Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mila, not Brith

A few weeks ago, my Son was born (my first and last child), which reminds me of some of the craziness surrounding newborns. I’m talking about the Brith, of course. The myths and stories surrounding Circumcision are plentiful, starting from the story of the massacre of the Shechemites in Genesis 34 (The sons of Jacob ask the residents of Shechem to circumcise all their males, as a condition of peace among their two people. Then, as the men of the Schechemites were sore following the procedure, Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi killed all the males as revenge for sleeping with their sister Dinah) and up to an official Position Paper on Neonatal Circumcision by the American Academy of Family Physicians (in which they state no position…).

I’m not a fan of circumcision. I don’t think it does any serious good, and the risks are terrifying. However, my wife is very much for it, so I’ve decided not to oppose it, if we do it in a medical clinic, with a proper medical (as opposed to religious) procedure. I hope that it succeeds and there are no complications (now or in the future). However, I’m still baffled by the fact that even today, thousands of Israelis still go through this procedure “out in the open”, having a Rabbi with no medical training perform this in their living room or on some hotel table, surrounded by hundreds of people, each carrying their own germs and viruses. It’s performed with no anesthesia, as the poor child screams and squeals on the table. Mind you, the Rabbi has to perform a cut that is only a few millimeters long, using nothing but his (often quite old) eyes and (often quite large) hands. About 1 in 50 of these crude acts of butchery end up in complications (about 4 times as likely as when done by a doctor at a clinic). Even when the procedure goes well, about 5% of circumcised kids have to have surgery later in life to widen the urinary opening.

The full Hebrew term for the Brith is “Brith Mila”, meaning “Covenant Circumcision”, because that’s the original covenant that was between Abraham and God. Being the Atheist that I am, I care even less for the Brith than the Mila, of course, so whenever someone asks me when it is, I say “Mila, not Brith”. It’s surprising just how many people don’t understand what I mean by that. It’s like saying “Marriage, not wedding” or “Eating, not a meal”.

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