Guest / Limited Access /
Criminalizing Circumcision
screen capture from mgmbill.org

The year 1999 brought me one of my most memorable moments. Because my grandson was born at home, hospital circumcision was not available. So we went to a Jewish physician who was also a mohel, or professional circumciser. Holding my grandson for the ancient rite, I felt apprehensive: would I be able to hold Christopher steady enough to avoid a surgical accident? But I also felt a spiritual connection to Abraham and Moses in that moment.

In November, voters in San Francisco could have penalized anyone circumcising a boy under 18 (up to a $1,000 fine or a year in jail), if a court hadn't killed a controversial ballot measure in July.

Although the vast majority of infants in America are circumcised for hygienic rather than ritual reasons, this proposal had strong antireligious overtones. "Jews, Muslims, and Christians all trace our spiritual heritage back to Abraham. Biblical circumcision begins with Abraham," said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. "No American government should restrict this historic tradition. Essential religious liberties are at stake."

In American law, religious liberties are not absolute. In the 1880s, Congress stripped civil rights from Mormons who practiced plural marriage. And in 2011, a jury convicted an Oregon couple of first-degree criminal mistreatment because they chose prayer over standard medical treatment for their daughter.

What is the difference? No major world faith commands plural marriage or substituting prayer for medical treatment. Infant circumcision is, however, a mandate of Jewish faith and a millennia-old marker of Jewish identity. Sabbath observance, kosher diet, and ritual circumcision are historically the three ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Past Imperfect
David Neff
David Neff was editor in chief of Christianity Today, where he worked from 1985 until his retirement in 2013. He is also the former editor in chief of Christian History magazine, and continues to explore the intersection of history and current events in his bimonthly column, "Past Imperfect." His earlier column, "Editor's Bookshelf," ran from 2002 to 2004 and paired Neff's reviews of thought-provoking books and interviews with the authors.
Previous Past Imperfect Columns:
From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this Issue
Subscriber Access Only Wilson's Bookmarks
Brief reviews of 'A Sunlit Absence,' 'The Final Hour,' and 'Owen Barfield on C. S. Lewis.'
Recommended
Getting to the Root of Female Masturbation
And the surprising role the church can play in helping women curb addiction to it.
TrendingResearch Says: Young People Don't Want Hip Pastors
Research Says: Young People Don't Want Hip Pastors
A study of 250 congregations suggests that youth and young adults want substance rather than style.
Editor's PickThe Precarious Future of Assisted Suicide
The Precarious Future of Assisted Suicide
'Culture of Death' sounds the alarm on pending medical bioethics legislation and other troubling trends.
Christianity Today
Criminalizing Circumcision
hide thisSeptember September

In the Magazine

September 2011

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.