Monday, June 13, 2011

Thoughts on San Fran's anti-circumcision ballot.

So, Russell Crowe--who I tend to think of as a bit of a douchesnozzle--recently went on a twitter tirade about circumcision, and after recieving "blacklash" from Jewish followers, he tweeted a ~joke~ to a Jewish friend, Eli Roth, who quickly defended him:
"I love my Jewish friends, I love the apples and the honey and the funny little hats but stop cutting yr babies  - Source.
Great. So glad you like our "apples and honey" and "funny hats," the first being a symbol for one of our holiest days (Rosh HaShanah) and the other being a sign of humility and respect. Again. Douchesnozzle.

But let's get to the meat of this, shall we (kosher meat, of course).

I'm a disabled Jew against circumcision. I've gotten a lot of flack for it, since I'm a convert and my Jew-card is constantly being revoked when I question conventional Jewish thought.  I'm against it because I'm Jewish and disabled and had no choice about the numerous surgeries I had to "fix" me when I was a kid--and I have to learn to love the scars despite/because of the rage they often invoke. So, I take bodily consent--especially when it comes to permanent alterations to someone's body very seriously. Non-disabled Jews rarely engage me on this, but I refuse to give up all other parts of myself to be consumed into a monolithic expectation of what it means to be Jewish. Another post, perhaps.

Having said all of this, I'm outspokenly against San Fran's anti-circumcision ballot and the shit Crowe and others spewed. And it's part of something much bigger than circumcision as a single issue. When Crowe thinks he "knows what God really wants," and defines Judaism only as a religion and nothing else, his missing something crucial about what's going on here. Namely: Judaism isn't just a religion. It's a complicated mix of several cultures, histories, languages, and ritual practices. This whole thing is especially problematic because as long as world Jewry have been in diaspora (and I don't equate israel as the solution to that--though we can't have a critical conversation about Zionism/Jewish nationalism without talking about global and/or systemic anti-Jewish hatred), there has always been non-Jewish authorities telling Jews how to live--sometimes at the cost of mass expulsions, eradication, pogroms, and coercive cultural changes (i.e. the Anglicization of Jewish surnames). Add this to the historical, and often present realities, that Jews are often seen as security threats. These range from things like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to the ludicrousness idea that Jews caused 9/11 to blood libels that accused Jews of using Christian babies' blood to make matzah for Pesach. The "Monster Mohel" comic has to be understood as the perpetuation of this, because we miss key aspects of it when we treat it as a solitary issue.

Finally, there's a growing number of Jews who are deciding not to circumcise their amab chidlren (amab = assigned male at birth). They're replacing the Brit Milah (Covenant of Circumcision) with Brit Shalom (Covenant of Peace). It's definitely not part of more orthodox parts of the tradition, and I don't see that changing any time soon since brit milah is such a huge part of it. Either way, I think it's important for Jews to have the space so that we can have this tough conversations in the context of our own lives and traditions.

Edited to add:

I x-posted this on my tumbr, and I got an ask. I want to add the ask here with my response, because it gives other details.

The reader asks:

I read your thoughts on the San Francisco circumcision ballot, and I understand what you're saying, but don't you think that every person should have the right to choose which religion they're part of? Let's saying you're born into a Jewish family and circumcised as an infant. Then as an adult you decide you're an Atheist. You're now forever scared from that religion. It just doesn't make any sense. Your religion should end where another person's body beings. Your religion should not give you the right to harm your child.

This is my response:

I appreciate your imput, but I think you missed my point. Like I said in the post, Judaism isn’t just a religion. It’s much more complex than that. You can be a Jewish Atheist/Agnostic, although theistic Jews would obviously say otherwise. See Humanitic Judaism and historical Jewish intellectual intellectual movements like the Haskalah. I personally find the latter troubling, but’s part of [European] Jewish history and set the stage for liberal forms of religious/observant Judaism. I should also say flat out that by “Jewish history” people usually mean Ashkenazi Jewish history; there is no Reform branch in Sefardic Judaism, for example. That’s why I always say that Judaism is composed of many cultures—a good book on this is Melanie Kay/Kantrowitz's The Colors of Jews: Jewish Politics and Radical Diasporism.

Anyway, the clear delineation between religious identity and a non-religious identity comes largely from a Christian idea (I would say an American/European Protestant idea). I’ve known many self-identified Atheist Jews who still keep Shabbat, have Passover Seders, etc. That’s not to say that there are Jews who are born into Jewish families who grow up not to identify as Jewish at all, which is perfectly fine, too.

Your second point is more complicated and it’s the crux of my post. There are Jews, and Jewish organizations, who are engaging in critical conversations about this stuff. And it’s their/our work to do that. Not non-Jews, or ballot measures that create overarching laws that dictate ethics across all cultures. Because the reality is that as much as correctly reject that the US is a "Judeo-Christian” (barf) country/colonialist project, there IS a Christian supremacy intact here. And Judaism has had a really precarious (to put it mildly) relationship with Christianity and the constant enforcement of Christian mores for centuries. I recognize that it isn’t a Jewish/Christian divide here, necessarily, but I would say that people who grow up in Christian traditions don’t always understand that Jewish ethics and cultures are profoundly different—no matter how those people identify now (i.e. someone who grew up in a Protestant household and is now an Atheist who still tends to see everything as between “me and not-god,” rather than being “amongst me, my people, and (not-) god.”)

Lastly, ballots like this simply don’t work. We’ve seen it when abortion is illegal, and we see it with the “war on drugs.” While coercive anti-circ laws might be on a smaller scale, it’s dictating ethics to communities in which everything is taken out of context and ignored. If this passes (which even if it did, I have a feeling it’d be overturned on constitutional grounds), ritual circumcision will just “go undergound” into really unsafe spaces.


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