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August 28, 2015 | 13th Elul 5775

Resolution on Anti-Circumcision Initiatives

Anti-Circumcision Initiatives

Adopted June 13, 2011
URJ Board of Trustees - Brooklyn, NY


Male circumcision is the oldest ritual connected with Judaism. It ties us to Abraham and the covenant that exists between God and the Jewish people: "God further said to Abraham: 'As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your offerings to come throughout the ages. Such shall be the covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your offspring to follow. Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. At the age of eight days, every male among you throughout the generations shall be circumcised" (Gen. 17:9-13).

As Reform Jews, we have affirmed the rite of circumcision. A 1977 responsa issued by the Central Conference of American Rabbis stated: "We strongly urge parents to have the circumcision on the eighth day, even if it might take place at home. Hundreds of generations have observed this rite on the eighth day. Through the observance of this ritual on the eighth day, we teach each new generation the importance of the keeping of the covenant of Abraham."

A proposal to ban the practice of male circumcision will be on the ballot in San Francisco this fall, and similar efforts are expected elsewhere.  These initiatives are an attack on the American commitment to religious liberty and the Constitutional protection of the free exercise of religion, which has been a source of strength and pride since the United States' founding. The URJ has long been a vocal defender of First Amendment rights, and has noted, in the past, opposition to "all attempts to weaken the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States or to erode the protections it provides" (Resolution on First Amendment Rights, 1995).

THEREFORE, the Union for Reform Judaism resolves to:


  1. Reaffirm male circumcision as an integral part of the divine covenant (brit milah) that has existed for five thousand years between God and the Jewish people;
  2. Continue to support the Constitution's First Amendment commitment to religious liberty and free exercise;
  3. Support the right to male circumcision as a core manifestation of free exercise of religion for Jews and others who hold it as a central religious ritual; and
  4. Express our opposition to legislation, ballot initiatives or other measures that would make the practice of male circumcision, including ritual circumcision, illegal.


Herschel Chait

June 21, 2011
05:07 PM

Immediate Past President, United Heberew Congregation, Terre Haute, IN

I am disappointed with the URJ resolution in that it fails to address the central claims of those opposed to male circumcision. First, circumcision is a form of mutilation. Second, parents do not have unrestricted control of the bodies of their children. Third, society has a duty to protect children against harm even to the extent that such protection limits a parent's prerogatives. Fourth, if jurisdictions have prohibited "female circumcision", male circumcision should also be prohibited as a matter of gender equity. All of these points are quite compatible with 21st century progressive public policy.

Those who oppose male circumcision point to the US Supreme Court decision in Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith (492 US 872, 1990), Justice Scalia, writing for the majority said, "Respondents urge us to hold, quite simply, that when otherwise prohibitable conduct is accompanied by religious convictions, not only the convictions but the conduct itself must be free from governmental regulation. We have never held that, and decline to do so now." This suggests that a child protection statute that had the effect of limiting a religious practice would pass muster under the First Amendment.

I am not arguing for banning circumcision. I am saying that the resolution in weak in that it does not address the issues raised by the proposition's proponents.


George Volgyesi

June 24, 2011
07:22 AM

Reform judaism has always tried to rationalize ritual practices to remain compassionate in the face of scientific progress. For example, homosexual practices, once deemed abominoble, are, in the light of modernity, accepted as legitimate expressions of love. Similarly, circumcision, proscribed in Torah, can, and has been modified to minimize the pain associated with it. Most circumcisions today are done under local anaesthesia, so the argument against it can no longer include cruelty.
For this reason alone, the proposal to ban this ritual is irrational.


Rich Furman

September 5, 2011
11:36 PM

"you and your offerings to come throughout the ages."

I think this should read "you and your <b>offspring</b> to come throughout the ages."


Rabbi Danny Gottlieb

October 14, 2011
02:59 PM

Rabbi, Congregation Beth Israel Judea, San Francisco

Please note that the ballot initiative for San Francisco was defeated in court, and will therefore not be on the ballot this fall. The resolution should be amended accordingly.


Rabbi Elliott Kleinman

October 14, 2011
03:32 PM

RE: Rabbi, Congregation Beth Israel Judea, San Francisco

Once a resolution is passed, it cannot be amended. at the time of its passage this was still a relevant issue for the community of San Francisco.


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