Centuries ago a powerful Japanese emperor needed a new chief samurai. Word of the vacancy was sent throughout the known world.
After a year, only three people applied for the very demanding position: a Japanese samurai, a Chinese samurai, and a Jewish samurai. They were brought before the emperor to demonstrate their abilities.
The Japanese samurai went first. He opened the lid of a small box, setting free a bumblebee. Whoosh went his sword and the bumblebee dropped dead, cut in half.
The emperor nodded and murmured, “Impressive.”
Next was the Chinese samurai. He opened a small box and released a fly. Whoosh! Whoosh! The fly was quartered and its pieces flitted to the ground.
Arms crossed, the emperor nodded, “Most impressive.”
It was the Jewish Samurai’s turn. He produced a tiny box which, when opened, released a gnat. His sword went Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! But the gnat was still alive, flying about.
The emperor frowned and rumbled, “Explain yourself! Why is that gnat not dead?”
The Jewish Samurai smiled and said, “Circumcision is not meant to kill.”
Oh man. People get so snippy on the topic of circumcision. I personally don’t understand why there’s such a big flap. It’s binary after all: your foreskin is either on or off, and it doesn’t particularly matter which.
Full Discloser: I was circumcised, by a real specialist from the looks of it.
Being Jewish, it was an easy decision to make for our son. The only real question was who should do the catering.
As with much of Jewish tradition, there is a practical reason behind circumcision. The foreskin is highly receptive to viruses and infection – not an issue when good hygiene is practiced. But the operative word in that sentence is “when.”
[Man Law dictates I not disclose how many of us don’t wash their hands in public restrooms. And half of us who do just flick their fingers under the faucet, like they were shaking loose a statically charged piece of styrofoam.]
On occasion, the decision to not circumcise can be perilous. I know of at least two boys who, because of “complications,” had to be circumcised around age 11. Not an auspicious start to puberty.
The latest studies show a modest health benefit from being circumcised. This benefit is exaggerated in Africa, where circumcision lowers HIV infection among hetero men by 60%. (International health organizations have a goal of circumcising 20 million African men by 2015. On the domestic front, I am buying up stock in Neosporin.)
So that’s where my head is at. But all this is by way of saying my opinion doesn’t matter much. People are entitled to their beliefs, but no one should proselytize on the subject. Worry about your son’s pecker and no one else’s.
Opponents of circumcision claim it is a barbaric, painful practice. Some even draw a comparison to female genital mutilation. This is a poor analogy, given that the latter is a) without medical benefit, b) performed on pubescent girls using rusty tools and c) do you really need a third reason?
Puzzingly, many of the most vocal “intactivists,” as they style themselves, are women. I personally disapprove of women taking a hard stance on how a nation handles its penises; anyone that attached to the foreskin should really be a dude.
When I was born, the rate of circumcision in the U.S. was around 90%. Now it is roughly 50% and flagging. The medical establishment doesn’t officially endorse either decision, which means parents can be guided by their aesthetic preferences, for now.* With so little at stake, undecided parents may opt to poll the real experts: women. Specifically, slutty women. (Okay technically the real real experts are my gay friends. But being true to their minority status, they don’t discriminate.)
The only room for heated debate is between expecting parents with opposing preferences for their son. But even there I’m hard pressed to imagine a scenario where the father’s wishes don’t prevail. If only because, one day both father and son will be alone outdoors when they both experience the urge to whiz. Like firemen, they might focus their streams on an agreed target. Or in keeping with ancient tradition, they may instead elect to “cross swords.” In that moment, the overriding principle is not one of religion or hygiene or misplaced compassion, but of heritage. Pass it on.
* The CDC may be updating their recommendation soon.