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Foreskin Man is a cartoon 'superhero' who opposes circumcision. Critics say the cartoon is anti-Semitic.

AP, Associated Press

(UPDATED - with a Congressman Ellison twist): On the ballot - circumcision

  • Article by: SUSAN HOGAN
  • Star Tribune
  • June 16, 2011 - 11:25 AM

(Note: Since this report was originally filed June 7, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., has signed on to co-sponsoring a bill to prevent San Francisco and other communities from banning male circumcision, according to news reports. The bill's other sponsor is U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.). The bill is titled the Religious and Parental Rights Defense Act of 2011. Ellison is a Muslim, Sherman is Jewish. Both religions embrace circumcision. Read more here and here.)

Friends of mine had their newborn son circumcised despite several misgivings. They didn't belong to a religion that required it. Nor was there a medical necessity.

The decision came down to this: They didn't want their boy to be ridiculed for being "different" as he got older.

Circumcision in our society is a long-accepted practice and the cultural norm. But in California and elsewhere, some people are asking whether the practice, grounded in ancient cultural and religious traditions, should continue.

In November, voters in San Francisco will weigh in on whether to ban the practice. Similar measures have been tried elsewhere but have failed to garner support.

"It's excruciatingly painful and permanently damaging surgery that's forced on men when they're at their weakest and most vulnerable," ban advocate Lloyd Schofeld told Reuters.

In circumcision, opponents see not only unnecessary violence upon boys under age 18, but criminal behavior punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

If the San Francisco measure passes, circumcision would be allowed for medical but not religious reasons, which has the Jewish Anti-Defamation League crying foul.

Jews and Muslims practice circumcision. In the Book of Genesis, God defines circumcision as the sign of his covenant with Abraham (and his descendants).

Until the 1960s, even the Catholic Church marked Jan. 1 as the "Feast of the Circumcision" of Jesus because it fell eight days after the celebration of his birth, when Jewish boys were usually circumcised.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has written exhaustively on circumcision, too. It says the practice isn't medically necessary and may lead to a decrease in adult sexual pleasure. On the other hand, it may help prevent urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted diseases.

Usually, parents are left to decide. But the anti-circumcision crowd likens the removal of foreskin to the horrific forced genital mutilation of girls in Africa.

The discussion is an important one, but this ballot initiative is misguided and riddled in anti-Semitism.

To promote the cause, ban supporter Matt Hess created a cartoon, Foreskin Man -- a white dude with blond hair and gargantuan muscles who battles a bloody, scissors-waving villain, Monster Mohel, who's the worst kind of anti-Semitic stereotype. In Judaism, mohels performs circumcisions.

Hess told the news media that he's "not trying to be anti-Semitic. We're trying to be pro-human-rights."

Not buying it.

Susan Hogan is a Star Tribune editorial writer.

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