of Males, or NOHARMM, screened the
56-minute video.  The documentary calls circumcision mutilation,
promotes the idea that circumcision causes psychological trauma
and loss of sexual feeling and tries, albeit obliquely, to
connect circumcision with genital mutilation.  It makes the
connection by quoting an expert on female genital mutilation
talking about human responses to the loss of sexual sensitivity.
The documentary was broadcast last June on KQED, the San
Francisco public television station.

   Mr. Hammond told the Forward by telephone that "although the
issue [of circumcision] encompasses alleged medical prophylaxis,
religious ritual and tribal custom," his Harvard presentation
focused on how to end the procedure as part of "American medical
practice."  He did not call for banning the procedure outright,
he said because religious and tribal circumcision "have to be
approached in different ways that do not denigrate" communities
that practice it; rather, he hopes that a "cultural shift will
happen where we recognize and respect the right of all children
to bodily integrity."

   Mr. Hammond did propose, however, that both circumcision and
female genital mutilation raise "the same human rights concerns -
the rights of vulnerable children to physical integrity,
self-determination and security of person.  If you're raising it
for the girl child, a reasonable, rational person will probably
be able to see the connection with what happens to males."  The
attention to female genital mutilation in Africa is "already
having a ripple effect" on his own issue, he said, adding that
"I'm encouraged by the discussion we're having in this culture."

   Others however use less equivocal language than does Mr.
Hammond.  NOCIRC, the National Organization of Circumcision
Information Resource Centers, states in its literature that it
opposes "the performance of a single additional unnecessary
additional foreskin, clitoral or labial amputation procedure" and
that the only person who may consent to medically unnecessary
procedures on themselves are the individuals who have reached the
age of consent."

   The dimensions of the anti-circumcision drive, according to
its advocates, are international.  The Harvard events comes on
the heels of the Fourth International Symposium on Circumcision,
held last month in Lausanne, Switzerland, where representatives
of anti-circumcision organizations from several continents,
African women's groups, the World Health Organization and Amnesty
International discussed the genital cutting of both females and
males, according to Marilyn Milos, director of NOCIRC.  Ms.
Milos, who convened the Lausanne conference, noted that "the
denial of genital mutilation by the victims is parallel."  The
conference's proceedings will be published next year by Plenum,
she said.

                     `Psychological Effects'

   Another book "Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma," by
psychologist Ronald Goldman, was recently issued by Vanguard
Publications; it talks about the "longterm psychological effects
of circumcision" of "this important source of early pain"
according to an advertising flier.  Recently, a documentary by
Victor Shonfeld, "It's a Boy," which likens the brit milah
ceremony to death and illness was shown on Britain's channel 4
television, according to Ms. Milos; the film will soon air in

   The American anti-circumcision forces have a powerful ally in
the mainstream press.  Dr. Dean Edell, a California Jew who is
the medical authority for 400 West Coast ABC affliates, regularly
speaks out against this procedure and once even featured a
so-called alternative bris - a "covenant ceremony" without the
circumcision on his show.

   Anti-circumcision activists have for years tried to lay a
legal basis for their assault on the practice, using "human
rights" as a cudgel to chip away at what most American Jews
consider a constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom.  The
goal, at the very least, is to establish precedents for lawsuits
against doctors and mohels who perform the procedure if not to
ban it outright. (One such suit was attempted in California but
it foundered on appeal.)

   For example, a 1985 Journal of Family Law article,
"Circumcision as Child Abuse: The Legal and Constitutional
Issues," by William Brigman, then an assistant professor at the
University of Houston, argues that if circumcision is shown to be
child abuse it will not be protected by the First Amendment.

   "Does the importance of circumcision in Orthodox [sic] Judaism
constitutionally necessitate an exception to a general
anti-circumcision statute?  The answer is no'" Mr. Brigman writes
because "under the Constitution, Courts may not determine the
legitimacy of religious beliefs."  He goes on to argue that the
most obvious way to proceed with enforcement of circumcision is
through criminal prosecution under existing state laws
prohibiting assault and battery and conspiracy to assault and
batter.  Every state has laws that can be used for this purpose."

   However he concludes, "it will be extremely hard to get a
conviction, since circumcision is not generally acknowledged as
child abuse at the present time.  Additionally in some
jurisdictions it may be difficult to establish the requisite
criminal intent."  Given these obstacles, he advises, "suits for
damages against surgeons, hospitals and, conceivably parents are
possible" but the most promising approach would be a civil rights
class action against hospitals ... since competent surgeons are
aware that routine circumcision is not good medical practice."

                         `No Harm Done'

   Jewish groups dismiss the possibility that such approaches
will be successful.  According to Mark Stern, a lawyer for the
American Jewish Congress, "in view of the fact that there's no
real harm done, and that circumcision has been practiced by so
many religions for so long, courts are not going to find against
what is an essential religious freedom for both parent and

   Anti-circumcision activists, however, feel fairly confident
that civil remedies are not long in coming. "What's going to
happen is a leading legal decision underscoring the culpability
of the perpetrators of circumcision, namely the M.D.'s who go
along with this barbarity without any scientific justification
and the mohels who inflict this mutilation on newborns in the
name of godliness," said Ralph Ginzburg, the founder of Outlaw
Unnecessary Circumcision in Hospitals, know as OUCH.  "Eventually
you'll have one legal finding and the insurance companies will
run like termites.  That's all we need.  It will almost totally
expunge this ghastly procedure from American life."

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