San Fran Ban (Circumcision)

hero image
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
14 Dec 2010

San Francisco, go figure. Jews and Muslims may be divided on Jerusalem, but the Golden Gate Bridge city has managed to bridge the divide on a different issue of common interest: circumcision!

San Fran, known for its tolerance, has a proposed ballot initiative to ban circumcision. No joke, there really is one! If it passes, those who violate the ban could be fined (up to $1000) or jailed (up to a year) under the proposal, which would make it a misdemeanor to circumcise anyone below the age of eighteen.

What’s particularly ironic is that San Francisco has one of the country’s highest metropolitan rates of cumulative AIDS diagnoses.

And yet, the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2007 endorsed male circumcision as “an important intervention to reduce the risk of HIV”. Three studies in particular were carried out in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa where results indicated that circumcision reduced the risk of HIV infection by 60%. It’s even been predicted that circumcision, as a national health practice, could save three million lives over the next twenty years.

Similar results are turning up in the US as well; a team of researchers from CDC, John Hopkins, and the Baltimore health department examined the records of 1,000 HIV+ men and found uncircumcised individuals were 50% more likely to be infected.

Routine circumcision has long been controversial in the US, San Francisco is not the first city to entertain a ban proposal, and yet there’s increasing evidence to correlate circumcision with:

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics, which does not recommend “routine” circumcision or consider it “essential”, officially acknowledges the existence of enough scientific evidence to demonstrate potential medical benefits and advantages.

The San Francisco proposal has a long way to go, requiring 7,100 signatures by April 2011 to appear on the November 2011 ballot. Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Board of Rabbis of Northern California and the American Jewish Committee have issued a joint statement calling brit milah, the covenant of circumcision, “of fundamental importance in the Jewish tradition.”

The OU has weighed in with a letter commending Mayor Gavin Newsom’s opposition to defeat such a proposal. Newsom has been quoted as saying that if the measure became law it would make San Francisco look “out of touch”.

Nathan Diament, Director of Public Policy for the OU’s IPA (Institute of Political Affairs) in his letter to the Mayor noted, “A ban on circumcisions below the age of eighteen would be a violation of the First Amendment rights of many, including Jews and Muslims who for religious reasons circumcise children. Such a ban would effectively tell Jews and not only Orthodox Jews, but Jews of all denominations, that they are unwelcome in San Francisco. This is not the America, or the California that we hold up to the world” (to read the full body of the letter, click: OU Writes Letter to San Francisco Mayor or visit:

Intactivist Lloyd Schofield, the man behind SF’s proposed circumcision ban was quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle as saying, “The base of our argument is you’re spending incredible amounts of money doing painful and damaging surgery to an unwilling patient.”

But as an observant Jewish mother who circumcised her sons, I can’t help but wonder. What about all those professionals who routinely convince parents to spend incredible amounts of money doing painful and damaging surgery (extracting healthy permanent teeth), to unwilling patients who are then tortured over a period of years with mouthfuls of sharp metal objects?

So what’s all this fuss about circumcision? I can’t wait to see a San Fran ban on orthodontics!

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.