Thursday, April 30, 2009

Foreskin's Lament

No, not the absolutely hilarious book, Foreskin's Lament, by Shalom Auslander, but a similar issue: to snip or not to snip, that is the question. Whether tis nobler...ok...maybe Shakespeare is a bit overboard (although, not snipped would be my guess in his case). has an interesting article, full with necessary cutting puns, about a documentary on the variety of views on exposed or covered glans:
The great foreskin debate

To snip or not to snip? That was the question facing new parent Danae Elon, who didn't just wrestle with the controversies of circumcision -- she made a documentary about it.
By Joy Press
April 30, 2009 | New parents face an endless barrage of questions: which prenatal tests, what kind of diapers, which nursery school? But one choice is irrevocable: to snip or not to snip? That is the daunting question, one freighted with intense cultural and religious meaning. And yet people often don't give it much thought at all.

For someone like me, a nonpracticing Jew married to a non-Jewish husband, it was a confusing moment. Neither of us had been raised in a religious household, and neither had set foot in a house of worship except to attend the occasional wedding. But I felt myself tempted by the lure of ritual and tradition. Jews consider circumcision a commandment from God, practiced over thousands of years -- who was I to cut my son off from that? My husband, meanwhile, considered it an antiquated ritual lacking sufficient medical justification (an opinion similar to that of the American Academy of Pediatrics). On top of that was the fear of robbing one's child of something -- nerve endings, sexual feeling -- that can never be returned. It's an issue that American couples continue to wrestle with; although the number of boys routinely circumcised in the U.S. has decreased dramatically (one study shows the rate at 57 percent, down from a 1960s circumcision rate of 90 percent), the majority of parents still opt for it.

The documentary based upon this conundrum, "Partly Private" (hmm..what she mean by "partly"?) by Danae Elon is playing at Tribeca.

The part I couldn't get over, and still can't, is what do they do with all those foreskins?
She introduces us to a broad cast of characters, from the mohel (a Jewish specialist who performs the procedure) who keeps all of his clients' foreskins in a jar, to the anti-circumcision activist who expresses his own penile trauma in a children's book, to the employees of a skincare company who use discarded foreskins in their antiaging cream. "Every bottle is not a foreskin," one of them assures the camera.

Wait? The Mohel actually keeps all of a jar!?!?! What?! That's, eh, kind of gross. Does he like to pull them out and look at them from time to time or something? He collects foreskins? So, when he's breaking the ice, and someone asks, "What's your hobbies," he says "collecting foreskins." And which skincare company is this? And what is it about the foreskin that keeps people from aging--noting that the target market for antiaging creams is female. So, think of that next time you use your cream: you are rubbing your face with discarded foreskins. Perhaps check the ingredients on your cream--does it include foreskins?
Elon also ventures further afield, visiting the Italian town that once supposedly housed Jesus' foreskin (it was stolen) as well as a Turkish party hall called Circumcision Palace, where she films dozens of little boys (aged 6 to 9) dressed in white suits going under the knife in front of their families and friends. Finally she journeys to Hebron on the West Bank, looking for the exact spot where Abraham is said to have received the order from God, and finds instead a wasteland decimated by war and religion. As she says in the documentary, "Did he really say to Abraham, 'Cut off the tips of your dicks?' What if we got it all wrong?"

All of this serves as research for Elon's own charged decision, which she has to make not once during the film but twice. When the movie opens, she is pregnant with her first child. Her husband, Philip, a French-Algerian Jew, feels the strong pull of tradition, and she ambivalently goes along with his desire. But when she gets pregnant with another boy after several years of immersion in the topic, she is forced to decide what she really believes is best for her son's penis.

I have heard of the relic of Jesus' foreskin. It's divine, don't you know?

You read the rest of the article on the link above.

Otherwise, for an academic treatment, you might want to check out the provocatively titled, Why Jewish Women Aren't Circumcised by Shaye J.D. Cohen.


Unknown said...

I am NEVER, EVER going to buy anti-aging cream. If you ever see me forgetting about this and shelling out big bucks for some, remind me what it's made of! That's so disgusting!!

Hugh7 said...

It's not "to snip or not to snip" as though the two were equal and opposite, nor "supporters and opponents are equally crazy" as Elon claims. On the one hand is cutting the most sensitive part of baby's genitals off in obvious violation of his most basic human rights, the other is doing nothing, and simply leaving him alone to enjoy all he was born with. It should be an open and shut case, but by making it seem like a knife-edge balance, people open themselves up to every irrational pressure that's going to make them do it.

Those opponents who are crazy (and there are some) have been made so for the most part by the discovery that they were diminished in the most intimate way before they could know anything about it. They wouldn't exist if it weren't for the supporters.

The urge to circumcise is peculiar in the extreme. In Kenya the other day a wife shouted to the village that her husband (who was beating her at the time) was intact. She'd been blackmailing him for years about it, and it was payback time. But instead of saying "too much information" they frogmarched him to a doctor.