Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective

Ronald Goldman, Ph.D.
Foreword by Rabbi Raymond Singer, Ph.D.

144 pages * bibliography * illustrated * index 
VANGUARD PUBLICATIONS, trade paper ISBN 0964489562

(For more information, please visit the CRC site.)

examination of the growing controversy of male infant circumcision
with special attention to contemporary concerns of the Jewish
community. Endorsed by five rabbis, this extraordinary book examines
the origins, assumed benefits, risks, and unrecognized consequences
of the Jewish practice with thorough documentation and moving
personal experiences.

Consider these facts:
*   Circumcision is not universal among Jews.
*   Jewish press articles have questioned circumcision.
*   A male child born of a Jewish mother is a Jew, whether he is
circumcised or not.
*   Jewish circumcision has never had anything to do with health concerns.
*   Circumcision conflicts with significant Jewish laws and values.
*   An Israeli organization publicly opposes circumcision.

"Dr. Goldman has written a thoughtful, provocative book on a
difficult subject. He challenges us to reexamine long-held assumptions
and to reconsider the practice of milah (ritual circumcision) in
light of contemporary evidence. By giving us an insightful and
carefully documented exploration of a controversial perspective,
Dr. Goldman helps to foster a healthy and valuable dialogue within
the Jewish community."
---RABBI JONATHAN KRAUS, Beth El Temple Center

"I highly recommend Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective
particularly to expectant mothers and fathers early in their
pregnancy so that they may have ample time to ponder its contents.
I also recommend it to rabbis who counsel on the merits of
circumcision, so they can offer a more informed perspective on this
---RABBI RAYMOND SINGER, PH.D., neuropsychologist

"If you are a liberal Jew, whether you see circumcision as the
sanctification of the covenant, as a ceremony marking you as a Jew,
or otherwise, this book stimulates deeper reflection about the
practice. As an aware, concerned, and introspective people, Jews
must examine whether our rites are right. We must determine if our
ceremonies, traditions, and practices reflect our innermost beliefs.
Asking ourselves and each other the question 'Why*' is one of the
most sacred tasks to which a modern Jew can dedicate himself or
---RABBI DONALD POLLOCK, pastoral psychotherapist, writer, and lecturer

Ronald Goldman, Ph.D., is a psychologist, educator, and executive
director of the Circumcision Resource Center in Boston, a nonprofit
educational organization. He gives lectures and seminars on
circumcision and counsels expectant parents and circumcised men.
As the author of Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma, Dr. Goldman has
been a featured guest on local and national radio and television
shows and has been cited in numerous newspapers and periodicals.

*   parents and children's advocates
*   Jews who want to resolve internal and external conflicts about
*   childbirth educators and allied professionals
*   Jewish educators, rabbis, and writers


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Review by J. Steven Svoboda

Ronald Goldman's second book, Questioning Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective, follows on the heels of his masterpiece Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma. While the earlier book provided a stunning, magisterial overview of the entire subject of circumcision, this slimmer volume focuses on a more specialized analysis of the procedure from a Jewish point of view.

Goldman again succeeds at integrating emotional, psychological, scientific, and humanistic considerations while surveying the great diversity of attitudes held toward this procedure among Jews. He reveals and meticulously documents a number of surprising facts which contravene widely held beliefs about the subject. Far from enjoying a consensus within the Jewish community, circumcision has not always been practiced by all Jews. As early as the 1840's, leaders of the Reform movement tried to stop circumcision. In the 1860's, a group of sixty-six Jewish physicians opposed the practice. The procedure as performed today in the United States is much more extensive than the original circumcisions, which merely removed the very tip of the foreskin. These changes and conflicts suggest that the supposed Jewish mandate for circumcision may be suspect.

Goldman discusses and questions a number of suggested benefits to Jewish males of the procedure. Although many believe circumcision necessary for Jewish survival and identity, under Jewish law, any child born of a Jewish mother is a Jew, whether circumcised or not. While the procedure is often suggested to promote connection with other Jews, Goldman notes that the extreme discomfort and anxiety often provoked by circumcision may actually inhibit connection. Crisply summarizing some of the highlights from his earlier book, Goldman notes that health claims are highly speculative at best, and pain research has proven the extreme trauma suffered by the infant boy. Behavioral changes have been documented to follow most circumcisions, as boys become very irritable and interruption occurs to parent-infant bonding and feeding schedules.

Goldman writes that unrecognized consequences of the procedure may include promotion of a negative attitude to male sexuality. The personal stories by circumcised men and by mothers and fathers are quite moving. Some parents came to deeply regret their decision to circumcise while others feel gratified that they reached eleventh-hour determinations not to carry out the procedure.

Goldman takes the offensive later in the book, suggestion that the Torah's commandment against assaulting another person actually forbids circumcision. He notes that blind conformance to authority is antithetical to Jewish values, and many potential benefits of foregoing circumcision exist. An appendix contains Goldman's response to traditionalist supporters of the procedure, which is drawn entirely from passages in the Torah.

In Goldman's discussion of Jewish men's views of Jewish women, I was troubled by his inability to transcend standard views of misogyny while failing to also consider possible misandry, as I was by his repetition of the big lie that men commit most domestic violence. Nevertheless, future research needs to be carried out in accordance with his insightful suggestion that many Jewish men may harbor anger toward Jewish women due to their circumcisions, for which they may subconsciously hold their mothers primarily responsible. From the infant's perspective, Goldman notes, he is experiencing betrayal by his mother at a most vulnerable time in his life.

Goldman includes several useful appendices including two mothers' stories, a discussion of circumcision and anti-Semitism, and sample alternative rituals in which the baby's foreskin is not touched. Ronald Goldman has gifted us with his second tightly reasoned, impeccably documented, and heartfully written book about a procedure which should be of concern to all men and women who care about children or society, whatever your faith may be.

Copyright 1998 J. Steven Svoboda. Used with permission. No reproduction or transmission in any form including by Internet posting without prior written permission. The author may be reached at

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