The Shmooze

Doctor Says Circumcisions Should Be Delayed Until Age 11

By Nathan Burstein

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As the perpetual battle over circumcision continues, a Canadian doctor is proposing an interesting compromise — but one that would preclude the procedure as it’s performed according to Jewish tradition.

Writing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Dr. Noni MacDonald is suggesting that the surgery be conducted only on boys of 11 or 12 years of age. Her rationale is that, from a medical standpoint, there’s no need to perform the procedure earlier, since the health benefits of circumcision — such as lowering the risk of HIV infection — only kick in when a boy becomes sexually active. By early adolescence, she argues, boys are better able to make their own decisions about whether to undergo the surgery.

Adopting her proposal would mean the end of one of Judaism’s oldest rituals, of course, since male Jewish infants are traditionally circumcised after eight days. Observant Jews aren’t the only people who’d reject it — an opponent of circumcision quoted in The Daily argues that 11- and 12-year-olds are still too young to make informed decisions, though he presumably finds the procedure unacceptable at any age.

Rabbi Yakov Werde, a Brooklyn mohel, notes that circumcision would be “much more traumatic” at an older age - just one more reason MacDonald’s proposal, however creative, is unlikely to settle the debate.


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