THE ECONOMIST: Against the Cut, The intactivist movement takes on the oldest surgery known to man

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a magazine with its origins in Britain, a largely intact country, would take a sober and objective look at the San Francisco circumcision ballot measure. The Economist correctly concludes, “Whatever the fate of his proposed law, Mr [Lloyd] Schofield seems most interested in changing minds. He is thrilled that many Jews signed his petition. Some have begun practising an alternative ceremony; brit shalom, the ‘covenant of peace’, which involves no cutting.”

Brit Shalom began long before Lloyd spearheaded this initiative. But the idea that changing minds is what this is all about is precisely correct. Putting the word intactivist in quotes notwithstanding, The Economist chooses to examine the issue with the seriousness in which the measure is offered rather than with silly assumptions, a haughty or dismissive tone, or a reflexive lament about growing government interference in private matters or waning parental rights.

Against the cut: The “intactivist” movement takes on the oldest surgery known to man

“MALES need protection as females do,” says Lloyd Schofield, the main sponsor of a local ballot measure in San Francisco that, if voters pass it in November, would in effect make circumcision of babies illegal in that city. A federal law and various state equivalents indeed ban female circumcision, whether performed as a religious rite or not. So-called “intactivists” such as Mr Schofield therefore quite reasonably ask why the cutting of a baby boy’s foreskin should be any different.

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3 Responses to THE ECONOMIST: Against the Cut, The intactivist movement takes on the oldest surgery known to man

  1. Joseph Lewis says:

    “…the oldest surgery known to man…”
    It always bothers me when I hear this.
    Yes, I’m sure Jews and Muslims have been practicing circumcision for millenia, but hasn’t circumcision as a “medical/surgical procedure” only existed for little over a century, when it became medicalized during the Victorian era?
    Isn’t calling circumcision “the oldest surgery known to man” a bit of a misnomer?
    As if were even seen as “medicine” from the “Jewish covenant” perspective…

  2. Mark Lyndon says:

    I’ve read that female circumcision is older than male circumcision. Can anyone confirm that, or provide a reference?

  3. Michael W. says:

    “…the oldest surgery known to man…”
    This is simply wrong. “At least two prehistoric cultures had developed forms of surgery. The oldest for which there is evidence is trepanation, in which a hole is drilled or scraped into the skull, thus exposing the dura mater in order to treat health problems related to intra cranial pressure and other diseases. Evidence has been found in prehistoric human remains from Neolithic times, in cave paintings, and the procedure continued in use well into recorded history…” (Wikipedia).
    Little attention has been paid to the fact that the Rabbis, at some point in the late first or early second centuries, instituted a radical addition to the traditional circumcision technique. “Until then, a circumcision (“milah”) had only required severing the frontal piece of the foreskin; in the infant penis this is loose tissue that is not attached to the delicate mucosal lining of the glans. Now there was to be a second procedure, called “peri’ah” (“opening” or “uncovering”): grasping the remaining foreskin and underlying mucosal tissue, forcibly separating this from the glans (using sharpened thumbnails), and tearing it away” (Glick, Marked in Your Flesh, pp. 44-45; Nisan Rubin, “Brit Milah: A Study of Change in Custom”).

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