Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Counseling Couples in Disagreement about Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

Counseling Couples in Disagreement about Circumcision: A Jewish Perspective

Article excerpt


In countries where circumcision continues to be practiced, expectant parents are often unaware that they have a choice about the circumcision of their children. This is especially true for Jewish couples who are taught that circumcision is required by religious laws. The majority of parents are unaware of the harm of circumcision. Even if parents become educated about the procedure, they may find themselves in disagreement with each other and have difficulty resolving these differences. They need support and time to make this critical decision.

This paper explores why parents might not be educated about circumcision. It gives examples of how educators can provide accurate information and assistance through this confusing and emotional decision-making process.


No national medical association recommends routine neonatal male circumcision, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child includes the right to physical integrity. Eighty percent of men in the world are genitally intact, but sixty percent (1,100,000 annually) of newborn males in the United States are subjected to circumcision according to the Health Care Investment Analysts (HCIA, 1999).

During medical training, doctors and midwives receive scant and often inaccurate information about the anatomy and physiology of the foreskin, and they learn to do circumcisions. Many continue to perform this unnecessary cosmetic surgery despite the availability of current data documenting its harm. Most prenatal care providers also receive inadequate information during their training, so they are unable to inform parents about the benefits of allowing their sons to remain intact. Childbirth books, which minimize the dangers and disadvantages of circumcision, leave expectant parents confused, or even convinced that circumcision is desirable.

The situation does not improve after birth. Nurses and doctors may repeatedly solicit a mother during her hospital stay. A mother who has just given birth in the hospital is vulnerable, and not inclined to investigate the issue. Most parents believe in the expertise of the medical community, and expect doctors to make medical decisions for them, trusting these to be in the best interest of the child. These factors explain how easily new parents can "sign off' on circumcision. After the surgery, parents may be deeply shocked and pained when they see their son's penile wound and realize just what they authorized.

Jewish couples often take for granted that their son will be circumcised. Jews are taught that the bris is an essential life-cycle ceremony and the sign of the Covenant between God and Abraham. A bris is a religious ritual for Jewish boys, which must be done eight days after birth. It is held at the newborn's home or a synagogue. At the bris, a mohel, the Jewish religious circumciser, does the circumcision and recites prayers while family and friends watch. Some Jews opt to have their sons circumcised in the hospital without realizing this does not fulfill the religious requirement.

The Taboo Topic

The topic of circumcision brings discomfort to many people. Men do not want to reflect on the pain, trauma, and loss that were inflicted upon them. Women may not want to be reminded that they allowed it for their sons. Doctors and midwives find it uncomfortable to realize that they have caused harm to newborns. Nurses routinely prepare babies for their circumcisions, while inwardly they may question the procedure.

Although human rights organizations have made tremendous strides in educational outreach for more than twenty years, cultural resistance in the press and medical associations, have kept many people still unaware of their efforts. Thus, uninformed couples rarely discuss the topic before marriage or pregnancy. This silence perpetuates misinformation and thwarts education, so the cycle continues. …

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