This November, voters in San Francisco will decide whether to ban circumcision. The proposed local initiative, spearheaded by Lloyd Schofield of the national MGM (Male Genital Mutilation) Bill effort, was announced last fall by the San Francisco City Attorney’s office. Titled “Male Circumcision,” the summary reads:
“The proposed measure would amend the San Francisco Police Code to make it a misdemeanor to circumcise, excise, cut, or mutilate the foreskin, testicles, or penis of another person who is not at least 18 years old. …there is no exception for persons who believe circumcision is required as a matter of custom or ritual.”
“Intactivists” gathered the requisite 7,000 signatures to float the proposed “Genital Cutting of Male Minors” bill. A similar effort underway in Santa Monica was dropped last week when advocate Jena Troutman withdrew her petition, claiming that the media had misrepresented the effort and over-emphasized the religious aspects of the opposition.
In its nationwide campaign, the MGM group seeks to impose a 14-year jail term on mohelim and physicians who perform circumcision and on parents who allow it. In fact, the proposal was given a hearing in Massachusetts this year. Jewish groups have voiced concern that, by seeking to limit religious freedom, the bill is actually an antisemitic attack. That apprehension is not unwarranted, as discovered by a New Britain man last fall.
Stephen Mendelsohn was the first to alert the San Francisco Jewish community to the antisemitic tone underlying the ballot proposal. Mendelsohn first became interested in the issue late last year when he learned that the national MGMBill.org and other “intactivists” planned to gather signatures to put a circumcision ban on the ballot in San Francisco. While researching the proposal online, he came across a comic-book character commissioned by MGMBill.org in 2006. The poster, depicting “Foreskin Man” and “IntactiBabe,” demonizes “Monster Mohel” and his “Religious Veil,” and warns, “Coming soon to a hospital and bris near you.”
Mendelsohn alerted the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs to the proposed bill, and wrote a letter to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, predicting that the proposal would indeed garner enough signatures to warrant a public vote.
This year, the movement commissioned Matthew Hess to create two comic books featuring “Foreskin Man.” The first issue takes on hospital-based circumcision, with the blond, muscled Foreskin Man rescuing a baby from the scalpel of “Dr. Mutilator.” The second issue pits Foreskin Man against “Monster Mohel” and his two assistant thugs, Yerik and Jorah. In one panel, the terrorizing mohel incants, “And thank thee, O Lord, for the joyous metzitzah b’peh for [sic] which I am about to partake.”
“Metzitzah b’peh” is an ancient practice once performed after the brit milah, in which the mohel would suck the circumcision cut in order to draw blood to the surface, thereby flushing out any potential infection. As hygiene became more widespread and accessible, the procedure was abandoned by Jews, except for small peripheral groups.
“The issue of metzitzah b’peh shows the way in which Judaism is a thoughtful, compassionate, and smart religion,” says Dr. Emily Blake, a Westchester, N.Y.-based obstetrician-gynecologist who is also a board-certified mohel. Blake has trained with mohel Rabbi Gary Atkins of Bloomfield, who co-founded the Korayt HaBrit training program with Dr. Neil Pollock, which instructs physicians in both the medical and halachic aspects of brit milah.
“It sounds horrible, sucking the blood from the cut, but imagine 3,000 years ago that you’ve just done a circumcision, and you’ve used a flint that you picked up from the ground. Do you think it’s clean? In old times, when there was no understanding of germ theory, when there were no soap and water or stainless-steel knives, it probably made sense. If you cut your finger on a rusty nail, what’s the first thing you do? You suck on your cut finger. The bacteria will get flushed out by the blood that is drawn out and past it. Should we be doing metzitzah b’peh today? No, which is why, except for fringe groups, all the others did away with it, because the most important thing in Judaism is to protect life and health. Metzitzah b’peh is good evidence that this was done thoughtfully.”
In the Foreskin Man series, the “Monster Mohel” trading card states: “Nothing excites Monster Mohel more than cutting into the penile flesh of an eight-day-old infant boy. And after the glorified brit milah is complete, the delicious metzitzah b’peh provides the icing on the cake.”
“By using classic antisemitic caricatures, by turning the mohel into a monster, the anti-circumcision group makes the ritual seem devilish,” says Arlen Schumer, a Westport-based comic-book historian, commercial illustrator, and creator of Jewish superhero Captain Israel, currently being published in a comic-book series by L.A.-based Israel advocacy group, StandWithUs.
Schumer is also troubled by the issue’s closing image, of the “intactivists” burning a towering structure made of appropriated “circumstraints,” topped with the group’s symbol. “It resembles a burning cross, the trademark of the KKK, who sees the Jews as Enemy One,” he says. “So the illustrator is trading not only on the blood libel, European Christian Antisemitism through the ages, and Aryan and Jewish stereotypes, but also on the ultimate American Christian Antisemitism, as fostered by the KKK.”
When the second issue of the comic book was published, Mendelsohn alerted several people in the greater Hartford Jewish community and contacted the ADL. Last month, he sent the link to Abby Porth of the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council. That was a Thursday. “I woke up on Friday and was very surprised to find that my one e-mail had gotten several articles, initially from the Jewish Chronicle and Wesley Smith’s Secondhand Smoke blog on First Things,” Mendelsohn says. “By late in the day, it had all mushroomed. Blogs were comparing ‘Monster Mohel’ to Nazi propaganda picture-to-picture. But Foreskin Man is not the only case of intactivist antisemitism, even if it is the most akin to Nazi propaganda. A leading San Francisco intactivist, David Wilton, claims that Israeli Jewish doctors are ‘slicing African and Latino penises.’”
There’s another issue raised by the debate in San Francisco, one that hasn’t been addressed much in the media. If the vote passes, San Franciscans who want to circumcise their babies will be forced to travel outside the city, imposing an additional financial and logistical burden on those who may not be have adequate resources, Blake says. “San Francisco is about being open and welcoming to diversity, and they’re squelching diversity and limiting other people’s choices,” she says.
For more information on the proposed circumcision ban: www.mgmbill.org / www.foreskinman.org
For information on the Committee for Parental Choice & Religious Freedom, a local and national coalition opposing the proposed ban: www.stopcircban.com.